The Art and the Artist — or Pursuing Emotion

*Sorry this is slightly more incoherent than normal.  I’m being interrupted by packing and sorting stuff.*

I did not mean to write this post today, but I feel I need to to link it both to Cedar’s post yesterday and to a guest post by Jason Cordova tomorrow, a day that will be taken up with my travel to Liberty con, and so a day when I can’t write or think very clearly.

I will have access to the internet from the hotel, so I’ll try to write posts, but I might round some out with Blasts from the past or pictures from the con.

No chapters on Saturday and Sunday, instead of which I have guest posts to go up.

Anyway – sometimes things other people say become part of a discussion that takes place entirely in my head, and this is part of it.

All of you know, though I can’t find it now, I objected to their kicking a member (I’m not naming him because some trolls search out his name and descend en masse) from SFWA on trumped up charges but really because they thought he was an awful person and a racist. I objected to this because – and I used the most extreme example I could think of – a plumber’s union doesn’t kick out a guy for being a child molester. If SFWA were a professional organization, their kicking someone out for double ungood thought crime would be crazy. As would be kicking someone out for being a child molester, or a murderer, even.

Of course, SFWA is not a professional organization, but a sort of fluffer’s club for people who wish to kiss up to publishers. And that’s fine by me, of course.

I don’t have to belong.

But both Cedar’s post yesterday and Jason’s tomorrow (which I have of course read) got me to thinking of the relation between the artist and the art. The fluffer’s club is screaming it doesn’t matter when it comes to unsavory actions by people they admire – Marion Zimmer Bradley, Delaney – but it’s absolutely to be taken in account when it comes to people who do things they don’t like, like Larry Correia happening to admire the story by the disgraced SFWA member that shall henceforth be called “The Banished One.”

This is the sort of extremely coherent reasoning and moral honesty we’ve come to expect from people – particularly artists – on the left side of the isle. After all they couldn’t admire communists and socialists without being able to turn their beliefs off and on at will, could they? It’s not a big secret, in the age of the internet, that Che was a psychopath who enjoyed killing people with his own hands (and weapons) but they still wear Che t-shirts, because cool and hot. And if they ever tried to coherently examine their beliefs, the stuff would fall apart like the moth eaten cloth it is.

Which brings us to the relation between beauty and the creator thereof and the creator’s personal life.

You know, Heinlein somewhere has a comment where he says you could shred the universe and find not one atom of beauty or truth. Because those reside in the human heart.

This is true, and not. In Stranger in a Strange Land, Jubal Harshaw gives one of the more blistering critiques of art in general that I’ve ever heard.

That is the duality of Heinlein who even as a Fabian socialist wrote stunningly individual and self-responsible characters. You can’t pin the man down.

Just as you can’t pin beauty down. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Back in the seventies it was normal to try to break the rules of storytelling. I’ve said before that I had to read – for school – a novel that bragged of having no plot. It’s just two people, talking in a car. (And it sucked.)

What we found through those experiments is that the human brain is wired to take in story in a certain format, that format being “the hero’s journey” which is at any rate rather fluid and lose. Pixar formalized that into a list of steps, which can be found in a book called The Writer’s Journey. Pixar was denounced for it, as having created a formulaic check list which impairs creativity. Bushwah.

The list is merely a constraint, and you can make completely different stories within it, particularly if you scramble it a bit, which the hero’s journey allows for, since some steps are optional and some can be re-ordered. (Though I have to tell you right now that if you leave the acceptance of the call till mid-book you’re going to cry in your soup. It doesn’t work.)

There might be no objective beauty outside the human brain, but the human brain is built along certain lines, which means that most of us tend to react to certain things in a certain way.

For instance, while working in the yard yesterday I came across (okay, tripped on) a piece of rotted root that I thought was beautiful. But I thought it was beautiful because its shape looked like it had been fashioned by little people as an entrance to their home.

If I drew that piece of wood, would it evoke the same image in people who are not steeped in fantasy? I doubt it. So, if I drew it for the commercial market, I’d have to call it “fairy’s doorway” and even then, chances were half the people wouldn’t see it. Now, if I drew it for the fantasy circuit, and put in the inner hole just a glimpse of a winged form, it would evoke the right emotions – for a limited market.

I think what I’m trying to get to is this: there are some innate things that make us perceive things as beautiful. Certain parameters within which the human brain functions.

Ojectively, that means that some people will find the horrible beautiful, but those people are also – usually – objectively brain damaged. Not insane, just… peculiar.

There is a theory that the push for what is objectively ugly or meaningless to most normal people in all fields is an attempt to corrupt the culture and a grand conspiracy. Maybe. Normally I laugh at such things, but since Journolist, not so much. OTOH if it is a conspiracy, it has to be the sort of loose one that can survive generations. PERHAPS it is (also objectively) or was at one point directed by communist propaganda against the west and its art. I know that various artists and writers organizations were hard left, and I’ve heard that sf magazines were subsidized by CPUSA to publish anti-US stuff. Who knows?

But mostly I think what happened to art after WWI was an effect of WWI and of people being disillusioned with western institutions in general. My colleague at PJM, Ed Driscoll has done some stunning work in that theory. I don’t have links to hand, but I’m sure some of you will in the comments.

In that sense it would be more accurate to say that a traumatized civilization can’t express itself coherently in art, or in the appreciation of beauty.

Which brings us back around to the artist and the art.

Can someone who is a murderer, a pedophile or – ah, poor Banished One – capable of bad-think make good art?

First of all let’s establish what is and isn’t a … “corrupting effect.”

If you have bad thoughts according to current PC, you might still be a decent human being who pays your bills, feeds the dog, takes in stray cats, is kind to friends and children, etc. So we’ll establish that bad thoughts by themselves ned not have a corrupting effect on your life, and perhaps not in your fiction, unless they obsess you to such a degree that you can’t help but put it in your fiction. Let’s point out right here that I know people who do have that issue, usually with kinky sex, which starts leaking into their novels. In the cases I know, a little bit is okay, but if you let it BECOME the only thing you write it’s a problem. Of course, by the time you get THERE, you usually have lost control of other things.

Which brings us again to who the artist is, and what the art is.

For years I tried to write books that were utterly divorced from myself and had nothing to do with me. This is because, partly, I didn’t want to write about politics. Partly it was because it was part of my distancing myself from books that were being killed.

You’ve heard that for a book to be good, the writer must put himself in it to some degree. I confess I became successful when I started doing just that.

The reaction we get to art is not from a perfect execution or detail polishing. It’s an emotional gut reaction, which is best achieved by having the artist pour out a bit of his own emotional gut reaction. (This is perhaps the reason I prefer some artists in what is objectively their decaying mode. The later Heinleins, the last few Leonard Cohen albums. They’re less controlled, but speak more directly to the emotions.)

Now a good artist knows how to take those bits and shape them so they appeal to a larger majority. Or at least a good artist tries to. I have analyzed both my peculiarities and those of the “general public” or the greater majority of reading people, and try to shape my strange stuff to fit with other people.

Would this be possible for people who live such disordered personal lives that it falls into “criminal”? I don’t know.

You guys know all of us, artists, are to an extent outside the social order. It’s what allows us to do what we do. Tomorrow we’re supposed to meet my husband’s best friend from college, and I have some trepidation, as he seems to have become absolutely conventional, which means we’ll stand sideways and upside down to him. And we are, mind, one of the most boring “middle class” couples in science fiction. But we have a taste for low dive diners, which apparently caused him to react with horror to the suggestion we meet in one. And at the same time when we have money (alas not now) we will know the best restaurants in town, because sometimes what you need is a very good dinner and jazz-dancing afterwards. (Okay, birthdays and important anniversaries, but still.)

More than that, we’ve all read biographies of artists and writers, starting with DaVinci who was tried for what sounds uncommonly like child abuse but was, probably, just a spot of sodomy between studio apprentices. (Hey, it was cold in those big stucco buildings.)

And you come back to “How can people create this and yet be such horrible human beings?”

I don’t know.

First the concept of awful human being is different depending on the person. For instance, I think thought crime counts for nothing. And I think even “child abuse” has soft edges. For instance, I sympathized with MZB saying that of course some people were mature at different ages. HOWEVER no one is mature enough at 10 or 11, and there are uh… other shadings of influence and coercion that are harder when there is a great disparity in age. But if it comes to a seventeen year old girl… well… My brother was born when mom was just on eighteen and dad was 21. I know, the age difference wouldn’t make him a child abuser, but at 15 she’d dated a much older man. At 15 with the life she’d led, she was objectively an adult, and had been earning her own living for three years.

I’m NOT defending what MZB did, particularly considering she was herself apparently doing a spot of child abuse on the side starting when the child was at a very young age indeed; I’m just saying that these things change with time and place. No one in Portugal in the fifties would condemn my mom’s boyfriend before my dad just because there was six years difference between them and he was 20. BUT if my 20 year old brought home a 14 year old girlfriend, we’d have to talk. And there better not being anything happening between them.

This is because the law has changed, but also because people have changed. There’s a great difference between mom at 14 and an American middle school girl now.

However, let’s establish that an artist or writer is objectively depraved. Let’s say he’s a mass murderer.

Can he still produce breathtaking beauty?

I don’t know. Most of the cases – as with MZB – that have come out, have turned out to be people whose work doesn’t touch me. In fact most of them are “vanguard” and people who change the work to make the awful beautiful. People who turn against not the established order (which these days is mostly left) but the traditional order of art and beauty.

Of course innovators turn against that too, which is why our art doesn’t look like it did in Summeria.

However there is a difference between art that takes the principles and uses them in new ways, and art that subverts the principles in service of ugly. Ugly visuals, ugly thoughts, ugly deeds.

As someone who writes, I don’t think you can separate the art from the artist. Not intrinsically.

A lot of what we do is subconscious and will come through.

Now, that doesn’t mean some Marxist might not find great solace in my work, if he or she puts a mind to it. I’m just saying that what they’re reacting to is NOT nor can it be the central point of what I put in it.

I love Pratchett, even though I disagree with most of his political views. I love Heinlein, but most of what he believed for most of his life is alien to me.

So, you can’t separate the art from the artist, but what the artist puts in the art, if true art, is not always what he is. As I said, early Heinlein had plenty of individualism, despite his earnest lectures on how bad it was. And Pratchett hits on the truth more often than he allows himself to think about.

The same applies to a lot of writers and artists.

The question comes down to – pardon me – the sin and the sinner. If the artist has some… uh… moral warts, they will slowly (if he fights) corrupt his art. But that doesn’t mean at least his early art won’t be fine.

What I mean is, what destroys the art is not the crime or the evil acts commited by the artist. It’s the way those, in turn, change the artist. If you killed someone and then consciously try to justify it, the justifications will leak into your art and corrupt it.

Does that mean I won’t read Marxist authors? Well, not after I start seeing the corruption seeping into the art. But I will read their early works.

And as for judging people… Well, I never read much Bradley – couldn’t get into it – so I’m not purging her books from my library. Ditto with Delaney.

But if it came out tomorrow that Heinlein had a liaison with a 15 year old girl? Would I stop reading him?

Well, no. I didn’t see the issue in his books before, so they’re still fine by me. But in the same way, I will not refuse to read the Banished One or even vote for him for awards just because he’s alleged to have double plus ungood thoughts.

Some people I’ve met before reading I can’t read (a good argument for writers to NEVER meet people, btw) because they were so abrasive, awful people in person.

But the rest? I don’t judge people positively or negatively because or despite of their books. Unless the books themselves are repulsive or show the stain of what they did.

That way lies witchhunts and censorship, because I guarantee if you go out three degrees of separation all of us are linked to awful people.

On the other hand I think the evil that men do (and women), the evil they’re aware of having done, leaks into their art. If you create, be aware of it.

And let’s be done with art that celebrates evil or horrible things. Yes, the shock it causes can pass for strong emotion for a while, but look, the only reason Titus Andronicus survives is because of Shakespeare’s other work.

No, I’m not calling for censorship. I’m calling, though, for Western art to return to certain ideals of loyalty to and celebration of that unique and odd creature, the human.

Let’s be done with showing only his ugly and brutal side. We’re not creating art for the sentient lobsters of alpha centauri but for humans, and what humans read influences them.

Let’s be done with “all humanity is evil.” Let’s put an end to “everyone is awful” as a view of the world. Humans are flawed, yes, but they often have the qualities of their failings.

Write Human Wave. Read Human Wave. Celebrate being human. And try to be the best you can.

 

 

316 responses to “The Art and the Artist — or Pursuing Emotion

  1. Which brings us to the relation between beauty and the creator thereof and the creator’s personal life.

    So, you can’t separate the art from the artist, but what the artist puts in the art, if true art, is not always what he is.

    Rather quick, partially formed thought: All of us have some measure of darkness in us, some measure of ‘corruption.’ I think it’s true that if we painted our inner selves in entirety not only would others turn away in horror, but we would as well.

    Thus people go on about how the evil “are just like us.”

    But, I think the difference lies in how we regulate and remove the inner darkness from our lives. There’s a difference in the person who goes to their grave fighting their baser selves and the person who gives in at some point.

    That difference will reflect in the art, and will be felt by those who come in contact with it.

    I — think — the difference between the people who fight it, and suppress it, and channel it to the acceptable and those who indulge the darkness, even only in fantasy, will reflect in the art as well. There are myriad choices during creation. A tendency to indulge in the fantasies of the dark seems likely to influence those choices and shift the final work.

    And so I have found some things to be a little too enamored of the dark, a little to indulgent of dark fantasies, whatever the reality of the producer’s life. I suspect those things will be a result of the things that are most dark in me, and may be unremarkable in others.

    Abyss, staring, with care.

    • Loosely related OT:
      Does anybody else start to hate their story a bit as they finalize edits?

      I’m going through mine in the manuscript format and…

      I may need to take a break for some squeezy-neck on a little voice.

      • Well, I’m editing a disjointed collection of trite cliches, stretched to an incredibly boring length
        Otherwise I have no idea what you’re talking about.

        • Where’d you get a copy of my story?

          • No, you’re mistaken. That has to be mine. At least if the characters are also cardboard.

            And I’m not even close to edits yet.

            • A sentiment not unknown to writers.

              “The other thing that I would say about writer’s block is that it can be very, very subjective. By which I mean, you can have one of those days when you sit down and every word is crap. It is awful. You cannot understand how or why you are writing, what gave you the illusion or delusion that you would every have anything to say that anybody would ever want to listen to. You’re not quite sure why you’re wasting your time. And if there is one thing you’re sure of, it’s that everything that is being written that day is rubbish. I would also note that on those days (especially if deadlines and things are involved) is that I keep writing. The following day, when I actually come to look at what has been written, I will usually look at what I did the day before, and think, “That’s not quite as bad as I remember. All I need to do is delete that line and move that sentence around and its fairly usable. It’s not that bad.” What is really sad and nightmarish (and I should add, completely unfair, in every way. And I mean it — utterly, utterly, unfair!) is that two years later, or three years later, although you will remember very well, very clearly, that there was a point in this particular scene when you hit a horrible Writer’s Block from Hell, and you will also remember there was point in this particular scene where you were writing and the words dripped like magic diamonds from your fingers — as if the Gods were speaking through you and every sentence was a thing of beauty and magic and brilliance. You can remember just as clearly that there was a point in the story, in that same scene, when the characters had turned into pathetic cardboard cut-outs and nothing they said mattered at all. You remember this very, very clearly. The problem is you are now doing a reading and you cannot for the life of you remember which bits were the gifts of the Gods and dripped from your fingers like magical words and which bits were the nightmare things you just barely created and got down on paper somehow!! Which I consider most unfair. As a writer, you feel like one or the other should be better. I wouldn’t mind which. I’m not somebody who’s saying, “I really wish the stuff from the Gods was better.” I wouldn’t mind which way it went. I would just like one of them to be better. Rather than when it’s a few years later, and you’re reading the scene out loud and you don’t know, and you cannot tell. It’s obviously all written by the same person and it all gets the same kind of reaction from an audience. No one leaps up to say, “Oh look, that paragraph was clearly written on an ‘off’ day.”

              It is very unfair. I don’t think anybody who isn’t a writer would ever understand how quite unfair it is.”
              ― Neil Gaiman

              • :)

                One thing is certain: no matter what

                – even if I one day won the writers’ lottery and became a huge bestseller, one of those for whom people are willing to pay ridiculous sums just to see her in the flesh – or remained a nobody but got a once in lifetime chance to get some necessary exposure which just might be what I’d need in order to start selling, and if I wont I will almost certainly remain a nobody –

                I will NEVER do a public reading of my own work.

                I would not be able to just read. Not a chance. I’d start editing as I read.

                • Well, musicians do that to their own work all the time. Which is why I don’t go to concerts. But I think I would be more forgiving of someone telling a story not exactly the way I remember it.

                  • It would be a very slow and very halting read with long pauses and, possibly, a couple of forays backwards to change something which should not have been changed back into what it was. :)

                    Or else I’d start crying in the middle when I figured I had probably done some very bad mistakes which had not been fixed before publication.

                • Lois Bujold always brings a pencil to her readings and makes marks on her manuscript as she reads. I’ve not noticed anyone caring.

              • “Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel”

                It just springs to mind.

            • Um, no, must be mine. Especially if it does all that and meanders around looking for a plot! And the spelling. I can’t tell which version of that word is right. They all look wrong to me.

          • Found it lying on the floor, next to a network jack. It just …oozed out, I think,

            OTOH, it didn’t take too much work to file the serial numbers off and turn it into a YA space opera. ;)

          • Or my mil sf novella.

      • I’m done with these people!

      • Of all possible evaluations a work can get, the author’s own just as he’s finishing it is the worst.

        I could laugh reading Northrup Frye writing that Shakespeare finishing Hamlet no doubt knew how good it was. Ha. He thought it was either the most miserable ever to waste ink and paper, or a marvel of perfect perfectedness, which it isn’t, either, depending on how getting it done made him feel.

        • William Newman

          I think it’s interesting how a similar but not identical reaction arises with writing software. There can be a natural tension between painful awareness of the limitations and kludginess of the new work (like ordinary writing), satisfaction or smugness or relief that it is in some sense complete (like ordinary writing), and childlike delight that it actually does something (not like ordinary writing, unless perhaps you write something like _Common Sense_ and then credit yourself with causing a revolution). Writing text can be satisfying and all, but it’s seldom going to be quite the same as writing a control program that successfully causes a little robotic sensor on a stepper motor to track your finger as you wave it in front of it.:-)

          • There are those times I’ve come across code and thought “Who wrote this dreck?” only to realize that I wrote it and forgot about it. And then there are the times I have needed to extend code and realized I had planned ahead when I wrote it and it was easy. And in both situations, I don’t remember which was which.

            On the other hand, when I’m just jamming in code to meet a deadline, I know it’s dreck and I know it’s going to bite me in the buttocks.

            I wonder if writers have the equivalent of Technical Debt. Do y’all ever write something into a story because you have to get from one scene to another and there’s a deadline and later it creates a constraint that’s hard to write around?

        • I have this perverse suspicion that what Bill the Bard really thought on completing Hamlet was, “Thank God, now the groundlings aren’t going to riot and burn the Globe.” Or alternately, “Thank God, now I can tell Annie when we’re likely to see some coin out of this.”

          People sometimes forget that the working part of “working writer” is just as important as the writer part.

      • Don’t squeezy-neck. Get a 3-lb hammer and start kneecapping.

      • Ja, and this is why I’m not entering anything. I’ve got enough stress at the moment, thanks. The main character in Blackbird is not wanting to cooperate now that I’m able to get back to working on fiction. And his mistress is p-ssed at me. Go figure.

        • I went through a bit of that when I started this project. Had this fully realized character in my head, and the rough story and knew where I wanted to go…

          And he’s just leaning against the wall. “Nah. That’s not the way it goes.”
          “Come on! I’m the writer-dude, I am to be directing the characters!”
          “Nope.”
          There may have been spluttering. “Okay, okay. We’ll do it this way…”
          Standing there, scratching his head, “Nope.”
          There may have been cursing.

          I eventually figured it out (I hope). There may be dents in the desk, though.

          • Sometimes you just can’t warp the story to fit what the characters want to do.

            “Nope, not gonna set up camp there.”
            “Why not? It’s more or less flat and not too rocky, and near the mine.”
            “Because.” Burro pulls him away. “I think it’d be better over here.”
            Later in story, unstable rock mass comes down right where I wanted the camp set up.
            “Whoops. Guess I was right.” the protagonist snickered.
            “Where’s my hammer…”.

            There was another where, almost at the end of the story as written, a 60-mile wide asteroid came out of the Oort cloud, zipped around the primary, then whacked into the planet. (Good thing, too, for various reasons.)

            And we won’t talk about the character who left inept booby traps, or the one that’s decided to seek asylum…

            Let ‘em run free, I say. See what they do.

            • Let ‘em run free, he says. See what they do, he says.

              They get up to things. Lots of things. Then they sit around the campfire just past the wild edges outside my window and tell stories while I try to sleep. :|
              :D

          • OK, now I’ve got a meddlesome priest about to walk in, the wife is coming from a different location than I’d planned, the mistress is going to have a cat fight with the wife because they have a little history, and the main character is contemplating burning down his former guardian’s city. None of which was supposed to happen. (The historical character almost married into his nasty guardian’s family as part of a political alliance, which would have made Thanksgivings a little strained, had late medieval Hungarians celebrated Thanksgiving.)

            • I’m beginning to think that my way is easier (probably less fun, mind you, but much easier). Since I don’t have characters in my head*, I have to suss it out the long way.

              * Actually, you could say I get plots in my head, but they don’t have much meat attached to them. It’s almost backwards – “Let’s put this character in here.” “Nope, not gonna work.” “Well, how about this one?” “Nope. How about a real tough guy, who gets a surprise ass-kicking, and has to be saved by the dude he suspected of being the bad guy a few hours ago?” “But that’s so cliche’.” “Well, you’re not exactly a super-experienced writer, now, are ya, punk?” “Fine!”

            • :D

              ‘Least it ain’t boring.

            • “I’m the main character.”
              “No, you’re not.”
              Silence. He leans against the wall with his arms crossed and looks kind of smug.
              “Okay then, but if you are you have to let me inside your head. If I can’t get inside your head I can’t write you.”
              “No.”
              “But…”
              Silence.
              “Hey, come on! A little help here?”
              He just stares at me and smiles.

              What the hell am I going to do with that guy? Can there be a key character rather than a main character or protagonist? He moves the plot and is the main hero but I write through the others’ reactions to him, those ones inside whose heads I _can_ get?

              I want a woman. I can figure women out better. :(

              • You’re writing Zen? And she’s a girl, btw. Sigh. Took me almost a year to get into that b*tch’s head.

                • :)

                  There are already three POV characters, and this guy is not, is not supposed to be, one of them. But he seems to be getting most of that action which moves the plot forward. There have been several scenes he wasn’t even supposed to be in, but he keeps appearing.

                  • Can there be a key character rather than a main character or protagonist?

                    Regarding this, and multiple POV characters, I started a book done like this. Police procedural mystery, key character the female detective, and she’s a sociopath. But you never get inside her head. Everything is seen from the supporting characters as they follow her through the story.

                    It’s — interesting. I actually think I’ll enjoy it a bit better when I pick it back up, but I just wasn’t in the mood for a sociopathic cop when I started it.

                    I do see some challenges in pulling it off, though. This is part of a series, so presumably the author has, indeed, pulled it off. But I haven’t read far enough to be sure.

                    • Huh. Inverted italics. Haven’t seen that before.

                    • That is actually one of the problems I’m having. The man really seems to be completely reliable as far as those people he likes, his friends and his family, are concerned, but as far as anybody else goes he either is or might as well be a sociopath. To him humans are tools to be used – to protect those he cares about and to achieve other ends he wants, but mainly his purpose is to protect his own – and not much else. And I can’t figure out how that would work. Can there be selective sociopaths? And how would he move from seeing somebody as just a tool to where that somebody becomes one of ‘his’ and is then seen as a real person? And if I stay outside his head, how can I convey that he is not, and he is, at the same time? Or would it actually be better to let it be kind of ambiguous, with the reader not quite knowing if he really can be trusted or if he is just acting? Or even that maybe he actually does care at least a bit about everybody, but is just not admitting it? (Except he doesn’t)

                      And then there is also the fact that this type of character – a monster who can love, and can be trusted by those he does love – is such a damn cliche. Think Hannibal Lecter and co. And while I do love me some cliches I’m not sure if I want to use this one, or at least not to give him such a big role. Except he seems to think I have to.

                    • Sociopath’s* relations with others can be remarkably complex. Their reasons may be kinked, but they can still form relationships.

                      Maybe he’s not a monster. Perhaps he’s a heroic figure with contrariwise motivations? Not a dark hero, or anti-hero necessarily, but someone who does objectively ‘right’ things for subjectively skewed reasons?

                      The detective story I referenced seems to follow this theme. Looking at incentive structures, somebody found the one that motivated the key character to ‘do good.’ Then they set her on the path. Her internal, subjective reasons for pursuing this good are likely to be quite alien. But the end result is the same.

                      Dexter is another character on the same sort of path, but much darker. No restraint of the pathology, just redirection. The serial killer that hunts murderers. He’s more the anti-hero, I suspect. Haven’t really followed the show.

                      Or maybe he’s something else entirely, and he just likes blocking your story? ;)

                      *I know they did a redefine a while ago, and sociopath has fallen out of favor. But I didn’t like the redefine and I have no professional reason to adopt it.

                    • Josh A. Kruschke

                      Pohjalainen,

                      I’m going to suggest you read “Violence: A Writers Guide” by Rory Miller.

                      There is a real good suction on Othering and how we can place different Values on them vs Us.

                      Just a thought it might help resolve some precieved contradictions that from my point of view I don’t see as a problem.

                    • The man really seems to be completely reliable as far as those people he likes, his friends and his family, are concerned, but as far as anybody else goes he either is or might as well be a sociopath.

                      Ooh, chaotic neutral!
                      Nice to role play, but kinda hard to “get” for any Christian influenced culture…. Have you considered looking into “tribal mindset” stuff?

                      Honestly, I’m kind of in awe that a character that doesn’t automatically recognize others as people can be outside of understandable– I know, intellectually, that a large portion of the world runs on this. I just can’t understand it.

                      I’d suggest some sort of an adoption process for him claiming someone as his own– or you could make him sort of possessive. I recognize that impulse in myself, for moving people from the “people” to “protect like family” groups.

                    • ” Can there be selective sociopaths? And how would he move from seeing somebody as just a tool to where that somebody becomes one of ‘his’ and is then seen as a real person? ”

                      Definitely, although if they are ‘good guys’ they are often called “cold-bloodedly logical”, which is just basically a prettied up definition of sociopath. In fact not only do ‘selective sociopaths’ make some of my favorite characters, but I have known quite a number of them in real life; and liked more of them than I have disliked. They are certainly more easy to figure out how to deal with than overly emotional people.

                      As for the second question, this is something that has been a leading element in numerous stories, for the simple reason that it makes for conflict, plot and character building, and generally interesting reading.

              • Josh A. Kruschke

                “Mission Earth”

              • “He moves the plot and is the main hero but I write through the others’ reactions to him, those ones inside whose heads I _can_ get?”

                Dorothy Dunnett wrote a wonderful series of books, starting with the Game of Kings, where the main character was almost never the POV character. He was always seen through other’s eyes. And, don’t we see Holmes through Watson’s eyes?

              • “What the hell am I going to do with that guy? ”

                What I took to do was writing outlines. Abandoning a half-finished outline because the guy does that is not half so distressing as abandoning a half-finished novel.

                And the eager beaver ideas get told: cough up the whole story line, or no story for YOU.

                • I’m too much of a pantser for that to work, I’m afraid. I have tried outlines, but I can’t stick to them even with short stories. If I just write I seem to be able to get out a whole story, only it can then maybe need some extensive rewriting in some parts as I can see the whole plot only when I get to the end.

                  • Yeah, that can be annoying.

                    Mind you, I pants my outlines, having no more notion that anyone else what’s in the Valley Full of Clouds — you could call them really rough first drafts — but it doesn’t work for everyone.

                  • I used to outline exhaustively. I still can with historicals and more literary work. SF won’t let me.

                    • I would like trying writing a cozy mystery or something similar, maybe a historical cozy mystery set in medieval or Viking age Finland, but so far I seem to be unable to write anything which isn’t fantasy, SF or horror (-ish… more dark urban fantasy than real horror maybe). I have tried a few short stories, but at least one ghost is likely to creep in. Or something paranormal, a character has visions or something. Or an alien invasion (that one got abandoned hard, it wants to be a novel and would require way more research than I’m willing to do at the moment. Those others are, er, resting at the moment. I’m not sure if I will just give in, or if I will try to clean the supernatural elements out. :)

                    • Mystery often has a supernatural element, even if it’s just “providence” or foretelling.
                      And I’d love to read that, if you can get enough materials to researchl

                    • Thanks. The historical? I do research on and off. There is precious little of the Viking age era in Finland. Medieval would be easier, but I’m more interested in the Viking age.

                    • I can’t write anything but fantasy and occasional far future SF and most of the stories insist on their own worlds.

                  • I view outlines as suggestions, subject to revision at any moment.

                    • I have scenes and some sort of idea what the world is like and what might work and what might not, and maybe an idea of what is going to be the problem, or at least part of the problem based on those scenes which I get first. And I have the main characters. The characters and few of the scenes are solid – and while at least a few of the scenes are usually some sort of key scenes, what the whole story starts to develop from, they aren’t necessarily something which will look important once the story is written, or even stay in – everything else is quite hazy and something like how to get from this scene to that scene, and sometimes even which scene needs to come first, tend to remain a mystery until I get there.

                      So far I have written some stuff by starting from where all I know is the beginning, but most often my method is kind of like, maybe, a petri dish. There are spots here and there, and they start to grow, and I start from one spot and look for ways to connect to other spots, and in the end there is a structure which even looks like it was maybe planned – once I have removed the spots which were left out, and pruned things a bit.

        • Off course the main character isn’t going to cooperate with you, if he did then his mistress would be p-ssed at him instead of you.

          • The mistress is a bit touchy as it is, being, ahem, in a family way. He’s taking this all a little too calmly. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

      • At least once in every story I write (at least), I reach a point where I just want to type “and then they all died. The end.”

        But somehow I manage not to do that and sometimes people tell me they actually like the story enough to pay me money for it.

        Silly people. ;)

      • LOL. Normally I send my stuff to Kate and Amanda and say “Is this a story or a cabbage.”

        • Easy to tell the difference. Cabbages are green and smell funny.

          Oh. Yeah. Now I get you. :)

        • I may have to search out some ‘Kate and Amandas’ for vegetable checking if this keeps up…

      • Well, it’s off!

        And I’m not going to look at that thing for a bit. Sure as I do I’ll find some stupid mistake missed every other time…
        :D

        • IF your referring to the bean shorty story contest, i envy you. I tried writing 3 different damn stories for that, and everyone of them wanted to be SF.

          I’ll had a world were space travel is invented using both technology and magic…. only i spent 4k words talking about the science(seriously, 4k of just straight exposition dialog… and i hadn’t even gotten to the why the MC felt he had to do what he did).

          I’ll have a world were that would be like a D&D place setting with normal village NPC’s, reacting to all the retarded crap “players” do… then it turned into all of the effects were sci-fi because it was a resort planet for super rich bored nerds who like to game, only no one told the genetically grown NPC’S….. Became way to big for 8k words. pretty sure i will be playing with this one later might even use my blog account for a serialized version rather than just using the blog so i can post on other peoples blogs, Think Micheal bay directing a Robert Asprin Myth series novel to kind of get the flavor i envision.

          And then I found the great cookie monster thread, and that completely derailed the only non sci fi fantasy story I was sorta perkulating on for a post apocalyptic muppet/human survival tale. that one stars Jones, a bitter survivor of the apocalypse who lost his wife, kids, parents, and pet cat to the apocalypse. And Mcsnuggles a minor character on a kids morning educational program (he was in charge of manners), who not only completely has Jones back (Jones saved him from having a short life as a chew toy for feral dogs) and may be the only hope Jones has of rediscovering his humanity. Super gritty realism to sell it, like muppets go to black Hawk down.

          Bah, maybe next year they will run a sci-fi contest.

          • Yep, submitted to Baen for the contest.

            And I want to read Muppet/BHD. Just too twisted…

            • older son just submitted his, too.

              • Seems like it’s shaped up to quite the competition. The Baen folks are gonna have a bit of a pile.

                • Really. We should all Indy publish with a unique tag so we can find each others stories.

                  • I wanna…

                    I’m gonna…

                    The contest was useful for me, time and length constraints I havent’t dealt with since college. Forced me to tighten the story.

                    Also forced me to hit that send button.

                  • I wonder if Baen could be convinced to epublish say the top 10(25)(50) stories on their site. Keep them up until the following year. Probably not but it would be interesting to see what people came up with.

                    When I submitted my story, I figured I had a chance. Knowing now what the competition is, I’m not so sure. :)

                  • Once the judging is over, I’ll be putting mine on my DeviantArt account and everyone can tell me how horrible it is.

                    Unless folks want to get together on an Anthology.

          • rustypaladin

            They’ve run the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest every year since 2007. Try for it next year.

      • You wait until edits to start hating yours?

        • Yeah, usually. Might make it worse. The little voice gets this smug overtone, with a “been waiting for you to figure out this is crap” mantra.

          Picture a kid’s first time at the beach, having a grand time, building a castle, grooving on it.

          Then a bunch of bullys come by to tear down his walls.

          I really hate bullys.

      • I may need to take a break for some squeezy-neck on a little voice.

        I had to do that. Had to stop listening to the ‘but what if… you missed a typo?’ I’d already had several people look it over. Hubby checked it as well, for the ‘you slipped into the wrong language’s grammar’ thing I do when I’m really tired. I’d managed to keep that in check! He did spot an inconsistency in name spelling, which was fixed… and then I stared at the ‘send’ button for an hour or so.

        Walked away, did something else, then came back abruptly and hit ‘send.’

        • I made my last edits after the conversion and then went to lunch. After I got back, I set the email up and checked everything (only once {more}, promise). Then after I’d scanned it I just hit the send button before I could think about it.

          The lunchbreak let me trick myself into “just sending an email.” If I’d tried to send right after I closed the edit…

          I’d have still done it, because I am man, big-strong like bull! (There may be some emphasis on the bull.)

          • Right now I’m more curious about whether I could publish the story in indie publishing / expanded form, if it doesn’t win. Or if it does win, since it could stand to be expanded, perhaps… or illustrated… the contest only says at the bottom: Note: Publication details will be worked out between winner and Baen Books. In the unlikely event that none of the stories qualify for professional publication, a cash prize, of an amount equal to the amount it would have earned had it been published, may be substituted in lieu of publication.

            (my original response got eaten by wp. *sigh*)

            I wonder where I could look…

            • Ooo…expanded and illustrated!

              You know I’ve been talking about expanded. Illustrated is just another cool layer.

    • Inside each person there are two wolves, a good one and an evil one, and they fight. The one who wins is the one you feed.

      Or so goes the “traditional” story.

  2. Again with MZB popping up. :-(

    I recently was able to finally read “Mists of Avalon” and then was able to pick up “Lady of ” and “Priestess’s of” by her at a great deal (Like 2 bucks for both great deal even.)

    Then I started hearing about all this stuff about her, and it’s presented a bit of a dilemma.
    I enjoyed her Mists book greatly, but how do you read something you previously enjoyed only to find out the author was something akin to a ghost from your own past?

    I know the brat is dead, and that sales don’t mean anything to her anymore, but… yeah….

    • There was always something about her work I found… unsettling, from her Darkover series on through Catch Trap. (Read her books because of girl I was dating… I far prefer hard SF.)

      But even so, the child abuse stuff surprised me. Sadly, the ‘We’ll give her a pass because wonderful’ response doesn’t.

      • ‘We’ll give her a pass because wonderful’

        Roman Polanski. Ugh.

        I do recall that there were a couple of sane folk in Hollywood who said, “What? The guy’s a convicted pedophile who avoided his jail sentence. I don’t care what art he’s created, that’s still dead wrong and he should serve time.”

        • To be honest, I’m not that impressed with Polanski’s work either. But then, I’m not one of the self-appointed arbiters of public consciousness, deciding what’s good or bad based on the person and whether my underwear’s chafing or not.

          (From what I’ve seen, a lot of movie reviewers seem about that arbitrary. Hey, it takes comfortable underwear to sit in a theater for hours on end!)

          • I like The Fearless Vampire Killers, but everything else of Polanski’s I’ve seen has been more or less ‘meh’ for me. Not bad, but not exactly memorable either. So I quit watching years ago. Have seen a couple, or parts of them, after that point, I think, because I was visiting a friend who wanted to watch his movie on television or rented a dvd.

            For me both Polanski’s and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s work do have one thing in common, a certain feeling of bleakness. Theirs are worlds, or characters, which may be entertaining to observe, but not ones I’d like to visit in person – well, some of MZB’s I might want to visit, but only visit, not live in or with permanently. Most of my favorite authors are my favorites because they can create characters I would love not only to meet in person but to have as friends or family (worlds – er, most seem to be so dangerous that no matter how interesting they are I think I’d pass even if somebody opened an interdimensional portal for me. Unless the deal included working rejuvenation treatments. Then maybe. :) ).

            But there are lots of other writers and directors whose work gives me that similar feeling of bleakness who have never engaged in any kind of criminal activities (that anybody knows of).

            • Bleak doesn’t do it for me. I prefer humorous, or sf / adventure where someone wins in the end.

              Wrote one story I really wish I could submit to Analog in the ’50s. It would have sold easily, I think. Smart&Crunchy Son thinks I ought to stretch it to book length, he REALLY likes it. I don’t see how I can – but I think the characters are going to come back at some point.

              But it wouldn’t sell in today’s Analog. The science is good but there’s not enough angst, though there’s plenty of failure the characters keep on trying to get around it.

              I’m SO over the ‘bleak’ phase of SF. I’m ready for optimistic and encouraging again, and with KDP there’s a good bit to choose from.

              • Yes. In the ‘bleak’ stories nothing is ever allowed to be just good. The heroes win in the end, and then they have to spend their victory moment mostly just mourning their lost friends and angsting about the future which is now just barely better than it would have been if they had lost… (and possibly angsting about the enemies they had to kill because they failed to win by peaceful methods). Now some wistfulness or remembering is of course good, but hey! And that is if they were allowed to be the clearly good guys in the first place. It’s equally possible – or maybe even more likely – there never was any clear wrong and right, just shades of lighter and darker grey.

                Well, okay, I like stories where the antihero ends up doing the right thing even if his character doesn’t improve much, but I’m afraid I rather hate those ones where what is first presented as good either gets corrupted or turns out to have never been quite so good after all (unless he was the hidden antagonist the whole time, that is okay when done well and with at least some foreshadowing. But cases like – well, the first Mission Impossible movie by Tom Cruise, where the bad guy turned out to be the character who had the same name as the one who had been the main hero in the old television series? I was about ready to scream out loud in the theater. Really, really pissed.).

                • It wasn’t just the same name, but the same actor as well… I was not at all happy with that myself.

            • No, not quite bleakness, Polanski has a sense of gloating about the triumph of evil. He picks stories in which evil is triumphant, and even at his best, there is that gloating. In “The Tenant,” evil wins in such a blatant, absurd manner that Polanski plays the hero himself. I guess no one else would enact those scenes for him. He reminds me of several other men who survived the Holocaust but seem to have been morally destroyed by it, Soros, whoever Fleming based LeChiffre on.

            • This. I had the feeling feeling about MZB’s work that others have expressed, that there was something off about it even though the stories were often interesting. You’ve put your finger on it for me: that sense of bleakness, of decay, of lack of a bright future for which to strive. I’m not even sure I’d want to visit.

        • I have to admit that I have liked one or two of Polanski’d films, though my rase in film is questionable….I own a copy of THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE. I think where I come down with this is Polanski is a good Director, who should be in jail.

    • I know … I liked Mists of Avalon, and the earlier Darkover books very much, (some of the later ones left me cold, so to speak…) and now knowing about what-all seemed to have been going on in the family life. I can’t help reassessing her stuff, and seeing that the angry and resentful stuff was really there and wondering if it had leaked in from her private life.

      OTO – in one of my own books, I did use some of my own feelings of anger and resentment over a personal betrayal for my main character, and it actually felt rather good to channel some of that old anger usefully.

      • It’s almost impossible for there to be no leakage. Sometimes there’s a whole bunch–Barbara Hambly had a bad patch, and wrote books I’ll never reread–but it’s exterior stuff, not interior corruption. But to write well, you have to use your own life, and especially the emotions you’ve experienced, to give life to your characters.

        • Oh, that Barbara Hambly bad patch – there are a couple of books of that particular series which came out of THAT which I was absolutely horrified by, and drew a line under ever reading, or even buying. Nope – and I am a huge fan.
          It may be my inherent ancestral British stiff-upper-lip speaking — but there are things so dark that I just wouldn’t want to work through in my plots and characters. I’d try and minimize the seepage, as it were.

          • I wonder if it would be possible to work through it “off-camera”. Maybe even write a scene, without inserting it into the final version, and the characters reference it as having happened, or you hear sounds coming from the next room or something. > >

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      One of her lovers(Waters) runs, or ran, the estate and made money off of it.

      Goldin has a deposition up for Waters. My read is that Waters very much does not have clean hands as far as enabling and apologetics for the acts is concerned.

      I went on a minor Darkover kick a few years back. I’d read some of her stories while much younger, and had classified her as fitting certain schools of thought. By the time of the kick, I had better eyes for guesstimating that sort of thing, but didn’t think my earlier conclusions were wrong. I read on, and only didn’t read further because other stuff grabbed me more.

      Given my guesses and calculations, the MZB stuff I found out more recently didn’t seem surprising or contradictory.

  3. In doing the research for the WWI alt-history, I’m coming to the conclusion that we Americans really don’t grasp just how much those four years shook Europe. It’s like the Thirty Years’ War and the French Revolution- we’re still feeing the aftershocks, but so much time has passed we can’t really trace them unless we get into the European side. WWI appeared to undermine so much of Western culture that it’s hard for Americans to fathom, just based on what we study and our country’s experience with the war. Granted, Wilson’s actions at home were a hint of what could come (the “Secret Service” and free-speech limitations, among other things), but we didn’t see our religious institutions broken because of their ties to the State, for one.

    I’m reading some of “The Banished One’s” stuff. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but so far I kinda like it. I’m still waiting for the lightning flash to reveal T.B.O.’s eeeevil, but no luck. Maybe that’s only in the print edition. [And autocorrect delinda est !]

    • Well, no. You have to remember that while in World War I, other nations lost as many soldiers as they had lost in entire previous wars, the American dead of both World Wars combined don’t equal the death toll of the American Civil War. Also, all those war-ruined landscapes? We had ‘em — for the Civil War.

      It’s hard for people to realize that what they just swam through was hard on others.

      • Exactly. The US got the barest nibble of a hint of what France, Germany, the Brits, parts of Italy, Russia, the Austro-Hungarians, et al went through. We had race riots and such as a chaser, they had civil wars and the creation of countries that hadn’t existed for a thousand years (if then. See Slovakia).

      • My mother, who had taught High School history, maintained that one of the reasons that WWI was so bad was that the European Nations had paid scant attention to the American Civil War (for all that they sent military “observers”), and so were completely unprepared for the consequences of the clash of two First World armies.

        We had paid the price and learned the lessons of the Civil War, and I believe that that is one of the reasons Pershing refused to put Americans under European officers.

        • There’s some truth to this. The Civil War caused a number of revisions in tactics due to newly introduced technologies. Bruce Catton, in ‘A Stillness at Appomatox’, writes about how marching Union troops late in the war would automatically dig holes for themselves when they finished marching for the day. They didn’t need to be ordered to do it. And these holes were dug in places that they troops would be vacating the next day. But the troops had learned that you had to do those sorts of things if you wanted to survive.

          The Europeans, of course, largely ignored it all as the war was a silly affair involving the hick provincials in the Americas instead of real world powers – i.e. the Europeans.

          Of course, even if the Europeans had paid proper attention, they still might not have “gotten it”. The US didn’t have the population density that Europe had, and so the front lines weren’t as all-encompassing as they were in World War I. For instance, in the US Civil War, the Army of the Potomac or the Army of Northern Virginia could break contact with its opposing number and attempt to steal a march toward the enemy capitol. Both armies essentially had empty space off to their respective flanks. That was impossible in World War I once the trenchlines were settled into.

          • Well, and in some ways the Eastern Front (Germany, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Serbia) was much more traditional in how it was fought than was the Western Front. Granted that’s where I’m focusing my attention, but I’m getting a sense that in some ways the east was almost another war entirely.

            • It was. During World War I, the Eastern Front is where the German soldier preferred to be.

              During World War II, on the other hand…

          • “…marching Union troops late in the war would automatically dig holes for themselves when they finished marching for the day.”
            That’s very interesting. Did you know that the Roman legions would fortify their encampment every night?

            • Yup. My interests include historical miniatures wargaming (among other things, I have a small Sassanid Persian army), so I’ve picked up the occasional bit of historical information. But from what I’ve read elsewhere, fortifying your camp had largely fallen out of favor at that point as there wasn’t any real need for it. During the Napoleonic era, you were typically safe in your bivouac area, and would have plenty of forewarning if that was about to change.

              But advances in technology meant that the US Civil War showed the first glimpses of the horrors that would be achieved in World War I. The Civil War was likely the first occurance of modern trench warfare. And a bivouac even remotely close to the front lines was no longer safe – even if all you were doing was passing through the region.

              • Do you read Larry Correia’s posts on miniatures painting?

                • Yup. And while I didn’t comment on today’s Correia miniatures post, I did post a couple of times on his previous one last week. Also, War Machine, which is the game that Correia plays, is extremely popular at my local game store (although I don’t play it myself).

              • rustypaladin

                I’ve read that Longstreet tried to push the idea of going full trench warfare to Lee. Lee preferred maneuver.

          • Indeed, the soldiers would no sooner have marched without their shovels than without their rifles.

        • Indeed – one of the books on my Mom’s shelf of Civil War history (she was a serious Civil War enthusiast, if you can say there is such a thing) was a book by a British military historian – who escapes me now – who argued that was exactly why the Western front turned into such a blood-bath. The ukase of the book was that tactics had not caught up with technology, and just about every form of technology that made the Western Front into a bloodbath was there (even if only in embryo) in the American Civil War. Multi-shot weaponry, aerial reconnaissance, rapid communications, trench warfare, swift deployment of troops via railways, naval war via iron-clad ships … it was all there, and yet a military genius like Bismarck could dismiss the American Civil War as “two armed mobs chasing each other around the countryside.”
          Commanders like Pershing were barely a generation removed from the memory of the slaughter in the Civil War – naturally, they were not keen on repeating the experience.

          • I think Bismark’s quote about two armed mobs chasing each other is also enlightening. I’ve heard that Europeans never really grasp just how big the United States really is. And that comment is a perfect example. During the Napoleonic Wars, that’s largely what you had where any two countries were involved. When France and Austria had one of their disagreements every couple of years, France would send a large army to Austria, and Austria would send a large army to counteract it. And the two armies (often with Russian support for the Austrians) would fight it out. There would be marching and counter-marching, but it would largely just be those two armies (the rare instances when it was otherwise – for instance, Jena-Aurstadt – demonstrated the folly of splitting your army into parts). France did have a second army in the field, but that was the one that was perpetually losing men on the other side of the continent in Spain, and was never focused against the Austrians and Russians.

            But in the US, there were lots of “armed mobs”, on both sides, busily chasing each other around. Grant, for instance, got his start in the west (with Sheridan and Sherman serving under him) before his eventual transfer to the Army of the Potomac. While Grant was fighting against Lee, Sheridan torched the Shenendoah Valley to persuade the Confederates to stop sending small armies up it. And at the same time, Sherman performed his March to the Sea. Such a thing would have been incomprehensible to the Europeans of the 1860s, because it would have involved cutting the army up into too many constituent parts in too small of a geographical area, which would have meant that a canny enemy leader (like Napoleon, for instance…) could swiftly pull his forces together and crush one of the smaller armies before an effective response could be made. In the US, the sheer size of the geography involved made the idea absurd. Lee couldn’t march down to Georgia to stop Sherman without Grant quickly putting a stop to the idea.

          • Pershing’s mother hid him under a bed while Mosley’s raiders were going by. So, not quite a generation.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Interestingly there’s a few commenters at Tor.com reading the Banished One’s Hugo nominee . . . and liking it.

      I feel a disturbance in the Force.

      • It’s not amazing they might like the Banished One’s stuff but it is amazing anyone would admit to liking at Tor.com.

      • I liked it. Mind you, I rated some other things higher because I liked them *better*, but I wouldn’t mind seeing further work in that series.

  4. Speaking solely on the formula part of your post, formulas can be constraining, or they can be freeing. Look, for instance at the cartoons “Pinkie and the Brain”, or “Phineas and Ferb”. Both are highly formulic (is that a word?) (“So what are we going to do tonight, Brain?” “Ferb, I know what we’re going to do today.”), so both can use their formulas to be about anything, and be totally funny, and occasionally heartwarming while doing so.

    Of course, it helps that both know when to tweak the formula, and when to throw it out the window. But you have to have the formula before you can throw it out the window. :-D

    • formulic (is that a word?)

      Formulaic.

    • That’s part of the fun. You do not, when reading a sonnet, want it to have sixteen lines because that defeats the purpose of being a sonnet, to fit neatly into the prescribed form.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Hell, the original Mission: Impossible is one of the most formulaic series ever made. You could set your watch by it. But it’s still very entertaining.

      • And one of the flaws of the movies (so far) is that not one of them has USED that formula. OK, the first one needed to defeat expectations, but you’d think somebody would want to do it just once.

  5. I never heard of the Banished One before the brouhaha in SFWA. Their denigration of the man has helped him sell at least one book, because I had to look him up and buy something to put on my reading list. It sparked my curiosity. Now I had an old army buddy who told me I shouldn’t watch one actor’s movies because he was a draft dodger during Vietnam. But I like the guy’s movies, and will not allow one decision he made early in life turn me away from them. Ditto for Woody Allen. I love his movies, and don’t watch them to praise what kind of person he is, but because I like to laugh, and his movies crack me up, especially Sleeper.

    • Yes. I try very hard to separate a craftsman’s work from his life outside the craft. I don’t refuse to watch Jane Fonda films because of her stupidity in Vietnam; I refuse to watch Jane Fonda films because she simply cannot act. She has the talent of a moldy turnip.

      • I watch Cat Ballou for Lee Marvin. And his horse.

      • Jane Fonda was more than stupid, she was a traitor and caused the POWs great harm. Also, there’s a difference between a draft dodger (Clinton) and a draft resister (someone who objected to the draft as involuntary servitude).

  6. “Let’s be done with “all humanity is evil.” Let’s put an end to “everyone is awful” as a view of the world. Humans are flawed, yes, but they often have the qualities of their failings.”

    Fortunately, the context of this essay, and your other writings, indicate that the above formulation is more a call to stop wallowing in the muck than it is a call to abandon the theological/philosophical principle of fallen humanity.

    We ARE all fallen, or as you put it, “evil.” Yet we are so much more than that. Art in its many forms can either celebrate the “more”, call us to “more”, and mourn the evil, or it can wallow in the evil, excusing if not celebrating it.

    Often, I think, artists come up against the question of evil, and unable to find an answer that satisfies them, they put aside the matter entirely and take the easier path of catering to their (and our) base natures. In the event that you, dear reader, are struggling with that question, or you know someone who is, do this:

    Rather than demanding an answer to “why is there so much evil and ugliness in the world?”, ask “why is there so much beauty and good in the world?”

    • Oh, no. It’s a call to give up the “The humanity is a plague upon the universe.” PFUI. I know we are fallen,w hich is why I don’t expect us to be perfect.

    • (I’m catching up with some four hundred comment emails as I’m out of town volunteering at my daughters week-long camp)

      Human beings have this peculiarly precarious position – that we get to choose whether we will serve that which brings order, truth, light, beauty (themes that ATH has been hitting hard over the last few days), or if we will serve that which serves discord, falsehood, darkness and degradation.

      And no one perfectly winds up on one side or the other. We are capable of astonishing combinations of good and evil.

      That we struggle against that base nature, and in some measure succeed (an occurrence I happen to attribute to some outside help, but that’s just me and my particular theological bent coming out), is a thing to be greatly treasured in ourselves and encouraged in others.

      And I think that’s one of the reasons that beauty is important in and of itself. In its highest function, it inspires us to try harder, to reach higher, to struggle just a bit longer. It maybe shocks us out of ourselves for a moment and reminds us of something that we’ve forgotten but which we recognize as being something to be earnestly sought after. (Church camp, did I mention that?) It reminds us that no matter how fallen we may feel we are, no matter how lost we may feel, how separated from our ideals, our better selves, how much we have screwed up, that beauty still exists, and that there is something inside ourselves that reacts to it.

      Which is why it is important to write not just well, but to write good, if you get what I’m saying. I’m not saying that every story needs to be a religious parable (no Aunt Toots, please), but Human Wave should be something that reminds us that even though we have a base nature, even though we have an animal component, Human beings have the potential and capacity to strive to be more than that.

      All right. I’ve got a few minutes before I have to be anyplace. Back to the comments…

      > >

      • “Which is why it is important to write not just well, but to write good, if you get what I’m saying. I’m not saying that every story needs to be a religious parable (no Aunt Toots, please), but Human Wave should be something that reminds us that even though we have a base nature, even though we have an animal component, Human beings have the potential and capacity to strive to be more than that.”

        I’d like to expand on the last slightly. Human beings have the potential and capacity and the obligation to strive to be more than that.

  7. Generally speaking, my reaction to my first favorite SFF writers was that they were sharply perceptive people. I think a conspicuous failure of morality is also a failure of perception. I don’t think it’s a coincidence my favorite writers tended to put an artistic piece of their unique selves in their work more often than something overtly personal. They seemed to be more interested in larger human interactions, and to define themselves as citizens of the world. I’m talking about Jack Vance, C. Ashton Smith, Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Simak, Roger Zelazny, Andre Norton, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Larry Niven, James Schmitz – most of the mid-century crew.

    If you look back at the works of Bradley and Delany, you don’t see that same larger interest, but one where they increasingly shoe-horn in rather bizarre obsessions based on their politicized identity – that is the seed of PC. Overall, that same thing is in conspicuous evidence with our QUILTBAG intersectionalists, who have shoe-horned in their very creepy obsessions with ethnic European heterosexual males into every aspect of their work, along with their equally eerie obsession with race and gender and themselves.

    The last Nebula Awards represents a wholesale opposition to my first paragraph. QUILTBAGs have no interest or faith in the human spirit; they are identity-addicts – that is their moral ethos. Intersectionalists are not citizens of the world but of a highly insulated, provincial and narrow moral highground they wrestle each other for possession of. Even as we speak they are doing that and going nuts over WisCon “harassment.”

    What happened? One woman had some kind of remark uttered at her in front of other people in a bar (still a giant secret). How bad could that have been? The other woman had a poem uttered at her in an open poetry reading she felt satirized her. Both women publicly admit to mental health issues and the PC warriors back them up to the hilt.

    The point is the idea that anyone who sees that as other than pure madness is going to write a novel worth reading is virtually zero. It represents a failure of perception so grand it amounts to virtual retardation.

    I don’t mind everyone is awful as long as it actually IS everyone and not just Jews, white men and Arabs. Humans rise and fall as one, and it is that denial that makes the ideology of QUILTBAG intersectionalism that infests SFF a sick depravity of racism, sexism and supremacist bigotry pathetically claiming oppression to disguise its own hatreds of its fellow human beings. I reject them and their sick double standards and worship of their own identities as defining right and wrong.

  8. William O. B'Livion

    After all they couldn’t admire communists and socialists without being able to turn their beliefs off and on at will, could they?

    Yes.

    If they don’t have any problems with the actions of the “Communists and Socalists” who did what “we” consider evil, then they very well could admire them w/out having to turn their beliefs off.

    It’s about tribe. The women in my tribe are affectionate and loving. The women in your tribe are sluts. The men in my tribe are generally hard working and industrious and like to have a good time outside of work, but are having some hard times. The men in your tribe are lazy drunkards.

    Che isn’t a murderous bastard, he just enjoys the work of ridding the world of those who aren’t progressive enough.

  9. Christianity (for those who care) teaches that there is something divine and redeemable in everyone. Even a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Che.

    If we create because we are created in the image of the Creator, well, then it is imminently reasonable to assume that terrible people can create beauty, since they must needs touch that part of them that remains beautiful no matter what they do, believe, or profess.

    • William O. B'Livion

      Christianity (for those who care) teaches that there is something divine and redeemable in everyone. Even a Hitler, a Stalin, or a Che

      Well, that’s at least one things Christianity is wrong about.

      • Be careful. If Christianity is wrong about that, then YOU may be one of the people in which there is nothing divine or redeemable. You would be the last to know if you were.

  10. sabrinachase

    It’s interesting to consider, and I think it depends on the art. I love Wagner’s music (don’t judge me!) but I’d probably give him the cut direct if I had met him in person. What a slime. And then there was the fellow who provided a vast amount of information and assistance to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary — from his cell in the mental hospital, where he was quite rightly confined after murdering someone with an axe. Not a good example of a moral life, no…but he knew his obscure etymology.

    Writing and to some extent the visual arts have a more direct connection to the mind of the artist, in my opinion, and a connection that can be immediately understood vs. triggering emotions, like music does. Reading an author is like living in their brain, forced to see what they see and act as they act. It is quite natural to be squicked out at the thought of living in the mind of someone you find repellent, much like putting on someone else’s damp socks. (not that I’m a fan of putting on my OWN damp socks again, either, but it’s even worse that way.)

    I wouldn’t advocate “purifying” your library unless the books in question really do trigger the gag reflex. I have plenty of authors on my shelves I would not care to associate with, and they would very likely be horrified by me ;-D

    • The locked up guy was doing useful work, which was probably therapeutic for his mental illness and certainly should have counted as reparations to his country and humankind.

      He also wasn’t getting out.

      (And really, the OED had a ton of contributors-by-mail from the far corners of Empire, so the loony bin was a lot easier on postage and on the survival of rare books.)

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I remember hearing that somebody at OED wanted to met the gentleman and apparently sent a letter asking “when will you be in the area”. The gentleman is said to sent a polite letter saying that he wouldn’t be able to come to the OED person. That’s when they found out that the individual was a lunatic.

        Oh, the exchange of letters may be an “urban legend”. [Smile]

        • The Professor and the Madman—Simon Winchester’s book on the subject—opens with that anecdote but goes on to disprove it. He used it because it’s a great hook, and you have to use a hook to get people interested in a book on a dictionary (of all things.) :D

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Ah, he was a murderer but not an “axe-murder”. [Smile]

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Chester_Minor

        • So, it wasn’t “murder” murder? ;-)

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Now Jasini, I don’t play that sort of game. [Smile]

          • Since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity (and not as a dodge, but because he really was provably insane), it was not, in legal terms, murder at all. It was, however, the killing of a human being. There is no grey area here: both those facts are incontestable and there is no conflict between them.

            • Naw, there is a definite gray area, to my way of thinking a person who murders someone is a murderer*, regardless of whether they are guilty in a court of law.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                In this case, the insane man believed he had murdered a man.

              • The problem is, merely killing someone isn’t murder. Murder requires some other factors, such as intention, moral capacity, and the absence of positive right. (One has a positive right to kill in certain circumstances, such as in self-defence against deadly force, or when serving as a soldier in combat.) Minor had the intention and the lack of positive right, but not the moral capacity. The man was as nutty as a soup sandwich, and the law correctly recognized that he was not capable of understanding that his actions were wrong. His illness caused him to believe that he had a positive right to kill his victim. Later in life, the same illness caused him to believe that he had an actual duty to cut off his own penis.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Plus while he was insane, he knew that he *murdered* an innocent man. Sure he intended to “kill”, but he intended to kill somebody who he believed was “after him”. He was sane enough to realize that the person he killed wasn’t one of those who were “after him”.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I used to read Douglas Adams. I no longer do so, partly because of getting fed up with his storytelling choices, and partly because I picked up enough baggage that the flavor annoyed me.

      Despite reading a fair amount of Lovecraft flavored stuff, I don’t read Lovecraft himself, because I don’t particularly enjoy his treatment of themes I hear he uses often.

    • Wagner is the only classical music I have ever been able to listen to without gagging. Some of his stuff I really like, while I would rather listen to a chorus of fingernails on a chalkboard than Beethoven or Mozart. Not really sure what that says about me, but I don’t think it was Wagner’s personal choices that made his music good.

  11. We have freedom of association – in theory. In fact we are forced to go to school with people we’d never want to be seen with if it were within our power to avoid. Worse we are often held hostage to their actions and assigned community responsibility for a community we were forced to join by law.
    I remember once in 5th or 6th grade we were all punished for something because the teacher couldn’t figure out who was guilty. As stupid criminals often do the kid later bragged on it and I literally left him bloody. The idiot had to wear a white shirt that day and he looked like I’d killed him after punching him in the nose. Do you think they thanked me?
    We often have to work with people who are scum. Who give scum bad name even. I had a fellow in the machine shop who wouldn’t stop shining a laser pointer in my eyes. He was the sort of a snickering fool who didn’t get tired of it any more than your cat. I warned him to stop. The management wouldn’t stop him. He kept it up until I followed him into the men’s room one day and grabbed him from behind and thumped him on the wall until I felt better. I then warned him if he said a word I’d REALLY hurt him and show him this was a little warning not HURT.
    That said – there are some associations you can’t get at the guilty party.
    You either have to put up with them or leave.
    Truth is if I didn’t associate with the sort of people I simply DESPISE I’d probably have a hard time buying the necessities of life. If you knew the true nature of the woman at the grocery store checkout or the plumber who comes to fix your toilet you might avoid them.
    This is the nature of a small town. Everybody knows your business and you know theirs whether you want to or not. Some people shun others – sometimes if the only grocery store in town is run by a jerk you swallow your feeling and buy stuff there when you can’t avoid it.
    In the big city it is a blessing we have no idea what a stranger is like most of the time.
    I would not invite my lawyer to dinner. He’s a son-of-a-bitch. That’s exactly what I want in a lawyer. If I sue somebody I don’t want Mother Teressa telling me to go make up and ignore the loss.
    You wonder how a terrible person can make beautiful things? This is stupid. Especially for FICTION. The really evil people live in a cocoon of fiction – portraying themselves as nice every day. They are EXPERTS at it. They weave a lie real time and can’t go back and edit it like a book. They can put it on paper and sell it as easy as doing it every day on the stage of their life.
    It’s only when the evil people are drunk on power they are emboldened to not even bother trying to look decent. The highest level of politician coming to mind. Even then they go back to their home districts and try to look like you or I to the voters. This is why so many are now skipping town-hall meetings. A lot of them are way past being able to fake it. It’s counterproductive to have your goons arrest anybody who dares ask a question.
    If you don’t buy a book or go watch a movie or buy a painting or dress because you know the maker is a creep or criminal and don’t want to enrich them I understand. But if there is no book or movie you want to buy by a non-creep I won’t judge you because you probably did business with a dozen horrible people today and just don’t know it.

  12. I’ve often thought about this.
    First off, I think with writers vs painters or musicians it is a lot harder to separate art from artist. Specially with old masters or classical music, it’s simple to appreciate beauty without knowing or caring anything about the creater.
    With writers, from the first word you are invited into the writer’s head.

    Speaking of writers, one example: I’ve read almost all of Ann Perry’s books. I did not know at until several books had been read that she was an infamous convicted murderer. When I found out I had to think about whether to drop her or not. However, she’s done her time, paid her dues, and based from her writing, seems to have reformed. In her writing I see a cognizance of the nature of evil and the struggle to be good.

    • Something similar could be said for Robert Downey Jr. It wasn’t all that long ago that the guy’s life was a complete mess. But he did his time in rehab, and amazingly enough (for a celebrity, as many such people seem to treat rehab clinics as their home away from home) apparently got his demons taken care of as a result. And its generally believed that one of the reasons why he makes such a great Tony Stark in the Marvel films is because of the shared weakness of both men.

      It ultimately does come down to what the artist (in the broad sense of the word, as opposed to merely meaning “painter) is doing now as opposed to what has gone on before. The problem so frequently is that most artists aren’t willing to reject their bad behavior when given a chance, and will only go through the motions as necessary in order to convince people otherwise.

      • Mark Wahlberg is another reformed ex-con. Pretty rare in Hollywood, it seems.

      • I think part of why he recovered, when so many don’t, is because he had Mel Gibson to help him as a person– and he accepted, as a person. Not as a customer, or as a visitor, or as a project.

      • Josh A. Kruschke

        Robert Downey Jr.’s current wife told him that if he ever fell of the wagon that it would (paraphrasing), be because he would have chosen drugs over her and that she would leave him the first time he ever did that. There would be know second chances. It’s drugs and that life style or her. There is no middle ground. She would not make excuse for him or be an enabler of bad behaviour. He is an adult and that make the choice to do drugs, and it is a choice, would have a consequence that so far has been enough not to return to doing drugs.

        • And yet, how many Hollywood stars, in that same situation, would tell their spouse, “Nice knowing you!” The notable Hollywood marriages are the ones that last more than five years.

      • William O. B'Livion

        I don’t think he has his demons taken care of so much as on a short leash. A very short, very tight leash.

  13. I think that the fertile ground that was SF fandom in Berkley was a big part of the problem. If you are into “alternative” lifestyles, where to do you set the boundaries. And with all the drugs flying around, calling in the law became a non starter:

    https://suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/award-winning-monster/

    So Breen and Bradley could hide what they did under the general mess of the counterculture.
    That same counterculture as it has evolved has turned into a cult which cannot tolerate anybody with badthink. So we see what’s happened at the SFWA, Archon and other places.

  14. “I objected to this because – and I used the most extreme example I could think of – a plumber’s union doesn’t kick out a guy for being a child molester.”

    My brain stumbled over this a couple times. Would I be correct in guessing this is a “trap”? That if someone says, “Well of course they do, or they should!” then the obvious reply is “Then why *didn’t* SFWA do that, and yet they did for the One Who Shall Not Be Named”. Hence their hypocrisy or at least gross inconsistency.

    • It would work as a trap.

      I think, though, that in a perfect world a plumber gets kicked out of the plumber’s union/guild/professional association only for failing the qualifications related to plumbing. (Which actually *might* include the ability to be bonded which a felon would lose.)

      Unless it’s the Catholic Plumbers Association no one should get thrown out for being Mormon.

      The thing about being a science fiction writer is that you’re supposed to be working with and exploring ideas that *aren’t* mainstream. And you just might be on record, somewhere on the internet, for inquiring after such things as, oh, the flavor of human flesh or how best to poison someone, or any number of things that would be considered beyond the pale.

      And you ought to be able to write a story where your isolated human colonists have developed a culture where they eat the hearts of their enemies, *even* in approving tones (since your POV character may well believe that this is the highest form of respect and thus morality), *even* if you actually do find this scenario personally appealing so long as you’re not caught eating human hearts your own self… and even *then*, if you’re in prison for the rest of your life or on death row because the police found a refrigerator of Boy Scout parts in your cabin… even *then*… should you be thrown out of a “professional writing organization” because you’re a felon and a monster?

      Probably not.

      The *weirdness* is this notion that failing to shriek and clutch pearls and Banish the Undesirables is the same thing as endorsement of every single aspect of their lives and ideology.

      • Eh, I know of a few professional organizations where they have the clause that if you are found guilty of a felony, you are out. And there’s a “good moral character” clause in the FAA’s airline transport pilot rating/license. (Don’t get me started on that one. There’s a novella in there at least, once the statute of limitations expires.)

    • William O. B'Livion

      Actually:

      http://uamembers.com/UAConstitution-BCTMemberProceedures.html

      SEC. 144.

      (a) Every applicant for membership as a journeyman in a Building and Construction Trades Local Union or a combination Local Union (Building and Construction Trades branch) must be a skilled craftsman and his application must contain information as to his experience and/or training. These qualifications must include:

      1. That he has had a minimum of at least five (5) years actual practical working experience in the plumbing and pipe fitting industry.

      2. That he is of good moral character.

      So technically they could probably kick a guy out for sufficient proof of him being a child molester.

      If the SWFA has a morals clause in their rules they can either be hammered for not following it in clear cases, or they can be hammered for CLEARLY not thinking that child sex abuse is a morals problem.

      • I would imagine that such a morals clause is largely there for things like cheating customers. You don’t want someone who cheats customers to be a part of your organization, as it tarnishes all of the other members.

        But it could easily be expanded to include something like the hypothetical.

        • Plumbing and construction send you into a lot of homes. Character is crucial.

          • Sadly, listening to LA radio I notice there’s a plumbing company that advertises their plumbers have passed background checks and will….well, basically not be nasty and creepy. (I can’t remember the name, other than that they’re the “smell good plumber.”)

            I remember several theft rings that were directly tied to getting plumbing work done.

      • And the bar. There is usually an inquiry about a lawyer’s moral character when he applies to his state bar.
        And, no, this is not mentioned to court lawyer jokes.

        • Whatsisname – Steven Glass, I think – who was one of the guys who got nailed for writing fake stories a while back, apparently moved to California afterwards, and applied to the State Bar.

          He was rejected.

          And when he appealed the decision to a trial judge, the judge sided with the State Bar.
          :P

        • Professional Surveyors license is the same in many states as the bar. You can get your license pulled for failing to have good moral character. I know of at least one case where the guy was charged with a felony (drug related) and eventually found not guilty; but still had his license revoked because of ‘moral reasons.’

          He went before the board (surveyors equivalent of the bar) and they upheld the decision to revoke.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I vaguely know of a case where a board of licensure used their felony and misdemeanor rule to get rid of a guy convicted on, IIRC, child pornography charges.

  15. A minor quibble indeed, but I think it was Terry Pratchett who wrote about there not being atoms or mercy or kindness or honor. Here’s the quote from Hogfather:

    “All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

    REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

    “Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

    YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

    “So we can believe the big ones?”

    YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

    “They’re not the same at all!”

    YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

    “Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”

    MY POINT EXACTLY.

    • You notice the circularity. We believe something silly — and he has to prop up this belief when we would stop, because apparently we’re therefore supposed to believe it, because of our belief. . . .

    • Heinlein did too — I’d guess in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. The professor. I can almost go to the page, and if this weren’t packing day I’d find it.

    • The interesting thing about Death’s argument here is that it can be reversed on him. If when you “TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE” and you do not find “ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY” , where do the big lies of Justice and Mercy come from?

      Where does Susan get the idea that “THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED” ?

      These ideas, these ideals must originate somewhere. They cannot originate from human beings, because humans are part of the universe, which has been ground down and sieved. Therefore they must come from outside the universe.

      • Josh A. Kruschke

        Trinian,

        That only works if you conflate tangible and intangible things.

        • It is Death who is conflating tangible and intangible things. Death is looking for an atom of justice and a molecule of mercy and not finding them. It is Death who calls Justice and Mercy and Duty big lies.

          • Well, that argument can be made. Heinlein made a similar point in Starship Troopers when he had Colonel DuBois mock the concept of “fundamental rights”. Remember the whole thing about the ocean not respecting a drowning man’s putative right to life?

            Such things are very useful fictions, and many may relate to instinctive urges (a desire for vengeance is a natural instinct, justice isn’t, but the latter keeps societies from tearing themselves apart as long as it satisfies the natural thirst for the former), but absent living, sapient beings, in what sense would those fictions exist?

          • “It is Death who calls Justice and Mercy and Duty big lies.”

            Except that death goes on to say (I paraphrase) “the reason human beings need to believe these lies is so that they can make them true.”

            • You get something similar when Death clarifies why the sun won’t rise the next morning. That’s because

              *HOGFATHER SPOILER!!!*

              what will rise instead is a flaming ball of gas.

              *End Spoiler*

              The closest thing to an ultimate evil that Pratchett’s Discworld novels have aren’t the vile things from the Dungeon Dimensions that appear to have been created as parodies of Lovecraft’s mythos. Rather, its the Auditors, with their desire to categorize everything into exacting, sterile, classifications. Based on what Pratchett writes, those “little lies” might not represent the normal state of the universe. But they’re still the most important things around. In Reaper Man, Death even manages to get his own boss to stretch the rules by using an appeal to one of those “big lies”.

          • And Death, in that universe, is a fine example of something that should be intangible, but isn’t. Pratchett is like that.

          • Josh A. Kruschke

            Actualy no it isn’t read the last to lines.

            You won’t find Justis or Love or any of that because they are intangible products or constructs of the mind.

            That was the point.

          • It is Death who is conflating tangible and intangible things.

            Most likely as a rhetorical trick because he was dealing with someone whose argument depended on physical proof.

    • I always read that as Death saying “The natural state of man is beastly. Unless you work at it as a society, that is where you’ll stay.” It isn’t so much a lie as something we all agree to. If tomorrow everyone decided the law didn’t apply to them, it wouldn’t. Unless we all believe in justice and mercy (or at least a large majority) it isn’t going to exist.

      What would happen in America if the powers that be decided that mercy and justice and law were defined only by them? What would happen if we stopped teaching our children about the Constitution and the struggles the found fathers went through to create a nation of laws instead of a nation of men? What would happen if the average person on the street stopped paying attention to how the country was run and just wondered where their next check was coming from?

      Democracy only works when the Falling Angel meets the Rising Ape.

  16. (This is perhaps the reason I prefer some artists in what is objectively their decaying mode. The later Heinleins, the last few Leonard Cohen albums. They’re less controlled, but speak more directly to the emotions.)
    Yes. “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” directed by Sam Peckinpah when he was killing himself with cocaine. Though some scenes are very badly directed, and about a half-hour in he seems to be trying as hard as he can to drive the newbies out of the theater, the opening is a WTF?! stunner, and you can feel him looking over your shoulder throughout.

  17. Christopher M. Chupik

    Recently, when I was reading Podkayne of Mars, I noticed that the teenage Poddy was being courted by a man roughly twice her age. My eyebrow started doing that Spock thing, believe me. I guess in some eras that sort of thing wasn’t quite as frowned upon, but it’s still a bit of a shock for the modern reader.

    • My great grandmother, by marrying my great-grandfather, became the stepmother of her best friend, in her own class at school — who was, admittedly, the oldest child.

      Remember that deaths used to be much more evenly spread across age groups. Dying in your twenties was not much more surprising than dying in your nineties.

      • Especially when childbirth was involved. In particular, you used to have older widowed men marrying younger women so that there’d be someone in the home to look after the kids from the first marriage.

        That just plain doesn’t happen these days.

        • Also you had better hurry up and breed in those days before something else killed you. Assuming you had the luxury of putting it off was a good way to end your line.

        • in the nineteenth century it was normal for men of a certain class in their thirties to marry seventeen year olds.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Example: Lord Cochrane, who married a 16-year old.

          • Yes – most certainly it was; because a gentleman of thirty or so had been out in the world, prospered in his trade, saved up enough in pursuing it, acquired real property … all he wanted at that point in life was a wife.
            That was how the 19th century rolled.

            • I can see that happening again – the way millennials are staying in their parents’ home because they are in debt & have no jobs. By the time a male millennial digs himself out of the hole enough to be able o start a family, he will probably be looking for a much younger mate.
              And young female millennials also have reason to seek out older, established, financially-secure mates.

          • James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at Hyderabad for the East India Company. In 1801, at age 37 he married a 15 yr. old Shi’ite ethnic Persian member of the local aristocracy. However he had first taken up with her the year before and she was pregnant when they married.

          • Girls didn’t need to be able to support a husband to marry.

        • No, not especially when childbirth was involved. This was regardless of sex.

      • Reminds me of my mom walking her uncle to school as a child… they’d drop him off at kindergarden, and she and her sister would go over to the middle school.

    • Georgette Heyer…

      I think that modern society has developed a highly critical view of old guy/young girl couples because modern morality has removed the systematic protections and conference of status through marriage formally gained by the young girl.

      At least that’s my reason for finding the old fashioned stuff unremarkable and the modern equivalent squicky.

      I have various stories I’ve worked on where the girl is very young and the guy is much older but the *girl* is powerful in some way. She’s telepathic with and sole control for the alien creature that is her “ship” or she’s a “monster” and can essentially kill you with her brain. The first for story reasons, she *has* to have just gone through puberty. For the second for story reasons she *has* to have just enlisted in the military, which I *could* have her do at 25 instead of 18, but that ends up being a different story.

    • Josh A. Kruschke

      Which modern era are we talking about?

    • My parents had a 22 year age gap.

      • My grandparents had a 20 year age gap, but still, she was 20 when they married.

        • My mom was older than that. :)

        • Yep same with my grandparents although I think my grandmother was only nineteen when they got married. Well at least the first time they got married, my grandfather at “forgot” to get divorced from a previous wife, so they ended up getting ‘officially married’ a few years later; after grandpa got out of jail for bigamy.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        I know someone who started dating his future wife when she was fresh out of high school and he was several years her senior. They are happily married.

  18. The thing with Marion Zimmer Bradley leaves me in a very strange place, personally.

    Ms. Bradley was one of my “writing mentors” when I was just getting started. At that stage of my career there were two people who would talk to me–Stan Schmidt at Analog (who had just bought my story “The Future is Now”) and Marion Zimmer Bradley (who had bought my story “Jilka and the Evil Wizard”). It was her anthology series “Sword and Sorceress” that got me to try my hand at shorter fantasy and, in fact, really writing fantasy at all. Oh, I had a novel in progress at the time, but it was really a one-off inspired by, well, reasons. ;)

    It was Ms. Bradley actually encouraging a lot of my work in Fantasy, even though she never ended up buying another story before I returned to school and dropped out of writing much of anything until the past few years. By the time I returned to writing, she was gone and the first wave of stuff about the past (which made it look more like she was deeply in denial, or perhaps “do-dependent” about her then partner’s behavior).

    So, as a writer, I actually owe quite a bit to the late Ms. Bradley.

    But if she were still alive and tried to do any of the stuff now laid at her feet to my daughter I would kill her with my own hands.

    Like I said, a very strange place.

    • “So, as a writer, I actually owe quite a bit to the late Ms. Bradley. But if she were still alive and tried to do any of the stuff now laid at her feet to my daughter I would kill her with my own hands.”

      I see no inherent contradiction in this statement. As a side note, I once read an essay by a man whose stepfather had turned out to be a serial killer, and said killer had once literally saved his life (by grabbing a teetering ladder the man was on, stopping him from falling down to a concrete patio.) It was a good deed—but that doesn’t overwhelm the fact that the man was a killer.

  19. brianniemeier

    “It’s an emotional gut reaction, which is best achieved by having the artist pour out a bit of his own emotional gut reaction.”

    Agreed. My only caveat is that our response to art isn’t only emotional. It’s also intellectual. Humans are rational and emotional beings. Works that purposefully fail to engage the intellect on at least some level evoke mere titillation. (Consider how you created a narrative to give underlying logic to your rotten root image; plotless novels suck, etc.)

  20. I, for one and maybe the only one, have never ever assumed that John Ringo was personally into the BDSM thing. (And no, I do *not* want to know.) I try not to assume anything in a fiction novel is representative of the author’s life or beliefs. I don’t assume Steve Stirling is a Wiccan or Pagan… etc.

    As much as I think that it’s true that art pretty much has to involve your “self” to be good, I don’t think that people are all good or all evil and a quite evil person could (and undoubtedly has) created amazing beauty and enduring prose.

    Mostly I think a lot of issues related to an artist’s Real Life are seen in hindsight. Looking back a person can go… oh… it was right *there*. Looking forward, not so much.

    But the stuff that annoys me is the obvious message-fic. And even some of that is only really viewed in hindsight. Yes, a good reason not to hear authors speak. I had read a book from an author and really liked it except for one bit that struck me as wrong and thoroughly unappealing and then heard the author explain *that exact part* as a deliberate feminist choice. What had been a minor face-squinch upon reading it became a klaxon of warning of what was to come. Rationally, I figure that the series is popular enough that there is *no way* it could have become nothing but feminist screed but I still can’t bring myself to read any others.

    • Anyone who assumes that the writer and the speaking persona of a piece are the same would miss the point of A MODEST PROPOSAL entirely.

      • William O. B'Livion

        Or maybe not.

      • Sad thing is, some folks go from that very true statement to assuming that it’s impossible to detect the author in their writing. Sometimes it just screams too loudly to ignore, sometimes it’s just a…feeling.

        I see a few basic groups that may overlap:
        Folks who don’t really think through all of what they believe and put it into what they write. Hard to tell if it’s conscious or unconscious, since there’s usually a signalling effect but..not thought out, so the message isn’t very clear and might just be noise. You can identify their beliefs pretty dang easily, but it usually doesn’t do too much damage to the actual story, because they can’t follow through to make it more than frills.
        If there are characters that disagree with the author, they’re going to be caricatures, and sometimes they’re going to be really, really, really funny ones.

        Folks who do think about what they believe, and put it into what they write either incidentally or unconsciously. Our hostess, for example. Can be a bad taste if it’s something you’re baseline opposed to.

        Folks who think about what they believe, and put it into what they write purposely. Message fic. Can sometimes be saved by a really good story… if it’s not a message that is just horrific.

        Folks who think out what their characters believe, and put it into what they write purposely. A form of message fic I’ll call philosophy fic. Can be a blast if it’s done right, but tends to result in a lot of folks attributing this or that character to the author because it was so well stated. I think that’s the origin of Blue and Orange morality, just to play with the ideas.

        Folks who while keeping their basic assumptions keep thinking and/or are true to the soul of the story or character… and end up coming around to the other side by the long route. John C. Wright, Terry Pratchett, possibly Rowling…. I had a few more but forgot. Sometimes they notice it, sometimes they seem not to.

        • “If there are characters that disagree with the author, they’re going to be caricatures, and sometimes they’re going to be really, really, really funny ones.”

          This is really obvious when it happens and usually really annoying. Other people manage to include characters with different viewpoints (one of whom may represent their own opinion, and not necessarily the main character) but do so in a way that readers who hold those views will find believable. So, what you call “philosophy fic” but not focused on a particular viewpoint. I think that Wen Spencer did a great job with her third Ukiah Oregon book in this regard… the FBI guy expresses a classic “faith sucks your brains out” opinion… Ukiah explains a non-judging Unitarian outlook… the Dog Warriors view faith and the state of their souls as profoundly important and very real. And the bad guys are a cult.

          If the bad guys were a cult and the only other opinion offered was “faith sucks your brains out” the effect of the story would be completely different.

  21. The list is merely a constraint, and you can make completely different stories within it, particularly if you scramble it a bit, which the hero’s journey allows for, since some steps are optional and some can be re-ordered. (Though I have to tell you right now that if you leave the acceptance of the call till mid-book you’re going to cry in your soup. It doesn’t work.)

    The War God’s Own!

    SPOILER

    He keeps the acceptance of the call until dang near the end of the book…. by playing around to make it so that accepting the call is very, very literal, and the journey itself is the main character sometimes quite literally running like heck to avoid it. :D
    Curse it, now you have me considering if Weber did that on purpose, and wondering where I put my Journey of a Hero notes so I can re-read it and look for support for that…..

    • :)

      Whereas I’d argue that he accepted the call the moment he heard the girl cry out, accepted that he ought to ignore it, and accepted that he wasn’t going to ignore it.

      • Oh goodness, yes, but the other way is so obvious that I’m startled I never noticed it, and am pretty sure it was on purpose!

        • It very well may have been on purpose. I can easily see Weber (who I only met once at a con, so what do I know) reading the Hero’s Journey and viewing it as a challenge.

          • Maybe so. I can’t claim any closer acquaintance myself. But from both his writing and maybe an hour of talking with him a decade or so back he comes across as very much a craftsman at his trade rather than an “artist”.

            That’s not meant as a criticism, but praise. He’s figured out what works for him, he seems to work hard at improving his self-perceived weak points, and he seems to care about delivering somethings his readers will enjoy. And he seems to genuinely like and respect his readers.

            He also has a real love of hiding in-jokes and Easter Eggs in his writing, both for his own amusement and as a reward for careful readers. If he *did* consciously decide to subvert the Hero’s Journey, I suspect it was more tongue-in-cheek than challenge.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Well, let’s not forget that Bazhell’s “Race” are the Orcs of David Weber’s story-verse. Let’s not forget that the largest/most powerful nation of Bazhell’s world is ruled by Dwarves. Let’s not forget that the Elves of Weber’s story-verse are a bunch of “let’s forget about the rest of the world because the good guys lost the war 12 centuries ago” type of folks. Of course, Weber’s Half-Elves are a bunch of racists. Oh while Weber’s Halflings have a “reputation” for being cowards and thieves, one group of Halflings were willing to taken on Bazhell when Bazhell boarded their ship without permission.

              David Weber had plenty of fun with subverting Fantasy themes with the Bazhell series. [Very Very Big Grin]

              Final note, IIRC David Weber has implied that his Dwarves could create steam-engines and gun-powder weapons. [Very Very Very Big Grin]

              • The Dwarves’ wagons have rubber tires and shock absorbers. They have intercoms. I love the fact that even though it’s a fantasy universe it has technology too.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  So far the Dwarves’ intercoms are the “old fashion” speaking tubes. Of course, IIRC the Dwarves have steel-works that would be recognizable to anybody who worked in 19th century steel-works. [Smile]

                  • I was particularly struck by the way Weber implied a non-stagnant society where many fantasy worlds seem to be stuck at their pre-industrial stage. Bazhell (?) sees the shocks and the tires and thinks… wow, that’s *new*! Which broadens the “world” to include implied stuff, invention and building, thinking of new and better processes, *life* is going on off-stage.

                    • As opposed to, say, elder scrolls, where technology for anyone but the dwemer froze hundreds if not a thousand years ago… in fact, they have LOST tech, including most of the Dwemer tech.

                    • That’s why I like the Bahzell series. It’s set in a living growing place. it’s progressing like a real world would.

              • talking about jokes, you should see some of the names the Havenites have. Weber writes so well and his characters are so alive, that a couple days ago my husband said: “Where’s Thomas Theisman when you need him?”

              • Implied?!? He had one of the dwarves showing off the compression springs on the wagons, and the smelter was totally mechanized!
                (The half elf racism also makes perfect sense– the only way they can keep their elvish traits strong enough to be an advantage is to keep it in the “race” or marry elves. A stable half-elf race that makes perfect sense in the world that’s built, including genetically.)

                I adore that series because, yeah,he turned a bunch of stuff on his head– and it was obviously full of love of the stories, and is even a worthy meditation that Tolkien may have approved of on how the Orcs could “work.”

                • What he implied was that the world was in transition. Yes, he *showed* all that stuff, but it wasn’t just that they had it, it was that they were improving it. It wasn’t the old way the Dwarves had always worked metal for thousands of years. And the fact that he showed (not implied, I agree) those few changes is what implies that the whole world is going on and learning new things, even in the parts of the world he doesn’t show.

                  When I read it, even the first time, I went “wow” and made a mental note of the way he did it in order to try to incorporate similar techniques. In fact, I realize that this is part of what’s going on with what I’m trying to write now. I’ve got a far future sci-fi setting with ancient technology and ruins and a smallish clan-based community that does a lot of farming and rather low technology stuff. It doesn’t *quite* work.

    • That’s a good book. I need to move the sequels up on my reading list.

    • The acceptance of the hero’s call *can* be held off, but it needs to be handled properly. In fact, there’s a very famous and well-known story in Christendom (and Judaism) about someone who tried to ignore the Hero’s Call. And while the Book of Jonah does explain what happened after Jonah accepted the call, that part of the story tends to get ignored in most retellings.

    • I consider that section one of the *best* explanations of how God operates. The “call” is always there, the “hero” just has to learn to “see” it. To me, “the call” is a part of “Human” Nature. He had to “grow” as a person, until he could see, and respond to it. It’s only obvious later, but in that case, “the call” is a process of transition. His “resistance” is there and we come to understand why, until he has to face it.
      I don’t remember who said it, but a “story” is always a tale of growth and change. Whether that change is “good” or “bad” can be very relative. (Vader sees himself as “good,” but objectively he isn’t.) Anyone who watched Babylon 5 knows the “D–n you, (author name) *that’s* what you meant in season/book N.” :-)
      I can look at my own life and see a “clear” path, but couldn’t see it, when it was happening. (_Four_ serous knee injuries, and serious back injury, over a 40 year period.) So, many times the “the call” is a really the journey, and the MC’s coming to see it. My first book, is a person answering a “call,” and the surprising turns that come from it. Neither Joe, nor Charlie have any idea what will come from his choices to say “yes.” He touches far more lives than he realizes, until the end.

  22. Does anyone know why WWII was so different than WWI?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      I’m assuming that you’re talking about the difference between the Fronts during WWI and the fronts during WWII.

      The big difference is that the “Western Front” in WWI involved trench warfare but during WWII it did not.

      During WWII, the Eastern Front involved a stronger and smarter (in spite of Stalin’s early blunders) Russia than the Russia of WWI.

      • I meant that WWI was static while WWII was more mobile. It was a war of maneuver.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          One of the things that the Germany Staff worked on between the wars was “how to increase mobility”.

          When they invaded France during WWII, they were able to move more quickly than the French were able to move.

        • WWI was more static in the Western Front (and not at all in the Eastern and Middle Eastern fronts) largely because of a combination of the density of the armies and the greater relative strength of defense over offense in WWI than WWII. Poor offensive tactics, poor leadership in Allied armies, and poor communications technology at the time, were main reasons that defense was stronger than attack. This was largely broken down by improved tactics for attack by 1918 especially by the Germans.

    • Many of the military differences between World War I and World War II were because of the intense desire by all sides to “learn the lessons” of the previous world war. The French decided that since the trenches were inevitable, they’d create armored transports to move their men and supplies to the front in relative safety. Their tanks were designed with tracks long enough to enable them to safely cross trenches. And their tank guns were designed primarily for anti-infantry work. The British focused heavily on the tank (a British invention), but decided that tanks should be split between slow-moving heavy infantry-support tanks, and fast moving, lightly armed and armored “cruiser” tanks that could exploit a breakthrough. The German blitzkrieg doctrine directed that tanks would locate weak spots in the enemy lines and burst through, moving to cut enemy supplies and encircle the enemy army. Infantry following up in support would then eliminate the cut off enemy forces. The US maintained a naïve hope that isolationism and weapons reduction treaties would keep it safe.

      As for the Soviet Union…

      Stalin purged the Officer Corps in the 1930s. Fortunately for the USSR, he didn’t have most of the officers executed. Instead, he sent them into effective exile in distant parts of the country where they couldn’t pose a threat to him. When the Germans eventually attacked in 1941, Stalin was able to recall the purged officers to active duty. However, the absence of the officers at the start of the war, coupled with the orders coming from Moscow that were often completely divorced from reality, meant that large numbers of Soviet troops were destroyed at the start of the war. Thus, the primary Soviet focus became keeping enough men under arms to stall the Germans until sufficient strength could be gathered to defeat them. As a result, the pre-War Soviet doctrines largely went out the window.

      Further complicating things, the Soviets had been coordinating with the Germans in early tank design, and so had generally followed the German ideas regarding how a tank ought to operate. But while the Germans reached a certain point and thought, “This is as good as we’ll need our tanks to be,” the Soviets kept up development on their own, and developed the radically advanced (at the time) T-34 and KV-1 designs, which came as a rather large shock to the Germans. German attempts to effectively combat those two designs lead to an accelerating pace of tank development, which led to increasingly large guns and heavier armor on German tanks until you ended up with late war monstrosities like the Konigstiger (or King Tiger).

      • A good bit of what made the T34 a great tank was American technology. Gun, turret, and excellent v12 diesel engine were Russian; tracks and suspension American, from the M1924 tank designed by Walter Christie,

        • Most importantly, the T34 utilized sloped armor, which greatly magnified the effect of the armor that the tank carried. Using sloped armor, the T-34 was able to provide the same amount of armor protection with less armor, which put less of a strain on the chassis and engine, which meant that the tank could maintain a higher speed. Other tanks in service at the time didn’t intentionally have sloped armor, and the innovation meant that the T-34 could provide as much armor protection as a British Matilda or a French Char B-1bis tank, without putting the same strain on the chassis that those two tanks suffered from. The result was a tank that was essentially immune to 3.7cm guns that the Germans were using for most of their anti-tank work at the time, while also being able to maintain a higher top speed than the tanks in use with the German army. The T-34 could go up to 33 mph. In comparison, the Panzer III, which was the workhorse of the German army when the invasion of the USSR began, could only travel 25 mph. And the T-34 was both essentially immune to anything other than point blank fire from the Panzer III, and also carried a gun that essentially ignored the Panzer III’s armor.

          • All true, but interestingly, the Soviets got a lot of Allied tanks during WWII. Early on they got British Valentines and later they got more than 4,000 US Shermans, and actually armed several mechanized corps entirely with them.

            • True, and one of the Soviets’ most famous tank aces drove a Sherman tank (and, ironically, preferred it over the T-34 because it was less likely to catch fire and explode…). However, contribution of Lend Lease tanks was rather minor. The more important Lend Lease contributions were in trucks and half-tracks. The numerous trucks and half-tracks supplied by the US allowed the Soviets to focus more of their production efforts on the T-34, and also allowed the Soviets to move rapidly and take advantage of the collapse of Army Group Center in the Summer of 1944, during Operation Bagration.

    • Tanks and planes can blast men out of trenches. They couldn’t do that in WW I. That encourages mobile warfare and fluid fronts that don’t stay stable all that long.

      • That, and computer-calculated artillery tables….

        • you’re kidding right? I don’t think that they had computers til the ’50’s at least.

          • My bad, that was in 1946.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            During WWII, the “computers” were people doing the calculations for artillery tables. The advantage during WWII was that the artillerymen didn’t have to do the calculations themselves but had pre-made artillery tables to work from.

            Oh, the first “computers”, as we use the term, were called “mechanical/electronic computers” in order to differentiate them from the people who “manually” made the calculations.

          • Depends on what you mean by ‘computers’. Technically the Organ (musical instrument not body part) is a computer it can be pre-programmed for various sounds and effects, it even operates in binary (stop in, stop out). Stores the data, produces a result. But a ‘complex number calculator’ was available in the ’40s.

            This has a good timeline including a bit on the mentioned artillery tables:

            http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/computer-hist-web.htm

          • Punch card computers were in use waaaaaay before that– their programming was, well, cards with holes in them…but they were computers.

            http://www.pattonhq.com/ibm.html

            Col. Norman A. Donges reported that, “As early as 1939, the Adjutant General named a team of administrative experts to work in coordination with specialists from the business world in setting up a system capable of keeping track of each individual in the Army. New accounting procedures were developed, making use of the most modern electrical devices utilizing the punch card system.”

            • Those were mostly fixed-function machines…. technically.

            • 1939? Pshaw, that’s WAY recent. This computer-generated image was created in 1839, by a machine first demonstrated in 1801:

              It was woven on a Jacquard loom, which was an automatic loom that was programmed via a series of punch cards. Each card encoded the details of a single row in the woven pattern; each hold in the card (or the absence of a hole) encoded the position of a single thread of the warp, either forward or backward. The mechanism would “read” each card in turn, adjusting the position of the warp, then it would throw the shuttle across to lay down the next row of the weft, which would rotate the next punch card into place. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and you have “run” the program encoded by the punch card’s holes to produce a pattern in the woven cloth.

              It was Jacquard’s punch card system that gave Charles Babbage the inspiration to use punched cards in his analytical engine.

              • *nod* Yep, my electronics education pinpoints the same origin point for computers– the specific point was just for use in the military!

                • I figured most people with a computing background had heard of Jacquard looms. But I went into that much detail because most people without a computing background haven’t heard of them — and they’re very cool.

    • Generations. Scale. Technological advances.

      None of the European countries had been involved in a major war for 2 generations, the last being the Franco-Prussian War. Since that time, the European powers had basically only fought colonial opponents. Even the Boer War, which presaged World War One, was a colonial war. There was a romance to the colonial war, along with the obvious remoteness. It was something that the overwhelming majority of Europeans only heard and read about, few experienced.

      Scale. The colonial wars were fought by, relatively to WW1, extremely small armies. They were also fought across vast areas. In contrast, both the armies of WW1 were much larger, and the areas across which they fought were much smaller.

      Technological advances. The full implications of the technological advances of the Victorian Era were beyond the ken of ANYBODY prior to WW1. There were inklings of understanding for some bits, but that’s all. Much is spoken of the horror of using infantry tactics that were developed to be effective against opposing forces with a rate of fire far lower than even the bolt action rifles of the era. Add the machine gun to the mix, and the obsolete tactics, combined with a leadership mentality that wasn’t flexible enough, and things got really ugly, really fast.

      But, it gets worse. Much, much, much worse. The machine gun had already been used in combat, and the effect it could have was understood, if not fully. Many historians have made much of the machine gun, the submarine, the airplane, and chemical weapons, and laid at the feet of the first and last the striking horror of WW1. While those weapons certainly accounted for much, the real and true culprit was artillery. Artillery was used in very modest quantities during most of the colonial wars. Most folks still though of artillery along the lines of the Napoleonic and American Civil Wars. A dangerous direct fire, tactical weapon, yes, but one that had to get pretty close to be useful.

      By the time WW1 came along, that had all changed. Artillery was a true indirect fire weapon with ranges such that, as a practical matter, no infantry unit could possibly close with and destroy artillery batteries. Not only was the artillery now out of reach of infantry, but, thanks to mass production, full blown industrialization of the combatants, mechanized transportation, and high explosives, the sheer volume of artillery fire was unprecedented. During the late Victorian Era, only 10% of battlefield casualties were due to artillery. During WW1, that figure skyrocketed to better than 50%, and it would have been even higher had the combatants adapted faster to the defensive implications of the machine gun. Longer ranged, with much greater rates of fire, indirect targeting, HE shells, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammunition, artillery completely changed the experience of the WW1 soldier from that of his Victorian predecessors.

      The Europeans, fancying themselves Masters of the World in January, 1914, discovered that no amount of skill or technology or pluckiness or courage could keep them from safe on the battlefield. And the battlefield wasn’t some exotic place a thousands of miles away any longer, it was much, much closer. To get a sense of how very different WW1 was than what had preceded it over the previous 2 generations, over 1,200,000 British, German and French casualties during the Battle of the Somme (which lasted more than 4 months) netted a mere 12 kilometres change in the battle line. The shocking level of carnage and destruction, the futility of one’s efforts, and the seeming endlessness of combat, all taking place “next door”, within the context of TOTAL WAR. Yeah, it was a shock.

      In contrast, WW2 was a much more fluid war, not a interminable defensive stalemate. The folks who fought it either lived through or knew people who had lived through WW1, so it wasn’t as much of a shocking departure. WW2 was seen as a war of ideologies more than a war of squabbling families.

      Just how bad was WW1? 20 years after WW1 ended, France still had a lower population than it did at the start of WW1… That’s how many Frenchmen lost their lives… Not only were the losses huge compared to American losses in the Civil War, the Europeans didn’t really have a “grand project” to turn to after the war. There was no West to win, no grand frontier to focus their attentions.

      • I think WWI and WWII may have had an enduring significance in the loss of many of Europe’s best and bravest, politically, as well.

        • My husband and I have a similar black humor shtick about France and the Terror, but there’s something to it even ignoring the “brave and smart die a lot or leave” possible evolution aspect.

          Folks with traits that could make them brave or smart are still going to need to build up to that– if there are fewer possible models, and especially if the models all suffered horribly and futilely* for their good traits… folks aren’t going to emulate them very often.

          *I don’t know why, but I definitely noticed the “it all sucks and then we die” narrative showing up a lot.

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  25. I’ve had one thing nagging me in the back of my head that I didn’t want to say on any of the usual sites, and suddenly here is a whole post about it.

    We say that an author’s background (Ethnicity or Gender) should be immaterial, so long as they tell a good story.

    Where does criminal background fit into that?

    How could we justify ourselves if a Lib were ever smart enough to see the contradiction?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      IMO it depends on at least three factors.

      First, what is the crime. The rape of a child , for example, is bad enough that I won’t blame somebody for not wanting to have anything to do with the author/artist.

      Second, does the author/artist somehow try to “justify” the crime in the story even if it is otherwise a good read.

      Third, if the author/artist acknowledges his/her guilt and doesn’t try to excuse the crime, then forgiveness comes into play.

      Note, I will say that I’m assuming that the author/artist is actually guilty of said crime.

    • Criminality is a chosen action.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        Those criminals with psychiatric and psychological problems so great that they could legitimately claim mental incompetence a) maybe can’t write all that well b) are more likely to write a story that I would find unpleasant to share mental space with.

        • Heck, criminal is an action, period; I should’ve chopped off the action part and left it as “is a choice.”

          Insufficent sleep. Basically I was grasping for something like criminal is what you do not a description of who you are born as, the way sex, “race” and such are.

          Note, a lot of SJW like to try to mix things up…..

          • Oh, yes. “This is what I am” when they are talking about what they DO.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              I am an argumentative jerk.

              That doesn’t oblige anyone to put up with me if I won’t be civil.

    • Some men are capable of being great artists despite crimes. Caravaggio, for instance, killed a man — apparently in a brawl over a game of tennis.

      Wayne C. Booth, in his Rhetoric of Fiction (good book, I recommend it to any writer) talked about the “implied author” — that is, the author whose existence you would deduce from the book, who might not resemble the flesh-and-blood author in many ways. In a later book, he observed that Saul Bellow had told that it was no wonder that the implied author was often better than the real thing, what with all that careful revision.

      • Picasso was said to have ambushed an enemy and killed him in cold blood… on a bridge, then pushed him over. No one could find the body, and all they had was his story, so he got away scott free. I thought his early art was pretty excellent, but quite a bit of his later work was over rated. But love for his work seems to last, so… what do I know?

  26. Lucilla Lin

    It really seems that these days having the wrong opinion is somehow worse than doing something actually wrong and even illegal personally. You cannot have a conversation about Lovecraft without someone bringing up his paranoid racism. Personally I can’t really boycott based on what people have thought, written or said – the list would just be too long. For starters, all the authors who romanced Soviet Union at some point of their lives… Lovecraft didn’t rape, assault or kill anyone. He just wrote bizarre stuff.

    Now, doing something is different and I think it shows in the artwork. Caravaggio was a violent murderer and I think his paintings reflect that darkness of his character. There’s something that grabs you attention in his paintings, but nothing peaceful or soothing.

    As for MZB, only book I’ve red by her is Mists of Avalon. I was really bothered by that book, I didn’t like the characters and it actually made me to avoid anything Arthurian for years. I particularly hated the graphic incest scene and then there was the scene of some Beltane ritual that drove the whole village in to an orgy. In that scene, even a girl is raped and its all part of some sort of “all sex is natural and holy” type of thinking. I had red a lot of commentary on how beautiful and amazing and fantastic for female reader that book is, so I was really surprised that for me it just seemed sick.

  27. I am of the opinion that beauty inheres within reality without respect to anyone’s appreciation of it, because I am of a similar opinion about mathematical theorems. The mathematician does not “make” them, but “finds” them.

    Consider Heinlein’s quote “…you could shred the universe and find not one atom of beauty or truth. Because those reside in the human heart.” Why not try shredding the universe looking for the theorem of Pythagorus. You won’t find this or any other mathematical theorem, but you will find evidence of these theorems underlying lots of natural phenomena. Just like you will find evidence of beauty underlying the best art.

  28. “I love Pratchett, even though I disagree with most of his political views. I love Heinlein, but most of what he believed for most of his life is alien to me.”

    Seeing as how you are such a fine essayist, I would be delighted to read a series of essays in which you explore Heinlein, Pratchett and other writers, digging into what you agree and disagree with and why, and what you think of their writing styles.

    In fact, you might be able to make a little money collecting such blog posts into an ebook…although if you included all the comment threads the book might not fit on a 16GByte thumb drive. :-)

  29. Call me crazy, but I always felt that MZB’s work was tainted by SOMETHING monstrous. I sensed this LONG before I knew her history. This was even during a period when I found the generally stated thrust of her work appealing. (this has since changed.) But the power dynamics in her work, the sorts of behavior that were looked upon with approval were…damaged and dangerous. Am I the only one who saw that? The blurbs on the backs of her books always sounded interesting, but when I read them… I was soured on them pretty quickly. Like Anne Rice’s Beauty series, she seemed to have a fetish for slavery.