Publishing In A Handbasket

“I entered our section offices through a washroom booth in MacArthur Station.  You won’t find our offices in the phone lists.  In fact, it does not exist.  Probably I don’t exist either.  All is illusion.  Another route is through a little hole-in-the-wall shop with a sign reading RARE STAMPS & COINS.  Don’t try that route either – they’ll try to sell you a Tu’ penny Black.”  Robert A. Heinlein, The Puppet Masters.

Is there anything as thrilling as that passage?  Anything that as thoroughly pulls you into the story and makes you want to be there and find what the big secret is?  I remember reading it for the first time at about twelve? Thirteen?  Maybe fourteen?  And being completely thrilled by it.

There is nothing so inherently human as feeling a frisson of excitement at the idea that behind the rational, dry world we know, conspiracies move in the shadow, manipulating men and societies to their whims.  More importantly, particularly when we are young and relatively powerless, we like to believe there are conspiracies there, at the back of everything.  It both excuses the failure of our own personal powers that we are – at that age – perhaps just starting to suspect aren’t super-human and it gives us the impression that there is a fail safe and a security net.  Even if we screw up, some GOOD conspiracy will be there, to put its thumb on the scales and change our defeat to victory.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is particularly rife with conspiracies and long-held secrets.  Part of this is that for some of our premises, say “there are aliens among us” or “the fairies have always been here” or even “of course there are vampires.  They all work for the IRS.”  (Hat Tip Rebecca Lickiss who, hopefully has that story out on kindle.) conspiracies are needed.  Effective ones, otherwise there wouldn’t be a setup for our book.  Heck, even in Puppet Masters, Heinlein had the UFO landings be real and the government has sat on them.

Yesterday I was talking to a young friend about conspiracies and the possibility of conspiracies, particularly by the US government.  You have to understand, my own young self was convinced that the US government well well-night omnipotent, and I think so are most Europeans of all ages.  I remember when, a few years ago, I told my parents that our passports were going to take – I think – six months (aftermath of 9/11) and was told I was lying.  This was impossible.  “Big country like that.  Such an efficient government.”

I think I preferred it that way.  Yes, yes, I saw all the movies with evil CIA does something evil.  Sorry.  I still preferred the idea that our government was sharp like a well-honed blade and capable of doing things and keeping them secret for years.   Why don’t I believe that?  Well…  I first came to the States as an exchange student during the Carter presidency.  Very few illusions can survive killer rabbits.

People joke that if the US government could, it would make sex classified.  My question is, how would we know if they had?  The knowledge would still be as widespread.

So, for the record let me say right now that I don’t believe there are UFOs hiding among us.  If the IRS employs vampires, they must survive on blood sausage.  And the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy.  Well, duh.  Of course it was.  It was a soviet conspiracy.  That was why Oswald was trained.  He came to the US to kill Kennedy.  Look, children, sometimes things are what they appear to be, and that’s the greatest conspiracy.  (And why, you ask.  Oh, tons of reasons, including the fact that our sainted president WAS on prescription drugs that lessened his self control.  But it’s also possible it was an agit prop operation, something the Soviets were VERY GOOD at.  Look at its effect: it succeeded in radicalizing the leftwing of US politics as nothing before it had.  And sometimes the effect is exactly what it was meant to be.)

And this brings us to the other part of things.  I don’t believe in conspiracies, but I do believe in misinformation.  As all of you know, I stop short of being Roman enough to deify Heinlein.  BARELY short.  So I will refrain from saying that his starting with the conspiracy and then leading us to the real way something really big can keep secret RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES was deliberate and a work of genius.  Perhaps it was.  Ginny is no longer alive for me to ask.

It’s also entirely possible he just used the conspiracy to draw us in, and of course the misinformation was part of what he saw with World War II and the Cold War.  The juxtaposition is possibly accidental.

The facts of the Kennedy assassination are right in the open.  Have always been.  But even those who know Oswald was a communist and had a Soviet wife, will say “yes but…” and then on go on blab about the climate of hatred or evil conservatives.  Why?  Because all the books, most of the articles and ninety nine point nine percent of the dramatizations involving Kennedy go haring off those points and leaving the obvious, visible truth by the way side as something of little importance.

This is the same way that historians, or really anyone who cares to look into the matter at all, knows that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake.”  She was also not, by the way, the harpy and horror of legend, and her husband was not a terrible tyrant, but a bumbling man who was desperately trying to make the situation better for the peasants – and failing.  But that’s not what most people believe.  The lies have been repeated so often and so loudly that “common sense” or the “wisdom of the crowds” is that Marie Antoinette was a terrible woman who lived in luxury at the expense of the people – or something like that.  If I see one more movie of her as a depraved queen, someone is going to die.  (Probably me, because when I start talking back at the movie screen and we have to leave the theater, the people with me tend to get upset.)

So, while I can’t believe in conspiracies – particularly conspiracies by bureaucracy (wikileaks, anyone?)  I do believe in the efficacy of “the big lie”.  It works because it doesn’t try to cover up every proof of what really happened.  Instead, it suppresses the truth by repeating the lie so often and so loudly, and by accusing anyone who challenges it of being crazy or worse, until truth shuts up and goes away.  It’s still there.  It’s just that no one looks at it.

However, for this to work there needs to be a CONCERTED effort from all means of communication and entertainment, from news to fiction.  Which means, they all need to be in relative few hands, all of them with the power to sneer down their “we are special” noses at the rest of people.  Remember, they don’t have the power to erase the truth. They only have the power to make it shut up.

Look, humans are social creatures.  We want social approval.  We want to belong and to be thought well of.  If “all the best people” say one thing, you might see the evidence to the contrary with your very eyes.  You might believe it to the core of your heart and soul.  You are, however, not going to say a word.  Why risk ostracism.  Or worse, why risk your job and your livelihood?  After all, baby always got to have shoes, and cats need kibble.

Until recently, due to the fact that publishing and journalism, and news and all that, was in the hands of a relatively small group of people (look, smaller than the “upper ten thousand” who set the tone for Britain during the Regency.  And their social rule was often inflexible, too.) who moved in claustrophobically concentric circles, it was easy to “set the narrative.”  And yes, that’s exactly what it was called “Set the narrative.”  If you don’t believe me, google “Journolist.”

It wasn’t a conspiracy.  I mean, it got discovered.  It wasn’t that well hidden.  But the thing was, who was going to report it?  And the “people in the know” could look down their noses at the crazy people talking about it, right?

It is a human thing.  We’ll poke around at stuff that’s hidden, but we won’t say a peep if it will get us thought of as “nuts.”  (And if that Kennedy conspiracy thing won’t manage it, I’m safe, I guess.)  Let me just say that in all the world-size events I had the dubious misfortune to be present at, the event and its reporting had nothing in common and in fact that there are experiences of mine I can’t talk about because people will think I’m insane.  (Of course, the fact it was a small country and its turmoil barely reported in the US helps that.)

Anyway, I came up against this with Darkship Thieves, and more so with Darkship Renegade and even more so with A Few Good Men, the latter being the first book of the Earth Revolution.  Part of the world-building conceit is that history has been mangled beyond recognition and the leaders are, in fact, almost the opposite of what they claim to be.  I realized a-priori the only way to do that was to have them take over the means of communication and hold them.  And to make communications between citizens highly regulated.

Because, here’s the thing, right now (wikileaks, Journolist) the levers of power and the “shut up, we’re smarter” aren’t working.  There are to many other channels of communication, people are talking and posting phone videos of what they actually saw.  Oh, some of it still works.  The whole Arab Spring thing is not going anywhere as positively as it was painted.  I’m sure the readers of this blog, innocent and fragile flowers all, will be shocked to know in most cases it might just be a way to more extremist religious regimes.

But it works far less well than it did, and with every passing month, it’s losing more of its power.  And then there’s the other branches of “information.”  Entertainment shouldn’t be used as a source of information, but it is.  And that too is slipping more and more out of the hands of the upper not-even-ten-thousand.

When Amazon executives, interviewed today, “played down Amazon’s power and said publishers were in love with their own demise.” they were only half right.  I’ve said it here before, I will say it again.  The publishing establishment isn’t dying.  It’s falling on its sword in the most theatrical and splattery way it could find.

But its behavior is only incomprehensible if you view their objective as trying to make money.  It wasn’t.  It never was.  If it were, more of them would have followed Baen’s example of publishing off beat stuff. The fact a small house regularly beat them at their own game (more bestsellers with lasting power come from Baen than any of the bigger houses) should have made them change tactics and stop ignoring the part of the market that wants action, or military sf, or, space opera, or, oh, yeah, no lockstep political affirmations.  Instead Baen was reviled, (and let me tell you right here, most Baen books are as well written if not better written than others, it’s just that their aim – story as opposed to feeling – is different, and therefore the form and practice is different.  Having written both types of book, Baen is just as demanding a format.)  Snooty recent college graduates refused to stock it in bookstores because “it’s a right wing house.”  (This despite one of its authors being if not a current, a not too long lapsed member of PC USA.  But it has some authors who break the perfect harmony of “the narrative”.  Therefore it had to be stigmatized and marginalized.)

Now, with self-publishing and small, independent publishers and more importantly, the loss of control over distribution to the giant e-tailers, the horse is well and truly out of the barn.  The barn is possibly on fire.  But traditional publishers (and a lot of newspapers) are still trying, desperately, to lock that door.  It’s not that they want to commit fiery suicide.  It’s that they want their power to control the narrative and keep everyone else quiet back.  And, btw, it’s not even that any of these people have strong political opinions (a few vocal ones, perhaps) it’s just that, like regency ladies, they want to be able to think of themselves as “good ton” and the best people around because they know what type of lace to wear… er… I mean, what brand of ideology to make sure is in all the books this season. They learned at college that they are smart because they believe a set of things their professors told them — and that only ignorant people believe otherwise.  And they want to go on thinking they are smart.  They want to be able to tell all those squabbling bloggers and indie writers to “shut up” and “you’re irrelevant” and “we’ll never invite you to the nice parties.”

Only, see, I had a friend, long ago, who bought a van in such a terminal state of falling apart that as he headed towards an intersection, he turned the wheel and… the wheel came off in his hand.  (He said he said several rosaries, before he managed to stop the car.  This was particularly interesting since he is Jewish.)

In my mind, this is the image of publishers, and the big communications conglomerates.  They’re twisting that wheel, pulling those levers of “shut up, we know better” power, and nothing is happening.  This is why they’re acting so crazy and flailing around madly.  They’re trying to say the rosary, only they don’t know how to.

Leave them to their torment, and ignore them.  Poor things, they have enough to worry about.  They’ll eventually either crash spectacularly or get that van under control, have it repaired, and join the rest of us.

Oh, and if someone tells you “shut up” or calls you uncouth, scream louder.

31 thoughts on “Publishing In A Handbasket

  1. I’m curious as to which event on the world stage you witnessed and saw differently than the reporting. Not asking for what you saw but, what the PTB “saw” it as. Oh and as a minor aside, since we all see things filtered through our own viewpoint, did most of the other who were present initially “see” the same thing you did?

    1. Sanford,
      The seriously unpleasant parts of the Portuguese revolution were suppressed. I don’t know what other people saw, but I DO know that non-communist party headquarters were set ablaze, that the extreme left was armed and dangerous, that I was in a peaceful demonstration that was fired at from upper story windows. Imagine my surprise when I got to the States and found that everything in Portugal was peace and flowers. We won’t go into more serious deviations, because that gets personal. What I know is that NO news organization was interested in facts that showed less than a socialist paradise. (BTW, the whole Arab Spring reporting reminds me of this.) It’s now in the history books and it’s nothing like I remember, or like the things I saw — and other people saw. But what the h*ll, it’s the narrative that counts.

      1. To the point I was gratified to be talking to a friend, recently, who worked for the State department at the time, and when I was talking of some incidents in my youth and said “Look, I know you won’t believe this” and he said “Ah, h*ll, I worked for the state department at the time. We got more accurate news. I KNOW you’re right.” I was so relieved (and surprised) I could have kissed him.

    2. I lived in Greensboro, NC when the local branch of the Communist Party USA decided to hold a “Death To The Klan” rally in a “Black” neighborhood. Weren’t hardly nobody in that neighborhood concerned about the Klan, didn’t hardly nobody in that neighborhood fancy drawing the attention of the Klan to their neighborhood. Commies didn’t ask, just got the permit and promoted the rally — and really, who in that neighborhood was going to object to calling for the death of the Klan?

      So of course the Kluxers show up, somebody waves guns around, some people get shot. The Commies & the Klan had their dance. Then the national media show up. Klan. South. Must mean: Race Riot!!! We watched the “news” evolve to fit the template and damn the facts.

      John Ford had it right: Print the Legend. But only idjits believe what they read in the papers, see on TV or at the Cinema.

      Yeah, there’s a conspiracy: enforce and reinforce the dominant paradigm and remember: that picture’s an old crone, not a young maiden. As the prophet Nilsson said: You see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear.

      1. Many years ago I sat down and counted up the news reports I had seen of events I had personal knowledge. I can only remember three of those events but originally there were 5 or 6 events. They were:
        1. A seaplane from my squadron in Bermuda being lost at sea.
        2. The murder of a friend.
        3. The opening of a new factory by a company for which I worked.
        All three stories had major errors. I finally concluded that newspaper reporters are good people working hard to do a good job. But that they are totally incapable at succeeding at the job they were trying to do.

  2. Wow! Excellently done! (Have to say, the opening of Puppet Masters (1951) always reminds me of the opening of The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1964) — which I’m *certain* used Heinlein’s idea.)

    For a piece about control of the narrative, Ed Driscoll’s piece today, “Sybil, Inc” is outstanding:

    Again, excellent essay!!!

  3. “Very few illusions can survive killer rabbits”

    Oddly, that episode didn’t affect my opinion of Jimmy. I saw it as rural knowledge (rabbits can be dangerous) conflicting with urban sensibility. Didn’t matter, of course; I already had a highly negative opinion of the man for other reasons.

      1. to an extent. Look, I grew up in a rural area too, rabbits aren’t THAT dangerous. At any rate, I used it as short hand for the man’s more general incompetence. I could have mentioned the attempted hostage rescue, which happened while I was still in Portugal, and which made me suspect I might have been born in the wrong country. I wanted to mourn, and I felt like I was cut off from my country and countrymen. No, I have no explanation for this.

  4. Try reading John Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education for one of the biggest conspiracies ever pulled off (in my experience) and his explanation of why it was not a conspiracy — as well as his explanation of how many times conspiracies are not really a conspiracy. The book is available for free at
    Then re-read Heinlein’s Gulf. If you strip out the SF derring doo you will eventually find out he was describing a development in our society that is on going and gathering momentum.
    Ron Harrison

    1. I should probably read Gatto, but I don’t really need to. One chill December evening in an undisclosed European country that no longer exists, I had dinner with one of the people directly involved — not one of the organizers, but a bit above the level of spear-carrier, at least by his own account.

      One hint: Offset printing (as protest signs, &ct.) does not occur spontaneously.


      1. Ric Locke,
        By silence we are still missing a major point. The progressives in the US got underway around or after 1875. With the ascent of Teddy Roosevelt they had their first president.
        Their technique in both education and politics was to find sympathetic people in both fields and back them financially and in other ways. As we have pointed out Teddy Roosevelt was one of many, from both parties, in politics. John Dewey is the only one I remember by name in education but there were others.
        You can spot their trail in politics by the many efforts to stiffle desent to their program and by their occasionally doing things in politics that make sense any other way excepting that the “hired hands” are looking out for their sponsors.
        Now, back to SF

      2. And never forget the spontaneous appearance of flags for burning or defacing. There must be flag shops on every corner of every riot-torn city of the world.

      3. Gatto’s is an interesting perspective. I met him oh, something like fifteen years ago, when he was a featured speaker at the NC Homeschool Convention — he is a regular speaker on the Homeschool circuit. He has also done numerous interviews on Pacifica radio, an extremely Left-wing branch of NPR in California and surrounding. A former “Teacher of the Year” in NY City schools, his primary thesis is that our current schooling paradigm was based on one developed by the Prussians following their humiliation by Boney, developed with the intent of crafting good little soldiers and employees. The import to America was achieved primarily after WWII, engineered by Henry Ford & others as part of the cult of scientific methodology and the cult of the expert.

        The primary feature of this system is that content doesn’t matter – is secondary to the educational process itself, whereby students learn to follow instructions from arbitrary authority with a minimum of question. Tasks in classroom are to be performed for a set period of time before being dropped — no matter how interested the participants — and the next task begun. Applying McLuhan’s dictum that “The Medium Is The Message” it is important to realize the important element of our schooling system is the training of students to take their places in the assembly lines of a manufacturing state.

        That is a very simplified introduction to Gatto. Somewhere I have a couple of his handouts in Word format, which I can send to anyone interested. I am not sure whether he is mad, a genius or a mad genius, but his perspective is surely a valuable counter to the contemporary view of school.

        Interestingly, somewhere around the time of my discussions with him I had occasion to leaf through a book at the local B&N, written by a German sociologist (in rather technical language) arguing that Hitler and WWII were an inevitable consequence of the German schooling system. Never found the book again.

        Main thesis

        What does the school do with the children? Gatto takes this in “Dumbing Us Down,” the following propositions:

        It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, it fills almost all the “free” time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
        It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
        It makes them indifferent.
        It makes them emotionally dependent.
        It makes them intellectually dependent.
        It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
        It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.[8]

        1. According to his book The Underground History of American Education, Mr. Gatto states that JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller and others began work on the Amercan education system in 1891 and had all their plans in place by 1991. Henry Ford became involved later.
          According to Stephen Davies, historian, after 1875 eugenics, the obligation of the “better sort” to lead (rule) and large fortunes were just what was in the air. Until that time the dominant political philosophy in America was Classical Liberalism.
          I have left one loose end. According to Mr. Gatto in UHAE the present system began with an young Englishman in India wondering how the Brahman class maintained control. He discovered their were basically five classes with the Brahman on top. The Brahmin (spelling?) maintained control through religion and the education system. He brought the system back to England and the rest is history.

      4. Addendum: it may have been put into effect following WWI; its primary architect was John Dewey, whose efforts provide an interesting side story in To Kill A Mockingbird.

      5. Apparently Mr Gatto has refined his research since I met him – he certainly hadn’t yet written The Secret History. Thanks for the reminder of the fuller panoply of Industrial Titans who pushed implementation of our maleducation system. One reason it took so long to implement the system was the need for educating the educators of the educators. Older teachers in the schools still clung to quaint notions like their purpose being to impart knowledge and critical thinking skills.

  5. If I say “censorship,” people think only of some tiny group of nutjobs burning books, but the worst censors are the ones who make sure the books aren’t published in the first place, the stories never told because they don’t fit the proper narrative.

  6. Also Laurie, the books/stories get published but never allowed in school libraries by the “protectors of young minds”.

    We hear about “banned books” but those are only the ones where somebody “sues” to ban them.

    The real banning goes on behind the scenes where somebody decides what books are to be purchased.

  7. SF&F fans are outliers, accustomed to not being in with the in crowd. Those of us reading Baen are outliers amongst the outliers. And even we are less resistant than we ought be to the attractions of the Approval Of All The Right People.

    Gatto distinguishes between being “educated” and being “schooled”. Useful distinction. They may call it education but what they deliver is schooling. Caveat emptor indeed.

    The Emperor’s New Clothes is a myth – rulers would never so rely on the intelligence of the ruled. As the saying goes, who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?

  8. RES
    Gatto also explained how the oligarchy took over not only the school system but the entire progressive political movement. They didn’t even have to organize a conspiracy.
    Ron Harrison

  9. Fear is a great hider of truth though. The Apartheid regime was supposed to be this Nazi-like efficient murderous machine… When, finally, it died it’s foes set up the ‘truth commission’ which collected evidence and heard full confessions in exchange for amnesty. It was started with much flourish trumpets and loud cries of how the wickedness would all be finally brought to light… and then it vanished without much trace. Because when the truth did come out it was shown that the much feared regime agents were often drunken, bumbling buffoons (says a lot about their foes), more like inept low-IQ high school bullies than eagle eyed fascist killers, and that while petty racism was rife, the annual average death toll (even including the ‘wars’) was about a day and half of the current murder tally, and by the standard of the other African states verging on benign. I was one of those who lived in fear, and was rather embarrassed by it. So, yes, it does not take a great deal to hide and blow out of proportion.

    1. Yes. Absolutely agree with you on this. That is why I don’t believe in government conspiracies, but why social pressure is enough to keep people quiet. This is why I’ve been reading about preference falsification. It’s also why when revolutions start, everything goes fast.

    2. Years ago I seen a movie about the apartied that I still think is one of the best movies I have seen, called The Power of One. Unfortunately at the time I knew next to nothing about the actual history and fear I was much more interested in the boxing and action in the movie than its historical accuracy. Since I haven’t seen the movie in about 15 years I can’t vouch for its accuracy or inaccuracy, but the acting and story line were very good. A couple years ago I found a book of the same name in a thrift store (I believe the movie was based on the book) I excitedly picked it up, to be very disappointed by one of the few books not written by Tom Clancy that was much worse than the movie based on it. And the book at least did a very inaccurate version of apartied history that served to farther the authors agenda (he was a college professor, surprise) rather than reflect actual history, and was overall far inferior to my admittedly fuzzy memories of the movie.

  10. Marie Antoinette’s last words were, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.” She had stepped on her executioner’s foot.
    I was living in Gastonia the day of that Communists againt KKKers street fight. There was still an obsolete law on the books, since removed everywhere it had been in effect, that photographs could be used in court ONLY as a confirmation to the testimony of a live witness. The Communists refused to testify, and the Kluxers and their lawyer manipulated their own testimony so that only the parts of the videotape that seemed to favor the Kluxers were shown. After that and some burglaries with video and no human witnesses, they changed the law. The communists came packing revolvers, the Kluxers had AR15s in the trunks of their cars. The communists were simply outgunned.

  11. FYI – It ain’t just Publishers. They are just at the tip of the spear.

    Have you seen the fan films out there? Some of them are approaching Hollywood standards. The technology is going to make film-making, and all entertainment choices really, an independent underground thing again.

    Just wait. Someday, the next blockbuster won’t come out of Hollywood and after that, the studios will be scrambling too.

    1. Yes, just look at the MSM. Look again at the Wall Street protesters and compare them to the 60s crowd. All we knew about the 60s crowd was what the MSM told us. Today the MSM are still pushing the protestors agenda but the alternative media already has them sliced and diced for all who want to know.

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