The State of the Human Wave – Fiction Version
by Alma Boykin
Short version – a lot better than when the idea was, ahem, floated, in 2012. [2012? That’s… a while ago. A geologic epoch in Internet years. Anyway.]
The original post: https://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/03/21/what-is-human-wave-science-fiction-3/
Sarah followed it up a little later: Human Wave Dreaming in August of that year.
Since then, indie sci-fi and fantasy have blossomed as the walls of publishing crumbled. First, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the lending system of Kindle Unlimited (KU) opened doors to anyone with a story to tell. Barnes and Noble offered similar for their Nook, and then Rakutan made Kobo available for a global market reach. For print, Smashwords arrived, followed by CreateSpace, then a host of other options. New word processing software like Scrivener appeared, and then inexpensive or free formatting programs such as Caliber and Vellum brought even that task well within the reach of anyone who wanted to learn the program. At the same time, Kobo and Amazon refined their systems to make them easier to use, no longer requiring conversion from .doc before uploading, among other things.
At the same time, more and more readers began buying human-positive books that put story ahead of message. That encouraged the early Human Wave writers to write more, and we/they in turn inspired others to try their hands. Fun fiction became easier to find, better written, and better packaged. Sub-genres declared dead by TradPub reemerged as fans found more and more new books, and older works re-appeared after long periods of neglect. Sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, westerns, they started becoming fun again.
So what is Human Wave? Stories that entertain, make the reader feel better, give the reader hope, let the reader escape to a place where good triumphs over evil, be that evil a demonic manticore or a petty bureaucracy. Human wave stories are not message free. But the message is positive, and comes second to the story. Gee, readers like that! Readers want the hero to win, and get the girl or guy or whatever, after soundly thrashing the bad guy. Good wins, evil loses, and everyone gets a happily-for-the-moment ending (unless you are the bad-guy). There can be dark moments, grim moments, Valleys of Shadow and a Slough of Despond, but the story ends on an upward note. Yes, the mother dies, but her sacrifice ensures that her children survive and bring justice to the Forces of Evil. The hero ends the story with scars and some doubts, but everyone knows he did the right thing and his lovely, faithful lady is there at his side. Think of the end of Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn Trilogy.
What’s the opposite of Human Wave? Grey goo. Message fiction. Stories that beat the reader over the head with her unworthiness, the horrible state of the planet, the doomed future of humanity, the evils of free-market economies, the ills of the patriarchy, and that preach first, entertain a distant fourth. Message fiction focuses on message over story. If you can go through the first chapter and find Plucky Heroine, Oppressed Minority, Genius Gay Guy/Gal (or now Brilliant Transperson), Evil Capitalist/Evil Religious Leader with the “good” folks all standing up to the Oppressive Patriarchy or Corrupt Corporation (or Devious Government Agency), then you probably have message fiction. Particularly if a character is there just so the author can check off a box on the list. If you dearly want the Sweet Meteor of Doom to take out everyone in the book, and you have yet to reach the middle of the book, you have grey goo. Laughing in all the wrong places is another sign.
Some writers felt that Human Wave, and people positive stories, needed something more. From that impulse came Superversive science-fiction, John C. Wright’s term for a movement toward specifically noble, Christian, Western-Civ-positive stories with a message. Soon other writers picked up the banner, and some truly fascinating and engaging, as well as thoughtful and thought-provoking, work emerged. Readers loved it. Note that here too, the story always, always comes before the message. Superversive Sci-Fi became a movement all its own, very much Human Wave but different. Is it a bigger tent or smaller? Is Human Wave part of Superversive or vice versa? Does it really matter? Probably not.
So, in 2018, what is the state of the Human Wave? Still growing, still developing, still healthy as best I can tell. Readers have more authors to choose from, and the Dragon Awards show that. A fan-choice award, nominated by people who love a book, podcast, game, or movie, selected by people who love books, games, movies, and so on, the Dragon is managed by DragonCon but not determined by DragonCon. More importantly for some of us, readers vote with dollars, and those dollars seem to be moving more and more away from the TradPub fiction and toward indie, especially Human Wave indie. Readers also love Human Wave TradPub, don’t get me wrong, but TradPub doesn’t always love Human Wave stories. Some imprints have become very well known for focusing on the author’s minority status and the “edginess” of their work, to the point of almost shoving story out the window. The goal for them is not to entertain, but to preach and to use story as a tool for “raising awareness of [insert woe here]” or “eradicating [insert woe here] and saving the world.” Grey goo has not disappeared, which may explain why so many Traditional Publishers find their readership and profits shrinking. Raising e-book prices so high that hardbacks look reasonable in comparison also has a great deal to do with it, but that’s a tale for a different blog.
Do we still need Human Wave books, movies, and the like? Heck yeah! The more the merrier, so long as the story comes first and entertains the reader. As Sarah says, “Build under, build around.” Given the vehement efforts of the grey goo politicians and their supporters to gain political power and ruin everyone’s days, we need people-positive tales more than ever. The collectivists, anti-humans, and others got a fifty-year jump on us. What if Amazon goes the way of Twitter and Facebook? What if Microsoft manages to strangle Gab, if [OK, when] B&N’s Nook ceases to be a financially viable platform for writers? The answer is write more, write better. Remind readers that there’s more to the book world than grey goo. Selling your own books independently is hard, but not impossible the way it once was. Diane Duane and her husband do it and seem to do well. There are others.
Here’s to the past six years’ successes, and here’s to at least a dozen more!