The Flat Now

Sure, of course, you can tell me that it’s my current choice of reading, mostly because when I’m depressed I read MOSTLY Jane Austen Fanfic. (Low emotional involvement and I can jump around in it without missing anything essential.) It’s sort of the emotional equivalent of eating marshmallows: vaguely sweet, not really any flavor of note, and sort of pillowy.

In my defense, I’ve also been so busy that I kind of only read when I’m ready to go to bed, and heaven knows the last thing I want to do as I hit the pillow is start on some riveting book.

This is not, however, the only thing I read. It’s just what I read when I am spending the day writing or editing and at night just want to scratch the reading itch before collapsing.

Other things I’ve read recently include historical mysteries, space opera, and cozies. I’ve also second hand read a bunch of very strange romances, some of them with time travel.

Second hand reading is like second hand smoke. And here I need to explain Dan’s own hierarchy of stress, which is kind of weird for someone not familiar with it. When he’s not stressed, he reads space opera, or thrillers. When he’s stressed he reads the world’s stupidest romances. I can’t really judge, I know, because, well, I read fanfic, and below that there’s comics, and below that there’s true crime. And when I hit true crime it’s a clue I’m actively suicidal, so I usually try to pull up, though about a year ago I spent three months stuck in true crime. No, it wasn’t good.

However, the problem is not that he reads the world’s stupidest romances. It’s that he can’t help sharing. And I don’t mean the good parts. He usually shares the parts that either confuse him because he can’t figure out what the writer is doing, or the parts that he’s going “Did I miss something? is this person crazy?”

Spoiler: he usually didn’t miss something.

Oh, I do have a legitimate beef with the stuff he reads. Since we live in the same house and we both read from KU, kindle has decided I really really want to read the same stuff he reads. And if I get one more “The mean boss fell in love with me” (What is it with women and assholes? It really makes me question my “assigned gender” ahem. Masculine is not the same as rampaging asshole, y’all.) Or “The billionaire cowboy’s secret bride’s baby” add on my kindle, someone is going to die. Probably whoever decided it’s a good idea to give me those adds.

And while I’m at it, can y’all stop with the paranormal cozies? I have nothing against Urban Fantasy and I have nothing against cozy — Agatha Christie style — mysteries, but bringing them together and lumping them under MYSTERY drives me nuts, because usually the magic is a work around so that there is no mystery solving and ARGH.

Okay, that’s all. All better now.

This post is not about any of that, anyway. What this post is about is about the rampant, bizarre, insane ignorance of the eras these people are actually writing in.

Sure, I do get it that what’s important is the romance or fanfic or whatever, but dudes (and dudettes) seriously?

I’m not even going to kick at the fact most of the history we get is “history as derived from TV and movies.” No. I’m not going to kick because that’s a battle I lost long ago.

But as TV and movies themselves are starting to lose the idea that the past was at all different younger people are starting to write in the ever present now, sometimes with different clothes.

No, Mary Queen of Scotts should not be played by a black person. And no, I don’t care how inclusive they want to make this. It wouldn’t be all right for Shaka Zulu to be played by a blond, and it’s not okay for a white queen to be played by a black person. Because that’s not how any of this works. Real people existed, and they had a look. Also, in either situation, the reversed race just couldn’t and wouldn’t happen in the past and to pretend otherwise is not just insane but evil, as it’s a version of destroying statues and erasing history and making everything into the ever present now.

And of course, what’s wrong with that is that history is how we got here. Things happened for a reason. If there was no past, then there is no reason for anything to happen the way it does now. And we don’t know what results things done in the past had.

I.e. Heinlein’s dictum of “A generation that doesn’t know history has no past, and no future” is absolutely correct. Because if you don’t know what happened before, you don’t know how things changed, or why. And you don’t know what’s likely to result from today’s movements and actions. Oh, you might also imagine yourself much better than your ancestors, when you aren’t. Which I suppose is the attraction of the whole thing.

Weirdly the Jane Austen fanfic sins are slightly less evil. As in, most of it is word choice, and sometimes minor slips, like not realizing that yes, there was a strict class system in England at the time.

Oh, the occasional exquisitely educated fanfic writer feels the need to have a black character whom only Lizzy understands, because she’s the only non-racist of the time. (Rolls eyes.) I know they’re exquisitely educated, because they tell me. And usually I roll my eyes so hard I can’t finish reading that story.

Then there is the more common one with the “dark satanic mills” where people get sent as a punishment because house service was JUST so much better (18 hours of menial work…. never mind.) It’s stupid and completely ignores the true history of industrialization, but they’ve been sold this lie by everyone from Dickens to their teachers, so what can you do? Oh, yeah, read another story. Fortunately there are enough writers not obsessed with “social preaching” problems in fanfic. (Kind of like social diseases but less acceptable.)

But the historic mysteries…. Okay, seriously, people. I keep running into this one. No, a monk or even a very religious person from the 10th century wouldn’t think that being a heretic was okay and it was mean to kill them. They thought of religious heresy as a contagion, and the longer this person was alive (or at liberty) the more it would spread, and kill souls eternally. I.e. people in the 10th century did not cosplay at religion. They really, really, really believed it.

Sure, I’m sure there were people who didn’t. But you know what, it didn’t mean the “clever” people didn’t really believe it. And religious tolerance is not a thing humanity is prone to, anyway. We have centuries of wars to prove that. And no, it wasn’t just an excuse. Just as it isn’t an excuse for Islamic terrorists now. They really really believe, okay? If you don’t it doesn’t make you superior. It makes you have a different model of the world in your head.

As cancel culture and branch Covidians prove, we’re really not immune to fanaticism and the idea of mental contagion.

So, stop preening, and if you’re going to write a 10th century person, write him or her AUTHENTICALLY. Or set it in space, and you an have your super woke monk or whatever. Okay? Also, I won’t yell out swear words in the middle of the night when I go to bed, and wake my poor husband.

However, taking the cake is the woman who described someone going back in the past…. to the 80s — this was a second hand read, but husband kept reading me paragraphs, because he was sure he was missing something — only the 80s are really like the fifties in movies. I mean, everyone was super-prudish, all the women were housewives, and this woman kept talking about leggings, until it hit us what she actually meant were stockings. Oh, and hobble skirts. In the eighties. (Okay, I wore them. but I liked 30s style clothing and could talk mom into either making it or having it made. I guess I was fairly insane. Sue me.)

Look, people, people who were alive in the eighties aren’t that old. Yes, I know, there is a cringe effect to knowing your parents had sex. At least there is, if the ones I’ve called senile delinquents since they were in their forties, were a little more circumspect and if they didn’t have this special giggle they did when they were getting amorous, which was my cue to shut my bedroom door and push the eiderdown into the crack underneath, so as to spare my virgin ears. For me, by the age of sixteen, it was called “day ending in y.” (And I suppose that’s good for them, etc. but REALLY. the house was not well insulated.)

BUT my generation — alas — wasn’t particularly prudish. Hint, when I told people I was getting married, they assumed it was because I was pregnant, because they wouldn’t even consider getting married otherwise. And though I was a stick in the mud (like most people overly interested in words, I found sex much more interesting as a mental exercise, until I found someone I could trust, and I married that guy) I was privy to the confidences of my family members and classmates, and let’s say that outside some rare and very religious communities, you really aren’t going to find anyone completely ignorant about sex in the eighties. For heaven’s sake, don’t you people watch the movies of that time?

Heck, in many ways we were way less prudish than now, because none of us was going to be too scared of the male gaze (what the hell do you think the hobble skirt and fishnet stockings I wore were for?) or swooning because some guy said something untoward. We were made of more robust stuff.

I guess the fragile flowers of now want to pretend they’re heroines of liberation, by pretending that everyone in the past was so prudish they really didn’t know about sex. Oh, and women were males’ property, yadda yadda yadda.

Honeychild! We were going to clubs and dancing all night and being completely unafraid of male gaze. And if the word microaggressions had been invented, we’d have laughed at it. Hell, we’re laughing at it now.

The purpose of fiction is to inhabit someone else’s head for a while. Not to stay locked in your own, with your hands over your years, screaming “Lalalalalalala” and thinking this makes you transgressive or important.

Until you understand that other cultures, past or foreign are actually different, and that other people think and feel in ways different than you do — though some of them just as valid, others…. kill it with fire — you are not equipped to make moral judgements.

And you’ll continue screaming and hating anything that’s different, truly different, and denying its existence by flattening the past and thinking all other cultures are exactly like ours, with different clothes, interesting dances and exotic food.

All of which unfortunately can kill you.

Also, your books will continue making anyone who knows history scream. Oh, and anyone who knows real adult dilemmas and emotions.

As is explained by Agatha Christie in Murder in Retrospect, children don’t really understand the subtle emotions. It’s all vivid and immediate love and hate.

And in your case, dear children, all of this is played against the flat landscape of a world in which all the “good people” think exactly as you do, naturally.

Because you’re the epitome and pinnacle of creation.

Which I guess means you also take your religion seriously. And see your god every morning when you look in the mirror.

49 thoughts on “The Flat Now

  1. “What is it with women and assholes? It really makes me question my “assigned gender” ahem. Masculine is not the same as rampaging asshole, y’all.”

    Got the same issue with men and teh crazy. We were quite literally made for each other, men and women. Everybody has someone out there they’re close enough to perfect for. Ain’t nobody perfect, but you can get pretty close. But it also happens as we’ve got hormones and crazy cakes cultural influences enough that the “opposite” in “opposite sex” (when’s the last time you heard that, eh?) can get blurry- again, thanks, crazy cakes culture. Much.

    I do wonder sometimes, though. I had good role models growing up. Not just my father and grandads, but persons of good character that actually presented that way on tv, in movies, and of course in books. Where are the role models of good character today in popular culture? And I will note that good role models can make mistakes, too. They have to, being human, they can’t escape it. Who do today’s children emulate? Where does their moral structure come from?

    Its more than role models, I know. Courtesy and acceptable codes of behavior that all adults are supposed to exemplify, those have gotten all loose and runny. It’s a mess.

      1. Yeah, but Star Trek Discovery is “Mary Sue the Psychopath Slaver Goddess Who Is Also Spock’s Sister.” That’s not healthy. Heck, STD and ST:PicardButNotReally make every other Star Trek look like genius. I mean, even “Spock’s Brain” has a better plot and more moral probity.

  2. I love the Cadfael books. Which I know weren’t the ones you were talking about. At least Ellis Peters did her research. And seemed to understand real belief. Which I’m not sure the writers of the television show understood at all.

    1. Another Cadfael fan! Yes, we understand these are not the ones referenced. I only recently became a fan. I now have a new appreciation for my husband being a fan of movies rather than romances.

    2. Even they had some bloopers.

      That a man is not a priest does not in the least affect the validity of the wedding vows. (The couple could plead force, but the mere exchange of the words of marriage constituted a marriage, even without witnesses.)

      And when your baby is born sickly, you do not send for the priest. You grab the water that you sent for earlier, because you knew this was possible, and you baptize the baby yourself on the spot.

  3. I guess the fragile flowers of now want to pretend they’re heroines of liberation, by pretending that everyone in the past was so prudish they really didn’t know about sex.

    This seems to be a universal issue, where every generation seems to think the ones that came before knew nothing of the birds and the bees. I remember an article from a few years ago where there was a bit about how, “Even my grandmother knows about BDSM,” and my thought was, “If she’s actually your grandmother, she was having sex for decades before you were born. I doubt you have anything to teach her on the subject.”

    Since you mentioned Christie several times in here, I just wanted to say that one of my favorite parts in the Miss Marple books is whenever the subject of sex comes up, all the younger people try to dance around the topic because they’re worried about shocking poor Aunt Jane, and Miss Marple says, oh yeah, she knows all about that, and really, that’s quite tame compared to some of the stories she knows…

  4. — What this post is about is about the rampant, bizarre, insane ignorance of the eras these people are actually writing in. —

    Historical ignorance is a contemporary plague. At least, it’s hard to believe earlier generations of Americans were as ignorant of the past as are today’s clueless ones.

    About thirty-five years ago, the Reason Foundation ran an informal experiment about historical knowledge among young Americans. Street pollsters asked young passers-by a small number of questions about history — and not the remote history of other nations, but relatively recent American history. Among the questions, this one stuck in my memory: “In which war did the United States fight Japan?”

    About a third of the young folks who deigned to participate didn’t know. One young man replied “Did we fight a war with Japan? Who won?”

    If Dave Barry will permit me the use of his favorite phrase: I am not making this up.

    1. A lot of kids’ history classes never get that far, or the kids are not paying attention because it’s almost summer.

      Whenever there are good history programs or exciting movies, American historical knowledge goes up And that’s probably why the History Channel doesn’t run many history shows anymore.

  5. I admit I enjoy the Bridgerton romance novels – they’re a light fluffy read when I need to wind down. I was looking forward to the tv series. Then they made the queen (and, I swear, half the aristocracy) black. Turns out the showrunners wanted to make the show socially relevant or something. Sigh.

    And their dresses had zippers. Zippers!

    1. My only assumption is that the streaming services have a minimum social and cultural relevancy level they have to maintain, to avoid being attacked by the wokescolds. It’s the only way you can explain half of the choices they make on their programs (the other half being they don’t care, as long as they can get it cheap).

      And, I watched enough of “Bridgerton” to realize that this was an even worse light-and-fluffy vaguely-“Regency” soft-core porn “romance” movie.

      Which now makes me want to do an alternate-history novel where a member of one of the big warlord clans realizes that the Tokugawa Shogunate is coming and decides to get out with as many of his people as he can-and hires out to a new place in the New World. So, rather than the few hundred Japanese ronin showing up, you have a few thousand-and retainers, and families and a few peasants, showing up and doing the whole “first king was a really successful soldier” thing in Mexico… Nominally loyal to the Spanish governor but rather trying to figure out how to turn where he is into his own nation…

      1. There were some of the Japanese guys who were Christian who got out and went to the Philippines, or India, when it became clear that the situation with the persecutions was becoming hopeless. But usually they could only get the really old and sick guys to leave.

    2. Bridgerton never made any pretensions to being historically accurate, though, and that’s quite clear with interviews of the show runners and the costumer. It’s the ones who take it seriously that I’d worry about.

  6. A friend of mine had a theory on the “women and assholes” theory. Her theory was that women were attracted to assholes because they showed all the signs of nominal “strong” male behavior that attracted women to them. They tended to be more demonstrative and more “vocal” than most men, and that they were the sort of guys that the women wanted to be chased by, one way or another. They also tended to show more outward signs of wealth, in one form or another (i.e. the “why rock stars get laid more often” thing).

    I made the mistake of having to read several recent romance novels a while ago, and just…if this is what women in the West are after, maybe importing from overseas is my best option. Especially if I become rich in any way, shape or form.

    1. I recommend the Indian imports. They can count, they can cook, and generally they’re a lot tougher than the princesses we get around here. Also they don’t openly profess hatred for all men, so that’s a plus as well.

      1. I was thinking Chinese for a while, but probably not at this point. And Japanese…I know a guy that dated a Japanese import and there’s a reason why they’re called JAP (Japanese-American Princesses) and she was at least honestly mercenary…

        Indian is tempting, so is Indonesian.

        1. There’s plenty of nice girls out there, the trick is to avoid the crazy ones while you look for the nice ones. Sadly, most of the white Canadian women I dated back in the day were crazy, or looking for something else other than me, or both. Chinese girls in my experience were looking for Chinese guys, no substitutes accepted. Lots of attractive Indian girls in Toronto back in the day, they were about the nicest (to me at least) and most accomplished of the lot.

          YMMV, because humans are individuals and vary in a great many ways. ~:D

            1. Part of the problem is that as you get older, more of the sane ones get taken, so you end up with a higher proportion of crazies.

              Oh, then throw in the part where it seems like modern life is deliberately selecting for neuroticism.

        2. In general, I highly recommend avoiding mainland China girls – remember, most are only children if that tells you anything….especially if they grow up in the city (village girls seems to have kept traditional Chinese culture better).
          BTW, Shanghai women have the reputation of being beautiful gold diggers.

          Of course, in the end, it’s the individual that matters most, and then their family.

          1. I’ve been told the same-only go for Shanghai girls if you’re great with women and understand that they’re rather mercenary. Hong Kong used to be very much reciprocal loyalty, but not these days. Beijing is like dating a DC girl (if they can’t snag a mover and shaker, they’ll snag someone on the up-and-up or works for a mover and shaker), so that’s not an option. If I was to go Chinese, I’d probably be aiming for Taiwan and not the mainland, definitely.

            AND having her family vetted.

            1. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, Taiwanese girls aren’t much better. I’m not sure how much is modern vs traditional (kind of like feminist vs tradition Western women), but I’ll just say that typical modern Chinese attitudes towards on how spouses should act towards each other, raising children (think Tiger Moms!), and what parents/in-laws should do are rather different from mine (and my family and friends).

              I think the Chinese who came over younger (say elementary school or high school) have a better grasp on Western culture than those who came over later for college, work, or marriage, but I haven’t kept up with the ones I used to know, so maybe they’ve gotten worse (as many seem to do as their children get older). And the now-common late marriages certainly don’t help, Chinese or Western.

            2. I should add that I strongly think having a pre-menopausal wife and a teenage daughter should be illegal; late marriages make this much more likely.

              1. Teenage daughters are easy to raise. Firmly seal them in a wine keg with a wire bottom. Feed and water and wash through the bung hole. Release when they turn eighteen.

                And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you…

                1. Problem with raising people in complete isolation is that society is fragmenting at the level of concepts on which communication is based. There’s a need to give people the foundation to communicate with people in more than one fragment, and to detect deception from within all the fragments.

    2. a) information about what Americans as a whole ‘want’ is flawed, partly on purpose
      b) cultural differences are potentially a problem, western nutjobbery is not the only risk in the tradeoff
      c) relationship is with a specific person, not a statistical population. Exceptions are in every population. Worrying about population parameters is a distraction from specific fit with an individual.
      d) A strange male American should not ignore the possibility of a well matched strange female American. Neither the group of men nor the group of women are uniform.

        1. Have consulted sages well versed in the ancient lore. Eleven out of twelve strongly encourage doing what is funniest. Twelfth put together a table of probabilities based on which topic I am speaking on.

          1. Dang virtual keyboard. Don’t blame Bob when he makes too much sense. Rather, blame the society that ran off the rails. Bob was ready for that.

  7. “…there was a strict class system in England at the time.”

    There’s still a strict class system in England, just that lately they keep it on the down-low. Regarding which, Megan Markle’s go-fund-me, $150,000 to pay her mortgage has collected $110.00 and collapsed. No word on if the $110 was collected in two cent increments. ~:D

    And apropos of hideous history and idiot Leftists, I see that one of those fan-fics with zippers has garnered a Nebula nomination. “The Midnight Bargain” by C.L. Polk. The Goodreads blurb fairly screamed “Strong Wamyn!!!! Smash the Patriarcheeeeeee!!!!1!!” I’ll be waiting for the review, which will no doubt provide more opportunities for Phantom hilarity at Ms. Polk’s expense. Usually I try to take it easy on other people’s work, but sometimes the memes write themselves.

    1. What the heck?? Okay, laying aside the obvious “Let’s steal from Witch World and Darkover,” how does the “Midnight Bargain” setup make sense? How would humans evolve to have magic, if no woman can have babies unless she locks her magic away with a magical device? Magic would have to come after the magical devices are invented, and therefore magic in humans can only be some kind of genetic experiment by magic-users of another species, coupled with a moneymaking scheme for these collars.

      And if there is a setup like that, why wouldn’t every religious order of nuns or sisters be full of sorceresses and female magi?

      1. I’ll have you know that this story was written by a Strong Female Author, and was Nominated for the coveted and super important Nebula Award!!! How dare you question the obvious inconsistencies and naked propaganda?!!!

        But yeah, not well considered. My characters are all laughing and falling over each other. They want to waltz through that book and slap the main character for being a dumbass. And that’s just from me reading the blurb.

        Besides, Nora is going to win. Again. She could get a nom for a photocopied page out of the phone book.

  8. I have a peeve with one historical Romance writer in particular. When I read her early work, she got bluestocking characters (and the related societal attitudes) mostly correct, as far as I could tell (being more familiar with Tudor England than Regency/Victorian England). They were enjoyable reads.

    More recent novels – aside from horribly modern dialogue – cost her my readership as they invariably have a same-sex couple as supporting characters, and NOBODY had a problem with them being same-sex. EVER. Worse? In one of the novels, a main character actually said something like, “love is love, and it’s okay; it doesn’t matter who you love.”

    In Victorian England? … Really? … I mean, okay, sure, some people had that attitude, but the majority of people would not, and without a nod to the over-arching societal values, that bit came across preachy as *(#$.

    1. Well, you could probably get away with it, as long as you were discreet about what you did in bed, but you did have to be discreet.

        1. The very fact that such things were not bruited about meant that the couple could simply say they were roommates and let it go at that.

  9. “I.e. people in the 10th century did not cosplay at religion. They really, really, really believed it.”

    That’s not just in fiction. I have read actual history books (well, okay, Osprey Man-at-Arms books written by someone who says they’re a historian) who felt a burning need to say that ‘when Medieval Christians went on Crusade, they honestly believed their religious reasons were the real ones’. Of course there is a barely-hidden ‘but we Enlightened Moderns of course know better’ right in it too.

    1. Dan Willis’ Arcane Casebook series might fit – they’re definitely worth checking out in any case.

  10. Totally OT – but for writers with cat owners, check the “Dilbert” strip for yesterday (March 16).

    I sometimes think I should have named this one Catbert.

  11. Oh how some the 1980’s were different. No smartphones and few cellphones. “Be back in time for supper… or call to say you won’t be.” I could have spent the early 1980’s blasted/stoned had I so chosen. And in the mid-1980’s I did a couple bits in a ‘haunted house’ on Halloween(s). Once, a couple gals (rather less than sober, I would more than suspect) decided they wanted to buy ‘prisoner’ (me) from ‘captor’ who put them off.. with great effort. I can only wonder what might have transpired had I been ‘sold’. It’s probably for that best that Nothing Happened. But it is… an interesting alternate history of a night (I expect…) to ponder.

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