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.