…later to win

I suppose the advantage of fiction is sometimes the good guys get to win.  Everyone needs some hope and something to strive for. Otherwise life is something of an exercise in nihilism. It’s why we derive comfort from stories where the rich and powerful have to operate under the same rules as Fred Ordinary-Bloke, where government is accountable and logic and common-sense win through.

I must admit these sort of fictions and at least temporarily losing myself in them becomes very attractive when things are falling apart.  A good book – for me anyway – leaves me coming out of the other side feeling a bit uplifted, maybe reminded of some of the good things and people in life and unpleasant and obstructive petty bureaucrats parasites finally get their come-uppance, instead of being immune to the direct consequences of their actions.

As a writer, there certain advantages to having petty bureaucrats end up as villains getting tarred and feathered and run out of town – like banks and tax collectors you can be sure that a very high percentage of your audience have had run-ins with the ‘type’ (they seem to run to type across nations and cultures) and will dislike them without you having to do much character work. It’s rather like any politician in fiction is likely to be a crook, any lawyer likely to be dishonest. I know, fiction and reality run too close together, but there is a limit to how much belief the reading audience can suspend.

The same is true the other way, too.  No matter how much effort the MSM and the trad publishing industry put into trashing the reputation and value of intact families… we actually all know the outcomes are better for children from them, most of the time (Yes, there are times and places when getting out is not only a good decision, it is the only sane decision, but the figures don’t lie, any more than they lie about the fraud which took place in the US elections. Kids – on average – benefit from father figures, and substitute for this when it isn’t around. Sometimes they find a good proxy, but mostly they don’t. Of course, the same applies to mother-figures, but custody typically goes to mothers.)

So if I was to characterize the kind of fiction I enjoy – and I believe a large part of the audience do to (maybe not petty government bureaucrats, who appear to derive their pleasure from, well, being in power over their fellow humans, and appear to love nothing more than functionless but massively expensive red-tape.) it would be books that lift me up with characters I can believe in, in situations which, um, don’t happen too often – whether we talk of space-travel or actually cutting red tape.

I’ve spent my writing career on producing books with this at the core. Books I hope leave you feeling lifted up and slightly better after reading them. It’s what I want from a book, (and yes’ I’m reading a lot of old faithfuls right now) so it makes sense that that is what I would put into writing them.

Image by charlotte_202003 from Pixabay

31 thoughts on “…later to win

  1. What you speak of here is at the core of Sarah’s “Human Wave” idea. Indie writers are all over it, and a good thing, too. Life is impossible without hope, and stories in which good triumphs are supports to hope.

    That having been said, good-triumphant stories also present a temptation to hide from the real world in stories. The challenge is to write good-triumphant stories in a fashion that mobilizes people — i.e., that not only helps them to continue to hope but also energizes them to act. That’s a non-trivial problem that must be solved story by story. I doubt we will ever see a “general” solution, any more than we can reasonably hope to see an approach to government that makes corruption, favoritism, and tyranny impossible.

  2. I know you like challenges, so I have one for you – write a story where the bureaucracy is the good guys, because they are enforcing a cumbersome requirement that actually is necessary, but everybody would like to pretend isn’t because “wouldn’t it be wonderful’. In fantasy it can even be a seemingly nonsensical requirement like the keeping up of a certain rite, which holds the portal to hell closed so the demons can’t come out.

      1. *Please* let us know if you write it. I will buy it, for sure (I may have worn out my copy of Mathemagics)

    1. Thomas T. Thomas has done stories of that sort. His early novel The Doomsday Effect (pseudonymously authored as Thomas Wren) is one. He also has a government employee hero in Crygender. John Barnes has also written along those lines (Mother of Storms). And there’s Charles Platt’s ultra-fanciful far-future novel Protektor. These are all worth reading for their own sakes.

    2. That’s already been done in a few different ways. Off the top of my head theres “The Cold Equations” and Stross’ Laundry Files series.

    3. There just aren’t that many of those. For example, building codes. While it’s nice to have a house that doesn’t fall down, having wall studs on 16-inch centers or an electrical outlet every three feet has nothing to do with that. Denver Water just replaced the line from the street main to my house because the old one _may_ have had lead in it. The house is 100 years old and I’m willing to bet “no lead pipes for water” has been on the books for at least 50 (the demise of leaded gasoline). Why now?
      I’m also a believer in (Pournelle’s) Iron Law. Even if it started as a necessary (or merely desired) endeavor, after any length of time, scope creep has probably buried that original purpose. For example, the Rural Electrification Board still exists – and they’re not even trying for relevant reinvention as the Rural Broadband Board.
      In the fantasy example, everyone owes (ever increasing) taxes to the Extra-dimensional Vortex Inhibiting League, who spends most of it on diversity consultants, guild-member junkets to warmer climes, and the salaries of the top five management tiers; their biggest conundrum is that the currently-in-fashion, ermine-lined cloaks are uncomfortably warm at the tropical resorts where they meet. The junior mages who actually perform the ritual are minimum wage apprentices.

      1. There was a hurricane that hit Florida. One neighborhood was devastated except for two houses. Turns out that they were built by Habitat for Humanity. Turns out that a lot of naive amateur aren’t so smart as the professional builders who just knew that when the code said that you need to have this many nails in a section this long they were just being bureaucrats.

        1. Around Denver, sheet-metal U “beams” are replacing wooden 2x4s as the internal framing material of choice. The economics of it baffle me. There is no shortage of trees – even lumber trees (as opposed to turn-them-into-paper trees) – and they just need to be chopped down, transported, and sliced up. Steel sheet metal (and it appears to be galvanized) has a much longer supply chain. Anywho… I’m interested to see how well that holds up over time. I can see it going either way.

  3. What I like best is a story where good wins plausibly. If it’s implausible, it’s the worst kind of escapism. But if it’s plausible, it inspires me to attempt to win myself.

    I have observed that in real life stupid people always lose in the end, even if they’re good. Smart people usually win, even if they’re evil, unless someone smarter comes along. So give me a protagonist who is good and smart. Clever, resourceful, not hidebound.

    You can say we should never make an antagonist stupid, because he would be too easy to beat. But then you have the zombie apocalypse genre, where the mindless have the strength of vast numbers. I’ve had days where it seems I’m living in that world.

    Smart is not necessarily good, but stupid is always bad. Pragmatism isn’t necessarily moral, but whatever doesn’t work can’t possibly be the right thing to do. This all seems trite and obvious, but I don’t think people grasp the full implications.

    1. You’re right, of course, but there are days when I’ll settle for any kind of escapism.

    2. Can you clarify you frame of reference when you say “in the end”?
      I’m thinking about those cases when people die, doing the right thing. I’m inclined to think of these as a personal win, but to do that, I have to disregard breathing-time as the limits.

      1. I think I’ll have to ask you to clarify “doing the right thing.”

        “In the end” means when all the results are in. That may or may not be when the protagonist is dead. Some lives have consequences that reverberate deep into the future. Some don’t.

        I consider myself a radical consequationalist.

        1. If examples clarify, here are the people I had in mind while thinking about people dying while doing the right thing:
          the guy in “Tale of Two Cities,” who goes to the guillotine in place of his “twin;”
          the priest played by Jeremy Irons in “The Mission” who walks into gunfire and dies;
          the characters in “The Last Battle” in the Chronicles of Narnia.

          Doesn’t have to be fictional, though; I just got 192,000,000 hits on google when I searched the term “died trying to rescue.”

          I don’t know that any of this applies to the point you were making.

    3. Note that in the zombie genre, the zombies are rarely villains, rather they are an environmental hazard

    4. I like it when they win by being the good guys. Absolute Justice is a good one because the heroes are much more honest in their teamwork and willing to play second fiddle if needed for the plan.

  4. I’ve just passed the worst part of TLOR, where Frodo and Sam encounter Shelob. At least no night mares so far…

    TLOTR definitely says a lot about just doing what you should do (because of love and friendship), slogging through it, even when there doesn’t appear to be any hope.

    1. Or as a Tolkien contemporary, G.K. Chesterton put it:
      “”But you and all the kind of Christ
      Are ignorant and brave,
      And you have wars you hardly win
      And souls you hardly save.

      “I tell you naught for your comfort,
      Yea, naught for your desire,
      Save that the sky grows darker yet
      And the sea rises higher.

      “Night shall be thrice night over you,
      And heaven an iron cope.
      Do you have joy without a cause,
      Yea, faith without a hope?””


  5. Just got the Daughter Product hooked on Dick Francis. They’re the sine qua non of competent, capable guys, taking their lumps and serving fair play. Virtue triumphs (at a cost) and the schemes of the wicked are thwarted (even if they get away).

    Very satisfying.

    Next up: Introducing her to Mr. Harry Dresden…

    1. Just check the dates – I believe that the later Dick Francis novels are ghost written by others….

    2. Ditto what you said about Dick Francis, and ditto what others in this thread are saying about the later ones not being all that good. Even though I’m not into horses, my lack of interest didn’t detract from exceptionally interesting fiction – fiction as it ought to be written! My memory seems to recall that all of his protagonists were people I’d really like to meet and get to know, which I find rare in fiction.

  6. I found myself writing damsel in distress being rescued. Because you know what, sometimes when I’m over my head with rules and regs and budget and paperwork and 2020, I want to fantasize about someone else over their head being rescued. I don’t want to be told that real princesses rescue themselves; I know that I will be putting in sufficient work, with my Calmer Half’s help, to rescue ourselves. And 2020 will pass. But right now I want to escape, and it’s actually really hard to find any fiction that actually has the much-maligned, but rarely-seen trope.

    1. When I do my fairy tale novels (The Princess Seeks Her Fortune and several in progress), the princess can save the hero, but not herself. Good old fairy tale rules. . . .

      I still remember the book where the princess declared that princesses are worthless if they don’t rescue themselves so arrogantly that she was tempting fate and SHOULD have found herself helpless to learn her limitations — but of course, wouldn’t be allowed.

    2. I find Georgette Heyer’s calm, competent heroes very soothing in this mood. Unfortunately I’ve just about memorized all her good novels.

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