I realized some time ago that the thing my kids’ generation valued the most was “authenticity”.

Sure, my brother’s age group talked about “keeping it real” but they mostly meant dressing down and not respecting conventions.

The kids, growing up in an era of podcasts and selfies seem to despise what they view as inauthentic public personas.

Over and over again, they bite the gold to ensure it’s real. I got the impression they often don’t care if it’s good or bad, so long as it’s “authentic.”

Now, I suspect a lot of times they get fooled. I know a lot of times they get fooled, but I think that just makes them want “authentic” more, because they are aware they’re surrounded by narratives, by just-so stories, by things that don’t quite work.

This past weekend, I was at Tulkon, where some foolhardy souls put me, David Carrico and David Weber on a panel moderated by the inestimable Jim Curtis on “sandboxes” and playing with your opinions in your narratives, or inserting your politics in your narratives.

I’m not exactly sure which it was, because something in the hotel was playing up my allergies to an extreme — I suspect the stuffed furniture had feathers — and by Sunday morning, I could barely see, and was suffering from a massive headache.

But I got the general idea it was about whether or not to introduce politics in yoru stories, and use your stories to push your narrative.

This is a very bad idea.

Because of course, if you’re writing something, your most fundamental beliefs will come into the story, but the story has its own logic, and its own imperatives, and the characters play out out their destinies regardless of what I want them to do.

My characters tend to want to be free, because I tend to want to be free and self-actuated, and believe that individual freedom is best for the world, and for humans at large.

If you believe humans are slaves of some Marxist narrative, you’ll write it into your stories because you see the world that way.

BUT if you want the stories to be real, you’ll give the other side equal time.

You will let the opponent play his turn. And you will follow the logic of its throw.

You will not put your thumb on the scale to make your favorite win. Or not so hard that your characters fail to be alive.

Doing that is a way to create just-so stories. They’re too simple, and they feel anything but authentic.

Recently in reading a lot of Jane Austen fanfic I ran into a lot of this. And you’ll find them in all historical books, too. Women are weirdly 21st century women in their times. So you know, they have sex like there are contraceptives (beyond rather inefficient condoms) and they talk about how women should go to Cambridge and Oxford (why is never fully clear) and — Just nonsense.

Heck, everyone is 21st century. Like people will rail about blood letting, as if they somehow had antibiotics to hand if things went South, and understood the germ theory of disease. (For the record, blood letting did work at times, by jump-starting your own immune system. They didn’t have many weapons, they were doing the best they could.)

There are ways you can do that, but you have to explain why this person is so different, and why she has such weird opinions, and you show the price she pays, too.

Sure, some people — rare — with very weird backgrounds — could defy the convention of the times, and still end up doing well. But it was rare. And there was a price. There was always a price.

To impose your view on the past, with no excuse, to impose your view on the characters with no respect for the world you’ve created (and even in the present, the world in a novel is your internalized world, not the real one, and therefore created) is to creat bad art.

And a simplistic and cheap narrative.

Anything but authentic.

148 thoughts on “Authenticity

  1. It’s the bane of writers and readers too, who like historical fiction – that 21st century characters are just dressed up in period fashions and transplanted willy-nilly to another century by a writer too lazy to do research and too unimaginative to visualize a totally foreign country, where people do things differently.
    I’m going to play with fire when my Civil War novel is finished, because the main character is a passionate abolitionist, and visits Richmond in the 1840s, where she encounters southerners and owners of slaves who passionately defend the institution according to their lights. (Because it was a bit of a complicated issue, and the practical means for dealing with it all were … complicated.) I’m quite looking forward to the howls of “reeeeeeeeee!””

    1. I remember Usula Leguin ripping Kaherine Kurtz because her characters in the early Deryni books thought like 20th century men (and from a high-tech culture, too). Honestly, I enjoy Kurt’s books more than Leguin’s and I think she got a bit better at writing period, or at least at making her quasi-medieval world more consistent. Certainly in her last three, characters die like flies, of things we barely consider. (One young man dies of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, another dies of childbed fever, a third from untreated cancer – well, there are no treatments at the time).

      1. As I recall, what Leguin really objected to was that Kurtz’s characters talked like 20th century men – or worse, like 20th century politicians – and she felt Kurtz’s language destroyed the sense of being in a high fantasy world.

          1. I’m working on a blog post about that issue. I think the important thing in writing historical fiction is to avoid using neologisms, slang, anything that’s blatantly modern. The one time I was violently thrown out of a Dorothy Dunnett novel was when Lymond referred to someone as “a flaming neurotic.”

            I think Mary Renault’s novels of ancient Greece are close to perfect, and she achieves the effect of writing from a distant time and culture not by using odd words, but by keeping the language clear and simple. Tolkien’s not bad either, although he goes into a sort of High Fantasy mode by inverting subjects and verbs occasionally.

            1. Yeah, and you’ll have to fight copyeditors on that. They wanted Porthos to say he had a subconscious sense of something…. seriously.
              Honestly, it’s much like suggesting a foreign language. You kind of get in the feel and the rhythm, without the thing.
              I tell people I wrote Barbarella with a French rhythm and they look puzzled, but…

              1. I’ve had this issue with Arthurian threesomes, too. There’s a certain rhythm of speech that people expect in “medieval fantasy”, and you can’t go too modern with it. Specific modern words and phrases are right out. It’s a difficult compromise to keep the feel without going to much in one direction.

                1. THIS. Getting the rhythm right is much more important than odds-bodkins-ry.

              2. Is that what it is? The rhythm? (I am but a humble pantser, I never learned the technicalities of what we do here.)

                When I write my werewolf character she has a completely different pattern to the usual 20th C. Canadian. She’s more Shakespearean, but without the thees and thous. Maybe Shakespeare Lite? When I’m writing I imagine her speaking, and try to imagine what a lady of means and social standing in Shakespeare’s time would have to say on the subject at hand, if she were an invincible demon slaying beast. The words and gestures come out completely different.

                This is why people insist I’m weird, I suppose. ~:D

            2. Eh, whichever.
              Just so long as you commit.

              I rather enjoyed the giants Harold Shea ran into sounding like Brooklyn wiseguys.
              I rather enjoy the formal locutions of times past.

              But written dialect, I HATE. (Yes, including PTerry’s Pictsies.)

              1. They came across OK in the audiobooks, though.

                Due to time management issues, I encountered most of Pratchett’s work via audio instead of print. Hard to do print when you’re driving down two-land roads between midnight and dawn…

            3. That has been a bit of a brain bender for that thing I’ve been working on. The main character has so many feet in so many different worlds of almost feels like she uses a different voice with each character she’s talking with.

              On the other hand, it seems to be a handy side channel to slip information in through.

              1. There’s a reason why one of the first enumerated powers of the Lens was as an almost foolproof universal translator…. until you got to really bizarre concepts like dextroboping crops in hyperspace. 😎

                1. There was a scene where the human Lensman finished the conversation and later wondered how long the alien meant by “one year”. 😀

            4. It can be tricky and a counsel of perfection, but steely gray eyes in the Stone Age, low-hanging fruit or windfalls without orchards, firing arrows before firearms, and strong suits before cheap paper, playing cards, and the game of bridge are all errors.

        1. Gene Wolf’s Soldier series is a work of genius. His masterstroke: the narrator is a Roman mercenary – a Latin speaker – and the books have footnotes of the “translation” to modern language , and it’s alternative meanings.

        2. Rhythm, pacing of speech, little things like a character being permitted to use the more familiar “my lord” instead of “your grace,” those are all markers and hints.

          I was trying to read the opening pages of a book supposedly set at the Norman Conquest, a new fantasy novel that sounded possibly interesting. The male character used the F-bomb in every other sentence, and was an atheist. He’s also a Norman noble. His speech patterns were very modern, as was his internal monologue. Hard nope!

          1. Ah, the “atheists in a seriously religious time.” I ran into one of those from Ancient Egypt. That was eye-rolling, but what really got me laughing so hard that I cried was his insistence that the only reason the priests could believe in gods was because they had never seen a dead body and had no idea about the reality of death.

            1. LOL 😆

              Another “funny one” was the novel told from the POV of an Ancient Egyptian who stopped his story to explain why slavery was OK.

              Nobody from that time would have doubted that slavery was OK. They would only complain if they were “unfairly” enslaved. And of course, the character’s audience would be people of his culture. He could not have known that people who thought slavery was wrong would be reading his story.

              Oh, this wasn’t a novel written in the last twenty years so it was unlikely IMO the author or book would be cancelled for including historical slavery.

        3. Characters in Zelazny’s Amber cycle talked like 1970s New Yorkers. I thought it was a refreshing change from the usual fake-medieval stuff.

      2. In Kurtz’s defense, a high magic world can function remarkably similarly to a high tech culture one, especially if you set most of your characters as members of the class that has acccess.

        1. Her world wasn’t. Those who could do magic had to be secret about it.

          Anyway, when LeGuin wrote “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” there was pretty much solid pseudo-medieval fantasy, but from some comments, I think she would have objected to the language even in an modern-day fantasy. She would have preferred politicians to speak in a more statesmanlike manner.

          She explicitly complains that one character says the equivalent of “I told you so,” and no hero ever said that.

            1. She wouldn’t have approved of that either. She wanted Elfland, and not realism.

    2. Have you read Hambly’s Free Man of Color series? It’s set in New Orleans in the 1830s, and pulls zero punches.

  2. People can not really imagine someone who does live the way they do.

    Though I once had to do several passes on a passage because there would have been no light in that era. . .

    1. It has been weird reading about the beliefs and practices of past eras. There were a lot of things people believed because experts told them. Like if you didn’t keep windows open, you’d suffocate from lack of fresh air, or that your skin was an integral part of your breathing process or apparently, if you immersed yourself in water to long it would seep in through your pores and dilute your blood.

      Yet how do we know they aren’t real (aside from the soaking one)? Mostly because experts say they aren’t real.

      That leads me to wonder how much we think we know will be seen as abducted by future generations?

      Yet, a fair number of them were fairly harmless. The soaking wasn’t an issue because moving large quantities of hot water was to much effort, so washing was done by wiping oneself done with a sort of sponge with soap and water rather than baths, and probably would be done that way even if people thought baths were fine.

      1. I betcha future generations will have a lot of fun with organic farming, vegetarianism, gluten-free diets, etc.

        1. what, you mean we’re not going to all suddenly convert to vegetarianism?

      2. My first thought these days is not to assume a historical remedy didn’t work just because they didn’t understand the theory behind it. People usually come up with a reason why what they do works, and the reason isn’t always correct.

        One of the stupidest things I ever read was that people didn’t know how reproduction/breeding worked until modern times when we figured out exactly how the ovum and sperm contributed to transferring traits — I think until then we didn’t know that it was literally the father that determined the sex of the child and not the mother.

        There were a lot of incorrect theories — one was that the man contributed something like a mini human being, and the woman just contributed the “construction materials” so to speak. But how you could believe that people who breeded dogs and domesticated herd animals thousands of years ago didn’t understand that traits were passed through both male and female? Of course they did.

          1. Ah yes. Related to stress level, I think. The second X or the Y comes from the sperm, but the environment in the woman determines which kinds of sperm get through?

        1. In Sidney’s Arcadia, one character rebukes another’s abuse of women by pointing out that the existence of excellent men proves there must be excellent men, just as no one would breed a dog or a horse or a hawk by considering only the father and not the mother.

      3. I have a Spanish-language basic science book from the 1970s (printed in Argentina, I think) that warned never to keep a houseplant in your bedroom because it would absorb all the oxygen unless a window was open. But open windows and drafts could make you sick. Some beliefs linger on in some cultures.

        1. So, I can understand why the Victorians thought you needed to keep windows open when you had a bunch of people and fires going. Apparently they got their numbers wildly wrong, but the basic premise is valid.

          How does one get to house plant sucks up all the air? Isn’t that the opposite of what they do?

          1. Plants do two things:
            1. photosynthesize using sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen and complex organic molecules
            2. metabolize (some of) those molecules with oxygen to do stuff, just like animals.

            A mature plant will produce no net oxygen because all the organic molecules are created to be metabolized, not to build itself up. And of course at night it would be all metabolism, no photosynthesis because no sunlight.

        2. As I understand it, in Korea if you keep a fan going in a closed room overnight you might die from fan death.

            1. That is because “wind cold” and “wind heat” are both dangerous in the Chinese and Korean traditional medicine/humors system. And sometimes there are bad things that happen with Korean root cellars and humidity.

        3. While it was hardly seen as science, even by believers, my mother and seemingly a lot of the women of her generation (born in 1931) were convinced that cats would either ‘such a baby’s breath’ or just lay on the infant and smother it if you let them in the infant’s room. Of course most of them were convinced that cats belonged outside where the mice were, regardless if any infants were around.

          1. Cats will lay on babies, so I can see finding a cat on a crib-death child and drawing that conclusion, especially with cats that are a lot bigger than the babies.

            (our cats are all terrified of the kids until toddler age and won’t get closer than about a foot– other than the kitten we got with youngest daughter, who would curl up next to the baby; she wants nothing to do with the new baby, thankfully)

            1. Waking up with three cats’ heads in your mouth is disconcerting. Never sleep with the door open in a guest bedroom that is usually the cats’ bedroom.

      4. In the law few years we’ve learned a lot of “modern medicine” is a web of lies. The CDC, the various “professional” organizations and their crack-brained political adjustments to reality, academic and corporate paper mills, “replication crisis”, and so forth.

        National Socialist Medicine, Lysenkoism, and Traditional Chinese Medicine don’t look nearly as silly any more.

      5. Victorians did the sponge bath thing. Elizabetheans who could afford it rubbed themselves all over with a coarse linen cloth, very vigorously, and then had it washed and bleached, before wearing linen next to their skin.

        A reenactor reported that by this method, she was able to maintain modern standards of cleanliness.

    2. Even in the modern world, plenty of people, including spouses, can’t imagine some one else doing things other than their one, true way….

    3. My main story-world has no concept of literacy (there was a curse, it’s a long story…). This has taught me how many descriptors I use like “ink-black” and “frail as paper”. Oy.

    4. I recall That Hideous Strength and Merlin’s impressions of modern people, modern life, and particularly the modern “liberated” woman Jane.

      I’m any story written today, Merlin would automatically be classified a villain, or at least slapped down hard.

      I think that book’s due for a rereading…

      1. Social norms change… a few years ago I was re-reading EE Smith’s Lensman series, and realized that “Civilization” weren’t the good guys, nor did what we were shown of the Boskonians make them the bad guys. We’re told continually through the series that Civilization are the good guys and Boskone are the bad guys, but what they *do* in the series doesn’t match up with that.

        Smith wrote them between 1948 and 1954; society in general was a lot more statist back then, but if you stand back and look at it from a distance, it was pretty ugly. I have no idea if he was writing a deliberate social commentary, or if it was just a reflection of the gestalt of his era.

        1. “-a few years ago I was re-reading EE Smith’s Lensman series, and realized that “Civilization” weren’t the good guys, nor did what we were shown of the Boskonians make them the bad guys. We’re told continually through the series that Civilization are the good guys and Boskone are the bad guys, but what they *do* in the series doesn’t match up with that.”

          From Triplanetary, the villains’ council discuss their strategy:

          “There will be several main lines of attack. A purely military undertaking will of course be one, but it will not be the most important. Political action, by means of subversive elements and obstructive minorities, will prove much more useful. Most productive of all, however, will be the operations of relatively small but highly organized groups whose functions will be to negate, tear down and destroy every bulwark of what the weak and spineless adherents of Civilization consider the finest things in life – love, truth, honor, loyalty, purity, altruism decency and so on.”

          1. My books are still packed, so I can’t quote it, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Galactic Patrol at the polling places after the release of the big black book. Nothing official, mind you, just guys on leave hanging out – with blasters.

            1. IIRC the “guys with blasters” were shown “bullying” the “bully-boys” working for the corrupt politicians.

              In any case, part of the theme of the Lensman series (and the biggest SF/F element) is that Wearers Of The Lens were incorruptible.

              In later parts of the series, we Do Not See Lensmen being Heavy-Handed on the governments of the planets that are part of Civilization.

              The Patrol’s Job is deal with interstellar crime (not local planetary crime) and to defend Civilization from outside military threats.

              And yes, there was evil shown inside the Enemies Of Civilization.

              Their world was a Dog-Eat-Dog world where everybody was encouraged to cheat their peers, punish their minions for “getting uppity” and to plot against their superiors.

              No, there were big differences between Civilization and the Enemies of Civilization.

              Oh, there was a scene in the stories where the Leaders of Civilization were concerned that they were “taxing too much”. IE They had gathered more in taxes than they needed. 😉

              1. If Boskone operated like that on a day to day level, with a total dog eat dog society where betrayal and tyranny were not just rewarded but demanded in every social relationship, how the heck did they survive long enough to become a problem for the Lensmen?

                1. Complain to Doc Smith because I’m just reporting what was shown in the books especially one where one of the Lensmen went undercover within that organization.

                2. Easily: not everyone is ambitious that way. How did RAH put it? “If you separate out the wolves and make them the sheepdogs, the sheep will never give you any trouble.”

                  90% plus of homo sap. is willing to go along to get along, especially if they are convinced that not going along is instantly fatal.

                    1. They have been moderated on MGC for over a year, since I served notice that I was going to offer my comments on whatever topic I pleased without trying to guess where the invisible line was when a moderator opined on a political subject. You weren’t the moderator. AFAIK, I’m not moderated on ATH, but WPDE.

                    2. I wonder if it’s because I tend to comment late when I get behind on my e-mail….. and e-mail reply is usually how.

                  1. That does explain how relatively small street gangs are able to dominate large neighborhoods. Of course, said gang getting a wink and a nod from various creatures of officialdom in exchange for unspecified ‘favors’ doesn’t hurt either.

  3. > For the record, blood letting did work at times

    Blood letting is still practiced. It’s used to treat disorders which manifest as excessively high iron content in the blood, for example.

    Leeches are still used, mostly for cosmetic surgery, to assist blood flow to areas which might not have enough blood vessels to heal properly.

    I don’t know that phrenology is still used for anything, but if Terry Pratchett’s idea of ‘reverse phrenology’ pans out, it would be quite useful for beating some sense into idiots.

    1. Bleeding was a big part of treating Scarlet Fever.
      People have forgotten how deadly untreated strep throat could be before antibiotics. Scarlet Fever spiked your temperature high enough to bake your brain. Bleeding decreased, and didn’t risk putting you into hypothermia and a nasty spiral.

      The issue is that everybody’s always looking for a panacea.

    2. Bloodletting can also relieve malaria and TB. It reduces the blood volume. Then, since the liquid parts recover first, it decreases its viscosity. Both reduce strain on the heart.

  4. Maggots are still in use, or were, to clean out diseased woinds.

    1. I know a lot more than I want to about the use of maggots in wound cleaning. The good thing about them is they only eat the dead material, IF you get the right kind of bugs. They can also get into places surgery can’t.

      Where some of those places are, and why people have wounds in those types of places, is why I don’t want to know. Also the pictures are very hard to take. Don’t look it up. Ew.

      Still, handy knowledge for when surgery and antibiotics are not getting it done, such as medieval field medicine.

  5. And dog spit has some virtues, so the dogs locking Lazarus ‘s wounds in the parable are the only creatures who show him any mercy.

  6. AAAND that’s why I like Science Fiction. I can write about the future and my characters can behave any damned way I want them to, no one the wiser. It makes research easier too. Not having to know if the chemise goes on over the pantaloons is a positive good.

    1. Whereas in MY world she could throw a Hoos D’ouvre over her sintered glencocq and no one would think twice about it..

    2. You’d think, but I’ve been thrown out of a story when the Strong Female Protagonist was slouching her way around a space station trying to be non-obvious, wearing her hoodie to make her hard to ID from security cameras. Oh, and complaining in internal monologue that men don’t believe a woman can drew a starship, but she’s shattered the glass ceiling.

      Or where Rebel Captain manly man is hiding out with his ship on a terraformed world, and monologues to the audience that “Humanity fled earth after we made it unlivable with climate change.” (well, why didn’t we just change it back, if we can do that to other planets?)

      I can design a society however I want… but once I do, I have to follow the rules I set up. And the characters will be products of that society.

      1. Dang it. A character just jumped out of this at me.

        “They say we fled Earth because we wrecked it so bad. But we’ve terraformed Mars (said that was trashed too) and the Methane swamps of Spica, and the algae soup atmosphere of Antares. Hell, I grew up on Tergan, no you’ve never heard of it. Most folk haven’t, but between the volcanos and the Sulphur rain, and an atmosphere worse than old Venus, it was considered impossible to terraform. Great-Great-Grandpa went in with the first terraforming crew. These days we grow potatoes on the land that was part of his pay. So if Earth was really that bad, why didn’t we go back and fix it?

        “Yeah, ’bout that, kid. Apparently that’s one of the questions you don’t ask. I’ve asked a lot of that kind of question over the year. That and a major lapse of judgement and inability to mind my own business is why I’m a Rebel. At least it keeps things lively. Take my advice. Finish your business and then move on. You ask questions you may find the answers. You may not like them a bit.”

        1. I apologize? I really don’t meant to give ideas and characters away, especially when I didn’t have them in the first place? They’re not mine! You can’t give them back!

        2. Yeah, ’bout that, kid. Apparently that’s one of the questions you don’t ask.

          This tickles me, because roughly a year ago I made a minor antagonist whose ENTIRE THING is telling Likely Prospects “don’t ask this kind of question”…in a way designed to make them Ask Those Questions.

  7. When I see 21st century characters prancing around historical fiction, cosplaying their way through the past, I tend to pitch the book against the wall with great force.

    This is the only time I regret ebooks. You can delete an ebook, but the satisfaction you get from flinging the book, jumping up and down on it, and kicking it out the door is irreplaceable.

  8. During my brief foray into cross-dimension medieval world isekai, I used necromancy, demon magic and nanotechnology to cheat wildly. Because what’s the point of getting sucked into an evil version of medieval France if you can’t bring your satellite weaponry, giant tanks and lippy robot spiders along. >:D And a Mobile Infantry jump suit. Alice needed her suit or she’d flip out.

    But then the medieval necromancer isn’t as stupid as modern writers seem to like to think, and he understands how to use a satellite in orbit to target a giant tank on the ground. Uh oh, heroes. Cleanup on aisle three.

    As to inserting my political worldview into my stories, I hate long-winded rants that are quite obviously lifted straight out of this week’s fax from The Party. Apart from anything else, they do not age well. That last book of Ian Banks’ already looks like the bleatings of a Victorian from the Social Hygiene era. The Overton Window of Lefty politics has moved on several furlongs since then. Conservative politics of the day are equally idiotic when dropped whole into a book.

    I prefer to have the characters solve problems in a way I find morally acceptable and practical given the world-building. “Yes, you -can- level the city in one shot, and being demon worshipers they certainly deserve it, but properly brought up young ladies don’t do that sort of thing. What would Aunt Effie say?”

    You know, the usual white cis-male colonial racism/sexism. Punish evil, protect the innocent, don’t stick your nose in other people’s affairs unless they are getting up in your face, allow for redemption. They say write what you know, after all. >:D

    1. The wizard in Daley’s “Doomfarers of Coromonde” knew what a tank was and what it could do. Unfortunately his spell only netted him an armored personnel carrier and some very confused soldiers…

      1. Well, the wizard was also a scientist from “our” world. 😉

      2. There was a particularly interesting David Drake story that centered around a group of rebels who managed to steal a tank, and tried to figure out how to run it.

        They’d been working as local maintenance crew for it, so they knew how to drive it and keep it running, but no-one had ever taught them how to do basic things like, how to reload the ready magazine for the main gun…

  9. I had a chuckle when I read the second book of Joyce Harmon’s Regency Mage series.

    While, the Mary Bennet character isn’t authentic to Austin’s character (besides having magic powers), Joyce Harmon appears to make her story world authentic to the time it is based on.

    Well, in the second book Mary Bennet is introduced to the Magic Society hidden within the society she knew about.

    She was surprised to see people of different social classes eating together in the Diner Hall of the Magic Society’s headquarters (in London).

    She asked her guide (and new trainer) about it.

    His explanation included the thought of telling one very powerful “Witch” that she had to eat in the “Peasant Hall” and other Magicians (less powerful than her) would eat in the “Nobility Hall”.

    So the society of Magicians in private can’t afford to follow the strict social-class divides that regular society follows. 😀

    1. See, that’s interesting because it shows there could still be social stratification, but based on a different criterion. Which I think far too many modern writers don’t get. All is equal and the same, even though that’s NOT how people sort themselves.

    2. Another thing I noticed that Joyce Harmon doesn’t use the terms homosexual or gay in her Regency Stories (magical or otherwise) in spite of having two in her Regency Mage series and one in another Regency story.

      IE She avoids using modern terms while her characters are somewhat aware that “people like that” exist.

    3. Thank you, Paul! I had not seen these books by Joyce Harmon before. A new author to read! 😀

    4. During the witch hunts, the reports of gatherings were that there were rich and poor witches, and the rich lorded it over the poor just like in day to day life.

      OTOH, I’m working on a story where individuals are born with magical abilities albeit with the need to train, and it really would change things. Poor talented kids are adopted higher up for the simple reason that you need wealth to train the really talented, but it really would change things. Armies had to let in those middleclass city dwellers to handle artillery and things, but that’s nothing compared to someone who is the cannon, the artillerists, the ammo, and the transportation for this all, all wrapped into one. Even if the most powerful are all adopted into the royal family — in our world, the crown prince has such power as is delegated to him, or he can finagle, and the king can always throw him into the tower unless he’s powerful enough to revolt. The most socially inept prince who can fireball you is a power in his own right.

      1. Wearting The Cape. See Ajax’s speech to the US Senate about the effect of more or less randomly granted superpowers, especially superpowers that are unlocked by stress and trauma. Would there have been a Holocaust if it produced 10,000 Magnetos?

        1. I’ve always been of the opinion that one (1) Magneto from the comics would have been enough to see off the Nazis. Insufficient imagination from the writers.

          1. IIRC while Magneto was a survivor of the Holocaust, he didn’t come into his full powers until years after the Holocaust ended.

            Of course, when Magneto was introduced into the Marvel Universe, Marvel “History” was very similar to “Our History” so the writers couldn’t “rewrite” Marvel “History” by having a young Magneto destroying Nazy Germany.

            But then while Marvel Super-Beings did mainly gain their powers due to “interesting events happening to them”, Marvel Mutants “naturally” gained their powers mainly during puberty.

            Magneto would have gained his powers even if his family lived in the US. (Might not have turned evil.)

            1. No, he would have, because as far back as the mid 80’s or so the US has been portrayed at Marvel as being at least as evil as Nazi Germany. Which is one of many, many things that long ago killed my interest in anything from Marvel past the 70’s.

              1. Sigh.

                I’m talking early Marvel when the X-Men and Magneto were introduced.

                And yes, later on the idiot writers at Marvel went Total Idiocy about the US.

                1. Sorry. I never saw the early X-men comics. I only read them after they’d been redone by Claremont. Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, etc.

          2. What if the Nazis had a couple of Magnetos — or worse, a Superman (“Behold the true Ubermensch!”) — of their own?

            1. Long term, their Supers would swap over– see, Colossus.

              In reality, their problem is the *culture*. Russia cannot keep faith with her people, because Russia is ruled by power, not law.

              The anvil-drop/author anvil form?

              …well, it’s a made up, irrational mess, so who knows.

            2. They would take over. It might take a while, but the person who IS an atom bomb is going to have the most power.

              1. They might have to wait for Hitler himself to croak. While his popularity within Nazi Germany has been exaggerated, I understand he really was wildly popular with the rank and file and general citizens.

                I also once saw a game that had a Soviet/Stalinist equivalent to Superman — not as physically strong, but could control the gravity of the entire planet — who supposedly halted the purges in their tracks because he told Stalin that if he did massacre his enemies, the metahuman would imprison Stalin. Which should have lead to that guy dying in his sleep, but that way you had a ‘nice’ Soviet Union in the setting.

                1. A person who is also an atom bomb is not going to have to wait. Mind you, if he doesn’t have the sense to make it a false flag, he’s not going to be able to solidify it, but if there’s more than one superpowered, he has just given any other one a perfect chance to take over by offing him.

          3. He was too young. His powers kicked on ONCE — when he was standing in front of the firing squad at the mass grave — and not only did not save his parents or sister, but merely kept the bullets from killing him. He was knocked unconscious into the grave and only regained consciousness after they poured quicklime on the grave. He had to crawl out. OTOH, the killers didn’t want to dig the grave to bury him so they threw him on the train to the concentration camp.

            He still has nightmares about it.

        2. Perhaps not, but super-powers only arose after The Event in the Wearing The Cape universe and the Holocaust happened long before The Event.

          1. Likewise, at least originally, mutants were supposed to stem from human use of atomic power — Professor X’s father worked on the Manhattan Project. When Magneto’s past was first revealed, there were letters pointing out that he was too old for that. (Not pointing out that his parents would have had to have something to do with atomic science in Europe, which was possible.)

          2. That was Ajax’s point: Try doing a Holocaust on real or suspected awakened (or anyone else) after the Event and almost instantly you would have had an effective Resistance. Of course, the Ascendant decided he’d jump start the process with terrorism, assuming as Leftists are wont to do that all those new Awakened would be on his side….

            1. The Ascendant believed that a major disaster caused by superbeings would both create more superbeing and create more hatred of superbeings. Thus more superbeings would “flock” to his banner.

              He may have been wrong that they’d flock to his banner but the results wouldn’t have been good for the over-all society.

              Fortunately, he’s dead.

              Or is he?

              While “we” saw his body, Astra’s team didn’t bring it back and the Russians claim to have not found it. 😈

              1. Yeah, I’ve had GMs who love the “returning villain” trope. We quickly made it clear that there was a line where “smoking DNA” would be the only acceptable outcome.

                1. Then there is the “Returning Hero” trope which can be almost as bad. 😦

                  1. Yep, and it comes in two flavors, Player and Non-Player. Both are bad, usually because they excuse players from the consequences, both good and bad, of their actions.

                    1. Not a gamer so I see it most often in comic books where it becomes “don’t mourn about the death of a favorite character, because he/she will be back sooner or later”. 😦

                    2. Given how they may have been ‘improved’ in the process, you may be sorrier that they returned.

  10. I aspire to write simple stories that are also good. Not simple as in dumb and stupid. Simple as in not terribly complex, has a discernible theme or two, characters that are not cardboard, and a plot without too many twists.

    Thus far my readers have solidly identified Dr Z as a giant nerd. Which he is. His rationalizations seem to be preventing people from realizing just how much of a coward he considers himself, though. And there’s a fine line between honest examination of one’s own faults and wallowing. He does a bit of wallowing, at times.

    I’ve seen several stories that totally fail on the authenticity angle though. And fail badly. Inserting 20th century social mores into the past is bad. Injecting current issue politics into *anything* is bound to end poorly, as well. Even in sci-fi and fantasy, which I’d argue are more forgiving in this aspect than anything historical fantasy-ish.

    You can have strong women in your story without making them men with boobs. You can have effective treatments for disease and injury without them being modern medicine. You can even have political intrigue and consequences without rehashing the last twenty years of American politics with name-swapped characters. Your book will do better, for longer, if you avoid such painfully obvious traps.

    Shocking, I know.

    Yet to the bubble people, this really is shocking. And off-putting. I don’t think that very many of them actually *read* anymore. They’re too busy virtue signalling.

    For those that do, I don’t think they’d be especially put off by a simple story, well told, that doesn’t have DIE, gender perversions, orangemanbad, and men with boobs posing as women. Oh, they might declaim it if they’re caught reading such stories.

    But if private, as they do with so many things? I think those that still read, they’re still human. And human nature being what it is, there are certain things people want from the stories they read. So long as the writer provides those things, they will enjoy the story.

    1. “Yet to the bubble people, this really is shocking. And off-putting. I don’t think that very many of them actually *read* anymore.”

      Going by reviews of this year’s Nebula nominees, there is much to support your thesis. Nominated authors have in many cases simplified things for their ‘readers’ by adopting outré pronouns. That way the Woke-ies know who to vote for without reading more than the blurb. This is to the author’s benefit in most cases. ~:D

    2. Orwell injected contemporary politics into his stories. 0:)

      It takes skill and the ability to achieve aesthetic distance. It can still be done.

  11. Sure, some people — rare — with very weird backgrounds — could defy the convention of the times, and still end up doing well. But it was rare. And there was a price. There was always a price.

    Dealing with actions having a price— even for mere opportunity cost!– is something that is frequently dumped.

    I’ve read some folks swooning over Sherlock and Watson running off to save a gal, in mild awe that the folks who were so pleased by that sense of obligation playing out couldn’t see how it was part of a network of expectations. (Heck, I was pleased that they weren’t upset by how helping someone in trouble, that you knew was likely trouble, and warned them was going to be trouble, was somehow disrespecting grrrrrrl power or similar nonsense. Baby steps towards Feeling Obligated towards the gal as a good thing!)

  12. Thinking on one of my WIPs where the Conan-esque barbarian from another dimension and time is transported here and looks at all the bare skin and painted faces. Women and men both.

    “So is everyone a prostitute here or is this just the district?”

    ironically he’d be very polite and hands-off, since he’d assume they all have owners with whom he’d need to negotiate a transaction.

    1. In S. M. Stirling’s “Island In The Sea Of Time”, he has a Bronze-Age Merchant visiting the Modern-Day island of Nantucket (which has been thrown back in time).

      He’s surprised by the dress of the Island women and decides to go carefully when dealing with the women.

      As a seasoned Merchant, he’s very aware of the differences in rules in different lands concerning women (written & unwritten) that can get a Merchant in Big Trouble. 😀

      1. I can’t find any pithy sayings to that effect, but I’m sure I remember both Chesterton and C.S. Lewis remarking that savages and gentlemen would both understand each other and get along ably, while typical, modern civilized people wouldn’t do well by comparison.

  13. Part of my frustration regarding 21st century characters playing dress-up in period clothing is that there’s a really simple way to avoid that–set your story on another planet where the colonists underwent a technological regression.

    That way, you don’t have to get period attitudes, customs, and mores exactly right, you have a ready-made reason for why characters have some current attitudes and mores, and you can just generally build your world how you want it. Unfortunately, this is apparently far too much work for most people.

    (And yes, this is what I did with one of my WiPs.)

    1. That’s a good point. Perhaps not acceptable to the type of writer who sneers at genre fiction, or the overly lazy, but fine for the rest of us.

    2. Yes and no. You can’t just transport modern customs to a medievalish world because many medieval customs existed for a reason. You can’t have a prison in a world where they are living on the brink of starvation because if anyone’s going to sit around without working, it’s going to be the higher-ups, not the crooks. (Slavery, most likely, if not execution or beatings.)

  14. It seems to me that someone as much at variance with the norm of their time as some of those modern folk playing dress up in period times would at least KNOW they were at odds with the times and most likely assume the problem was that THEY were strange, not that everyone around them was wrong. And the ones that could would take steps to fit in as much as possible in society’s eyes. (This last would just be survival in most places.)

    1. (Nods) C.S. Forester did this with the Hornblower books–the title character has some views that are out-of-step with the views of the time, but he knows they’re out-of-step and is more than a little self-conscious about them.

    2. That fits what I’ve read in histories. Some families came to expect that there’d be one per generation who was off-kilter, and made allowances for it. IF the individual generally abided by the other norms of the time and place, and obeyed the big family rules as well.

  15. I remember the doctor who was treating my son’s cancer telling me that he was certain that someday he’d be considered a total barbarian for what he was doing. When people knew something better they’d frown at what he was doing… but it worked for my kid. And the cancer he had used to be considered a death sentence. Not so much anymore.

      1. That is THE character defining moment for him, I swear.

        It had nothing to do with why he was there. It would do no long term good. There was NOTHING to gain from it…other than someone who was hurt was better.

        And I’m tearing up as I type this…. :heart:

    1. I had several great-aunts die of “the Big C.”

      Not from it.

      Just…they were diagnosed with breast cancer, and jsut gave up, and were dead in less than a year.

    2. Let me guess — chemo

      Or “poisoning the patient in the hopes the sick parts die more quickly than the hale.”

  16. Definitely chemo. But it works often enough that it’s important to keep going.
    Foxfier, I think one of the hardest things for me at the time was the number of people who told me that I was cruel. I should just give up also and not force my son to do this. But that was twenty years ago and he’s alive and happy. And would prefer not to be the man who had cancer as a kid so he never tells people. There’s an interesting story premise to me. He says that it immediately changes how people react to him and he hates it. And he says it also cuts off conversation because people don’t know what to say next. That was something that the Vixen War Bride did really well. It was difficult to have conversations with those who had lost family in the Persephone disaster. Yup.

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