Humans, Waving — by RES

Are you tired of the same old grey goo you’ve been getting in your SF for years?  Are you hankering for some red meat, served fresh and hot?  Do you want stories you can sink your teeth into, that leave you satisfied when you’re finished instead of wondering why you even bothered consuming them?  Then brother, then sister, you want to try some Human Wave Fiction.

Human Wave Fiction comes in both SF and Fantasy as well as other genres and combinations. It is guaranteed to satisfy, with a rich flavourful taste and real substance in every bite.  Eschew boiled oatmeal plots, spit out cardboard characters, Human Wave Fiction gives you main characters who just won’t quit and are good to the last bite.  When Human Wave characters whines about how rough their life is, that’s when they’re getting ready to take on the world and deliver a mouthful of kick.

Friends, you won’t find yourself looking around for the Tobasco when you put Human Wave on your menu, it needs no special sauces to let you know there’s something on your plate.  Human Wave takes the cooking secrets of old masters, guys and gals who really knew how to cook up a tale, and serves it up with modern style and contemporary flavours.

Human Wave gives you plenty of zest and plenty of substance, leaving you fit to take on the world.  Human Wave takes techniques from Asimov to Zelazny, takes the best of Heinlein, Sturgeon, Tolkein, Simak, , Bradbury, Piper and Laumer, among others, and serves them up with a side of Campbell and a shot of undiluted Boucher, Human Wave Fiction will put hair on your chest (except for the ladies, who are guaranteed to look like they’ve added a full cup size) and fire in your belly.

Human Wave combines the best of the old ingredients with the latest cooking techniques, giving you the best, most satisfying, most nutritious stories you could want.  They have the satisfyingly full flavours you’ve been missing and the substance you need.  Human Wave will remind you of the comfort food you read as a kid, the kind of stories that left you feeling satisfied at story’s end yet still hungry for more.  You get undiluted plots and characters who know what they want and why they want it.  Human Wave is the good old stuff reborn for modern tastes, with all the goodness still intact.  Human Wave contains no filler, no pablum, no political correctness, nor any grey goo.

*              *              *

It has been months since the discussion of Human Wave SF began, and it seems a good time to revisit some of the ideas underlying that movement.

For quite some time a persisting theme in SF has been “Humans/Men/European Culture is harmful.”  Almost as soon as you open a book you can tell who will be the “hero”, who the “villain” and what sins will be perpetrated, and just about as easily as watching an old movie Western and noting whose hats are black, whose are white.

Such tales are predictable, therefore boring.  Even when they don’t bore, the reader has to make an effort to overlook his brain being run through the rinse cycle by such manipulation.

Of course, in that bad old world a reader’s choices were limited to what publishers thought was good for him.  A few writers seemed to think that technological man wasn’t entirely bad, but that was mostly because he accepted the burden of the sins committed against the planet, against the universe, against “others” by his species.

Any publisher who didn’t advance these enlightened views was sneered at by other publishers, no matter (in fact, inversely proportional) to the popularity of their wares.  Authors who failed to toe the line were routinely tasked to rewrite their work, eliminating offensive elements in order to produce a publishable tale or, if they slipped through the filters and became best sellers they were disdained as populist, as pandering to the masses.  Their books could count on being slammed on Amazon as racist, sexist, reactionary and an affront to the noble trees whose lives had been sacrificed in order to publish such hate-mongery.  Sometimes there even existed the possibility that the reviewer had actually read the book before damning it.

Readers who craved good books, tales of humans surmounting barriers and overcoming challenges through grit, determination, pluck and seizing opportunities found themselves mostly reading (and rereading) older books, “Golden Age” SF.  Often they found themselves simply not reading SF at all.

A lot of readers (and authors, too – and even a few editors) longed for books where the race/gender/sexual orientation of a character was not relevant to the actions they took, the role they played in the drama.  Most of us know people of all races/genders/sexual orientation who not only encompass the full range of human behaviour but whose “identity” did not seem to predetermine their integrity, their nobility, their bravery nor the challenges they faced as they traversed this Earthly vale.

A lot of readers (and authors, too – and even a few editors) longed for books where the heroes were heroic, too.  We longed for books whose characters we identified with, in a positive way.  We longed for books whose characters we identified with because they emulated character traits we admired and desired to emulate in our own lives.

We also longed for books where “good guys” would win, or at the very least would go down fighting.  We desired books with characters who would inspire us to dream impossible dreams, not books which lampooned their characters dreams, pegged the dreamers as suckers.  We tired of books which portraying success as a matter of luck or connections rather than effort and skill and determination.

We longed for books in which even flawed people pursuing a flawed dream could achieve something great, books which inspire us rather than leaving us depressed.

We longed for books which said that the individual counted for something, that a person is more than a component of a group identity, more than the “hat” they wear.  We don’t care what identity group a main character belongs to, we see complexity in all individuals whatever their race, creed, sex or who they long to kiss.  We are indifferent to those aspects of the characters, that is not why we read, that is not why we buy a book.  That is not why we thrust a book into the hands of friends, relatives, strangers in line at the grocery store.

What we want are tales about people, people who act to improve their worlds, who assert human dignity as an individual quality, who defend their beliefs and who are unashamed to be human.  We don’t need our heroes to be perfect, but we want them to strive to be better, to improve themselves and their lot in life.  We aren’t interested in them bending the knee, accepting their limitations and knowing their place in the world.

We want tales that challenge our ways of thinking, our ways of doing things, not by shaming us, by telling us we have been bad, greedy, wasteful intolerant.  We want tales that inspire us, encourage us, show us there are different ways of thinking about the Universe and what we can achieve in it.  We want books that, once we put them down we are eager to pick them up again and read more.  And when we have finished them we want to be full of energy, ready to address our own lives reinvigorated.

We are entering a world wherein publishers and booksellers no longer dictate what our book choices are.  Writers no longer need to sublimate their ideas, their craft, their art to what some editor is willing to buy.  Gatekeepers may still man the gates of the publishing industry, but their walls are a tumbling down, and more choices are available in the marketplace of ideas.  Readers are free to exercise their low, plebian, uneducated tastes – we can read what we like and like what we read.

Tell us stories about adventures, great and small.  Tell us stories about dreams and what people will do to achieve them.  Write about wishes come true – and the regrets they cause.  Give us heroes willing to stand upon principle, no matter the cost – and be honest about those costs.  Examine the costs of being human and show us the nobility of accepting those costs.

Write about the great complexity of human existence without submitting to the vision of existential meaninglessness.  Give us a vision of the world as it is, warts and all, but give us a true vision.  Above all, give us tales about those who can see a world better than the one they are in, about people who force change upon their world, even about those who force their worlds to crush them but who, in being crushed, remain defiant.

Readers need to support stories of grandeur, of inspiration.  We need to express our appreciation, enthusiasm and support for these types of tales in the only manners which matter: our buying and recommending habits.  We must not accept stories which depress us, which bury us in the grey goo of existential ennui.  Do not accept boredom as a badge of literary merit; do not accept clever phrase making in exchange for plots that make sense.

Above all, pick tales that stand for something admirable, that espouse virtues rather than values.  Our heroes can be flawed because we know humans are, but we want heroes who rise above their flaws to spit in the eye of Fate.  In time we are all doomed, so why go gentle into that good night?  More importantly: why write about, why read about heroes going quietly rather than gesturing their defiance until the last moment and even after?

The Human Wave is a gesture made with one hand or two (or even four, if that’s the type human you are) it is defiance personified, a refusal to bow the knee. In Britain it requires two fingers per hand, in America it needs but one; but throughout the universe it stands for the same thing, always: You’re not the boss of me!

69 responses to “Humans, Waving — by RES

  1. BTW, I’d like to thank you for alerting me to this change in SF publishing; I was a voracious reader of it through the ’70s, but realized not too long ago that I’d increasely stopped buying SF over the following decades; you’ve told me why, and of course why Baen is an exception. Good luck on getting your rights back from those other publishers!

  2. Nice manifesto!

    > For quite some time a persisting theme in SF has been “Humans/Men/European Culture is harmful.”

    In my novel (finished draft 3 just 48 hrs ago!) I’ve got a minor character who’s a Jesuit. And, it turns out, he’s not really upset that the libertarians are revolting (and – honestly – we libertarians are usually revolting. !). He does two things in the book: serve a minor plot point re: the Geneva convention and the concept of open cities, AND, number two: lecture the protagonist on the western conception of human rights – specifically from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

    I’m sure that a decent percent of the folks who read my first book will come to that scene and ask “why the hell did the author feel the need to push his crazy fundamentalist Western morals on me?” and vow to never read one of my books again.


    I’m interested in telling a tale about Western Civilization. I’m not going to edit the Western Civilization out of it.

    • > are usually revolting.

      There was SUPPOSED to be a “cymbal crash!” right after that, but the HTML got munged. Sigh. And thus my “revolting” / “revolting” joke disappears into the markup…

    • Bah. Not all libertarians are revolting. I WASH at least once a year, whether I need– Oh, you mean the other way. Yeah. We have a wee bit problem with authority. Allegedly. They say. Probably. Almost certainly. Maybe.

      Look, I’m having a heck of a time finishing a book because it’s under contract. It doesn’t serve anything it’s just “you and whose army” and then “Oh, yeah, I owe you.” ARGH.

      • When your life has been regimented, and your opinions are no-account and then you meet libertarian principles, then you will have authority problems too. Apparently I had authority problems from birth.

  3. Tired of watching
    Culture slip?
    We’ve got a way
    To right the ship . . .
    Human Wave!

  4. I agree that readers are hungry for heroes who are allowed to be heroic. One of the reasons I’ve heard it argued that Harry potter was such a success was that here was a boy who was allowed to be an old fashioned hero.

    It’s incumbent on both sides to create this. Writers have to write it, and readers need to buy it. Otherwise, we’ll continue to end up with mushy characters who can’t be deemed heroic, villainous, or anything we want to see.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Harry Potter also resonated with the people who were picked on in school, simply because he was able to BE the hero. Let’s face it, most “old fashioned heroes” were not the oddballs who grew up being treated like there was something wrong with them.

      • Is it lese majeste to observe that — at least in the beginning books — Potter & Co. are terrible screw-ups who exacerbate circumstances? That essentially Snape is right in his evaluation of the Potter boy?

        Look at the first book: if Potter had stayed in his dorm room, like he should have, there was no way for [SPOILER ALERT] for Quirrel/Voldemort to attain the Philosopher’s Stone? Dumbledore’s final barrier would not have fallen absent Harry’s intervention, leaving the culprit trapped in that dungeon.

        In the second book Harry’s malicious suspicion of Malfoy has him [SPOILER ALERT] spending most of the book in a wild goose chase.

        I will give Rowling kudos for her conservative messages of distrust of government bureaucracy and the MSM.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          I wouldn’t agree that Snapes evaluation was correct. His evaluation and hatefulness prompted Harry to suspect him, and this fed back, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

          I will agree, however, that Dumbledore’s final protection should have been sufficient, without Harry’s interference. On the other hand, Voldemort was brilliant – he might have been able to figure it out, given his knowledge of Dumbledore. And if so, he may have been able to (spoiler alert) convince the mirror that his intentions were the correct ones.

          In the second book, his suspicion of Malfoy set the stage for getting the clues to solve the puzzle.

  5. One of the advantages Baen readers have had for some time is the ability to read eARCs, electronic advance reader copies, which typically are the unedited final draft directly from the author and compare them to the finished product after Toni and company do their magic.
    The new paradigm of independent publishing should give us similar visibility into exactly how much or how little other publishing houses editorial work has affected the genre.
    My but we do live in interesting times, do we not.

    • One of the things I mean to write about is how many of my colleagues, some insanely successful have told me “what I really want to write is X” — something usually wildly different from what they do and often very, very fun. If Indie gets big enough, we’ll get to see it, won’t we?

  6. Funny, I hadn’t really put together why I stopped reading SciFi either – but I think you nailed it. I’d never heard the expression Human Wave SciFi before. Seems I’ve begun reading some of it before I even knew what to call it. The SteamPunk writers are pretty good at it as well.

  7. Thanks RES and Sarah for the manifestos. I quit reading SF in the late 70s when I first noticed the syndrome hitting. I didn’t get Alice Sheldon’s stuff, and the age of wimpy “heroes” left me cold.

    Of course finding the human wave books is not as simple as it sounds. Normal searching on Amazon doesn’t seem to do it. You have to wander down to the tags search box and search there for human wave. Unless anybody has a better idea.

    P.S. you can use the link on this comment to see my wife’s book and find other books with the human wave tag by scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking on the human wave tag.

  8. You just described EXACTLY what I look for in books that I want to read.

  9. Well– I was thinking on how I could marry fantasy and sci-fi when I came up with an organic spaceship who used to run on virgin blood. Since there are so few virgins, it (he/she??? not sure) will have to find a new energy source. And the plucky crew– lol

  10. OT: RES, the story inspired by your idea for cover art is done. I don’t think I have your e-mail, so shoot me an e-mail ( if you want a copy.

  11. Is anyone tagging Ringo Human Wave?