Reality and expectations
I’m neck-deep in construction work on our little farm – we had – we thought, an agreement until December on the place we’re renting, so that when we moved the house (structure) — planned for April — onto the property, we’d have time to do the whole making it habitable part. Unfortunately that just got shifted to the end of April. That’s… approaching fast.
Now, we started with a piece of raw bush and some not well fenced paddocks which are more sag (rushes) and bracken than wallaby-and-wombat grazed lawn. Like the man whose work was to push a wheelbarrow, our job was all in front of us. There was barely a drive-able track to the best place to put a house. Kind of forty acres and a mule, and I’m the mule, although I suspect ‘jackass’ would be closer. They’re also obstinate.
The difference between us and the pioneers of yesteryear are substantial. As they say in the Monty Python skit, we ‘ave it soft. But you tell the young people o’ today that, and they won’t believe yer. I’ve been lucky to have the loan of quite a lot of heavy machinery (the crane in the picture), as well as owning a lot of kit – like angle-grinders and power-saws and cordless drivers and drills, to say nothing of ye horseless carriage. We also have access to shops and, possibly more important, information. Oh, and while this is Australia, and we have a reputation of everything trying to kill you, it’s a trifle overstated, especially with modern medicine. The chances of wildlife, outlaws, or some local or transient group of people deciding to kill or rob us of everything we have to keep ourselves alive are very small. My firearms are good and accurate, I don’t have to hoard ammunition. My chainsaw will cut in 10 minutes what a skilled man could in an hour. My water-pump carries a hundred times the water that Barbs and I could haul in buckets.
We have it very, very soft indeed.
It is still very physical, very challenging, both intellectually and psychologically. Property isn’t cheap in Australia, and building – especially hiring tradesmen or labor– is just prohibitively expensive on an author’s income. Yes, I am in upper-earning chunk of writers. That’s not saying much. I earn less than half the minimum wage around here (so I work a lot of hours). But I make up for it by being, actually, fairly skilled at lot of things, and bloody-mindedly determined at the many I have no knowledge of (or at least had no knowledge of when I started.)
But the experience makes me regard that settler who arrived on a bare piece of prairie or forest (and all humans were colonists, somewhere along the way. Otherwise we’d be just another extinct species with a few bones in some cave in Africa.) with an almost awed respect. It took both courage, incredible levels of work, skill, cooperation (because, if it was just two of you, or even a small group, just surviving the tough parts would have taken that. Every person would have had to work. It wasn’t gender assigned roles as much as the limits on physical capability as often as not. Yes, NOW we can get all woke about it, but, look at primitive societies, vastly isolated from each other, different in many ways and… similar in others, typically in ‘gender roles’. That is convergent social evolution in action, and it happened not because of ‘the patriarchy’ but because of ‘the survival’. It’s easy to forget that when you’re some generations removed from those hardships.
With that distance, with the lack of comparable experience, particularly with urban populations to whom the trials and tribulations of surviving and building the comfort and civilization the urbanites now live in is as alien as the social traditions of the Mongols, has come a lack of respect. It goes further, to outright shame and disdain among the modern urban ‘woke’. Why were these vile people so insensitive to the wildlife, the natives (AKA ‘earlier colonists’) and the environment? Short of having Bambi eat their winter food, the ‘natives’ run off their livestock they needed to survive, and the environment being something they had far too much of, while food, shelter and comforts of even the most rudimentary being very thin on the ground… it’s very hard to explain to people with no referents.
This ‘referents’ issue comes particularly into modern fantasy. The ‘colonial’ type of sf, once a mainstay and very popular, now being virtually dead of PC. Colonists are wicked, see. Like the patriarchy (white and American) wot wickedly taught people to kill, the fact that humans are a colonist species is viewed only through that ‘white American’ lens.) But in fantasy, a fair amount of the story usually happens in a ‘primitive’ setting. Where people ride through trackless wilderness… where horses are tireless, cover vast distances, and somehow have their tack on and are ready to ride at a moment’s notice. Horses are automobiles in the referent of many urban writers… and readers.
Stew is instantly contrived, animals are shot and eaten. Food and drink are always to be had. Campfires are cheerfully slept by. Ships race away from the quay in hot pursuit under full sail, instantly. The questing damsel has a charming array of fresh outfits. Fights with huge warriors are won by feisty female warriors in full armor…
And, fair enough, by the referents that many readers have, these are all fine.
Of course if you actually know anything about any of the above, you’ll toss the book in fire, before remembering you got it from the library.
It’s a sad truth that for a substantial part of the audience out there you have to explain reality, or they won’t believe you, and even then they probably won’t believe something so alien to their own referents, and will regard your book as rubbish. Of course, to another section of the audience, the practical, the pragmatic, the ones whose life experience isn’t wholly urban American, those who have had time in the military, the rural kids, the ones who have at least tried to their own DIY… if it doesn’t live up to their reality, they’ll also regard your book as rubbish.
I’m not going prescribe which course to follow. Just put it up there as to why both sides often regard books popular with the other side as rubbish.