So recently some twitter twit, of whom I’ve never heard in the whole course of my days too it upon herself to put down both John Ringo’s work and mine (I’m still not sure at all why I was pulled into this, except that I gall them by existing and not falling in line.)
Those of you who have read both of us might go “What do these two things have in common?” I don’t know, but since this was was on a twitter thread where it was also proclaimed that we wanted people like the writer to die, you have to take it with a grain of salt. I don’t think I’ve ever consciously desired anyone’s death, though I’ve been known to wish plagues of locusts or the like against people who are annoying me. The person then backpaddled and said that the policies we support means people like him/her/zyr would die. This is a puzzler. The only policies I know of that cause people to die are derived from Marxism — 100 million and counting! — so I believe Xer was misinformed. Maybe Syr read too fast and missed the “anti” prior to Marxist. Or maybe the uninformed keyboard strummer really believes all that stuff about you know, not paying for contraceptives is the same as banning them. Maybe zyr believes that if we don’t actually lovingly spoon mush into zyr’s mouth, and pay for it too we want zyr to starve..
However, it was the comment on our writing that amused me the most. Look, I enjoy the heck out of some of Ringo’s books, but it took me a while to get into them, just because his plot structure is so different from mine. I used a very classically ordered plot. He doesn’t. Took me a while to realize no, it wasn’t just formless. And because I’m a writer, it drove me nuts, looking for the pattern, and it wasn’t until I figured out what thread he was following that I could relax and enjoy it.
It’s the same problem I had watching Japanimation with the boys. Their concepts of story are so different from ours that on first exposure, it doesn’t fit well.
So, is John Ringo a good writer? Uh. You know, I listened to the Black Tide series, in audio book, while fixing our previous house for sale. We had been delayed putting it for sale because I’d had major surgery and been so ill, and we were renting elsewhere and running out of money. On top of that everything that could go wrong did, from younger son stepping on a nail and putting it through his foot, to it raining continuously while we were doing repairs outside.
You’d think it was a depressing serious to listen to, while doing that, but the thing is, as bleak as much of it is, there is a hint of unquenchable human spirit a surging tide of hope (eh) throughout the book, and you actually feel uplifted by this.
I have, for my sins, a degree in literature (actually literatures, which is a word in Portugal, because I had to study the national literature of every language I studied. My degree is in Languages and Literatures, formally.) If you ask me if John’s work is literature, the only thing I can tell you is that it’s not “literary” which is its own separate genre and requires a certain playfulness with words, and a certain obscuring of meaning which he doesn’t bother with.
But is it literature? Well, literature and literary have bloody nothing to do with each other. Literature, in the sense of the stuff you study in school, is stuff that either has survived the test of centuries to speak to those yet unborn when it was written. Yeah, there’s also modern literature and that tends to be “literary and guessing” and most of it — thank heavens– will be mercifully forgotten if not mocked by our descendants.
That contemporary stuff is picked by literature professors on very specific characteristics. Some of it is just confusion. Because the old stuff we study tends to have a level of opaqueness in language, (because of the time when it was written and the evolution of language) they tend to assume that opaque meaning means “literary.” In the same way because we study the old books according to the current fads, we tend to study the old books according to the prejudices of our time: that is to say through a social-classes, struggle, anti-authority, and other Marxist distorting lens. Thus Pride and Prejudice becomes about female oppression and money, when well… no, it wasn’t about that except very marginally and at the edges. And what they do to Shakespeare is unforgivable.
But because we view the immortal literature through those lenses, we’ve created an entire set of books, an entire genre (and subgenres of other genres) that tries to emulate those characteristics, and is both purposely difficult to read and, at the same time, filled with the prejudices of our time, and the cause du jour.
I am glad to report that nothing of Ringo’s I read fits in those two characteristics.
Does this make it bad. Good Lord no. It moves the emotions, which is what any good writer should do. He also has an amazing amount of logic and world building buried sometimes beneath action and a few jokes.
So, am I a bad writer? Heaven only knows. People in general don’t seem to believe so. Yeah, little Damian lately of the Guardian thought I was, but that’s because I a) used first person, which is apparently a “marker” of bad writing (wouldn’t a lot of immortal writers be shocked.) and b) didn’t engage in pretty-wordage. He might have been shocked if he read my first published novel, the one which was a finalist for the Mythopoeic.
And that’s part of it. Am I a bad writer? Well, if you equate a certain style with “bad” I’ve written some very bad books. If you equate a certain style with “good” I’ve written a few good ones too.
Even if you judge them as I do, as “books that are immersive and cause you to experience powerful emotions” I’ve written good and bad books, both. Every writer does. My favorite authors all wrote some pot boilers and then some brilliant stuff. Our books aren’t just the product of our minds, and whatever idea we had. They’re the product of our state at the time. When a book is due and I’m sick, or preoccupied with something else, it’s not going to be as good as it could otherwise be. And yet, often, those are the most successful ones.
This is why I try not to pronounce on other people’s books. I can tell you what I don’t like and what I like, and I can say if there are factual errors in a book, or even errors of narrative (like the person who kept signaling their character was a tall male, while she was supposed to be a small female.)
Most of the time, though? Most of the time, the worst thing I can say about a book is “I couldn’t get into it.” If after page five I just don’t feel any reason to read on, I can’t tell you why, but the book isn’t getting a second chance. Now, are these ever ideological? Rarely. Only if the politics comes at it out of place. A long diatribe about current politics in a future book, particularly naming names, will pop me out.
But usually it’s far more subtle than that. Usually it’s just “this just doesn’t interest me.” And sometimes, mind you, I personally like the author as an individual. The book just fails to interest me, and since I’ve reached the age when I’m aware my remaining reading time is finite, off it goes.
Sometimes mind you, this is situational. I might be unable to get into a book at a time when I’m ill or stressed, then find it completely immersive three months later, when I stumble on it again. Similarly, I might love a book, then go back 20 years later and wonder why.
So I might say things like “I haven’t read it” or “couldn’t get into it” or even “I don’t like it” or “It depressed me.” But I rarely say “it’s a bad book” PARTICULARLY if it’s a book by someone whose ideology I despise. Because, you know, I’m aware that they’re rubbing me wrong on the ideological front, and therefore I might not appreciate their good points, or even their great qualities. Because I’m human.
Will some of those books I couldn’t get into go on to become immortal literature of our time? Probably. Statistically speaking, at least one of them should.
Don’t I feel bad about it and like I should like it? No. Why should I. What I like is what I like. What I consider good is what works on me at the moment. Writing and story telling being such a personal art, aiming at evoking not just an emotion but a series of them in the reader, I can only tell you “this was good for me now.” And if it works many times over years, like Heinlein or Pratchett, I’ll tell you “this is just good.” But it’s always for me, and through my lens.
Do I have any idea what works will be immortal? What will resonate with future generations? Ah! No. I’d be surprised if at least some of Pratchett and some of Heinlein didn’t make it. I think it’s quite likely some of Ringo will make it. And I think it’s unlikely to the point of making me snort-giggle any of my stuff will make it.
What about the stuff the SJWs write? Will any of it make it?
Some might. Just because someone is objectively mistaken and in need of dried frog pills, it doesn’t mean they aren’t touched by the divine spark that makes something immortal. An that spark makes you forgive a million bad points.
The one thing I can say for sure is that they don’t know what will make it any more than I do. And their attempts to get people to stop reading us because we’re “objectively bad” only mark them as kindergartners, repeating what they heard teacher say, without actually understanding.
As they usually tell us about drugs and the more outre sexual explorations “How do you know you won’t like it till you try it?”
“When any government, or church for that matter, undertakes to say to it’s subjects, this you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motive.” – Robert A. Heinlein.
And that goes double for half-baked keyboard warriors pronouncing a holy ban on things they admit they never read.
Pfui. Only children and savages are afraid of the written word to the point of condemning it unread.
We are given a certain time and a certain number of books that allow us to experience someone else’s mind. Sure, a lot of those minds I won’t like, or more likely won’t interest me.
But there are minds that interest me and which are vibrant and alive in all sides of the political spectrum. And I’d be a fool to deny myself the pleasure of those immersive books just because their authors are politically deranged.
As for trying to guess which books the future will admire, and which it will praise, and trying to read them today? Who cares? When that future arrives you’ll be long dead. Do you need approval so desperately that you must have people you’ll never meet retrospectively endorse your choices? I don’t.
The future can like what it likes. And I can like what I like. And if the future likes something else, that’s fine. I doubt I’ll care.
Read. Read whatever you like. Enjoy what you enjoy, hate what you hate. But do not condemn books unread, because that’s a waste of time and mind.