Lately regular readers of my blog must be wondering “What’s with the politics? Isn’t this a writer’s blog?” And of course, those of you who have come for my for lack of a better word “social analysis” must wonder what the heck is with all the posts about characters, writing and (marginally linked on both sides) this thing called “Human Wave Science Fiction.”
Of course my first answer is that I don’t do politics and this post is an explanation of why not, to an extent. The comments can devolve into politics and political arguments – perhaps they should, although I confess that partisan politics make me uncomfortable (for reasons I’ll explain below) and I don’t think they’re even appropriate most of the time – and into theological arguments (y’all know you’re all powerfully weird, right? And I say this with the greatest love and respect.) However, the posts themselves are not politics. Yeah, I have partisan choices, though these days they can best be defined by “OMG. WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?” but those are my private business and also to an extent not what is important right now.
SO, Sarah, you say, rolling your eyes – what, must you pick up all my bad habits? – “Why the schizophrenic mix of writing articles and social analysis articles? Who do you expect to read your blog when you don’t stick to a single line of thought?”
The answers in order are “Because they all reflect on writing. And the writing reflects on social arrangements, too.” and “Everyone and anyone.”
And while you blink in bewilderment at my delusions of importance, let me explain. First, let me lay down the reasons I think I’ve felt pushed into doing what must feel to people like a crazy hodge podge of themes.
My mind is an odd instrument. Stop sniggering. Yes, of course every human mind is, to an extent. But my mind is weirder than normal. This is not a matter of intelligence, or a matter of being adjusted to the world. It’s more a matter of cognitive processes, the things that interest me, and the things my brain is good at doing.
In a very broad and oversimplified sense, there are human minds that tend to the specialty – leading to stories of math geniuses who never learn to tie their shoes – and minds that tend to the generality and are therefore, say, able to report on science without knowing a particular discipline intimately.
Both of those types of mind work way better than mine and are way more useful, unless you are a novelist where you need the broad, the narrow and the weird.
I am not exactly a mix of the two – though I go through times of intense obsession with a topic which causes me to become “the greatest living expert in” whatever it is. It’s usually a really weird topic, like “Victorian Women’s Walking Shoes” (no, that’s not actually one of them, but it’s that sort of thing) – because my mind tends to the generalist. I have broad interests and (with the aforementioned exceptions when I go into a narrow and obsessive mania) read broadly in both history and science. But I’m not a generalist as such either. Oh, I can act as one. Most writers can. I can give an impromptu lecture on the history and science of chemistry, if you give me five minutes to get names and dates right.
And that’s where the problem is. I have virtually no mind for names and dates or specific incidents, even. Instead, I read widely and everything I read goes into the compost heap and … Well, compost heaps generate heat and fertilizer, but you can’t tell what started out as a banana peel and what started out as leftover cabbage.
Ignoring the particular nature of the fertilizer, fertilizer provides food for new plants. Well, my brain works sort of like that. I take in a lot of information from a lot of disparate sources (right now at various points in the house, face down, meaning they’re all being concurrently read are two historical novels, a book on Tudor England, a book on current events, and a book on dinosaurs) and then … And then I start seeing connections that wouldn’t occur to anyone sane. Sometimes these connections lead to “very strong hunches” which I have to call that because by the time I get to the hunch, I can’t tell you what facts I’m basing it on EXACTLY, I just have a strong gut feeling.
Sometimes getting at that hunch takes writing a novel too. As I said my brain is speshul. (It’s actually not an unusual mind for fiction writers, though we embrace our speshulness in various degrees.) I often reason THROUGH fiction. (Which leads to the sad “What’s your novel about?” “Don’t know. Haven’t finished yet.”)
What I am and what I do is best exemplified by the scene in Heinlein’s Friday in which the boss has Friday research … what was it? Mini skirts and stock market trends, I think. (Remember, children, this was pre internet and she was looking through more the equivalent of Arpanet.) He has her spend days and days doing this and preparing reports, then calls her in the middle of the night and asks when the next black plague epidemic will hit. And she “knows.” And it’s right.
I don’t claim to be always right, though that sort of mega-hunch usually is. And my input is not quite as divorced from the question as that example.
Anyway – having gone on a two page detour on this (what, you expected brevity?) – the fact that my brain works this way means it has lately been screaming that the effect I’ve found lately – where publishing seems to be dying but it’s actually being reborn in a form we haven’t been trained to perceive – is going on not just in publishing but everywhere.
Everywhere from the way news are written – and consumed – to the highest levels of governance are changing so fast that the official institutions, designed and honed through the last three hundred years or so are completely at a loss.
They are also increasingly irrelevant. It’s like when I was little and went on those merry-go-round type cars in amusement parks. They have a wheel, but the wheel does nothing. No matter how you twist it, you’re still going to go in the same direction.
Where the metaphor changes is that we’re not going in the same direction. It’s more like they were used to the wheel responding and allowing them to drive in these nice little circles. And then something happened and now sometimes they twist the wheel and nothing happens, and sometimes they twist the wheel and the car takes off like a plane, or starts digging into the ground, or does spirals into the horizon leaving the amusement park behind.
The important thing, though, is to realize that just because that ride has gone weird, the rest of the park is still working, and new rides and new ways of amusing yourself are being discovered.
Or to drop that overstretched metaphor – what is wacking publishing is wacking government and is wacking also every field in between (mark my words, education is the next field to seemingly come apart at the seams. And given that our public schools also serve to warehouse juveniles while their parents work, the coming apart will be more brutal and uglier than anything we’ve seen yet.)
It’s called catastrophic change and the image in your mind should be that thing about Atlantis: But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.
This is coming about for several reasons, though at the basis of it it’s technology: while we liberal arts majors were jaw-jawing the techy people went and built information networks and machines to navigate them in. While not as sexy as spaceships, computers are as transformational, probably more. But it’s a stealth transformation. For almost fifty years they’ve been digging under the establishment. When collapse comes it will be sudden and absolute. But it won’t be collapse as such, because at the same time they’ve been building structures under there, and when we fall, we’ll fall into the new structures, just like publishing is collapsing into new publishing.
Now, in government I’ll maintain I still think the constitution of the US is the best foundation on which to rebuild, but you and I every animal and plant under the sea must know that the constitution and government as we have it is not a creature of the constitution.
What it is is a creature of the Industrial revolution, the time when bureaucracy was invented with its characteristic grouping of people by one characteristic, its keeping of records, its inflexible rules and — more importantly — its insistence on top-down management.
The last time we had this type of technological change that shook the foundations of society it was when the industrial revolution came in, bringing untold prosperity and misery, both. In the same way that happened then, we too will end up emerging from this period with institutions that are as different from our own as absolute monarchy is from constitutional republic, or even the social democracy of Europe and with finance as different as gold coin and fiat currency. IF we’re very lucky, we might do this without the floods of blood that attended the last transformation. (I don’t know. Do you feel lucky? I don’t so much.)
This is why partisan politics annoy me. I have opinions on whom to vote for. On the other hand, I don’t think what’s happening at the level is the show or even the main show. At this point ALL they can do is make things worse. As can we, at our level.
And at this point both parties are more creatures of the status quo than not. It’s sort of like asking “Should I go with a big publishing house or a medium publishing house” when the question is “Should I go with a publishing house at all?” There are answers to that last, both valid, and both depending on what you want, or what you think will do least harm. (You lays down your dollar, you takes your bet.) But to the first the answer is only “You’re asking a question from ten years ago.”
On the other hand, what is happening, and how the shocks propagate to the system, and how the system is changing to deal with it (for instance the whole thing of trying to favor girls in schools – it’s sort of like controlling shelf space for publishers. It’s already a symptom things are falling apart. And it won’t work. It’s the sort of move a terminal bureaucracy makes and which helps no one and makes things insane for a large number of people. The answer is not more bureaucracy, but something new — more freedom? More granularity? Something completely different? )
My job as a writer – since my first love was science fiction – requires me, always, to do a bit of free lance futurism. To be living in a time like this is sort of like for an archeologist to find a time machine.
Add to that that most people with normal brains seem to be stuck into one of two modes “bring this back” and “bring that back.” Or alternately “make it stop.” This means they tend to “read” trends wrong and ignore the greatest chunk of them. At least they read trends wrong according to MY lights. According to my lights, the attitude should be “How can we help make this the future WE want?”
I’m not saying I’m right, but my skewed perspective might shed light on things for someone.
We are living in interesting times, and I reserve the right to reflect on them in schooling, in society, in writing. So you’ll get periodic posts about “what I think will happen to income in the future” or “what schools are doing that is crazycakes” or even “top-down doesn’t work in publishing or … at this point in anything else. The system is too complex.”
And sometimes you’ll get posts on how to write believable characters. Because that too is changing. Because the characters that were believable to an industrial-age audience aren’t necessarily the same that will resonate with us. And because, wanting to be an ever-more-popular writer I must analyze that. And because fiction — and particularly science fiction — are what we, as a society/species, dream with and part of shaping the “new new” future is to dream it up.
In the ultimate instance, these posts are how I process what I read, what I see, and of course, the occasional hunch. They’re my way of bringing it all to the conscious. Hopefully they’re interesting to you too, even those of you who aren’t writers and/or who would rather not muse on catastrophic change.
To me, as well as to you, I’d like to say it’s no use to try to make the change not happen. It’s already too far gone. To stop it WILL lead to rivers of blood and chances are it will come anyway. Instead: “Be not afraid.” It only looks like the end of the world, but what’s actually happening are the birth pangs or a new Earth and a new sky.
Or if you prefer it more popular (always good Sarah, for those you haven’t scared away with your obscure reasoning) It is the end of the world as we know it, (and I’m writing about it) and I feel fine.
UPDATE: The opening to my novel, Sword And Blood under the pen name Sarah Marques is up on Mad Genius Club