Yesterday I forgot to tell you that Tom Simon’s post on being Superversive is up at Jagi’s blog.
Also, this year my family and I have somehow forgotten to book panels at milehi, which means, ultimately, there’s not much point in going. If any of the huns and/or our friends up there want to make it a breakfast or dinner during the weekend of Milehicon I’m up for that.
We decided we had to go to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar workshop. Part of it is the seminars on terraforming and propulsion. I have so many novels upcoming that must be science fiction that I thought I’d best bolster my week remembrance of my studies of the matter. For one things have changed. When I last dwelled on the subject, everyone thought Ganymede would be an easy terraforming project, but it turns out to have too much radiation for such things. So, under professional development, I need to go there, and before I go I need to get two books delivered to Baen.
Through Fire is clearly one of those stumbling block books that almost break one to write. I think I know why, psychologically, as well as circumstances, but it means that since it’s a series, it must be done. If it were a stand alone, I’ll confess I’d probably have passed on it and gone on to something else.
Anyway, Through Fire, because it requires unusual concentration is part of the reason that I’m forgetting and losing everything, but the other part of it is that…
Well, I listed all the titles I’m working on (as in started/actively outlined/being written) in the diner on FB and scared myself. And that’s not listing things like the Magical British Empire which will take extensive line by line.
Again, I’m more convinced than ever that Ayn Rand was wrong. Atlas didn’t shrug. He juggles.
But this ties in with the whole idea of superversive again.
The word is good, but we’re not the only ones to come up with the concept. There is a time for tearing down and a time for rebuilding. Part of the ah… conformity of mid-century needed tearing down.
What people who moon over the America of FDR and how safe, clean, etc it was miss is that well… it might have been all that, but it was also more uniform. There is a dark side to chaos and a light side too, and the light side is where it allows creation.
(Perhaps my experience is not representative, but I know that I can’t work if put into a too clean, too ordered environment.
I like to be comfortable, which means there’s a little mat on my desk, for my tea cup. There’s piles of projects and notes that make sense only to me, and right now there’s the planner I still haven’t figured out how to use.)
It’s hard to know what was the real late forties and early fifties because more and more as I read an historical or watch a recreation I think “How much of this is true and how much is informed by Marxist narratives?” Like… watching a show about a hospital in Victorian London where in the very first episode of course there is someone who botched a self-abortion. (Did it happen? Sure. But if the village is any example, abortion was a skilled trade, practiced in open secret by an “angel maker”. And women trying to abort themselves were more likely to use irrigation and/or herbal or other semi-poisoning. Knitting needles? Perhaps, but I have trouble believing anywhere where there isn’t mental or other impairment involved, in which case, it could have been anything else she was trying to do.) Packed in the same episode there is also, (of course) an anarchist under arrest and also, (of course) a woman who chooses a glorious career in nursing over marriage.
Did all these things happen? Oh, sure. Just like legitimately repressive religious families happen (we know a couple) and just like legitimately abusive husbands happen (I know a couple, too.) BUT they don’t happen with nowhere near the frequency we see in our fiction, and I’ve started wondering if the frequency we see these things in historical fiction is the same type of “narrative” we’re inflicted upon our own times.
I know that anything touching on Victorian England attributes all its ills not just to poverty but to the disparity between rich and poor, as though that very inequality were such a sin that it caused all these ills.
In real fact, the disparity came from the fact that for the first time in human history at least a portion of the population had disposable wealth. Which allowed it to invest. Which allowed more prosperity that raised all boats.
The idea that the disparity would remain and increase, with us all turning into morlocks and eloi was the idea of Marx, who, as we’ve pointed out before never really created any wealth. (Or ideas. He stole broadly from all and sundry. His was the wrapping it up in an envy-justifying package, which I suppose makes perfect sense for an “intellectual” who thought himself superior and proved again and again that he failed at real life.
In fact the only place disparities increase to that point is in communist/socialist countries, where the confiscation of created wealth brings the engine of creation to a halt and leaves an effective finite pie, of which the kommissars , being human, take the best slice.
Anyway, I’ve recently started to wonder about all shows and books depicting the Victorian age. So many of the writers who became classics had a leftist agenda. And that too makes you wonder, and makes me want to go trolling Gutenberg for forgotten writers of the Victorian age to see whether we, indeed, preserved the best, or whether the same selection bias is in effect as for contemporary “push” on books.
Okay, that was a long digression, but in the same way even as close as the forties and fifties, it’s hard to know what was really true. One reads biographies (particularly the candid self-published biographies of people of no importance) and the picture is quite different.
But to an extent, we do know the fifties had more… ah… bonding between company and employee and that in theory at least, one was supposed to work for the same company for decades and retire with thanks, etc.
In fact, I grew up in a system very much like that.
I had to explain to my kids a pervasive feature of the fifties/sixties sitcoms, where “the boss is coming for dinner.”
The idea completely baffles them, and I had to explain that when women stayed home, the career really involved both and that scoping out an employee’s spouse was normal before a promotion, to see if she was up to her support role, etc.
At least that’s the world I grew up in. When I moved here, in the eighties, I was suddenly catapulted into a less “personal” world when it came to employment. In fact, many people here experienced that, in the eighties for the first time, too.
The rise of temporary labor, at which my entire generation seemed to be working, was particularly baffling for older generations.
But in my case, because I came from elsewhere, I could see both the wrenching instability and the benefits.
The old way of doing things had to be torn down, to give new flexibility to do things. And in a world in which computers were revolutionizing the way of doing business, it was important to have the ability to “try” an employee on before offering a more permanent contract, and also, even, to try positions on you weren’t sure of needing. (It was 90 before the interviews stopped holding it against me that I didn’t know short hand, even when I could demonstrate that I could take down text at normal speaking speeds, something I’d had to learn to do in college. And it was 90 the first time I was allowed to take a typing test on a computer keyboard.)
In the same way, I suppose, the rigidity of mind of a world of “company men” and “support women” had to be torn down, to allow new forms to even be thought about.
No, that’s not why they did it, of course. By and large, the authors who were “subversive’ were tearing down assumptions, norms and values as held by society in the hope that as it all came crashing down, socialism would emerge. (That too has never happened. Anarchy, sure. Strong man rule, sure. Socialism is something else.)
But it could be argued that some norms and values need to be torn down or at least pointed at and have duck noises made at them.
Societies like people get in habits of mind that must be poked, now and then, to see if they are functional or just, you know, things we fell into. Like my putting the tea cup on the right instead of the left of my desk. Maybe it would be better on the left, except there are a bunch of electrical cords there, and if we put it there, it will be a problem. So that habit has been examined and found to have a reason. Also I’m right handed, and it’s easier to lift my mammoth tea cup with my right hand.
OTOH my habit of leaving books that scare me and finding much more pressing stuff to do, like iron clothes, must be torn down and something better erected.
What I mean is that there is/was a place for “subversive” particularly as society was changing relatively fast. But subversive like everything else, has become ossified.
There might have been a point to Heinlein wondering if, in a society that controls the genome, and in which we live practically forever, incest taboos will persist.
There is hardly a point to most stories where such norms are violated simply because they’re norms, and then everyone dies and wallows in misery.
I see superversive as a society-wide movement, not just literary. Human Wave is more specifically literary, a “life affirming” and “Human affirming” movement. Superversive, on the other hand would encompass everything.
It would be a search for the paradigms that work, for history that is real, beyond the narrative, for ways of living that fit both our changed technology and our immutable human needs. It would not seek to break man to mold him to a dream, but to create human dreams, within which humans can exist the best way possible.
I’m putting it very badly, because this post is sort of a catch all for thoughts that will be developed (hopefully) at length over the next few weeks.
But it is part of the reason that Atlas isn’t shrugging or going off to Galt’s Gulch. In our connected, linked world, in our changed technology, that was never very likely.
Instead, Atlas has turned superversive.
Building up is always much more work than tearing down, and there are very few workers, yet, in this vineyard. And it’s not a simple thing. We can’t simply “restore” a time as depicted in literature or movies, because those are tainted. Besides, even the real historical times wouldn’t fit, since our technology is so different.
So we have to research, retool, adapt, cast out the poisonous bits of Marx’s barbed illusions, and forge on.
There is an immense work to do, and I doubt our generation will finish it. Like Moses, we’ll probably die before we see more than the outlines of the new “land.”
But it must be done. So Atlas juggles.
And this particular Atlas is, clearly, going in about 100 directions at once this morning, and must stop babbling and go write fiction.
I have a city to burn, executions to arrange, a Good Man to kill, a redemption to arrange, a character to humble.
You too go forth and erect those scaffolds. It is becoming clear that you can’t tear down a civilization and have some parts miraculously standing. And at any rate, the parts they want to stand involve paternalism and telling other people what to do, and truly those are parts that need to go.
So we need to start from the bottom and build up. And we need to make sure we have good foundations, because they will be tested.
Roll up your sleeves. Go to work.
In the end we win, they lose – but it’s going to take will and work to get there.
More and more organized posts anon.