Lately a lot of people have been asking me about Human Wave. They want to be sure, you see, that they’re doing it right.
Part of the problem of course, is that I know what Human Wave is in my head, and I know it when I see it, but it’s kind of hard to say “you shall do this/not that.” For one, look at that header up there. The only interest I have in taking over the world is to leave it alone, and more importantly to make it leave me alone as much as possible. I was to be free to conduct my business and live my life without bloody stupid regulations. (And before the opposition readers on this blog bandy it all over that I’m saying the government is interfering with freedom of expression, no of course that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying stuff like, even if I should make enough for Dan and I to live from our writing (a distant goal, but not as distant as it was five years ago) we can’t, because I’ll be d*mned if I’m going on the exchanges, which are overpriced, restricted as to doctors that will take them, and most of all a free lunch for identity thieves, no to mention giving others power over your health decisions. Besides, I will not be forced to buy something on the government’s terms, because a government of free men has no right to make you buy stuff. (And before someone comes up with auto insurance, no, I don’t have to buy it. I also don’t have to own a car. I can’t help owning a body by virtue of existing. So please, take a powder. Not the same. That is a ridiculous burden to place on a business person “your partner, or you must have a day job, for the insurance, so you’re not thrown on a chaotic, irrational, restricted AND unsafe system. Because we said so.” (What we’ll probably end up doing, only it will necessitate much higher income, is pay the d*mn fine and then pay for for-cash services wherever we end up living.)
And yeah, not the government, so not censorship, but the Special Jeering Brigade do a lot of trying to get you to toe the line by yelling at anything you write that doesn’t fit this month’s notion of the “only right thing” to write. Mostly I ignore them, though, but this is part of why I don’t want to issue orders from Mount Sinai (Or even Mount Ararat, since we seem to be Apres le Deluge). Can you write dystopic fiction? Is that human wave? I don’t know. Depends on the fiction. Can the character die at the end? I don’t know. Can he? Depends — as it does in life — what you die for and how and what type of person you were.
One of the examples that Charlie Martin brought up recently was Cold Equations. Yeah, yeah, I know, the story of bad engineering, but AS A SHORT STORY it is a masterpiece of science fiction short fiction. My ambition in life is still to write something half as good.
So, is it Human Wave? The girl dies in obedience to the cold equations? Well, yeah, BUT both characters are excruciatingly human as are their motivations. (Probably because of my attachment to my older brother I cried buckets when reading this story for the first time at 12, because I could see me doing what the girl did.) More importantly, she doesn’t die in vain. If the cargo had been widgets, the pilot (and she herself) would have come up with something else to do. BUT she dies to save a planet. Sad doesn’t equal non human wave.
What about a story in which all the characters are aliens? Well… does it embody human/sentient life values? Is it true to itself or is it nihilist for nihilism’s sake? If the first, it’s still human wave.
Look what we have here, not just in writing, but in all the arts, is an entrenched establishment that has become ossified.
It’s not entirely their fault. They are the result of the last big turmoil in the arts, when the classical/representational manner of writing/painting was the establishment and the challengers wished to shock people.
There was a time when “the obligatory reference to classical works” was… well, obligatory.
That dissolved under a wave (eh) of nihilism and well, Marxism. It appeared there for a while that if only you could destroy the world as it was, you could build Utopia.
If the twentieth century has taught us anything, it is that destroying is just a means of destroying. Utopia doesn’t magically emerge from convincing humans that being human is somehow bad. Equality doesn’t emerge from satisfying the screams of envy. Prosperity doesn’t magically emerge from destroying those who produce.
Turns out that pulling apart society for the sake of pulling it apart, tearing down “the way it’s been done” just for the sake of doing so, and shocking the bourgeois because it’s so much fun doesn’t actually build anything worth looking at or reading. What it does is harden the viewer/reader to the point that you have to go ever further out to build ever more heretical visions and create ever more outrageous shocks, which then become the status quo.
It also turns out that when that sort of revolutionary who believes in tearing down for its own sake, gets power, all they can do is keep tearing down, until the product manages to be, objectively, both repulsive and boring to any sane person. (I’m not saying, understand that — with exceptions, the dinosaur abomination coming to mind, for instance — that the product of the other side is both boring and repulsive. Most of the time it’s simply boring. More ambitious writers manage the repulsive too.) In painting this is very obvious. The shock that doesn’t shock anyone does manage, nonetheless, to turn the normal, sane human being off the “art” being displayed. (Though even there most of it is just boring. Really, the Denver museum of art paid millions for a bunch of twisted together kitchen implements? Without the little card explaining what it is and how it relates to domestic dissatisfaction, that “art” evokes “my drawer got stuck again.”)
So this avant garde of the past aged without doing more than throwing continuous artistic tantrums at the world that refused to conform to their visions. Some of the early ones, when they still weren’t the establishment were magnificent and are probably art, just because, well, art includes tantrums too. BUT after they became the establishment all they could do was chase the thrill and shock that no longer existed ever further, off the plank of sanity and into the ocean of irrelevance.
When they realized this — when the museums emptied of the middle-brow and the print runs fell — they chased relevance by erecting ever more exacting rules saying “this you shall not do, that you shall not say, this thing you shall not even think.” This ranges from political correctness to the sort of stultifying mandates on style and manner that are the last gasp of any dying artistic movement. (I’m still sticking my middle finger up at the minimalists and the idiots who think first person is always bad. )
Which brings us to science fiction. Since science fiction in its heyday was not considered art or literature, it was just… what people wrote for fun. (Kind of like Shakespeare in his day.) There would be some reflexive clasical references, which were the equivalent of Kit Marlowe putting his stage directions in Latin, just to prove his education wasn’t wasted. However, they weren’t exactly following any school.
Then came… the deluge. Or at least the “if we destroy all the rules and shock everyone, it will be literature and amazing.” And when they took over the establishment, the same thing followed as in the rest of the art.
Now… Now they — even those marginally younger than I — are the establishment. They are the authorities still vainly rebelling against an establishment that doesn’t exist, that probably never existed except in their heads. Which is probably why they attract so many people with issues with daddy or teacher or other authority figures who didn’t let them have their bugs and eat them too in childhood. (It also explains a certain fascination with the contents of their metaphorical diaper, now I think about it.) They must be FOREVER the first woman to write non-binary sex, even if it has been done for decades before they were born. They must be forever the most shocking thing Evah! even if what they’re doing was done better and more apropos by their grandparents’ generation. It’s all they have.
So, what is Human Wave? Who are these crazy Avant Garde kids who refuse to continue tearing pieces off an establishment that no longer exists? Do we really — giggle, snort — want to go back to the writing as it was done in the pulp days? (Whenever that was. It’s been dated all over the twentieth century, by different people.)
Be real. Most of us haven’t even read much pulp. THAT establishment was dead by the time most of us were born, and heck New Wave was well established by the time I could read and write, let alone by the time I discovered science fiction. We are not the imaginary dad come again, to spank the unruly children. Heck, most of us are young enough to be the children (or the much younger brothers and sisters) of people in the establishment.
We are those who believe you must build, as well as tear down. We are those who don’t believe you can tell us how to write — theme or stylistically — for our own good. We do not give you the right to judge us, and we find most of your authoritative pronouncements immensely funny. We’re the people who looked at what you were doing and yawned or laughed.
Other than that… If there are Human Wave Commandments they start with “Don’t be boring” and continue with “Build, don’t just tear down.” There are other things that go with that, such as eschewing nihilism for nihilism’s sake and not conforming to the CURRENT counter-cultural convention, unless we want to.
In a way we are the equivalent of the new realistic movement in the visual arts. It turns out that the camera didn’t kill art, but the attempt to destroy visual reality through counter cultural posing almost did.
Turns out that there are images that can only be captured through the mind’s eye and artistic skill. Of course, most new artists don’t go to galleries, they go to Deviant Art.
And most new writers go to indie, all the while creating visions of reality that can’t be captured by simply writing slice of life, but which also don’t fit in the new “you must offend everyone but the “thought-leader” of the week” dictates of the ossified establishment.”
This seems particularly true in science fiction where “fun” is a new commandment of indie authors, at least those who want to sell a lot and be read a lot (and most of them do.) Fun does not preclude deeper emotions, and in fact in many cases needs them.
We are the people looking at reality and twisting it to make people think, but mostly to make them give us their beer money.
Art? Probably. I understand Shakespeare wrote to make people applaud and give him THEIR beer money, and look where it got him.
But mostly? Mostly we’re the people breaking the rules and pointing and laughing at the establishment. Which is a tradition worth continuing, particularly when we have an establishment as giggle-snort worthy as our current one.
On with the motley. Carry on.
We have to do nothing but exist, to make the establishment collapse. It has nothing holding it up but the muscle-memory of their own rebellion.
Be not afraid.