A few of you have asked me to write about Human Wave, and I know I have to – having come up with this harebrained idea, I have to continue with it and give it some shape. Like a cat or a kid, it followed me home and now it’s my job to look after it.
Leave aside for a moment the fact that I think each of us, Human Wave writers can do more for writing and for the culture in general by writing fiction than by prattling on about what our fiction is or isn’t. Humans are curious beasties, sometimes when faced with the Rocharsh stain they need to be told if they’re looking at the hideous crone or the beautiful woman in the hat.
While I agree with Charlie that the guiding principle of Human Wave is “You may” we all know there are things that we read that are HW and things that aren’t. Even if sometimes we come down to “I know it when I see it.”
Well, let me bring a flashlight down and point it at the picture so you can see more clearly.
Part of this is Scott McGlasson’s fault, with his inferiority complex vis a vis his characters. (It’s all his fault mommy.) And partly it’s the way we’ve joked about loving/hating humans and how much butter exactly it takes to love them.
It is also at the heart of Darkship Renegades and if you squint intently, at the heart of my future history.
My future history starts with nations expropriating all those embryos resulting from in-vitro and making a bunch more and having them gestated in bio-engineered large animals (kind of like the mice who grow human ears) in an attempt to make up a massive short fall of people. (Yes, I do think world population is already falling, or if it’s not it’s because older people are living much longer. The problem is the modern state depends for its structure on having more young people than old. At any rate this is supposed to be 50 to 100 years from now. Shut up. Making predictions is hard, particularly about the future. You lays down your money and you makes your bet. That is mine.)
These people are by and large not quite normal. Part of it might be the timing of hormone baths and enzymes, which would be impossible to get right, no matter how modified the animal. It could also be the environment, since they’re raised in batch lots.
And eventually people get funny and decide, instead, to create supermen and to “improve” their own children. And then it all goes wrong because humans can’t be perfect, and being perfect can be the biggest flaw of all.
I was about to say we humans are a crazy animal, when it occurred to me that of course I don’t know how other animals are, not really. We have reason to believe – now – that cats and dogs have some form of memory and ideation.
Perhaps all animals can dream of an idealized version of themselves. Who am I to say?
I do know humans do. I am – on a good day and with enough caffeine – human, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.
And we humans can see an idealized version of ourselves – a perfect version, without any of those flaws and imperfections that mar the human body and soul.
It has run throughout all of human history: the thought of super-humans, or of angels, without flaw. For some of us those humans existed in Eden, seemingly perfect, until the flaw was revealed in the taste for forbidden fruit. For others, there was a perfect civilization where a mother goddess was worshiped and everyone was happy, until the unhappy ones – what? What’s that you say? No, no, I read the books, that seems to be the gist of it – subverted the whole thing. For others – Rousseau will never be dead enough – humans were noble and perfect before civilization.
We can ideate perfect humans. We can ideate a perfect life. And then we turn to our workaday world, chockablock with briars (and blockheads.)
This used to be disease prevalent in adolescence, particularly for well-off people. (By historical standards, we’re all well-off, which is why adolescence is actually a recent concept. Okay, Romans had it, but it was a… er… different thing.) The “Why does it have to be that way?” And the “But I hate humans” always sound, inherently, as though they were said by a sixteen year old. (And fresh from parenting a sixteen year old, the whine-that-can-cut-through-glass is loud and clear in my memory.)
It used to be for most people, though, wealthy or not, after adolescence, some form of integration was achieved. People came to see the ideal for what it was – something to strive towards, not something to demand. And sometimes, in special circumstances, they came to see their flaws for… well… good things. (Sometimes they are. Sometimes what causes people to do best are their worst traits.)
The reason people mostly came to terms with reality is that, well… what is there besides reality?
And that’s where we got tripped, starting around the fifties or so. I think, honestly, the issue was television. It looks real, but it is or can be flawless. I’ve often wondered how much of our divorce rate is based on the flawless, effortless families of the fifties sitcoms during the formative years of most now-adults. It seems as though study after study has shown we can’t tell the difference between TV and reality. Weirdly, no, I don’t think the down-glare on married life and what I’d call the “all relationships are sh*t” view of humanity prevalent now helps. Neither is actually reality like.
Anyway, the problem is we now have – all of us – both wealth (you don’t usually worry where your next meal is coming from. Heck, I don’t, though there have been times in my life I did, they were brief and limited) and a vivid, collective fantasy life.
This has the result of a sort of extended adolescence. Our arts, the collective expression of our collective soul – or our culture for lack of a better word – have got stuck in the adolescent whine of “I hate people.” Which means the “moral” behind just about every novel, painting, story is “Humans are bad and we should all die.”
So, what’s wrong with hating humans, you say.
Nothing. Nothing if you could choose between humans as are and your idealized humans that can exist only in syrupy shows.
The problem is those humans don’t exist. And the problem is the reaction of culture to realizing this was to go into a prolonged tantrum that amounts to “If we can’t be perfect we should all die.”
This is a problem because it’s starting to have an effect. It’s become controversial to say “I love people.” It’s become controversial to say “Humans have achieved great things.”
All of which would be fine, again, if you could choose to be something else. But you can’t. For good or ill, we’re humans and humans are all we have.
Did humanity produce Stalin and Mao? Sure. But humanity also produced DaVinci and innumerable saints. Were any of the last without flaw? Well, no. They were human. All humans have flaws. Sometimes the reason humans strive to be good is that they see themselves as worse than they are. That’s one of those flaws that’s good for you.
But seeing yourself – or your species – as unredeemable is as blinkered, as pathetic, as seeing your species – or yourself – as angel-like, with no flaws. Neither of them have reality and frankly both of them lack internal tension. Both of them are therefore just plain bad art.
So, can Human Wave be dystopian? Sure it can. You don’t really need to scratch very deeply into the world of Darkship Thieves to see that Earth is a dystopia and Eden is a barely balanced near-utopia, but one that crumbles on contact. Humans are still humans. Unspeakable things can happen (contemplate Max’s fate, or for that matter Nat’s revenge.)
BUT through it all, humans are still humans. The ones who are good can be very very good. The ones who are broken are broken in interesting ways. The villains are – to borrow from Shakespeare – punishe’d. And the good, if not rewarded, have a chance to reward themselves to a measure. And the mixed can redeem themselves in future books.
Human Wave: it might be very dark, but a ray of light is allowed in. We don’t hate humanity, because if we do we can’t love anything. And there is always the option for a sequel.
You heard it here first.