A chance mention of F-IW – reference to a book I read when wild fax machines still roamed the earth and people still knew the terrifying scent of Gestetner machine duplicating fluid (on which many a fanzine was produced) brings up today’s post.
It’s a reference to ‘Freedom – I won’t’ in Eric Frank Russell’s THE GREAT EXPLOSION. (The picture below is a link. Yes, I do get paid something if you buy it -about 8 cents)

Now it came out in 1962. I was a precocious brat, but not that precocious… I must have read it when I was about eight or nine – which was some time later.  A few years before I read the ‘THE FALLIBLE FIEND’  by L. Sprague de Camp (which I read in the magazine it came in, shortly after it came out -within a few years anyway.) I eventually hunted down the rest of the Novarian cycle – of which this is part.

Both of these books had a huge effect on my young mind. Yes, I can see the Woke and modern left rubbing their hands (and other parts, never mentioned) in glee, saying ‘Yes! We were RIGHT that we had to capture publishing and exclude any badthink. Just think if we’d had the dominance we have now over traditional publishing, back in 1960, even evil people like Freer would have been won (Hi: I’m Dave the Divider. If it wasn’t for me, so we are told by the self-elected authorities,  sf/fantasy would be united and singing Kumbaya. See what a fate I saved you from!).

Um. Except… well, they influenced me for three reasons, all of which most recently published sf fails miserably on, and would have failed then, as it fails now.  Both kept a young boy amused and entertained. Both were something easy to read. And while both introduced me to ideas and concepts that were very new to a pre-pubescent and just-past-that brat… they slipped those in under the radar, and made me think. They didn’t give me predigested answers. In fact, they gave me no doctrine at all. Can you imagine a Hugo nominee in the last few years that wasn’t rigidly doctrinaire, and utterly orthodox, prescriptive and predictable?

And of course, the other factor about these books was even a very immature thinker could poke holes in the stories… but I could see they were ideas, questions and explorations of concepts, rather than prescriptions and accurate foretelling. They were ‘what if?’ explorations.

What if a minority group were small and persecuted, and your group took them out from under that persecution: would they thank you eternally? Or would they, now a numerically majority group, persecute you? Are people ‘good’ just because they’re persecuted? (in this case the formerly persecuted were nudists, BTW).

What if a society – as a whole – simply embraced non-compliance with authority? Yes, it wouldn’t work as EFR wrote – there were logic holes I could see then let alone now. Any bureaucratic and authoritarian group would apply brute force – relying on terror and intimidation to enforce some kind of compliance — as indeed ‘cancel culture’ is attempting now. Of course it’s a numbers game.  There really aren’t enough enforcers to sit on everyone’s shoulder.  Hence, just as secret police in every authoritarian dictatorship from the Communists to Nazis have always done, they operate by intimidation and silencing.  People and groups self-censor and change their behavior because they don’t want to lose their jobs or have their families attacked or threatened.  The idea that EFR brought to me was the realization that it was a numbers game: that the major tool in the authoritarian playbook was always to let you resent or loathe them… but to keep you silenced. So that you thought you were the only one… Because, well, when you realize the ‘enforcers’ DON’T know everything or control everything, and that rather than you being the only one, many people feel just as you do, and… thought they were alone in that, it’s game over for the authoritarians.

Indeed, they’ll still try terror and brutality… but that reaches the point where enough people decide resistance is worthwhile: and they might find it’s less fun being on the receiving end.

I suppose EFR was not thinking he’d be predictive of 2020 and the Cancel-culture and the Antifa mobs and twitter swarms , but, while 80 years may have dated his writing style, human authoritarianism and bureaucrats are still much the same.

THE FALLIBLE FIEND introduced an idea that just hadn’t crossed my young threshold yet — and I meet a myriad people from 3 to 93 who still have this problem. You see the point-of-view character is the Demon Zdim from the 12th plane, indentured to work on another plane, populated by humans.  Now Zdim is – by his own viewpoint – a normal, sensible, moral and ethical being. Indeed, by the standards of his society (I hadn’t read Adam Smith or come across ‘Society’s Mirror’ yet. Give me a break) he was pretty much that too.  He was just an average guy… er, demon.  Of course, in the plane populated by humans, THEIR normality, morals, ethics and standards are… theirs. Barbaric and alien to Zdim – as horrific as his are to them.

L. Sprague de Camp, without being judgemental or prescriptive, gave me a sympathetic character – utterly alien to me, to see the world through the eyes of… and ALSO characters I could identify with and whose codes of behavior a youngster recognized. Also people who weren’t ‘bad’ by their own code. It introduced the concept of ‘mores’ (the social and moral customs of a group or time or place or all of the above) to me. The idea that one judged people and society against their culture and setting… not against yours. And that if THEY did the same to you – judged you (as Zdim did) against their ‘mores’ – you would fall as short as they did against yours.  In a hundred years time or from an alien viewpoint – both groups will fall woefully short by that ‘more’.

It’s a concept that is pretty well essential to any writer: it means you’ve learned to put yourself in someone else’s time, place and shoes. You can write a monster – or a hero, without being one.  Kind of makes you question the writer-caliber of those who want legends of yesteryear banished and ‘cancelled’ because they’re out of step with the mores of a vocal subgroup in 2020.  But then… surely, if they could write with any skill they wouldn’t have to try exclude those they disagree with. It’s sure a sign of believing your work inferior and unable to win in open competition, if you have to try and exclude or handicap that competition from the field.

My prediction is they’re going to reap what they sowed.  And my books will continue to try to entertain, be easy to read… and contain that which could make you think, from multiple points of view.



  1. When enforcement gets too heavy the enforcers have to start traveling in twos and be careful because they get accident prone. Staying out of hot tubs and away from tall buildings is recommended.

  2. The idea of ‘mores’ is something that the neo-liberals have lost. It was very prevalent in the anthropology courses I took in college, and the other books and stories I read before and after those courses. The problem being that the concept of viewing a culture through the eyes of another, to see how and why certain customs are adopted and propagate got corrupted by academia and mainstream media as “all cultures are equal.”

    The problem with “all cultures are equal” is that not all cultures are necessarily trying to solve the same problems. They live in different environments with different pressures. It’s hard and unsettling to look at some past cultures because they did things we find barbaric, but it was something that worked then for them. Had they tried doing things the way we want them to be now, they likely would have failed.

    1. Of course, the kooks will say “all cultures are equal” and “but Western Culture is evil”.

      On the other hand, the real problem of “all cultures are equal” is that some cultures had practices that no sane Westerners want to be happening now. Do the “all cultures are equal” folks want to be guests of honor in an Aztec ceremony? 😈

    2. I had a great “Well, duh,” moment when I was reading an overview history of China. The author pointed out that China had made technological jumps, then stopped . . . because they didn’t need to go farther, and had other more pressing concerns. What they had worked, took care of the problem, and didn’t need improvement to meet their needs. That combined with a backwards-looking official culture—which also worked and met needs—was great. Alas, outsiders developed better sailing technology and improved weapons, and started sailing all he way to China. Oops.

    3. No, I think the problem with “all cultures are equal” is that 1) you’re treating their culture as a whole, instead of in an elemental fashion, and 2) there are some things that ARE evil. Period.

      When looking at a culture, Americans have (in the past) usually atomized the culture. We’ll take food, some music, maybe a holiday, as good things to be adopted. Other things are not to be adopted because those elements are not good or copacetic with our culture.

      Some of those things are actually evil. Aztecs cut out hearts to get rain from their gods. While, yes, that is perfectly moral in their culture, it is NOT something I want to render relativistic. I’m going to insist on my morals in that aspect. Building great pyramids and inventing polo/basketball? Sure, we can say that’s not necessarily worse or better than our culture. Cutting the hearts out of living humans? Forced beastiality (and I’m not talking about the animal’s consent), as written by one sf/f author? Right out. Evil. Period.

    4. Even “it worked for them” is somewhat dubious: sometimes after a cultural shift (a missionary outreach, or the like), people will look back at their former lives and say “we were destroying ourselves, but it’s the only life we knew.” This was the reaction of the Waorani (f.k.a. “Auca”) in Ecuador after Marjorie Saint and Elizabeth Elliott and the other widows of the Through Gates of Splendor team brought Christianity, forgiveness, and sustainable agriculture to the tribe of brutal, no-tech, vengeance-obsessed naked savages who’d killed their husbands.

      By one tribe-member’s estimate, their entire tribe would have been extinct within a generation just by killing each other off.

  3. What if a society – as a whole – simply embraced non-compliance with authority?

    It wouldn’t happen because no society contains people who “think the same”.

    I doubt that the society that EFR wrote about would last a generation as it started out as.

    Sure there’s be “social pressure” to conform to the ideal but over time there would be non-conformists who would be willing to argue about the ideal.

    Of course, how could a society “without authority” handle vocal non-conformists?

    Force them to shut up? “You and what army”. 😈

    Of course, if outsiders arrived “wanting to change the society”, the con-conformists might willingly support the outsiders. 😉

    Oh the other hand, my memory of the Earth-men was that they were more comic-book “authoritarians” than what would exist in Real Life.

  4. “I’m Dave the Divider. If it wasn’t for me, so we are told by the self-elected authorities, sf/fantasy would be united and singing Kumbaya.”

    So, *you’re* to blame!

    1. Yes, it’s all me. Glad to be of service. I had no idea of the vastness of my prowess. Once I found out, I traveled time and space looking for some legendary evil… but alas, from spitting in the primeval soup to turning the lights off two seconds too early in the heat-death of the universe… President Trump had already snaggled all the credit, and is held responsible for all these dastardly deeds by the same ‘authorities’… all that was left for me was dividing sf/fantasy. Ah well. One takes what one can get.

  5. I loved The Fallible Fiend when I read it. Of course, I was instantly a huge de Camp fan when I came across the Harold Shea stories he co-authored with Fletcher Spratt, and I resolved to read everything wither man had written.

    Glad to come across someone who has similar tastes, and I hope you have a great day!

    1. Eric and I wrote the PYRAMID SCHEME books because we both loved the Compleat Enchanter (Harold Shea books) – so I have been a fan for many years.

  6. ” Can you imagine a Hugo nominee in the last few years that wasn’t rigidly doctrinaire, and utterly orthodox, prescriptive and predictable?”

    Plenty. Did you even read Cat Pictures Please? Record of a Spaceborn Few? Six Wakes? Artificial Condition? Binti?

    If you don’t see why those are the opposite of doctrinaire (especially Cat Pictures Please and Six Wakes), why they’re unorthodox, why they’re the opposite of prescriptive (especially Record of a Spaceborn Few), and why they’re unpredictable… then you’re not really looking, you’re just seeing what you want to see.

    I mean, asking this question makes you look out of touch with the Hugo nominees, bluntly.

    1. Actually, Nathanael, the problem is that you don’t understand the word ‘orthodox’ –
      orthodox – adjective.
      of, relating to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc.
      of, relating to, or conforming to beliefs, attitudes, or modes of conduct that are generally approved.

      Pray tell: which of the stories failed to live up to the definition of ‘orthodox’ – for the narrow church of the woke of sf? I read two of those, BTW. Started on a third but it was so bad I gave up. They in no way challenged a single iota of standard modern left wing doctrine. Actually, don’t don’t just tell me how they are contrary to that doctrinaire prescription. Go on twitter and tell all your little woke mob so that they can ‘cancel’ the author: because that is the price of such heresy.

      Try to grasp this nettle: orthodoxy is proximal. A story is not unorthodox because, in 2020, it doesn’t reflect the approved form of philosophy and doctrine of 1940 society. It’s another one of those ‘Mores’ you don’t get. It’s unorthodox if it fails to comply with the doctrine of its proximal group and situation. So someone positing that human males with XY genes might have different genetically expressed traits to human females -who do not have whatever genetic material is coded onto that Y gene – is orthodox thinking… to geneticists. If that was in a Hugo nominee story – it would be rabidly unorthodox, and the author would be attacked and ostracized.

  7. I picked up a copy of The Fallible Fiend earlier this year; enjoyed it immensely. EFR: I read his WASP book serialized at ASTOUNDING years ago, and read the novel this month (from 1957).

Comments are closed.