Let RES Speak!


*I will do my post on what ya’ll have been up to later today.  Meanwhile, with a remarkable lack of punny stuff, RES sent me a guest post which I’m proud to put up, it being remarkably more lucid than the stuff I normally grind out.  RES admits to being a corporate accountant and a long time science-fiction reader, but claims to be innocent of any wish to write the stuff.  Well!  Having tempted him into blog post I consider myself happy, if not satisfied.  As you all know my evil insidiousness is never satisfied and never sleeps.*

It Used To Be Better
by RES
Once upon a time, long, long ago, giants strode the Earth.  Our ancestors built towering palaces, did great deeds, mastered arcane mysteries whose secrets are today lost.  Or so most Fantasy tells us.

A past Golden Age is a common theme in Fantasy, an earlier time when things were better.  And of course our modern age is a fallen one, deteriorating every day and twice on Sunday.  Tolkein’s is a fallen world, as is Conan’s (although perhaps from not so great a height.)  The tale of Camelot is a story of glory lost, and its promised return.  Harry Potter’s world has slipped from past glories, with no one to match Merlin or the Hogwarts Founders.  Even in SF we find the theme of lost knowledge ~ what is the theme of McCaffrey’s <I>Dragonflight</I> if not discovery of <I>lost</I> and rediscovered knowledge?

Nations, tribes, clans almost always trace their origins back to a near-mythical demi-god founder.  Ancient Egypt thought its pharaohs deities, as have the Chinese and Japanese peoples.  England’s King Arthur is matched in Charlemagne and Frederick Barbarossa in France and Germany.  Founding myths commonly trace a present culture to an older, greater one, such as Rome’s establishment by refugees from fallen Troy.

There are many reasons this theme captures our imagination; prominent among them is that it reflects our own psychological progression.  Thus there is a comfort to the idea we inhabit a diminished culture.

In childhood we lack understanding of the complex world into which we have entered.  As we grow, idealizing our parents is a fundamental stage in our development.  We begin ignorant of our world, lacking knowledge and skills required to survive.  We depend on our parents for all our needs, including especially understanding of the world.

Our parents, our teachers, our mentors all seem to possess great knowledge.  They read books which baffle us.  They perform mathematical calculations incomprehensible to us.  They with ease do myriad things which we struggle to accomplish, from drawing a picture to making music to assembling a jigsaw puzzle.  Over time we master many of these skills and in the mastering disparage them.  Hurdles nigh insurmountable to us as children are miniscule in hindsight.

We learn, too, that our childhood heroes have clay feet, will often disappoint us as we observe them in everyday life.  In adolescence we vent our disillusionment, resent those people and institutions for being less than we thought them.  Eventually we become cynical, declaring “they’re all rotten.”  Idols from the perspective of childhood are all too clearly flawed when we meet them as near equals.  The disappointment we feel for their being less than we imagined, for being merely human, causes a letdown, however unfairly.

The young observe the world with large eyes, wide open and wondering.  Eventually we squint at it through narrowed gaze.  We still hold onto our childhood dreams, however, and imagine that the world which we entered was better than the one we inhabit.

We never quite shake childhood expectations; our emotions yet yearn for the comforts we knew.  As children our experience with the mail is that it brings us positive things: birthday and holiday cards, often with checks or small cash gifts.  I recall looking at adulthood with anticipation of all the mail I would receive, never realizing that the bulk of that mail would be asking for money, not granting it to me.  But I still receive every day’s post with hopeful anticipation, even as opening it engenders small disappointments.

We similarly are forgetful — or ignorant — of the downsides of times past.  The romance of Western cowboys, Victorian highwaymen and French musketeers is not diminished by actual experience of the pleasures of a day spent in saddle, thighs chafed and spine rattled.  Nor do we consider the pungent odour of the horses’ manure, nor their sweat nor the work required to feed and curry them.  Children may yearn for ponies but seldom do they contemplate the work required by their keep.

Just so do we look back on prior ages as superior to our own.  We forget (or never learn) the flaws of their leaders, seeing mainly their accomplishments.  Achievements make up the histories while the compromises and abuses required to attain them get forgotten.  We see our modern era as flawed because we are too close; we view past generations as more heroic because we look not closely at their realities.  Village life is romanticized, imagining everybody caring one for another and we declare “It takes a village” mostly because we either never lived in a village or, more probably, have forgotten the pleasures of having everybody in the village watching you and reporting your misdeeds to your parents.

We reflect on childhood with fondness and forgetfulness, recalling joys and sorrows vaster than our present experiences because we had not yet grown inured.  Triumphs were sweeter for being newer and unexpected; the pleasure of every additional triumph growing slighter as they accumulate and come to be expected.  The first time you achieve something is glorious, each successive time rather less so.  We look at our present times and notice that the golden sheen of everyday has gotten tired and dingy.

Our personal development is reflected in our view of the world.  We remember our personal pasts and our cultural pasts as rosier, as better, and our present as less admirable, less desirable.  A longing for a better cultural past is an expression of our longing for a more attractive personal past, a time when the world seemed more secure and glorious, a time before we learned of the flaws of the world.

We take modern marvels for granted for having become commonplace.  Soaps are expected to be scented and gentle, not harsh and abrasive.  We expect our electricity and our internet connections to be reliable, our foods to be safe, our kitchens free of vermin.  We expect our effluvium to be swiftly flushed away, not sit in a chamber pot to be dumped in the privy.  We forget the tedium of few television channels, of slow internet connections but we remember the marvel and excitement of watching cartoons every Saturday morning, of being able to connect to others online who shared interests like our own.  The glamour through which we viewed the world fades, but its memory and its allure remain.  Even though we have figured out many of the tricks, we remember the wonder and magic that enthralled us.

Jim Baen reportedly observed that the Golden Age of Science Fiction is fourteen — because that’s usually our age when we discover the genre.  And upon that discovery we not only lacked the critical capacity to evaluate what we were discovering, we likely read much of the best the field has produced.  Librarians and friends more versed in the genre point us toward Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon and others whose works have stood the test of time and the judgement of more critical readers.  As we delve further into the genre we discover lesser authors, often deservedly forgotten.  Our sense of wonder diminishes both from diminished quality and diminished novelty.

Science Fiction has long taken a positive view, looking at the growth we have known, seeing how we can improve our lives and our world.  Human Wave SF reminds us that we can make the world better.  There will be costs, but the results are worth it.  Human Wave SF calls for progress, for making a better rather tomorrow rather than pining for a falsely idealized yesterday.  It encourages because it inverts the normal aging process, by promising us that the future is brighter if we want it to be, tantalizing us with youthful novelty regained.


73 responses to “Let RES Speak!

  1. I hereby apologize to one and all for the lack of paragraph breaks — they were there when I pasted the text into the email, and I suspect their absence now has nothing to do with Sarah.

    Sheesh – my first blog post and I won’t be back online until late this evening. Figures!

  2. RES – enjoyed the post… fourteen? is the normal age we find sci-fi? Are you psychic? Cause that is when I found it. lol Between fantasy and sci-fi, these genres helped me to realize that my life could get better if I just hung on to it.

    • I was 11 when I found out it WAS sci fi. I think I read Have Space Suit WiIl Travel at 8, but I had no clue that it wasn’t set in contemporary America. HOW was I to know. The future, you know, lived in the US. For all I know the US gave away trips to the moon…

      • In fairness, I think JB meant 14 metaphorically. Some of us age sooner, some later, some age early then get young later. I believe his 14 refers to a happy balance between old enough to grasp the concepts we were reading, young enough to retain a sense of wonder about it all.

        • It is metaphorical. I seem to recall reading Heinlein juveniles when I was five or so. And the nice ladies at the local library – who were about as subversive in their selections as librarians ever get, and if you know librarians that’s saying something – were giving me “adult” science fiction novels to read (though not ones with graphic sex) when I was eight or nine. Still hooked on the stuff, although I go through stretches where I get very bitter (on the lines of “where is my effing jetpack”) and can’t read it.

          And no, that’s not exaggeration. I learned to read between ages two and three, and nobody’s sure how. (I don’t remember either, but I was very young at the time.) The first sign my mother had was that we were visiting – I swear this is true, she’s been telling the story for forty years and it creeps her out – a cemetery, and I kept muttering. This of course is always a bad sign in a young child in a cemetery, but when she started listening, she realized I was reading the names and epitaphs off the tombstones.

          I still, to this day, cherish an inner hope that this means I will manifest some kind of necromantic powers, but so far, zilch. Alas.

          • Mark, I have seen it. People who do this are referred to as automatic readers, and, at present, the theory is that they acquire and process written language much as if it were another spoken language.

          • My older son came to me — I’m not sure at what age, but I was six months pregnant with his brother, and they’re not QUITE three and a half years apart — carrying a book. It was a life of Caesar. He wanted to know what “incest” meant. I found out he had been reading my research books on Rome, because “I like Rome.” We went out and got him a bunch of middle-school level books on Rome. He went through them in a day. After that we started looking for books for adults, but without sex or graphic violence. (Usually ones published in the first half of the 20th century and before were safe.) By the time he entered kindergarten he’d burst out of bonds and was reading all our fiction. I can’t say he had great taste. Until about six his favorite books were The Cat Who mysteries… and it took him till 18 to find Agatha Christie (partly because he got into Pratchett at about seven and then took a sharp turn into fantasy with a bit of science fiction.) BUT he was reading at adult level, voraciously, and I have NO clue how.

            His brother OTOH — I SWEAR — learned to read by writing. Probably makes sense, as he is, in part at least, like me a kinetic learner. He learns through his fingertips, as it were.

          • Graphic sex descriptions are wasted on eight year olds. There are emotions they lack experience to understand, and that is several of them.

            • I once realized I’d lent a book that had a lengthy sex scene to my friend’s five year old. Look — I thought “cute book, ya” never thought of the sex, because it was so out of place in that book. What’s worse, my friend’s family are Mormon and they… tend to frown on this stuff. So I call my friend, in a panic and tell her to take the book away from Ben because “it has a lengthy sex scene in the middle.” She said “uh oh. He read it as soon as he got home.” Turned out on further interrogation that Ben had NO idea what had happened in that chapter, thought it was rather boring and flipped forward to the action again. Which both my friend and I thought was Roll On The Floor funny. WE thought the scene was graphic. For him it was a lot of moaning and kissing and, yuck, where’s the next fight scene?

              • That is funny!!! 😉

              • A … 4th grade? … classmate of the Daughtorial Unit got into all sorts of trouble when, approaching the end of the story he was reading to the class, he allowed his voice to rise in pitch and increase in tempo (with concomitant breathing difficulties.) Asked to explain his … unusual … vocal performance, he explained “I’m using my climax voice” to the scandalized teacher.

                You know, the voice you use to signify the exciting conclusion of a story?

      • Wayne Blackburn

        I believe I was 9 when I read my first adult SF book. I had read some juvenile stories that were kind of borderline before that, but I can’t remember much about them. First time I read Heinlein I was 18 or so.

    • I haz heard it attributed to Jim Baen, whose expertise in such things far exceeded any aspirations of mine own. But it rings true, doesn’t it?

    • I think I must have been twelve. That’s when I entered Junior High School, which a really nice library. I discovered Andre Norton then started hunting specifically for SF.

      • Excellent blog post, RES.

        I can remember exactly when it happened. I was 10 and Boys Life was running a comic-book treatment, serialized, version of John Christopher’s The White Mountains. Each month the magazine would show up in the mailbox and I would tear through it to read the latest addition to the story. The concept of sitting down and reading a book with no pictures hadn’t really occurred to me at that point, I suppose. My father, noticing my love for the story, brought home a copy of the full paperback and I went through it in a couple of days. After that I read the next two books in the series and can still remember the story vividly.

        My father had been reading Pournelle’s There Will Be War anthologies and I started in on those as well. At some point, he brought home Battlefield Earth and I was completely hooked on sci-fi novels after that.

        • I remember that Boys’ Life serialization. Used to glom my brothers’ copy, IIRC. Good illos.

          I discovered sf in a big way in fourth grade, which means I was just barely nine. Starblazers, A Wrinkle in Time, Mushroom Planet, that English guy with the spaceship series for kids, and Engdahl’s Enchantress from the Stars, all in one year. (I’d already read most of Narnia, the Hobbit and LoTR, a wimpified version of The Story of a Soul, Marguerite Henry, and Farley’s Black Stallion books, but I’d be too scared to read the Black Cauldron or Don Quixote for another couple years. I had a weird relationship with books, and a very good school library.)

          • I didn’t run away with SF until my brother entered Engineering at 20 — when I was 11. One of his college friends had an unimaginably vast SF collection and bought the new ones every month, too. Because my brother lived at home and left whatever he was reading on the bedside table, I would read it standing up by his bedside table. (I wasn’t allowed to read sf. This being the seventies a lot of it had not only sex but VERY ODD sex, and my brother had no idea what other books I’d got into, so he was trying to preserve my innocence. [When a kid reads a serialized novelization of Greek mythos at 6 there are very few horizons that will not be wide open. The father of one of my friends bought these books, leather bound, because he liked the way they looked. He NEVER read them. Whenever I went over, I’d take one of them, bring it back the next day. he never knew. And I read LITERALLY everything until I found a preference for SF. A lot of what he bought were history books and biographies of historical figures. I read EVERYTHING. Books were expensive, there was no public library, any cache of print was NOT safe from me. Mind you, sex didn’t interest me except intellectually. There was nothing there yet. But it was print and I had read it.]) So I read the books standing up, listening for the step on the stairs that meant the book got put down and I ran next door to my room. I guess Alvarim still tweeked, though, because eventually he told me “I know you read them, just don’t tell mom.” And then at fourteen I went to High School downtown and passed a couple of kiosks on the way. They kept the books out in one of the spinning racks. So I started buying SF and mysteries on my own.

            • I think I hit on science fiction at about age nine, with the “Lucky Star” series. I think they were written under an alias by either Issac Asimov or Robert Heinlein, but I can’t remember which. I was about eleven when I was allowed to check out books from the “adult” section, and got into HARD science fiction. I didn’t look at titles, just that “SF” at the bottom of the label on the spine. Besides, at that point it didn’t really matter. I was inhaling a book every other day, and anything that might interest me was fair game (I also read histories, anthologies, mysteries, westerns, biographies, and just about everything else I could get my hands on – even the encyclopedia and dictionary). I still like science fiction the best.

          • We’re off, to outer space! Leaving Mother Earth! To save the human race!
            Our Star Blazers!
            Searching for a distant star, heading off to Iskandar, leaving all we love behind – who knows what dangers we’ll find!
            We must be strong and brave! Our home, we’ve got to save! If we don’t in just one year, Mother Earth will disappear!

            I lined up my toy animals and made them sing with me when that came on… (I think I was… 7ish? at most.)

            • Fighting with the Gamilons, we won’t stop until we’ve won.
              Then we’ll return, and when we arrive
              The Earth will survive with
              Our Star Blazers!

              We’d get up at 6:30 every weekday to watch the show. My big brother had a tape recorder. He taped the episodes and would listen to them later. When we went to summer camp that year, we made our mom promise to tape them faithfully, AND SHE DID.

              The American VA’s are a very nice bunch, and one hears that the Japanese fans are too. Anyway, after finding out he had a rabid fanbase, the guy who played Leader Desslok (now an acting teacher) actually put out a phone message for a while and got people to call him to hear it. (“Hello. I am Desslok, Desslok of Gamilon.” Etc….)

          • Ah, Starblazers. Memories…did you know that was recently made into a big budget (for Japan) live-action movie? I still haven’t seen an English dub available, but I’m sure it will be. A lot of the fanboyz panned it, but I’ll still probably check it out.

            My favorite along those lines was the original Robotech series. In a time when GI Joe and the A-Team were filling the air with lead and explosions, only to have every single combatant walk away healthy, Robotech had no problems killing massive numbers of people.

        • Boys Life ran at least one (and I think more) of Heinlein’s novels in serial form; Farmer In The Sky, if memory serves. I wonder how many people got into SF courtesy of them?

          I honestly don’t know when I began reading SF. Do the Tom Swift books counts as SF? I remember finding Have Spacesuit, Will Travel sometime around by the time I reached 9th grade because that was when I joined the SF Book Club. I devoured all the Heinlein I could find, then took up Simak, Norton, Sturgeon, and more other authors than I can recall. By 12th grade I was writing to publishers, getting their monthly catalogs and ordering directly from them, mainlining SF in a big way. (The rewards of a morning paper route could be profound.)

          For some reason I enjoyed Asimov but was not a particular fan of his writing and never really took to Clarke, either. Loved Dune when it was only a single novel, lost interest after the third …

        • I remember my sixth-grade teacher reading The White Mountains to the class. The woman hated me, alas, and made no secret of her belief that I would be an utter failure in life — a belief I have yet to disprove — but to give her her due, she had terrific taste in books. She was also the one who put the class onto The Hobbit. (The year before, it was a different teacher and Pebble in the Sky.)

          So for me the Golden Age of SF began at about ten, but when I was fourteen it was still going in full force.

        • John Christopher’s The White Mountains.

          Smile. I was an adult when I found these, but I still enjoyed them immensely and have most found memories of the books. I would recommend his No Blade of Grass. (British title: Death of Grass)

      • I found sci-fi books when I was ten or eleven. My parents allowed us to read whatever we could reach and I stumbled into “Witchworld” and “Dragonflight,” followed by “The Gods Themselves” and “Childhood’s End.” YA or regular book, it did not matter. Military sci-fi, in the form of Hammer’s Slammers, appeared on the radar when I was 17 and planning on a military career, already well versed in military history. “Christian Johnny” Falkenberg was my idol and I so wanted one of the Slammers’ tanks to drive around. I found airplanes instead. Fantasy also appeared on the menu and I wandered down that road for a while before coming back to sci-fi.

    • When I was fourteen the books that everyone who was anyone, and who read, just had to read were Siddhartha, The Lord of the Rings and Stranger In a Strange Land. Of them all, in spite of a very slow start, LotR was the only one that caught my imagination. The world of Middle Earth was one of classic adventure, myth, and legend.

      I discovered the pleasures of science fiction through Analog. I was in my late teens and on my own. I would walk from my apartment to the down town to purchase my copy at an old, once elegant, hotel that had a news stand. I loved those stories. Years later and married, I was driving through York on the way to Philadelphia, when The Spouse decided it was time to fix a deficiency in my upbringing. He began to read me the book he had been re-reading. I fell in love with Mannie on the spot…and discovered the joys of Heilein.

      I have yet to figure the charm of Herman Hesse.

  3. I was nine when I discovered real sci-fi. I miss the positive spin of a lot of it – it seems dystopian is all the rage, as if we have to be miserable to enjoy the future. 😀

    • lol Down with dystopia!!!

      Up with– will not finish this sentence.

    • I don’t think it’s all the rage. From having trying to sell stuff that isn’t dystopian — it’s what the big houses like. Of course, it will take a while for it to change, because even indie writers now think it’s what “sells”

      • I quit reading sci-fi for a time when the dystopia era hit. Thankfully I am back with a few writers– so many of them can ruin a story quickly.

      • It is what sells — because it is what they are selling. The fact that the public is only buying because better is unavailable is irrelevant.

        Ye gawds, girl — next you will tell me that America’s auto industry collapsed in the face of Japanese competition because the Japanese made cars people wanted to buy (Miata) while the Big Three were only interested in selling what they wanted to build. EVERYBODY knows it was because the Japs undercut the American $ and only incidentally because their cars wee more comfortable, needed less maintenance and repairs, got better mileage AND performance and were more fun to drive. As if those were reasons for people to buy cars!

        All it takes is a little market dominance and control and people will buy what is good for them to have. Letting them pursue happiness only invites social dissension, disharmony and disruption.

  4. BobtheRegisterredFool


    Thanks for pointing me in the direction of C-Span. I was able to stream the rest of the convention over the internet from them, and it worked out well enough.

    • Glad it worked for you. If you haven’t explored their archival stuff you have some wonderful time-eaters lurking to devour your hours. Their non-fiction book programming is extensive and remarkable (try looking for their In-Depth programs with Jonah Goldberg and Mark Steyn,)

      For some reason their operation is premised on the idea that people are interested in actually watching the speakers at a convention, rather than having pundits explain what was really being said. For that reason — if your heart and stomach are strong enough — I encourage watching the Democrats next week in the hours before the networks begin their coverage.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        I dunno about heart and stomach. I suspect the whole convention isn’t worth testing my temper.

        My nerves and focus were not up to following the whole of the Republican convention. I simply was not able to follow every detail and nuance, especially towards the end. I am thinking of trying to at least catch at least the last speeches of the Democratic convention.

        • I understand – I somehow doubt the media fact-checkers will be so busy challenging every assertion made by Joe Biden (for example) the way they tackled Paul Ryan’s speech. (Did you know Ryan may have lied about his time in a marathon 25 years ago? The gall!!)

          OTOH, according to reports in the British Press, there should be great excitement Thursday night when President Obama accepts the nomination, addressing the assembled multitude in Bank of Amer … (ahem) Pantthers Stadium. Apparently they are resorting to giving tickets out in bars in the effort to fill the stadium’s 74,000 empty seats. Additionally, in an open air venue with a fair probability of thunderstorms that evening, the Secret Service may have expressed that their willingness to “take a bullet” for an American president, they aren’t so keen on being struck by lightning.

          • well, Joe Biden has squirrels in his pants and WHO IN HELL is going to look there? I mean…

            • Wayne Blackburn

              Well, I’ll stay away from his pants, but I’m pretty sure the squirrels in his head went on strike several years ago.

              • They’re chewing the plugs from within. Actually the squirrels in pants — apparently in congress JB could get up and scream “there’s rabid squirrels in my pants” and the rest of the people would shrug and go “Oh, it’s JUST Joe.”

                • BobtheRegisterredFool

                  True Fact
                  Joe Biden meets or exceeds the minimum standards for the office of vice president: 298 Kelvin

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            It is focus and endurance, not temper, which is the limiting factor.

            For example, during the Ann Romney speech, I was weak enough that I started thinking, at times, about the ending to Gundam W (TV not OVA) called ‘It’s Love’ or something like that. That meant that I didn’t get as good a read on her as I did on Obama during that one speech in 2008.

            Temper wise, I think I can avoid being angered beyond what I already am so long as the main speakers avoid making Mao or (Redacted) the theme of their speech. I am already irate on the second subject, but if I avoid getting any further agitated about it, I probably won’t lose too much sleep. Depending on party message and discipline, I can see it as possible that a minor speaker might focus on something that makes me lose my cool. (Many things irritate me, but Mao and the other topic are the mute and sometimes sleepless with rage ones.) More so if someone has been telling Obama about a great silent leftist majority.

            • Nothing against Ann Romney… but because you couldn’t get a read on her is that she is a typical Mormon woman. Really. I know because my family are all Mormons and I was raised Mormon. They are expected to be humble and support their males. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but — it can go to real extremes. Most of the women in the church are very similar to each other.

              It was one of the reasons I left Utah to join the Navy.

              • Er — this is not universal. I’m thinking of my Mormon friends AND Bridget Correia. I’d say it’s “a certain type of Mormon.” — and I’m not sure it applies to Anne, btw. (I believe the term is Molly Mormon.)

                • Wasn’t Molly Mormon an American Girl doll? (Or would that be teaching the wrong kind of lessons about History and Tolerance?)

                  • Mrs. Correia taught me the term Molly Mormon, so ask HER.

                    • Molly Mormons … they except every instruction… they don’t stick up for themselves, and they are taught that men are all authority figures. They become plastic imho. They don’t think for themselves. Some of the women actually enjoy being in that situation… to be fair. I couldn’t do it. I rebelled when I hit my twenties.

                  • The American Girl named Molly is Molly McIntire is the daughter of a doctor serving during WWII (1944).

                    At a North Carolina Home Educator’s fair in the mid-1990s the Pleasant Company, while still independently owned, came to make a presentation. Pleasant Rowland, the founder, did really care about the history teaching aspect of the company. From what I have seen since it has become a subsidiary of Mattel, it is now, sadly, a doll company with a great deal of emphasis on the contemporary girls, ‘girl power’ and a bit of history on the side.

                    • BobtheRegisterredFool

                      When I was a boy, I liked the American Girl books as historical fiction. I never got around to reading them all systemically, but they were pretty good, in my memory.

                • Yes, Molly Mormon… but there are the “old Mormons”… The Romney’s come from the “old Mormons” who were with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. They are very different than the newer converts.

                  • The reason I say what I say is because she was using many of the phrases and expressions that the women use in church. Really. It was like being in Utah again for me.

  5. I gravitate towards science fiction because I deal with dystopias and argue against the “fall from paradise” narrative in my day job. I really do not care to read it in my Calgon books. (You know, as in “Take me away!”).

    I think another lure of the Lost Golden Age as a setting is that it does not require science. If you grow up in a scientific household, reading Azimov (fiction and non-fiction), Clark (ditto), Pournell, Taylor and others who really do (or did) science, you don’t realize how hard it can be to get the science right, or how intimidating it might be for some readers. Fantasy, if done well, demands attention to systems and detail, but no one is going to trot over to the back stacks of the library, pull down a copy of “Xenobiology Today” and fuss that your entire book falls apart because you got the gestation period of the golden-eyed manticore off by six weeks. In contrast, the first Con panel I ever went to featured discussions of software for determining stellar energy output, the necessary orbital distances, and planetary masses for planets with X characteristics (and how to use the program to check planets in books to see if they could really exist).

    • I almost gave up on (new) science fiction when all the dystopian grunge came out. It sent me back to read familiar favorites over again. I think a few writers have broken free of grunge-writing, and I’m happily back in the fold (even during the height of grunge, a few writers were able to write serious stuff, like Niven, Pournelle, Ringo, and a half-dozen others. Unfortunately they don’t write ENOUGH! [my definition of ‘enough’ is more than I can read]).

    • TX, this addresses a point I considered but failed to bring out more fully — why Fantasy lends itself to dystopias more than SF does (which is not to say SF does not allow dystopia; Orwell and Huxley pretty well put PAID to that idea.)

      Science, at its core, is premised on the idea that we are increasing our understanding of the universe. The whole Scientific Method is, after all, naught but a way of refining knowledge. SF, broadly, is a field which implies scientific progress. (Duh!) No progress then Tom Swift is not inventing no amazing motorcar, gas, electrical of hamster powered. To get truly dystopian SF has to presume the abuse of those advances (e.g., Weber & Ringo’s Prince Roger anticipating brain implants – toots – providing encyclopedias at a thought, and those implants being hacked and used to control our actions; technology abused.)

      Fantasy, OTOH, implies a mythic past (if there are giants, elves, wizards, ents, etc., why don’t we see them?) It supposes that there is a hidden history, unseen presences that the knowing can discern. This feeds the young child’s imagination perfectly because so much of the world is magic to a child. So a child accepts Oz and Wonderland and Xanth and other hidden worlds quite readily,m and it only makes sense that such worlds are hidden because they belong to an older grander reality.

    • TX – do you have a name for that software, and a place to order it? I’d LOVE to have it! Trying to work it out by hand is a tedious process, and I haven’t been able to set up an excel spreadsheet to do it properly.

  6. I grew up with SF&F. The Practical Princess, A Spell for Chameleon, Darkover, Robin Hood… (Okay, Robin Hood isn’t really low-magic Fantasy, but hey.) Star Ka’ats, Breed to Come, Zero Stone, Year of the Unicorn. Harper Hall, the White Dragon…

    I’d read those all before the age of 14. I’d read most of them before the age of 10. Probably no older than 6 or 7, even…

    I was probably 11 or so when I hit Number of the Beast, and the Rolling Stones (which I liked for the flat-cats). A bit older for Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    (I think I was 14-15 when I discovered Gor, though, and read it like a trainwreck. Gods, but I hated that whiney protagonist.)

    I’m not sure what that says about my mindset, though. Probably that my chief annoyance is that the future has taken so long to get here even a little, and I still want my flying car.

  7. 10-11, A book of S/F short stories, one was Coventry by RAH…I never looked back

  8. I think the Argument from Childhood is kinda missing the point.

    If you were living in Europe or western bits of Asia during large chunks of time until the Victorian period, you knew that you were living in the twilight of Rome/Byzantium and of Persia. Once upon a time, there was running water and good toilets and you could travel for thousands of miles without a hitch; and now you couldn’t.

    Before Greece and Rome got good (and Persia), they were living in the twilight of the heroic period, when the Cretans and Mycenaeans and such had running water and good toilets and you could travel for thousands of miles with only minor hitches; and now you couldn’t. (Or you can come a little closer in time, and blame the Hittites.)

    Deep in the soul of Western civilization, we are sure that the toilets will go away again, and we’ll be back in the twilight of the good ol’ days. Much like the Victorian fear of civilizational collapse, which is why they wrote so many disaster and catastrophe novels.

    • If I conveyed that I thought the psychological progression from childhood was the sole reason for such approach it was unintended. My focus is merely on the reasons such ideas have such resonance now. (I would note that the awareness of having fallen from the Roman’s achievements is a constant undercurrent in Bernard Cornwall’s Uthred of Bebbanburg stories. Uhtred, of course, is as fictional as Talbot Mundy’s Tros and therefore is not a sound argument.)

  9. Wayne Blackburn

    Thanks, RES. I think you’ve found a very valid explanation for the fascination with the “Lost Magnificence” factor that seems to come into so many books. This tendency bothers me to no end. I’ve been asking for years, “Why is there always some ‘mighty ancient civilization’ that people are trying to re-learn the secrets of? Have these people never read a History book? Don’t they realize that the curve of advancement is almost always upward?”

    • Why? In Western civilization, because the Romans built some dam’ showy stuff — and that’s about it. Roads, aqueducts, circuses, theatres, deep-water harbours and moles — and after the fall of the empire the technology was lost, because the materials were lost.

      High-mediaeval technology blew the doors off the Romans in every other respect, but there was one secret that the Romans had taken to their graves: concrete. Without that, you simply could not build the kind of monuments that the Romans specialized in. And without pozzolana, you couldn’t make Roman concrete. Outside Italy, in the Middle Ages, pozzolana was unobtainable and natural cements were rare and expensive. (In Italy, nobody did much large-scale building because the Romans had left far more behind than the remaining inhabitants could use.) The Anglo-Saxons frankly refused to believe that the surviving Roman monuments could be the work of human hands; they called them eald enta geweorc — ‘the old work of the giants’. (And thereby gave Tolkien, long years after, a name for his Ents.)

      In the long, long literary and cultural battle of Ancients vs. Moderns, those Roman monuments remained an unanswerable argument in favour of the Ancients until the early nineteenth century. Then the invention of Portland cement ushered in a new era of monumental building, and since the Moderns now had steam engines, and then electrical and diesel power, they finally cast the Ancients in the shade. But traditions die hard. And (as suburbanbanshee mentioned above) the fear of losing one’s advanced civilization never dies. The upper classes of Victorian England were highly conscious of themselves as latter-day analogues of the Romans; and Rome had fallen. Hence, in part, the spate of moralizing doomsday tales, which contributed heavily to the modern dystopian tradition.

      • So your argument is that dystopian dismality derives from Ruling Class class egotism: “we are the final bulwark of civilization because only we are enlightened”? Sounds credible and does not conflict with my argumentum ad infantilism.

      • If you want to see an even longer stretch that reinforces the idea that Our Elders Were Our Betters, consider that no building was built anywhere in the world that was taller than the Great Pyramid until the Lincoln Cathedral almost four thousand years later. And no building was substantially taller until the Eiffel Tower, which took another five hundred years.

        • Marc,

          The Great Pyramid is an inapt example. In order to make the point, you have to compare apples to apples and deal only with structures that were built by humans.

        • And they built those pyramids using the power of their minds!!! And did it just to keep razors sharp!!! We are fallen, we are fallen, we are fallen.

  10. I do so love your blog, Milady Hostess. Not just for your own –Sane Scribblings, but for your esteemed other readers, from whom I learn so many interesting things! Bravo, all!