I know that I have this legacy that will endure long after this mortal envelope become worm food and people have forgotten my name. I have, through the dint of unreserved effort and natural talent not granted to you lesser mortals, achieved much in the field which is my métier: being a good bad example. Indeed, I shall live on in the memory of mankind as a legend, immortalized in minatory tales to the tender young ‘uns which all go something like: ‘don’t be that guy!’

So: my immortality is assured. What are you guys going to do?

Heh. Ok, as you can tell it’s not something that troubles me much. I figure my reputation while I’m alive might sell a few books, but otherwise I’m not deeply concerned about what the world thinks of me right now, let alone when I’m dead. There are a few people whose opinion of me matters to me – but that’s not most of the world, and certainly I have no craving for respect from people I don’t respect.

But I gather this is fairly odd. That most folk worry a lot about what people in say Europe, that they have never met, and will never meet, think of them, because of things they personally had very little or nothing to do with. (Speaking an ex-South African, I can assure you I had nothing at all to do with the vuvuzela. But if you want to blame me, feel free. I have broad shoulders. I also caused the oceans to rise and boil, Kudzu, and the heat-death of the sun.  And, miserable sod that I am, I didn’t care that women and children were worst affected, especially by the last. I do feel a little twinge about Kudzu. If only I had caused the rising and boiling first…)

Still, one of the aspects of a legacy, is — if like mine, in theory those getting it don’t have to repeat it.  It’s a theory which doesn’t hold up too well in practice, but slowly at least most people learn not to put their tongue onto the frozen flagpole without doing it.

The other aspect, of course, is that one can build a lot higher, starting from on the shoulders of giants rather than on the rubble you’ve left of their statues.

Where this particularly relevant is when all you can really claim fame for is pulling down statues. It’s what you’ve taught and set an example as, and are known for.

Guess what you set yourself up for? And they probably won’t wait until you’re dead. Which has a sort of poetic justice to it.

The downside of course is the collateral damage to the field.

Now, what brought this subject to mind of the monkey? I was supposed to be typing Shakespeare…

It was the comments of various current dahlings of the publishing world and camp-followers having a fine time attacking Heinlein. Now, you’d think after all these years of their bashing away that the statue would have fallen over, but plainly it still looms large in their minds anyway. I’m kind of put in mind of the comment by a black academic that nothing had done more to raise white identity politics than knocking down statues and getting rid of flags that, before, that no-one had given much thought to.

I suppose if you’re a pigmy, knocking down the huge figures of the past might make you feel less insignificant and irrelevant, but – other than creating more division and opposition, it seems pretty pointless. So: because I’d rather build the field up (probably another of my good bad example mistakes, at least in the Award Winning stakes) I thought I’d write about a couple of legend-level authors whose shoulders are worth standing on: Keith Laumer and Poul Anderson.

Now, I admit I’ve got more novels by either of them than I have by Heinlein – and I have a lot of Heinlein. That’s not an insult to Heinlein – just a case of buying what was available in South Africa at the time. And one other major factor… They both wrote prolifically. Laumer with career interrupted by a stroke was something near 60 book, and a bunch of shorts, Anderson…  So there is first shoulder standing point.

The second point about both… is they wrote all over the place, genre wise. From Three hearts and Three Lions (A book I particularly enjoyed), to The Boat of Million Years (which honestly I didn’t). From Galactic Odyssey (which I enjoyed) to the World Shuffler (which I found less to my taste). It’s something I have tried to imitate – writing books across the spectrum of the genre. As a rule of thumb I find around 80% of the readers I’ve been able to ask, follow me across sub-genres. But – while they’re all fans, and will buy it if I write it – ones who love the Alternate history/fantasy series find books like RATS BATS & VATS less appealing. The Karres fans will buy any Karres book in Hardcover, but won’t buy DRAGON’S RING in hardcover. BUT they do generate sales across the range. And… well, if all your books fit in a narrow niche or in a series in that niche, you may just not get that breakout. Look at my co-author Eric Flint: His 1632 books far outsold anything else he’s ever done.

The other feature that Anderson in particular brought to bear was that his characters were both complex and likeable. In fact – and this so missing in many of ‘knock down the old giants’ work – even his heroes’ antagonists are very real and not necessarily villains, at least in their own eyes, or the eyes of the cultures they are drawn from. I suppose when the villains all have to be straw-white-male-conservatives, a wholly imaginary creation, as the author doesn’t actually know any, that’s not surprising. It’s a weakness none-the-less.

Which leads into another little lesson: you can’t always write about what you know about. I mean, while I frequently meet alien life-forms (invertebrates anyway) I still lack experience in FTL travel – but what both Laumer and Anderson did was to lever on things they DID have experience with.  Laumer’s experience in the diplomatic corps shows in the Retief books (and I’m not always sure where the line of satire and reality actually is.) Anderson – in writing Three Hearts and Three Lions was writing about a Denmark he actually knew.  Use the real and known to effectively suspend the reader’s disbelief. Then you can load up with baloney.

As a final comment something that recurs in Anderson’s work is something I know from personal experience. It’s a form of casual discrimination and bigotry that is all too common in modern fiction, and is reflected very much in the attitudes of the modern US left (and most traditionally published modern authors are a subset of that): Primitive, or less educated people… as Anderson so well illustrates in ‘The High Crusade’ are not necessarily stupid or incompetent – in fact they are probably more highly selected for being competent and able BECAUSE they survive and thrive in primitive conditions and with having to think for themselves instead of having it done for them.  Anderson was dead right on this. And, within their environment, it’s you who are incompetent and uneducated. And, um, having been the proverbial fly on the wall more than a few times (where the so called primitives forgot I wasn’t just one of them), they understand this bigotry. Some just resent it. Others use it to manipulate the ‘superior’ people. After all if you’re going to give handouts for being xyz – they’ll tell you they are what you believe. The dumb ones will start believing it. The smarter ones will know it is bullshit, but some will take it as the lever it is.

Look, think of a NYC dwelling Tor Books acquiring editor. And think of a North Dakota ranch hand. The former went to an Ivy-league college for her Arts Degree, and would consider herself infinitely superior to the ranch hand, who she would regard as a deplorable, stupid redneck, that the world would be better without. The latter left school as soon as possible, but reads quite a lot as long as he can find books he likes. There’s a lot of quiet evenings out there. If he thinks of someone like the editor at all, he’d regard her as useless and, yes, dumb. Clueless about the things that matter. I doubt if he’s as cheerfully genocidal as she is, but he doesn’t think it would destroy his world if Godzilla visited NYC instead of Tokyo. Take the two of them… and swap places, and you have Anderson’s point in a modern context rather than a historical one.  Which one of them can cope with the other’s world? Not like it, just cope, do the other’s job, survive the conditions. Who knows, we might get better books chosen. But there’d be a dead woman out there in a paddock.

And therein lies the truth about writing too. Those ‘dumb old men’… would probably lick the modern dahlings six ways to breakfast. The inverse is not true.



  1. I wish I could remember who I read (Peter Capstick? Laurnes van der Post?) talking about hearing someone describe the People-then-known-as-the-Bushman* as “primitive and crude.” The author then went on to describe what was involved with being a leader of one of the Bushman families, and how much organization and planning was required to keep everyone alive. I got the sense that the author occasionally envisioned the pampered urban commentators being dropped off into the High Veldt and left to fend for a few weeks on their own.

    *It was after Hottentot went out of polite usage, and before whatever the current terms are.

    1. Don’t know who that was. But I remember the black man in KING SOLOMON’S MINES, who’d seen the glorious white man close up and wasn’t impressed. And three upper-class whites who somehow never worked up the gumption to put him in his place. Including the narrator, who didn’t try to cover it up. And for some reason the guy who wrote it all down didn’t see fit to suppress those improper sentiments.

      What a bunch of racists.

    2. I got the sense that the author occasionally envisioned the pampered urban commentators being dropped off into the High Veldt and left to fend for a few weeks on their own.

      Didn’t we recently see the results of something similar not so very long ago? Granted it was pretty self inflicted but, the words ‘Darwin Award’ comes to mind…

    3. I think the most famous or best-known of those tribes is perhaps the !Kung (or !Xun). The [!K] sound is a tongue-click with no nearer equivalent in English.

      Yet to read any Heinlein, but I picked up “Stranger in a Strange Land” at a recent library sale, and have read (and enjoyed) Poul Anderson’s “Three Hearts and Three Lions” and “The Merman’s Children”. Of course, “Merman’s Children” isn’t a faerie-tale for children, at all.

      1. ix nay on Stranger, which shouldn’t be read until you have a lot of Heinlein under your belt. Or as he called it “What some writers will do for money.” It’s not a bad book, but it’s a book of its time.
        Try The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress instead.

    4. The highveld would kill them, the Karoo, the Kalahari, or the Namib fringes where these ‘primitives’ live would kill them even faster (they might find water on the highveld.)

    5. I’ve read most of Capstick’s books, and don’t remember that; I do remember a scene from IIRC Death in the Dark Continent where he mentions that most of the tribes in that area considered being called a “Bushman” as “fighting words”, and had only been un-banned from the legal code a few years before the time (mid 70s) he was describing.

  2. I had a foot in both worlds, since my family were North Georgia farmers from before the Civil War, but my father became a doctor and so I grew up in Chattanooga. Still, I spent enough time with my country relatives that, for example, I’ve shucked corn, shot a rabbit, and ridden a horse. (In fact, I’ve been thrown off a horse and got back on it.) I’m still a city boy, but I’ve got strong country roots.

    I remember a story I read as a kid where a city boy (from Atlanta, I think) spends a summer with his relatives in the country. At first he’s miserable, and a cousin his age is disgusted by how helpless the city boy is. An older relative tells the boy, “You take care of him while he’s here, and he’ll take care of you when you want to visit the city.” Of course the city kid eventually earns the respect of his cousin, learns to enjoy the better parts of being in the country, and they end up fast friends. (I think bank robbers were involved.) It’s a cool theme.

    There’s always been a sort of rivalry between city and country (the story I mentioned above must be at least 100 years old now), but I think it’s going too far to say that city and country people each think the world would be a better place if the others were dead. Kids might think that, but any adult would know that they both depend on each other.

    1. Some adults wouldn’t. My impression is that NYT writers wouldn’t. I could be wrong, of course, as I know none of them, living in a small town a long way away.

  3. Booiling seas wouldn’t have helped. Kudzu likes the heat. You should”ve followed it with an ice age.

  4. Always wondered about Ted Sturgeon using an ugly term for the primitive aliens in the Retief stories,when they and Retief were the only ones with a clue

  5. I’m a lazy urbanite who is allergic to manual labor. I love being able to do my profession well enough to pay others to do work I don’t enjoy or do well. I work hard at my profession to be able to keep that blessed state.

    But at least I’m not stupid enough to think I’m inherently superior because I’m lazy and found ways that allow me to be lazy.

    1. There is nothing magical or saintly about manual labor. My objection is to who cannot do but cover their inadequacy by sneering at those who can. It goes for manual laborers who sneer at intellectuals too.

  6. First off, let me say again how much I enjoyed “Slow Train to Arcturus.” It’s put your name on my purchase radar. Unfortunately, my purchasing eyes are bigger than my purchasing power.

    As a city girl, I’ve been out in what passes for countryside in Britain. It’s pretty tame, but I know the gear I need to walk mountains, basic stuff like cover and how to cook without a kitchen to hand , but I also recognize my limitations. I have much respect for those who can walk the walk, people like for example Ray Mears, who goes around teaching basic skills, comes to mind.

    Anyway, enough. Got to get back to work, inspiration just called and told me he’s not coming today so I have to start without him.

    1. I recall one English blogger who lives near one of the popular walking paths near Dartmoor (IIRC) or one of the other relatively rugged areas having to help some young men from London who had no idea that you could get into serious trouble with weather, heat, cold, and other things in “quiet, rural England.”

      1. Dick Francis commented on that idea in Longshot, a story about a guy who teaches survival, and says the English moor with a fog coming in was about as dangerous a place as could be in terms of your chances of dying.

    2. Heh. Even the ‘tame’ can kill you, if you get it in a bad mood.
      This Inspiration spends too much time goofing off. I just got a call say he’s in the Bahamas 🙂

    3. I’ve always wondered about the British hiker I encountered a few years ago on the Overland Trail (which is a massively long trail that follows the old pioneer route). This is in southern Wyoming, in what is quaintly known as a “high desert.” The poor fellowhad run out of water at some point, and was quite in the middle of nowhere. I gave him what water I had (I didn’t have a lot on me, as it was near the end of the work day, in the middle of the summer, and I’d been out in the field yanking noxious weeds and drank most of it by that point), but as I was in a government rig could not offer him a ride. I couldn’t help but feel, though, that he’d come out here without any real idea of just how *isolated* huge swathes of the States are, and Wyoming in particular (which has the smallest population in the US–barely 600k.), and that even though roads (two tracks, mostly) crisscross most of the ‘wild’ areas, they are still danged wild, and full of a whole lot of nothing (including water). And I don’t think he had much food on him, either, and he was wearing shorts and either a short sleeved shirt or no shirt, and had a very small pack. I hope he got back to town before night fell, because it would have gotten quite cold, to boot…

      He might have been prepared for hiking in Britain (which, as folks noted above, has its own deadly dangers even now), but he was most certainly not prepared for the very high, very dry, and very, very desolate expanse that was that section of the Overland Trail. He’s just fortunate that he wasn’t in mountain lion or bear country–though he wasn’t far from either, as such critters wander.

      1. My family ended up helping three Germans who had been loaned a car with an oil leak and wanted to see the American West. They car’s owner had given them a case of oil, but they ran out along the side of a highway in east-central Utah. The guy had left the two girls at the car and was walking. A second girl then started out after him… They had a few bottles of water and no idea how huge and empty the US can be.

        We ended up taking all three to the closest town with a car repair place and tow truck.

  7. > all over the place

    Yes. And while Anderson wrote some fine stuff, he wrote *way too much* “our efforts will come for naught because civilization is going to collapse anyway” or “it doesn’t matter because in the end we’re all dead.”

    The Star Fox, Operation Chaos, The High Crusade, Virgin Planet… yes But while many of the Flandry or League stories were well-written, the nihilist overtones started to grate as I grew up. I had just as much angst as any teenager, but I’m over that now.

    Laumer wasn’t as technically proficient a writer as Anderson, but he was generally a better storyteller, though he had a few real stinkers. And his best stuff was in short form: The Last Command, The Day Before Forever, Thunderhead, Hybrid, many of the Retief stories.

    1. I’d disagree with that. Anderson’s contention was that you fought against the inevitable collapse as long as you could, so as to buy time for other people to set up something that could serve as the nucleus of civilization’s rebirth.

  8. Forty years ago a student from Saudi Arabia wondered why I wanted to babysit a friend’s baby. Such work for an educated woman annoyed him. Well I like babies and have never thought any work is beneath me (plenty that I can’t do of course). The conversation led to him saying that American engineers were always like that… willing to get their hands dirty, which was why they were always able to keep things running. But he didn’t want to be like that himself.

    And I think it was Steven Ambrose who said that one thing in WWII was that our tanks which were inferior to the German tanks, nevertheless kept running because American farm boys confronted with a broken machine could find very creative ways of resuscitation.

    1. And they tend to design machines that CAN be fixed. The Sherman was mechanically simpler than either the Panther or the Tiger….. either of which had things that couldn’t be maintained outside a fully equipped shop.

      1. American industry was also better at having more uniform parts coming off the assembly line- the Brits still did a whole lot of hand fitting on the line, and the Krauts did continuous upgrades and changes.
        Which meant while Moriarty could find a bolt on spare in pretty much any wrecked Sherman (or not to closely guarded one), Fritz would be hard pressed to make the widget from one Tiger work in his. Not that he would, because that’s the job of an official certified mechanic.

      2. which is why there was lots of Panther and Tigers ‘rendered combat ineffective’ when their over-engineered transmission broke down.

      3. Ahem. Speaking as the guy who spent yesterday working on an American built, American designed machine THAT was yesterday. I guarantee that no designer ever actually did the job I had to. Or they would have allowed wriggle-room.

          1. Oh, Lord! That reminds me of an Expedition SUV that we leased (stupid decision, but my brother-in-law needed just one more car to make a good bonus that month). To change a blinker light – you had to basically dissemble the entire engine.
            What a jacka$$ it was that designed that!

            1. There’s a reason most of our family refers to Ford vehicles as : FORD: Found On Road Dead

              Not that most vehicles of any make don’t suffer that issue nowadays. They don’t *want* just anybody to be able to fix the car, after all…

        1. WWII engineering was back when there was still a heavy proportion of the population farming. Which had been mechanized. And cars were still simple enough to be repaired by the end user. So there is some justification for bragging on the mechanical ability of that particular cohort.

          These days… a) There are states that require an MS for a Professional Engineer’s licensure if the BS is recent enough. b) Changes in lifestyle mean less exposure to ‘get it fixed or eventually starve’. c) Modern vehicle regulations raise the barriers of entry to design, manufacturing, and repair. The bureaucratized projects that can pass especially the mass production barriers may be entirely screwed up.

          I wouldn’t brag on my cohort. Culturally, I’d be willing to if I were honestly convinced we were the bee’s knees.

          1. While OBDII gets a bad rap, it’s not all that bad if you’re fixing cars.
            But, modern cars have to cram more stuff into a smaller space, and they honestly really don’t want you as the owner working on them.
            And if you insisted, you’d need so many specialty tools that you’d really be better off taking it to a pro.
            I could probably have rewired my old BJ40 Landcruiser in about two hours, had I needed to. A modern Toyota? No way would I even attempt it.

        2. During WWII, planned obsolescence wasn’t the thing it is today. They had just had a Great Depression.

  9. Apropos of the general topic, I found this blog a while back: http://glorioustrash.blogspot.com/

    Joe has made a hobby of reading “action-adventure” novels mostly from the 1970s. The Penetrator, the Destroyer, Blade, The Shooter-Upper (okay, I made the last one up) and doing serious reviews of them. I actually read most of those when they were current, but hey, I was a teenager, I didn’t know enough about writing to know how bad most of them were.

    Joe doesn’t shred the books mercilessly, as would be so easy to do, but points out where characters pop out of nowhere and then vanish, inexplicable things happen with no further reference, continuity errors, characters changing names or descriptions, etc. The kind of stuff that you’d expect an author to do before sending the story off to an editor, who would surely know better… but the authors didn’t get paid much, were hammering stories out as fast as they could on typewriters, and the publishers didn’t have any budget for editing, not that their reader demographic would have noticed anyway…

    The site is worth your time just to see the deconstructions of real life “and then they got paid!” novels that mostly really, *really* needed an editor, or a proofreader, or even someone to make sure all the pages went to the typesetter.

    It’s not all shootemups; Joe has some schlock-SF and other stuff there too.

  10. Dear Dave.

    I have a supporting charachter ranch-hand nicknamed Duke who happens to be a literary critic. May I steal the editor’s computer for him?

    “The Guns of Asteroid Enoravan” Buy. Scrap that nasty rejection letter and offer a decent non-ferundable bonus.

    “The girl, the gun and the dragon.” Ditto, buy. Asap. Wow author is hot, wonder if she likes horses. Sis will kill, me but a boy gotta try.

    “Letters of quilt in a purple gravity?” Nah, not proper adventure. Nix that but with a kind letter to the deluded schmuck.

    “The man who shrunk his engorged editor.” Gotta ponder that one, could be too angsty.

    Only problem is Odin Books making a profit.

  11. I’ve not read much Laumer, but I love Anderson. Need to read and reread more of both.

    1. Some of Laumer’s early stuff is available on archive.org; scans from the original magazine printings. Baen also made some later stories available on their web site or “free CDs” years ago; you can find those on the web.

      For novels, try A Plague of Demons, Dinosaur Beach, Galactic Odyssey, The Great Time Machine Hoax, Worlds of the Imperium, and The Day Before Forever (usually packaged with Thunderhead, but it was also printed as a standalone)

  12. The contempt people of different ethnicities I’ve met have for white liberals is breathtaking. Sure, they’re willing to use those white liberals to get some things (a tool is there to be used and those liberals are certainly tools) but they don’t exalt them in the way white liberals seem to believe.

    They might get angry at a lack of tact by a conservative but often that’s a show to get what they want and a test to see if they should hold that person in contempt.

    I’ve been continually stunned when I’ve been in a situation wherein they are subtly teasing, insulting, and mocking the white liberals who are trying to ‘help’ (infantilize) them and those liberals don’t see it. And it’s so obvious that I have to believe it’s a cognitive dissonance thing where, because the liberals see themselves as the ‘good person’, and they think they’re doing the ‘other’ a favor, they can’t perceive that the ‘other’ may not appreciate the favor and it comes off as condescending.

    I work a blue collar job with lots of people of other races and I found long ago the right way to deal with them; treat them like everyone else. If they’re screwing up explain what they’re doing wrong in the same way they see you doing it to white dudes. They may not like the correction or the ungentle nature of the correction (I’m not mean, never insulting, but I am direct) but generally they respect me as an equal and we work well together.


    1. White liberalism is default setting aroind here. Big companies respond by using foreigners as foremen for blue collar work in order to avoid cries of racism. Of course a somali can dislike a syrian on ethnic grounds, but that does not count as racism.

    2. That’s what cheeses me off more than anything. People are individuals. They aren’t tools or weapons to be used to attack your opponents with. Stop weaponizing minorities.

  13. 1. That Weather Channel show, SOS How to Survive, has a lot of survival gadgetry DYI.

    2. Read a newspaper book review that apologized for tolerating actual old novels with old attitudes, as opposed to sanitized modern versions in historical fiction.

    3. Most city people are just people. Annoying people on the Internet make sure they let you know their urbanness.

    1. I have no problem with urban people. I have a problem with the assumption that some urbanites have that people they don’t know, who live lives they equally ignorant about are are incompetent and stupid. They’re not necessarily either.

  14. I suspect that a good number of urban left-wing types believe that their higher level of environmental awareness and social consciousness would protect them from any possible danger that lurks in a rural area. That their internal peace and compassion would bring instantaneous acceptance and love from both savage beast and savage people.

    Just like bear scat man in Alaska, or those bicycle people in the middle east.

  15. Though from Greater Atlanta, I spent all my summers on a farm in the mid-West. What a great post! Btw, please tell me Kudzu hasn’t made it to Tasmania? If you did that, well, okay you need to feel sorry for that, Mate! ;^)

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