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Resist! Resist!

First of all, my apologies for being late this morning. Life at Casa Verde is undergoing changes. Nothing major, just things that will require some changes to my normal schedule, at least in the short term. The good part of this is I had half an hour in the car already this morning, time to consider what I wanted to blog about.

As most everyone who follows MGC knows, the Dragon Awards were handed out this weekend. After years of being told by a certain part of fandom (or should I say Fandom?) to get our own award, they decided it was time to invade the Dragons because–duh–we finally had our own award. I’m not going to go into the gnashing of teeth and the walis of outrage that have been sounding since the awards were announced because the usual suspects didn’t win. Instead, our own Brad Torgersen, David Weber and Tim Zahn (among many other worthy recipients) won. So kudos to them and to all who voted for books because the books were good reads and not because of who they were written by or what their “message” was.

This is something a certain part of publishing and fandom has forgotten. Science fiction and fantasy grew because those genres allowed us to escape into flights of imagination that intrigued and entertained. Sure, sometimes it scared the crap out of us but, even then, we had heroes to cheer for.

Those of us who read the genre today and who enjoy the past masters understand that they wrote in a different time when things were, well, different. A book written in the 1930s will reflect the mores and society of that time. The same is true for a book written a century ago. This is something so many of those screeching about how evil Heinlein, et al, are. They forget these men and women wrote based on their lives and the time in which they lived.

But it is so much easier for the screechers to denounce these giants of the industry because they aren’t “in step” with society today. Sorry, but life doesn’t work that way. They need to remember that there will be a time in the not too distant future where their work will be looked at–or their social media posts, Tweets, etc.–and someone will decide they weren’t as “woke” as they thought. Then they will become the pariahs of the next screeching generation. How will they fill then?

I, for now, look forward to them seeing what it feels like to no longer be the cool kid on the publishing block. Petty? Not really. I just dislike bullies and that is what so many of them on the other side are.

They want the message to be first and foremost in fiction. Of course, it has to be the approved message. Heaven forbid that you come out as pro-capitalism, pro-religion, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, etc. Those are bad things and will bring their ire down on your head. But here’s the thing. Is message fiction really what readers want?

In an article in the Guardian, a look is taken at political novels and “message”. I know, I know. It’s the Guardian. But, in this case, there is some wisdom to be had.

After discussing critical response to books like 1984 and Atlas Shrugged, this was noted: “Resistance to a message has only grown stronger since then. . . This critical focus on form and language rewards a book as unusual as Milkman but creates a frosty climate for any author with a blatant reformist agenda.”

Now, it seems clear the speaker would prefer going back to political novels that are overt in their message. However, the market doesn’t want that. So why has this knowledge, this recognition of market demand, not penetrated the SF/F market?

The truth is it has. For decades, Baen gave readers what they wanted. With limited publishing slots each month, it couldn’t compete with the Big Six (now Big Five) publishers. Yet it built a devoted following of readers who respect the military, understand the importance of the Second Amendment, applauded the fact there were strong female leads in some series, etc. Even in the darkest of the books published by Baen, there was always a spark of hope. Yes, there was a message but it was interwoven into the story by authors who knew their primary job was to entertain and not preach.

Every reader has a decision to make when they walk into a bookstore or browse the virtual shelves of Amazon. What sort of book do you want to read? I can’t speak for the rest of you but for me, if I want to read fiction, I want to be entertained. I don’t mind a message as long as it is secondary to the ENTERTAINMENT. Reading in this instance is an escape.

If I want to learn something, if I want to consider differing points of view from my own, I read non-fiction. That is where I expect to find editorializing. But I also expect well-reasoned arguments and facts to back them up.

How about you? Do you mind overt messaging in your fiction or do you prefer having it interwoven into the plot so it becomes not so much hidden as subtle?

31 Comments
  1. Zsuzsa #

    They need to remember that there will be a time in the not too distant future where their work will be looked at–or their social media posts, Tweets, etc.–and someone will decide they weren’t as “woke” as they thought. Then they will become the pariahs of the next screeching generation.

    Given the current rate at which the SJWs are eating their own, we can probably schedule that for a week from Thursday at the latest.

    September 3, 2019
  2. The primary function of fiction is to entertain. Somehow people lost sight of that. If looking for information, or instruction, or pretty much anything else, you turn to non-fiction as that is it’s primary purpose. Not to say that the two can’t intertwine. The best stories often weave both together. But you need to remember who your audience is and what it is they are expecting. Certain segments of publishing have forgotten that.

    September 3, 2019
    • PapaPat .Patterson #

      Agree wholeheartedly. The PRIMARY function of fiction is to entertain.
      That quality makes messages easier to swallow for everybody, and makes them understandable to most people. Lots of great moral lessons got imparted that way. I could even suggest that the use of parables to teach the nature of the kingdom of God worked so well because they told a story.
      A GOOD story retains value, even after we don’t have foxes running around any more, and most people haven’t seen grapes hanging from a vine.
      I don’t know how durable message fiction will prove to be. I guess it depends on how long the message is relevant. Is “A Modest Proposal” something worth reading now, apart from the look it gives us of life among the Bloody Brits in 1730? “Walden Two” sure isn’t, except as an exercise in self-discipline.
      On the other hand, I think the continued existence of totalitarian regimes makes the messages in “Animal Farm” and “1984” relevant, and therefore those are of value, even if the degree of specificity of characters in “Animal Farm” has to be explained in footnotes.

      September 3, 2019
  3. Celia Hayes #

    I’ve always taken as my unofficial motto, that credo which was the mission statement of AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service): “To inform and entertain.”
    My books inform entertainingly, or so I hope. To forget this is to write sermons. Dull, butt-numbing sermons.

    September 3, 2019
  4. Writing (at least that done in a comprehensible language) is communication. Communication is for the passing of messages.

    The problem with the “woke” writers is that they apparently think they must communicate in the literary equivalent of a sledgehammer, the sharp edge of a sickle, or the barrel of a gun, else we, the “unwoke” will not get the messages.

    That makes people like us rather testy…

    September 3, 2019
    • Mary #

      But if they are subtle, they might not get credit for their wokeness.

      September 3, 2019
  5. Christopher M. Chupik #

    I don’t even like being lectured by people I agree with.

    September 3, 2019
    • Right? So many conservative leaning authors forget this.

      September 3, 2019
      • Prime example: William W. Johnstone’s Ashes series, and anything else under that name set in the present day.

        Examples that are not quite as bad include Kratman’s Caliphate and A State of Disobedience.

        September 3, 2019
        • Stanley Miller #

          Both Kratman’s Caliphate and A State of Disobedience Kindle versions are free on Amazon. I’d recommend them to anyone as they are good reading.

          September 3, 2019
    • Me, either.

      September 3, 2019
  6. Synova #

    Someone asked on a Facebook group if it was possible for Space Opera to be “good” without including politics. Then a good number of people went on to describe everything as politics so of course a story without politics would be pretty bad because it would be like writing a story without any living things in it that did anything.

    And while I was trying to think of how to explain that this wasn’t at all what people complained about it occurred to me that what puts people off (and all people, I think, with all varieties of ideologies) is if the politics in a story are a Mary Sue.

    Because we all know what that is, right? The self-insertion and you-must-love this character who is not drawn or revealed as having flaws? Mary Sue.

    So when Sarah writes about Eden and its libertarian government (or when Mad Mike does the same in Freehold) she doesn’t write a Mary Sue libertarian message because she throws in every weird mostly-disfunctional inefficiency that this causes into the story. But the people of Eden are happy with their weirdness and have good reason to prefer it over what they fled. A reader can take what they want from that or leave it. So NOT a Mary Sue.

    September 3, 2019
    • I was informed by one of the usual retards who seem to follow us around everywhere that “everything is political” and writing a story with no gay characters and no trans ones is Super Duper Political man! Also that having a story where one character is trans for absolutely no reason (doesn’t forward the plot, doesn’t change the story if they’re straight) is totally reasonable, and everybody should be doing it, and how dare I wonder if there’s a reason this character is trans.

      This story was of course an award nominee, and clearly that character was trans to check off a box. But I’m the bad guy for wondering why there’s a random trans person air-dropped into a fantasy story.

      September 3, 2019
      • adventuresfantastic #

        I was wondering what story you were talking about so I could avoid it, but then I saw “award nominee” and figured I probably already was.

        September 3, 2019
        • If you’re reading MGC and Dave hasn’t banned you from commenting for going Reeeee all the time, you wouldn’t have heard of this story. ~:D

          September 3, 2019
      • I think the worst-thus-far case I’ve seen is an alt-history series where even the Woke are saying “Um, come on, everyone’s a token. That’s just too much. You could do so much more with this world and the characters!” Ouch.

        September 3, 2019
        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

          Do I really want to know what series that is? [Shudder]

          September 3, 2019
          • Look for _River of Teeth_.

            September 3, 2019
            • wolfwalker #

              I read _River of Teeth_ with a reading group I belong to. What I remember is it started with a truly magnificent idea, but the story was missing major chunks and there was a glaring factual error in the setting. The tokenized characters grated, especially when they were anachronistic for the time period, but I just sorta groaned and ignored it because “can you really expect more in a Milieu-focused novella?”

              Never did read any further in the series.

              September 4, 2019
        • Tokens. Yeah. “There’s no reason for this character to have X characteristics, other than I needed X to satisfy this political requirement my editor/agent/teacher told me was important.”

          I don’t think I could write like that. The character would be like “Me, a token X? No, fuck you, I’m not doing that. No way.”

          September 3, 2019
    • John R. Ellis #

      I’m blanking on their name, but I’m glad that a decade (or almost!) ago when I read the EON/EONA duology, the author had the transgender character Lady Dela who was likable, nuanced, and important to the story. And it was only one aspect of her character. And their friendship with the lead and importance to the plot wasn’t weirdly fixated on them being trans, yet it was still a part of who they were.

      I find none of that in the current crop of oh-so-woke books and “inclusive” characters.

      September 3, 2019
      • Lois Mcmaster Bujold had two pivotal characters in the Vorkosigan series – there was a hermaphrodite character, early on, and then a woman-to-male trans in the later books. They were fully-rounded, interesting and individual people, and the woman-to-male had an excellent reason for taking such a radical step. I doubt very much that LMB wrote them in to ‘fill a square’ — or if initially that was the reason, they very soon busted out of the square. Real and fully-visualized characters have a way of doing that.

        September 3, 2019
        • Synova #

          And don’t forget the planet of Athos. Oh, and Freefall with the Quaddies.

          I don’t know if she could write them today without getting in trouble from someone. For one thing, Donna/Dono doesn’t support the current ideas about transgender at all. She decided to become Dono for (good) political reasons and nothing to do with gender identity at all. The men on the planet Athos (except for a few weird celibate monks) simply adapt to homosexuality without the least need to be “born that way”.

          September 3, 2019
        • I *loved* Lord Dono.

          September 5, 2019
  7. I’m hoping for a quick downgrade of SJW into a status their stereotyped models, the Nazi Brownshirts and the Spanish Inquisition. Probably take another couple of generations, though.

    September 3, 2019
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      IMO the Spanish Inquisition was saner than the modern SJWs.

      1) They had a firmer definition of heresy than the modern SJWs.

      2) They looked for hard evidence of heresy before they put somebody on trial. And they disliked evidence gained from torture.

      3) They allowed the guilty to repent of their heresy and go free. To the SJWs, once guilty always guilty.

      4) While not well known, prisoners of the Inquisition got better treatment than prisoners of the secular authorities of Spain. Apparently one internal document of the Spanish Inquisition complained that they didn’t have enough prisons and the heretics “didn’t deserve” to go to the secular prisons. 😀

      In short while as a Baptist I wouldn’t want the attention of the Spanish Inquisition, I still rate them higher than the SJWs.

      September 3, 2019
      • Eric Hinkle #

        You’ve read Henry Kamen’s book on the Inquisition? Fine piece of work.

        I especially remember his comment about how when riots broke out in Spanish cities, the inquisitors would get beaten up but the familiars, their unpaid volunteer informants, would be murdered. Heck according to Kamen even the inquisitors despised their informants!

        September 3, 2019
      • TheOtherSean #

        Another difference: While nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, at this point everybody expects the SJW’s. 😉

        September 4, 2019
  8. “Do you mind overt messaging in your fiction or do you prefer having it interwoven into the plot so it becomes not so much hidden as subtle?”

    I refuse to be scolded by the Left in fiction. Equally I refuse to be sermonized by the Right. Like Mr. Chupik said above, I don’t want to be lectured even by people I agree with. You have a message? I do not want to hear it. Go preach at church, that’s what those places are for.

    Tell. Me. A. Story. What I want is a fricking story, with people in it I care about. Is that so hard. suddenly?

    Does the story encourage a moral or ethical conclusion? That’s fine. If its a story I’ll make my own judgements about how things go. I don’t need the author telling me the “correct” interpretation as part of his/her/zir’s frigging lecture series.

    Say what you want about Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell from the political side, from the BUSINESS side those guys knew their market and knew how to entertain that market.

    The change we all see and are all railing about is the fundamental shift from entertainment to propaganda. Modern publishers do not seek to sell entertainment to the market. They seek to CHANGE the market using entertainment as the lever to make it move. Which is why the Big 6 is now the Big 5, and why the SF/F section in stores and libraries keeps shrinking.

    I am not some mushroom who will sit quietly in the dark eating any old bullshit the political masters of the publishing industry care to feed me, nor in fact are most people. The success of Amazon and indy writers proves that, if nothing else.

    September 3, 2019
  9. mrsizer #

    Timothy Zahn is still writing? I have about two feet of bookshelf space with his paperbacks; nothing since. Kindle really has changed my reading patterns.

    September 4, 2019
  10. Matt B #

    All writing that includes more than one character makes political assumptions. All interaction between groups is to some extent political. Any story that can involve the reader has to lay out a world view, and that is inherently political. I’m going to lay that out as a given.

    However, that’s not really the point. I, and I think most of us, read for entertainment. We read to be taken out of the world we live and transported to another. Hopefully an interesting and thought provoking other. Otherwise, there is no reason at all to read fiction.

    When the preaching and screeching overshadow the story, they break the contract. Which is, simply put, I give you my money and time. You entertain me. It’s not that I don’t like a message. I enjoyed Kalifate. I love the Freehold books. I was formed in part by Starship Troopers and Citizen of the Galaxy. I don’t give a damn about the political message because the story in each of those books is compelling. It carried me along and made me think.

    So…. In my not even humble opinion, if you try to compel me to buy a book that is all preaching and no entertainment you have broken the contract. Not only will I refuse to honor that broken contract, but I will shun you in perpetuity.

    September 4, 2019

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