According To Hoyt

Truth and Fiction

When I was a kid, I liked to make up fantastic stories. I liked making people believe things that I’d just made up out of whole cloth.

This went on at the same time as my writing, until my writing had readers (sometime in high school, my form mates caught on to what I was up to with the exercise books with a pink cover [they’d been given to me for free by my grandparents’ best friend who owned the general store across from grandma’s house, and who found a huge bin of composition books with a repulsive gingivitis-pink cover in his attic and didn’t know which ancestor stocked them, nor what to charge for them. I remember the conversation with grandma “So, I hear your youngest granddaughter likes to scribble.” You probably don’t know what a gift that was, because paper is cheap. It wasn’t for us. I was often told I couldn’t write for a while, till my parents could buy more paper.] They started reading my novels in instalments, as I wrote them, and appeared to like them. That’s when the lying for fun ended, because this was more fun. Lying to people who knew you were lying, but were willing to believe you if you did well enough.)

My last misdeed, I remember, was at 14 when I made up a boyfriend with such exquisite detail that I gave him an address in the US, got cancelled US stamps, disguised my handwriting, and faked an entire relationship including breakup. That his name was Dan Holtz was to cause me some problems later, when friends thought I’d lost my mind by announcing my engagement to Dan Hoyt, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, perhaps it is because of this past as fabulist that I’m very sensitive to matters of truth and try very hard not to tell lies. Or at least not to tell lies about anything relevant to anyone else. (If I told you I shaved my legs this morning, would it be relevant to you? Would you care if I waxed them instead, but didn’t want to admit to spending that much time on my legs? No? Right. BTW, I didn’t do either, but it’s an example. I do, for instance, “lie” to avoid tipping people on social media to where my kids will be at any given time. Because paranoid. I also don’t announce my visits to Pete’s in advance, because family time.)

Part of this is because I am aware of how much more believable lies are than the truth (too often.) They have internal consistency that the truth lacks.

It’s also because I know that to some extent, no mater how small, I have a “voice of authority” or at least a stompy pulpit.

Well, ya’ll aren’t the gullible sort. You’re likely to question me even about some things I am sure I know (and sometimes you’re right and I’m wrong!) and ask for links or it didn’t happen. Which makes my voice of authority much more whispery than otherwise.

However I understand other people have fans who don’t continuously push and prod and ask questions of everything they say. (Sounds boring to me too.)

I understand this because that ridiculous and retracted article from Publishers Entertainment Weekly [I had it right below, but notice my fingers are stupid.] keeps popping up all over. As in, colleagues of mine, with more “authority” than I have will uncritically assume that Sad Puppies are a reaction from an entrenched elite to newcomers of different color/orientation/gender.

To believe this requires ignoring the rich history of women in science fiction. It requires ignoring that the people behind Sad Puppies range from a bestseller, to midlisters, to newcomers, to people who indie published. Oh, also that sixty percent of us are women, even if a man very kindly agreed to take point this year, as my state of health made it unlikely I’d survive carrying the standard.

Then there is the other “big lie” put out by people in authority that this is all about political orientation and that the only people supporting or being supported by Sad Puppies are conservatives.

I’ve before expressed my amusement at the idea that someone like me, who is only held back from hanging aristos on the nearest lamppost by knowing how that revolution turned out, is called a “conservative” while the people fighting tooth and nail to keep the hundred-plus year old social-democrat shading to socialist establishment in place are called “progressives.”

But it goes beyond that. Yeah, this started by noticing that anyone who wasn’t parroting the mintruth’s line of the year had as much chance of winning awards (except for the Prometheus) as a snow ball of setting up residence in hell. As Dave freer noted, and file 770 figured, only 19 conservatives earned an award in the last 20 years (and that’s counting as conservative anyone who doesn’t think Stalin had some good ideas but was a bit eager.) This is far less than is statistically likely.

More than that, year after year we’ve seen apolitical writers being ignored, no matter how excellent their work.

It doesn’t bear repeating the tedious history, but last year Larry set out to prove that even the potential of a conservative being nominated was enough to outrage every one of the usual bien pensants. As he put it, he put VD on the ballot because Satan had no eligible works. If the award were for good works, (since he was careful to pick one of VD’s good stories) people might grumble about the writer, but there would be no drama.

Oh, boy, was there drama.

This year, Brad, who is a friend and also a much nicer person than I am, engaged to – instead of proving a point – call attention to some writers he thought had been neglected/no one would hear of since they weren’t establishment darlings.

The ensuing scream and shout has proven the problems with the awards the last few years better than anyone could have hoped. It has also disgusted me.

What has disgusted me, particularly, is people in authority, people who have a name and supposed bully pulpit repeating again and again the discredited narrative first fronted by Entertainment Weekly.

While Kris Rusch is right (and note what she said wasn’t anti-puppy.  She was just talking about the discrimination in SF/F.  We’ve discussed it before and we largely agree) that there has been discrimination against women and people of color in science fiction, that discrimination has mostly come from the publishing establishment trying to put such people in boxes. It appears they believe you’re only supposed to write according to what’s between your legs or your melanin content.

The supporters of Sad Puppies, frankly couldn’t care about either. They just want a good story.

Which brings us to the other “Big Lie” that we just want “pulp” or “adventure” or “old fashioned” stories.

This incredible nonsense doesn’t pass the smell test. None of us has said that. What’s more, as far as I can tell, none of us believes that. I have in the past advised fledglings not to try to write in the style of long-gone-by writers (except the occasional send up. I’ve been known to do Bradbury pastiche.)  Writing styles and tastes have changed.  No one wants to work that hard for their fiction.

Much as I love say Jane Austen, I’m aware styles of prose have changed completely since her day. You see, we are a lot more visual. Also omniscient narrator doesn’t seem to do as well as it once did, because competing with visual media forces writing to employ its one advantage: putting you in a character’s head for a while.

Also, frankly, with some exceptions, I have great trouble reading science fiction published before the sixties or so, because I’m sensitive to language shifts and also because some of the assumptions are risible. (You know the exceptions, Simak, Heinlein and half a dozen others.)

Yes, I just did a post exhorting us to recreate the Golden Age, which I note File 770 immediately echoed, even though it had clear nothing to do with the Hugos. They picked it up because they thought it supported their narrative. One despairs of trying to talk to whole-word-readers.

That post of course exhorted writers to write for their fans not the publishing establishment. And it exhorted the fans to support their writers. It also exhorted writers to be a little more daring with their science (because that’s why science fiction is getting its lunch eaten by fantasy.) In my opinion that’s what Golden Age IS. It was not about writing pulpy. Not that I expect anyone there would get it.

All three of these lies, however, have been picked up not just by general entertainment venues, which knowing nothing of our field can be excused for being dumb about it, but by prominent figures in my field, to whom the ill-informed then listen.

It got so bad that on a facebook group, one of the ill informed held on buckle and tongue to these lies, in the face of Brad and I telling her she was wrong.

It got so bad that people who try to believe those they consider voices of authority have tried to psychoanalyze us to “prove” that we’re deluded about our own motives and ideas. As in, someone actually accused me of subconsciously wishing to beat up paleontologists, because there was no possible other reason for me to hate a poorly-researched, insufficiently fleshed-out, contemptuous of working class prose-poem.

Because people will do anything to believe those they hold as “authorities.” Humans are, after all, for our sins, social animals.

However, this is going a little beyond that. It’s more like my grandma would say “I’ve seen them blind, but some of these people lack a place where the eyes go.”

A lot of these people do. Strange in a field that’s supposed to extrapolate from premises and keep logic throughout.

But people will always ditch logic for “But so and so said so.”

Hence the bad tendency to default to feudalism, no matter what it’s called.

Which is why it’s important to tell the truth. Particularly if it’s easily researched, if the people are your colleagues, and if you, yourself, work in a given field.

Because it is possibly less of a sin to murder a man than to slander him.

Because death is death and (with notable exceptions) everyone knows when it happens and often how (the first one to mention Emilia Earhart or Jim Morrison, or Elvis gets carped) and murder investigations happen as a matter of routine, assassination of a man’s character is almost impossible to counter, since some no-place-for-eyes people insist on believing lies spoken in authority, no matter how crazy or unlikely the story. And it goes on and on, often after the person is dead.

It is evil in the highest degree. And it is why one should strive to tell the truth, particularly when it’s easily investigated and understood with minimal effort. Sometimes in big and complex matters one can fall far short of the truth. But when you strive to obscure the truth by refusing to believe what the principals themselves tell you, you might want to consider that it is you who is at fault.

Professionals, particularly fiction professionals need to know the difference between their favored tale and the truth.

Otherwise both become rubbish.