Out of Time



The most shocking thing my — admittedly very odd — sons ever told my brother was that the Beatles weren’t all that.  Imagine supercilious teens saying “oh, they were all right, I suppose.”

This tied in with something we were talking about here yesterday.  The internet, while seemingly innocuous and unobtrusive has changed our lives at such a fundamental level that even those of us who grew up through the shift don’t fully understand how different things are now.  particularly for writers.

There is one well established author, for instance, whom I found myself fuming at because instead of simply looking up archaic forms of common names for her supposedly “alive since the middle ages” characters, just sort of made modern names sound old timey.

Now, I had some reason to fume, because even pre-internet I knew how to find this. But then I was trained in linguistics and my mind contained concepts like “find a book with archaic forms and tracing of given names.” Also, given the erratic nature of book supply and demand in the 80s, I was probably just immensely lucky to find THAT book in a used bookstore near home.

Which probably means that she wasn’t as sloppy as I thought.

But for people younger than me, this is a really difficult concept.

Can I see my sons listening to the Beatles and going “Yeah, that’s okay.”  Sure. I mean, how do you take what the band did away from “but they were the first to do it this way” and/or “Oh, but I remember listening to ‘I wanna hold your hand’ while holding hands with my first crush.”  For some people, they’ll always be very special. but not for everyone.

In the same way, I ADORED McCaffrey’s Pern when it first came out.  I read the books as soon as they were released.  Then — well, kids, life — I wandered away from them for a while.  Now a lot of my audio buying are what I call “nostalgia trips.”  Books I read as a young woman, or books that meant a lot to me get an edge of newness by being experienced for the first time in audio.  So I bought Pern.  I couldn’t.  I think I listened to half the first book before giving up.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with the books, and I know that intellectually.  The problem is that so many people (mostly meh fantasy) have imitated her style and plots, and taken some of the vocabulary that me-now keeps thinking “oh, this is so derivative.” Even if I know it isn’t. The books are just victims of their massive success.

So, what does any of this mean?

Nothing, really.  We’re all now competing in a “all time” market.  Pixels on screen don’t show their age.  I find it interesting that I’m discovering some classic mysteries, and I don’t know if I’m reading books written in the era compared to books written now set in the era.

The only way I’ve found to distinguish is when a description trips me.  You see, writers writing in the era didn’t describe some things that sound odd to present day readers.  I no longer remember which series, but one of the ones I was reading tripped me with the assumption that OF COURSE a car was open, except for a windshield. Went to check, and it was written in the 20s (I THINK.)

Of course, the author at the time couldn’t say “and this car didn’t have a roof” even if he/she had been a clairvoyant because people at the time would think he/she was zany.  It would be like us writing, say “and the suit fabric didn’t have adjustments to keep the ideal temperature.” Or “and the wall didn’t have treatment to repeal dirt.”  People reading it now would go “what in heck world do you come from, buddy, that you need to tell us that.”

All this taken into account, how should a writer write to avoid this dread curse?  Meh.  Write the way you were going to, anyway.

I have this theory that in the fullness of time all the “sounds like Pern” books will be forgotten and McCaffrey’s work will again sound new, shiny and special to new generations.  I think Pern will endure (as far as it’s possible for us to predict what our great great great grands will like. I mean, maybe Chuck Tingle is writing for the ages.)

There is that too, you know, the amnesia of each new generation, or even a new market.  My brother was very mad at me when Harry Potter came out because “you could have written that.”

He was right to an extent. I could have written SOMETHING like that.  (What he missed is that there was no guarantee wit would go that big, because book marketing is as much a feature of luck and timing and the author catching the publisher’s eye as anything else.)

I grew up reading British Boarding School YAs. (Pratchett lampoons some of the stereotypical characters brilliantly in Pyramids.)  And I write fantasy.  Mashing the two was a concept I didn’t even think about because it was so OBVIOUS. And I assumed they would be obvious to everyone else, missing the fact that even when I was a kid these books were already passe and old fashioned and that for Americans they were completely innovative.

Note I’m not saying “I could have been Rowling.”  Even if I’d written books with that inspiration (and I probably wouldn’t have. I don’t write YA very easily) it is highly doubtful my execution would have been as appealing as hers.  My brother has the layman’s belief that the important thing about books is the idea.  Pros know it’s the execution.  I’m just illustrating the fact that everything old is new again, to a new generation or people far far away.

So, if you’re a writer, write whatever you want.  In the end, with a little bit of luck, cream will rise.  And heck, even not-cream can make a lot of money if it hits just right.  If you want immortal fame, otoh, that I can’t help with.  It’s all a matter of guessing what the future will like, which is even harder than predicting what the future will BE.

And if you’re a reader… exercise a little charity.  No one is asking you to suffer through a book you’re not enjoying. But keep in mind that sloppy author might not be so much sloppy as from a time far far away when information was more difficult to come by.


211 thoughts on “Out of Time

  1. Whew!

    When I saw “Out Of Time”, I was afraid that Sarah was “out of time” and was going away. 😈

    1. I was hoping someone had discovered how to sidestep out of the time stream and taught her how to do it so she could write down all the stories in her head so I could read them.

      Sigh. Maybe next week.

  2. I wrote about a character going to Ethiopia. In the past it would have taken years of research or an actual trip there to be able to fill in details about the appearance of the airport, how customs would deal with you, the dress, mannerisms, and polite phrases of the locals, and even the appearance of a local hotel lobby.
    All those things could be found in a few hours on the internet including high definition photos of the actual locations. It made it accurate enough to make a reader ask me when I’d been there as he hadn’t visited the site I described for about three years.

  3. I also loved the Pern books when I was younger, but I couldn’t get through them on re-reading. But for me, it’s not because I felt they were derivative. Rather, it’s because I started seeing McCaffrey’s writing style as pure wish-fulfillment. Her heroes, like Master Harper Robinton, never seem to do anything wrong or make any mistakes, while her villains tend to be one-dimensional Corrupt Corporate Executives with no redeeming factors. That might be my memory playing tricks on me, and maybe her villains are at least two-dimensional rather than just one-dimensional, but that’s the impression I got on re-reading her stuff.

    And then there was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, when a character on an alien planet discovered that he/she was suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Resulting in… scurvy.

    Vitamin D. Scurvy. This, in a science fiction novel.

    I returned the book to the library, and haven’t been able to finish one of her books since.

    1. Ouch. Rickets (and the like..), not scurvy – and that was in the oh so junior science text at home likely from when one of my aunts was in gradeschool.

      1. That was the dark time of bad proofreading, so it might have been the editor of the computer that changed C to D. Of course, an editor should have caught it either way.

      2. But you know, the blot is on her editors. Everyone has brain farts. In the last heat of a novel I could see myself suddenly becoming confused between C and D (most fiction writers are at least mildly dyslexic, anyway) but ONE editor or proofreader or SOMETHING should have caught it.

        1. Yet, is it the “editors’ fault” when McCaffrey states that a vaccine will cure a sickness.

          In one of the Dragon novels, a “super-flu” is spreading over Pern and there’s a rush to vaccinate the Dragon-riders so they can fight Thread (the Dragons can’t catch this “super-flu”).

          But besides preventing the Dragon-riders from getting the “super-flu”, apparently the vaccine can cure people who already have the “super-flu”.

          1. Honestly, most laypeople don’t understand the difference between a preventative vaccine and a curative antiserum. This was brought home in an early episode of Agents of SHIELD, when Simmons falls vict. im to an alien virus.

            1. Aye, some vaccines can, if not cure an illness-in-progress, at least do so serious mitigation. Not all, but there are some. Supposedly the shingle vaccine can reduce symptoms if administered early in an attack.

              Semi-related, I am old enough that I had chicken pox (yes, ox got chicken pox. Strange world, innit?) before the vaccine was available. Thus I am at risk of shingles. Last night I manged to (finally) get the first dose of the Shingrix vaccine. Unlike all the other times I got a shot (or jab…) this time I am experience some side effects. I think I’m over the chills, nausea, and neuralgia, but the injection site soreness lingers. Yeah, unpleasant – but I suspect a grand trade to avoid full-on shingles.

              1. The chickenpox vaccine doesn’t keep you from getting shingles.

                Just the first several years of chicken pox vaccine tended to CAUSE shingles in those around you.

                Per the papers I signed, you can still get shingles.

                Not sure if that got better, or they just stopped noticing.

                1. Yeah, my wife got shingles, as I think I once mentioned in a pain management thread. She also got the post-herpetic neuralgia and required pain meds for the rest of her life (but not the lidocaine patches and stronger pain meds she required during the actual shingles.)
                  When I found that a shingles vaccine had become commonly available while I was in the hospital for a few months I took me to a pharmacy and got a vaccination right away.

                  1. My SIL has a handicap placard, kind that hangs from the rear view mirror, for when her shingles flares. Not that she can drive. But he can’t just drop her off at an entrance & go park either. Shingles is bad, bad, bad, news. You bet we both got the vaccine when we each turned 60. Probably was pushing it. Her’s came on before she was 60. But 60 is what the doctor recommended.

                    1. My wife was only 48 when she got shingles. Looking back, I think that the cancer fight she had before that probably weakened her so that she got it early. Also, there wasn’t a shingles vaccine on the market yet.

                    2. Yeah, that new one is more effective than the old shingles vax – it’s two shots ~6 months apart. Go search Shingrix. Then call your Doc and get on the waiting list – the CDC came out and said ”age >49.99 go get it right now” and the manufacturer has been playing catch-up ever since. We waited about 5 months before our number came up for shot #1 before Christmas, and we’re on the waiting list clock now for #2.

                    3. I had the old Shingles Vaccine. Doctor had me wait because the new one was suppose to be more effective. But a year latter it hadn’t been approved yet, & he wasn’t willing to have me wait any longer. I’ll talk to him about whether I should have the new one too.

          2. I’ll need to re-read Moreta’s Ride. I don’t remember the vaccinations being a cure so much as just keeping people (and horses) from being susceptible to a new round of the flu that they were expecting to hit.

          3. Weeeeelllllll that’s a grey area.
            Some vaccines are also cures.
            The rabies vaccine will cure rabies, but only if given before symptoms start.

    2. Bit of the same problem why I stopped reading Pern at some point. I love wish fulfillment stories, but it was too much wish fulfillment and not enough everything else. There is a certain limit, for me, and even in otherwise full on wish fulfillment I do want some little bit of grit. Mistakes, not perfect protagonists, at least a little bit complicated villains, or some hints of complicated. Especially when it is a long running series. One or two books of pure can do, but after that it better get a bit more complicated.

      You know, one reason why I very much fell in love with the first Star Wars movie was Luke being whiny and getting into trouble and needing to be rescued a lot of times, with only occasional successes, before he finally managed to show off that he really both was as good a pilot as he had been claiming the whole time, and that he had managed to get connected to the Force. It not as if he was a suppressed and/or misunderstood genius/hero, he really was just a whiny teenager in many ways, but a teenager who had what it took to grow into a hero. Slowly. Back then, when it was just the first movie, about everybody else liked Han Solo much better because he was already cool, I preferred Luke precisely because he wasn’t.

    3. Michael Crichton’s Congo threw me out of the story a couple of times. Batteries using Krylon got a WTF? (It is/was a brand name of Dupont paint), and the concept of blue diamonds for semiconductors stopped me cold. I could have bought it if they were planning on using the natural diamonds for research (or for Shiny!), but natural materials as semiconductors went away when galena crystal sets disappeared. OTOH, semiconductors were my career, and several years later I quite enjoyed his Timeline. I’ll chalk up my experiences with Congo and the others to Gell-Mann amnesia. 🙂

      1. LoL. I loved Congo, but I read it when I was 12, so I missed ALL of that.
        Of what I’ve read of him, Sphere is still my favorite.

    4. It’s amazing what re-reading books turns up. Especially since there’s no telling whether “Why couldn’t I see how flawed it is?” or “Why couldn’t I see how great it is?” will come through.

    1. not much of a fan of the SkiDoo. Prefer Polaris myself, though I ain’t been sledding since the 80’s.
      Okay the SkiDoo planes are nice. (Challengers are lovely little Regional Jets)

      1. My aunt’s second hubby had a Chaparral 440. That beast went faster than my sense of survival would warrant. I slowed when I hit 60mph on a back road.

        Her SkiDoo was more my speed…

        1. The last snowmobile I rode was a Chaparral. A friend had it. We cracked Dad’s garage door with it after fixing the belt. the replacement was a bit wider and engaged faster than my buddy was used to.
          I did once top out a SkiDoo racer on a bet “Bet you won’t hold it wide open!” Supposedly it went 152 mph. Didn’t feel like it, but it was damned close considering how fast I went from near shore to “Hmm, looks like open water from the Ore freighters.” Nothing was close enough to give much impression of speed.

  4. My brother has a joke along these lines. When someone mentions Shakespeare, he’ll say, “Oh, Shakespeare was OK. He used a lot of cliches, though.”

    1. Joking aside, he did. Shakespeare wasn’t looking to be original; he was looking to sell tickets to an audience that pretty much knew what it wanted.

  5. Many years ago The Spouse and I went to a screening of Red River at a restored local movie palace.  We somehow got ourselves invited to join a discussion group of film students.  One girl was complaining vociferously that the whole cattle stampede sequence was trite, she had seen it so many time before.  She did not appreciate it when I observed that this was the first film to feature such footage, and that it was likely that a good portion of all those other stampede scenes she had seen were recycling of the footage shot for the film — as that was a common practice.

    1. When I show the students _Triumph of the Will_ I point out that Leni Riefenstahl was the first one to do certain things (like the flight-through-clouds opening), and because they work, everyone else copies her. It didn’t stop the giggles when we came to “that scene” that was stolen angle for angle in _The Force Awakens_. Half the kids had just seen the copy, and at least two face-palmed when they realized what the director had done. Point made.

      1. I find CITIZEN KANE very hard to watch for this very reason; it is a mental effort to remember that every shot of that film was a new thing when it came out (ok, probably not EVERY shot, but you know what I mean). The film has been so thoroughly stolen from that by the time one is an adult one has seen everything about it that makes it a masterwork comped (usually badly) by hundreds of lesser works.

        1. I can deal with Citizen Kane partly for knowing that and that the storyline has some appeal. Now, Casablanca? Even though I know it’s where so many references came from, it feels like one cliche after another – when I can manage to stand more than a few seconds of it. (Oddly, I’ve read the script and it looks like a good movie thus, but I simply can’t stand to actually watch the darn thing.)

          1. I bit my tongue– for once!– and didn’t argue with the teacher on why I didn’t like Casablanca, he was kind enough to say “don’t worry, you probably won’t like it because all the good stuff has been taken and reused”– I didn’t like it because I didn’t like the plot. The visual stuff was pretty cool, I guess I’m just not geeky enough visual wise to go beyond “hey, I recognize that!” once I was primed with it being first.

            But my goodness did I wanna lay some smack-down on folks with a clue-by-four.

            1. Without “Casablanca” we’d never have had “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank” for MST3K to lampoon.

              1. I once watched that before MST3k got hold of it. I did try watching the MST3k version and found that even with that treatment I couldn’t stand to re-watch the damn thing.

                Unlike, The Giant Spider Invasion which, well, the locals were making fun of that sucker as it was being filmed. But I can re-watch that, even sans MST3k – and really, the MST3k swipes were rather tame.

        2. I once pointed out in an online discussion of Lensmen that the reason Smith goes on for a paragraph about how Kinnison could trust the alien Lensman was that he was Lensman was that before his era, SF followed the War of the Worlds for human-alien interaction.

  6. Yah, ya never know what will stand the test of time and what will be lost to the ages. Used to be singers had to actually have voices, nowadays they only need mikes. It is impossible for modern ears to listener to Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra and grasp how revolutionary their work had been. Nor can we imagine music without the electric guitar (and electric bass, electric drum, electric sax …) As an audience, our expectations have been completely reset.

    This can make writing from ages past incomprehensible, just as it offers modern authors golden opportunities. In One Corpse Too Many, Ellis Peters effectively uses our modern sensibilities to hide character motivations in plain sight — because the motivations of people in that era differ from those of modern readers. This gives the books a particular delight beyond the normal pleasures of a mystery.

    Of course, many imitated her badly, setting modern stories and characters in superficially ancient periods, giving us modern feminists in Regency costumes.

    1. In Margaret Frazer’s Dame Frevisse series, the author(s) (two authors started the series but one author continued the series) had historical notes either at the beginning or at the end which commented on the real time period the stories took place in compared to “what people thought about that time period”.

      For example, in “The Prioress’ Tale” the Prioress was extremely nervous about a murder in her “abbey” because she knew that authorities “outside of her control” would be concerned about the murder (she wasn’t connected to the murder but she was involved in stuff that she’d be in trouble for).

      The author made it clear that any death would have been “investigated” in that time period but moderns imagined that high ranking people in that time could kill somebody and nobody would be concerned.

      1. Oh, I chuckled at “The Witch’s Tale”, a Margaret Frazer’s Dame Frevisse short story.

        The Witch of the title as a “herb-wife” accused of killing her abusive husband with a spell and she even admitted it (without torture).

        Of course, the spell wasn’t a “killing spell” but was one for “opening the bowels”.

        In addition, his death was explainable as from natural causes. IE In our terms a heart attack.

        Well, the coroner had to “arrest” her because “she admitted killing her husband”.

        However, she disappeared from her “cell” and nobody knew how she did it.

        The people from her village who were guarding the cell claimed to have fallen asleep (the implication was via magic).

        Well, the priory’s steward and Dame Frevisse discussed the “magical” escape after the coroner left in a huff.

        Basically, the villagers had rescued the “witch” because she had helped plenty of them and while they believed she killed her husband, it was a matter of “him deserving it”.

        The last line was about nobody was going beat this herb-wife again. 😆

  7. It is worth noting that yesterday’s blog post, titled “Changing gears,” refers to something with which modern drivers — other than various gear heads — may be entirely unfamiliar. Automatic transmissions, like automatic starters and power jacks in place of cigarette lighters, are so ubiquitous as to render their former absence something modern readers cannot grasp.

    One effect of widespread adoption of computers for writing is that nowadays nearly everyone has a solid grasp of fonts, whereas in prior ages only a small subset of the populace would have been able to explain what Sans Serif was.

    William Safire, in his On Language columns, would often dwell upon retro-adjustments to words, such as “mail” acquiring the distinctions “e-mail” and “snail-mail” — redefining what were once clearly understandable terms to fit modern usage.

    1. First there was the radio.
      Then the transistor radio.
      Which is now the radio.

      See also: telephone.

      It is interesting that it used to be pointed out that Bell worked with the deaf and invented a device the deaf could not use. But it has now morphed to the point that many of the non-deaf seldom actually talk over it.

        1. Definition of Computer: A person who calculated numbers for later use. (May not be exact).

          The first machine computers were called electronic computers because “computer” referred to a job held by humans. 😀

    2. I love these. We still hang up phones. A coon’s age is still a long time. Hair of the dog will still cure you. One still doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. These things last a long time beyond their coinage.

      It took me forever to figure out “computer” was a job title when I was reading The Lensmen for the first time.

  8. I will say that I had trouble getting through the first Pern books even back in the day. I’m not sure that I ever did get through The White Dragon. I read the Pern books out of order, starting with Dragonsdawn and Dragon’s Eye, and I enjoyed those far more. I think Pern was better when it was about a colony from Earth that landed on a world with something like dragons, then it was in the books that were pretty much straight fantasy.

    Then again, I did kind of like the Harper Hall books, so it could be that I just hated Lessa and Jaxom and liked the books where they weren’t the main characters.

    1. I read “The White Dragon” until after it fell apart. Of course it fell apart on first reading. McCaffery had a horrible printer. I never bought another hardcover by her or anyone else with that printer again. The thing was held together with glue, not stitching, like a paperback, but not as well.

    2. I’m somewhat opposite: I liked Dragonflight and sort of liked Dragonquest, and Dragonsdawn was a great prequel, but after that the books didn’t seem to go anywhere, at least for me. And Dragonflight seemed a pretty self-contained story anyway, so I didn’t really see the point in the others.

      Lessa’s not so bad, as long as she’s got F’lar to keep her in line.

      1. Lessa was one of her characters I didn’t like at all when it was her story. As far as I remember I thought her too much a bitch. Maybe one with lots of excuses for that, but unlikable nevertheless.

        1. I thought the bitchiness worked in Dragonflight, where it seemed she was up against the whole world and with everything at stake. And it made the moments when F’lar laid down the law all the more satisfying.

      1. This whole thread makes me feel old. I devoured Analog, Galaxy, Worlds of If, Mag of F & SF in the late sixties and early seventies. So my introduction to Pern was Weyr Seach, a Novella in Analog. I read the series as it was published. I was a way bigger fan of F’lar and Mnementh. The advent of Thread almost though me out of the series. The handwayvium was awful but, but… Telepathic Dragons!

        The White Dragon ended it for me. I’ve heard rumors of other stories but no. There is Just one trilogy and some side YA novels

        1. I liked the books that carries the series forward to recover their history, etc. “All the Weyers of Pern”, “The Sky’s of Pern”. But not so much the ones written by her son.

  9. One consequence of modern availability of old movies is that we tend to think of an actor as being the age when first we met him (or her.) Thus, for many, Harrison Ford is the guy who starred in those Tom Clancy thrillers and not the daring archaeologist, much less the brash young man who shot Greedo first.

    Many of my generation first met Cary Grant, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart as somewhat doddering slightly past middle-age men and had to learn what sly and witty youngsters they had been. Just as it is difficult for us to ever imagine our grandparents being young — we tend to reflexively think of the world prior to our entrance as prologue and largely unimportant.

      1. Dr. Strangelove???? I knew him as The Great White Hope, do not recall him in Dr. Strangelove although I see by IMDb that you are right.

        Of course, there were sooooo many people in Dr. Strangelove.
        George C Scott, Slim Pickens, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers, Peter Sellers …

      1. Where I go for PT, they usually have Gunsmoke on from noon to 3 or 4. I saw Harrison Ford in one of them (he did one in ’72 and another in ’73).

    1. I tend not to remember actors, just roles. I just found out that the vampire Marko in Lost Boys is the same guy as Ted “Theodore” Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I recently saw a woman in a police show, paused it, then ran upstairs shouting “Captain Janeway was a police officer!” Mike’s response, “No, that’s Dr. Weir.”

      1. I do this too!

        There’s a very funny breed of meme that consists of “do you remember the time that (character) and (character) did (thing the actors did in a totally different show)?”

        And now I’m blanking on examples……

          1. Or how Harry Dresden moonlights as a police officer while Casey Jones (2016) is being a libtard Super Hero with Anton Briggs from Dexter?

            1. I gather that Mal Reymolds has completely given up and is now serving on the L.A.P.D.

              I heard Jayne became a NYPD undercover narcotics officer.

                1. There’s something odd about Maytag. After WKRP went poof, Mr. Carlson became one of their repairmen.

                  Before that Martin Wilson (the sanitarium orderly in Harvey) had worked for them.

      2. It often depends upon in what role you first met a character. Beloved Spouse & I often spot Leroy (the Southern Loyalist whose family fled to England) from Sharpe’s Eagle in roles in Conagher, Twin Peaks and Lonesome Dove — but completely failed to recognize him as Richie Cunningham’s big brother, Chuck.

    1. My parents liked Odetta and Ian and Sylvia a lot more. And the Kingston Trio and Neil Diamond. My parents were Odd. They do have an original White album, though. Sib was flabbergasted.

    2. I think the Beatles are probably the most overrated group in history. That doesn’t mean I think they’re bad; I like and even a lot of their songs. Contrary to Lennon, however, they are not Jesus Christ or Buddha or even Beethoven or Liszt. My daughter may eventually pick up a copy of the White Album and think, “Wow, that ‘My Guitar Gently Weeps’ song is kind of pretty,” but it’s extremely unlikely she’s going to join in any sort of worship of the Fab Four.

      I remember a few years ago reading about a kindergarten teacher who asked her students who their favorite Beatle was. I think it’s delusional to assume that anyone born in the 21st century could even name the Beatles, much less have any opinions on John vs. Paul vs. George vs. Ringo.

      1. There was a fellow who would come into a place i was working and pester people about who their favorite Beatle was. I got him to finally leave me alone by answering, “Peter Tork.”

        1. It was rather amusing to read that some youngsters had wondered who that old geezer was in the song FourFiveSeconds, and thought that it was nice of Kanye West to give him a chance to play.

          1. I put the outrage over that right up there with the folks who are horrified at the “terrible ignorance” that means most people under 40 or so don’t recognize Charles Manson on sight.

            Seriously, other than “nobody shot that SOB?”, who cares?

          2. I was on Twitter the night of that show and the hashtag filled with tweets saying “I don’t know who this Paul guy is but Kanye just gave him a career.”

            Which was pretty much the final chapter to that particular “I’m getting old!” story.

            It began in a chat room on Q-Link (AOL’s original online service, for Commodore 64/128 machines) when a youngster entered the room and said: “Hey guys! Did you know that Paul McCartney was in a band before ‘Wings?'” This was my stock Getting Old story for several years. Then one night I was telling it in a chat room on AOL and someone responded with “Who’s Paul McCartney?” So chapter 2 was added to my tale of woe.

            And there things stayed, more or less, until that night on Twitter when Kanye gave a break to the New Guy, Paul McCartney.

        2. I like that one.

          If you’re not bored to death with the subject, you could respond “Pete Best”. OTOH, if the guy was a True Fan, you’ve opened Pandora’s Box.

          1. You might simply indicate that the guy(s) who filled in after Paul’s death were your favorite(s).

          2. He wasn’t the most stable and after taking a swing at someone who said he’d rather listen to $MUCH-LOATHED-RECENT-POP-GROUP he was, shall we say, invited to leave and not return.

        1. I always preferred the less “known” Beatles stuff . . . twice I’ve had “Fans” of them ask “What song?” for this one:

          But mostly I guess it is just the ones not played into the ground until they hit the molten core.

      2. There’s a lot of competition for the most overrated slot. I liked the Beatles and own the Mobile Fidelity Sound lab set, but currently I’d rather listen to Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans (music from Sgt Pepper, plot based on some obscure SF movie) or the Rutles. My general preferences for the Beatles seem to run from a bit of Revolver through Abbey Road. Never cared for early, and Let it Be is meh. The title single got far too much air play in its day.

        I like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but $SPOUSE can’t stand them; there’s a sameness to their later stuff, and they’d be the illustration for “Bombastic Music”. Pink Floyd got far too wrapped up in its own story, and surrealistic album covers for the sake of surrealism are a bit much.

        On the gripping hand, I have all three on thumb drives for long drives. I have Tori Amos, but my first re-listening since the CDs were new didn’t go over well. Her voice! (FWIW, about the time I got those CDs, I had some serious hearing problems at the time, and high frequencies really didn’t register.)

        1. ELP in all its forms was once one of my favorites, and I think it was for the Classical stuff (Mars Bringer of War, Bolero etc) that I bought the tapes (saw some of my old cassettes the other day!)

            1. I remember one of his albums said it had a secret message in it, but it required a large collection of obscure equipment to extract, and even though he listed it, I have never heard of anyone doing it.

              1. Searched on that; sounds like it used the (then current) ancient cassette data recording system for the messages. A search on “tomita secret message” seems to reveal it.

      3. Zsuzsa, in all fairness, Lennon said that as a criticism to the reception they were getting and the shallowness of the times it represented. In England, the church was fading away into the ridiculous marxist enterprise it now represents. He DID go on to say the apostles were a little thick, but, really, can anyone disagree with that? I’ve always viewed that as part of Jesus’ point. If these guys can eventually get it, then anybody can.

        As to your point about the teacher being delusional, I couldn’t agree more.

        1. Fair enough. I’ve never actually known the context of the Lennon quote. And like I said, I don’t think the Beatles are bad, just overrated.

          He DID go on to say the apostles were a little thick, but, really, can anyone disagree with that? I’ve always viewed that as part of Jesus’ point. If these guys can eventually get it, then anybody can.

          Probably, especially as Jesus knew that they would eventually have to teach the next generation. The last person you want as a teacher is the kid who got it instantly the first time you explained it.

          1. oh, yeah, the response to his taken out of context statement was what folks all recall, and they tend to still read it like those going ape over it claimed because that was when that was the story you got. He wasn’t boasting, so much as feeling baffled by it. Still today, you see only the statement, and not the lead up to it or the after. Even from those sympathetic to him.

        1. The amusing tune, at least partly, is Randy Scouse Git (or “Alternative Title”….) about the Monkees and the Beatles and Cass Elliot (I think) all at a party. “The four Kings of EMI are sitting stately on the floor…”

      4. The Beatles being over-rated is more about the excess of esteem than the quality of the band. At the time they arrived they were a very fresh sound in a nation that needed one. They developed into surprisingly good musicians and were highly influential (especially if you credit them for starting the “British Invasion”) but frankly, NO BAND could be as good as the Beatles are credited as having been.

        OTOH, fretting over anything — band, book, movie — being over- or under- rated is a mug’s game. It is always a matter of taste and de gustibus non disputandum est.

      5. My Guitar Gently Weeps is their only song I can stand. Probably because it was written by Harrison with Clapton on guitar and Lennon in the background (and therefore ignorable).

        For me the British Invasion means the Stones, Who, Clapton etc. I understand the Beatles influence, just don’t like their stuff.

  10. It’s always hard writing contemporary stories because progress will go in ways that make much of it no longer contemporary a mere decade hence.

    SF stories I wrote decades ago haven’t necessarily aged well because the technology went in a slightly different direction than I gave it. City full of solar panels, check. People will get everything via automated delivery and never go outside, check. Most households will have only one access point to (what is now called the web), oops!

    One thing I would caution younger writers about is use of dollar amounts. They haven’t lived through the rampant inflation that we did.

    1. In an aged of PLL-synthesized radios, reading of a character changing crystals had me flip back to check copyright date. Which meant that everything else managed not to set the WTH? flag.

    2. If you want to play it more safe: Let’s just say it’s hard to write near future science fiction without ending with something that will age out almost right away. However if you go far enough into the future, stay vague how far, and then give that era some kind of misty, partly forgotten history with hints of some sort of catastrophes, hey, almost anything could sound plausible. And if somebody is still reading far in our future, well, it’s just an alternate universe story. 😀

      Or just go “alternate universe” right from the beginning. There was WWIII in the sixties or something, or it was Tesla and not Edison who got famous and stayed better known and has his name on everything, not just some cars well down the line, or some other change which should tell that something is different with this universe from the real one even to people with just the most vague idea of actual history (okay, okay, not everybody has any idea about even Edison now, I guess… but find something that everybody should know about even some distance into the future, or at least be able to find out about very easily).

      1. > Edison

        Yeah, that was part of the power company’s old name, until they modernized and renamed themselves “Affirmativa” or “Appliant”…

      2. There was WWIII in the sixties or something

        Or maybe WWII did not end quite as it did in ours. Perhaps the US invades the Japanese homeland instead of dropping those bombs on them … instead they are not ready until Stalin decides to get pushy in, say, 1948, and Truman takes out the Soviet Union.

        1. I recall reading a book of alternate histories of WWII where, in the foreword, it was pointed out that as strange as the tales in the book might seem, our reality might well be the strangest of all, with the Manhattan Project working out as it did.

          1. That there *was* a Manhattan Engineer District in the first place already broke the bounds of believability.

            Richard Rhodes’ account does a fairly good job of detailing how it came about, and how HG Wells’ agent managed to get Churchill interested, and then Churchill, realizing Britain simply didn’t have the resources, tried several times to get Mackenzie-King in Canada to take it over, but he wanted no part of it, and then he kept pestering Roosevelt, who finally aquiesced simply to shut him up, and then Groves, who didn’t want it either, figured demanding a no-limit carte blanche would make Roosevelt look for someone more reasonable… and after that things start looking even less probable.

            We’re living in a low-probability timeline, you know. Your Second Armistice timeline is *much* more probable. Or even the “President Hillary” one… Our probability is so low that we have a strange fantasy soap opera from GRRM instead of nine seasons of Firefly and three spinoff series.

  11. As for the Harry Potter books, there were similar creations before JKR published – DC Comic’s Timothy Hunter, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. It’s always got a certain amount of luck involved.

  12. I remember the first time reading Lovecraft and thinking these read like summaries of Stephen King stories. Then realizing King was writing expanded Lovecraft stories.

    Not to mention Brian Lumley’s Necroscope books.

    And the whole Joss Whedonverse.

    It’s all Lovecraft.

  13. The thing about the Harry Potter books that few people seem to know is that the School Story/Magic cross wasn’t new. It had been done at least once before by a series that had some popularity in the (I believe) 1950’s. It didn’t cross the atactic at that time because it wasn’t as good and America didn’t have that kind of school to the same extent. I ran across it looking at School Stories other than STALKY, LAWRENCEVILLE, and TOM BROWN (the ones everyone knows, if they know about the genera at all).

    Harry Potter did it BETTER. And thus crossed the Atlantic, and exploded.

    Similarly MARY POPPINS isn’t the only Magical Nanny story, and probably (but I’m not sure here) the first.

    It’s a combination of idea and authorial Voice. Without the Voice, the idea can only carry so much. Chandler and Hammett weren’t the first authors of low rent private eyes, nor the first to use first person narration for it. They just each had a Voice that raised them above the herd and made their works classics.

    As for being in competition with all of published history; may I recommend (to those who don’t already know it) Chandler’s wonderful essay on mystery writing THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER?

    1. And some luck. It always also requires some luck. That some readers who have influence with other readers, or lots of friends they can cajole to read the stories, find the stories and the author, like them, and recommend them to their friends, who also like them. Once that snowball gets a good speed down the hill it can keep on going for quite a while, but it needs some push in the beginning.

      1. Luck, indeed! Imagine if it had been picked up by a publisher other than Scholastic, one who was enthusiastic but wanted some changes to make it more marketable. “JK, we really love your book but our market research indicates it would sell better if you made hermione the lead character. Face it, boys just don’t read any more. We need to give girls somebody with whom they can identify, a role model of strong, smart grrrrl power.”

        1. Funny. All my children read the Harry Potter books and looked forward to the next release date. And yes, we were at the bookstores at midnight when they were released. I have 5 children- one girl.

        2. “But I can’t read this book! It doesn’t have a protagonist who looks like me!”

          “That’s ‘stupid, and a little ugly on the side’, right?”

    2. I actually had read other magic schools. Harry potter did it better by using lock stock and barrel all the stereotypes of British boarding school YAs which were, of course, monumentally outdated by then.
      It was still a decent read. I read all but one of the books.

      1. It was still a decent read. I read all but one of the books.

        Okay, now I’m curious: which one and why?

        1. Second to last. Bought it for the kids. Must have read the first ten pages three or four times. I couldn’t take an interest, would set it face down on a table, wander off. Weeks later I’d find it and go “oh, yeah” read from beginning, set it face down, wander off… Never got to it.

      2. gotta say, what little I read was fun and easy to get absorbed into
        I forget now which one it was (2003 or so), but the lady I was chasing at the airport was reading the things, then was reading them to her daughter as bedtime stories. So while holding her place while she worked a flight, I read most of a chapter.

    3. Didn’t some reporter ask Terry Pratchett if he got the idea for the Unseen Univeristy from Harry Potter? I believe Pratchetts response was along the lines of ‘Yes, back in 1985 while working on The colour of Magic I jumped in my time machine to see what was popular in 2007.’

  14. My nineteen year old musician grandson told me this morning that The Beatles are his favorite band.

    1. Howard Goodall, who does Musical History documentaries for the BBC, lead off his series of “20th Century Greats” (meaning composers) with Lennon/McCartney

  15. It’s been amusing to see a tiny bit of ‘fame’ up fairly close and also see various very failed attempts to force such a thing. It seems to happen or it doesn’t, and trying to force it doesn’t work – and it’s painful to watch the attempts.

      1. Florence King, in describing her experiences on the Book Promotion circuit, once called the man who died on the Dick Caveat Show as ‘the one who got even’.

      2. I’ve heard that “fame and fortune and everything that goes with it” can be “no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise.”

      3. Fellow I knew years ago liked to say “When we’re rich and famous…” and I’d reply that fame would troublesome, but I wouldn’t mind the rich part.

        This was the same fellow who responded that “Sure money can’t buy happiness, but I’d like to try a better grade of misery.”

        1. Paul Hogan once pointed out that being rich & famous was great, but being poor & famous was terrible.

  16. A friend of mine had a bad experience with Dragonflight in her book club: everyone under 30 hated it passionately, because they simply could not set aside their modern viewpoint and cast their minds back to 1968. (or 1998, for that matter; half the books she was looking forward to discussing were just too “problematical” for the kiddies to finish)

    Which brought to mind the time that another friend complained that he couldn’t get read Doc Smith novels “because of the misogyny”. I asked about Dorothy Vaneman, and his face went blank; turns out he’d stopped before he ever started.


    1. A hero sets out in a nuclear-powered space-going ball bearing to rescue his fiancee and gets called a misogynist. For shame!

  17. The Beatles were okay… but they did make it easier for bands to have more control of their musical direction, to be more experimental and less commercial.

        1. Ah…but like indie publishing, YouTube has cracked the old enclaves. I give you Lindsey Stirling as example #1…the first of many. I suspect she’ll be a major entry in future music histories for that.

          1. OK Go took the opportunity to dump their labels.
            Also, with today’s tech, getting “published” is rather easy, and I think even albums of the vinyl sort can be made by indy folks about as easily (perhaps easier in some cases) as a Big Label

          2. oops.
            I saw an interview with a record press company that has more capacity than ever, and can set up a master in a very short time now, so even short runs are relatively cheap and easy. Not quite a “Publish On Demand” but damned close

        2. Much of my bad opinion of the small bit of Hollywood I was exposed to likely stems from the fact that said small bit was a crossover from the music biz.

          A “wretched hive of scum and villany” indeed.

      1. We had a decades where some very non-commercial stuff got major airplay.
        Imagine Steely Dan or The Who’s “Quadraphonia” or Rush getting off the ground in today’s commercial market

  18. This is why I tell people to avoid current day politics and political causes (like who is president, or global warming, etc). Because all of those things date your books and lock you into a time frame and a mindset.

    And if the thing you say is so great turns out to be complete BS, your book is done forever. If the Tragedy you are championing (or writing about life after) never comes to pass, your book is dead. There are a lot of these, even by some very famous authors who should have known better (good luck finding them, they’re long out of print).

    It’s like the current crop of movies about the world after the disasters caused by global warming. Two years from now, you’ll not be able to find any of them and they’ll never earn another dime. If you want to be successful in the long term, don’t date your works.

    1. even if it was good reading, this dooms most of what the trad publishers push now-a-days.
      Yeah, they seem to be ensuring they fade into obscurity, and only that heavily parodied might be remembered (for the wrong reasons)

        1. All books are discarded these days. Remember when paperbacks used to have catalog pages in the back? They got rid of those after that tax/warehousing decision. It doesn’t pay to have inventory of books any more. No backstock to move over the years. That’s why they must have more and more hastily produced stuff to churn through, and nobody is established as a seasoned author any more, all the new stars are flashes in the pan. Books are not for the ages, they’re for six weeks at best.

    2. Flipping through A People’s History of the Future (published 2019) at the library, I noticed one story referenced the Civil Rights Act being repealed in . . . “mid-2019”.

      I’m sure that’ll age well.

      1. Well, gotta give them credit for staying true to the cause. ‘A People’s History of the US’ was written by a communist agent being paid by Moscow. It’s complete propaganda, yet people still fall for it.

      2. Sorry, should read: “A People’s Future History of the United States”. A book which is exactly what it sounds like, with stories by exactly who you’d think.

    3. Of course, sometimes you just change genres. For example, “The Texas-Israeli War: 1999” was science fiction when published, but now it’s alternate history. It’s a fun read either way.

  19. Harry Potter catches a lot of flak because it it is fantasy. And at least starts as a very nice sort of fairy-tale level of examination fantasy. It’s not hard-scifi fantasy. The world isn’t retrofitted.

    …I don’t think you COULD have written that, you would’ve written sensible urban fantasy, instead, which held together when you poke it.

    They’re both good, just different tastes.

    1. Many episodes of the “Highlander” tv series still hold up surprisingly well, especially the ones set in Europe where I don’t know what the cars are supposed to look like anyway. The presence of phone booths and low gas prices in the background are something that are easily ignored by anyone who grew up with such, though I doubt that kids today would recognize them. But one episode breaks down completely because the whole thing hinges on Duncan having to remain next to a specific phone booth for 24 hours because there is no other way for the bad guy to reach him.

      1. …because the bad guy could use a phone forwarding service, but a cell phone would let the police use cell tower triangulation in real time to send squad cars after him, *even after he disconnected the call*.

  20. Loved both Dragonriders and Crystal Singer when I was very young and read them over and over. But unlike, for example, the Heinlein juveniles, or H. Rider Haggard, I think they simply don’t have that underlying depth of “these are serious themes and insight into human character, presented as an adventure story for young readers” going on. I have fond memories of them and I’d hand them to a young reader any time, but they just haven’t stood up as an adult.

    Harry Potter, I scratched my head even at the time about the *degree* of success it had. The first novel was really excellent, but why this particular one caught fire and became the book everyone read, I couldn’t say and still can’t. (The rest of the series I found progressively worse and finished only because I wanted to see how it turned out). Never felt the temptation to reread.

    1. Because it targeted kids and gave them a deep story without adult themes while not treating them like children. Children are far more interested in ‘what if I was secretly a …’ type story than adults were. Every child thinks that they have it the worst of anyone ever.
      And many people encouraged them reading it because it got children reading.
      But honestly, as an author, you can learn a lot about writing from the Potter books, same can be said for Twilight. These books knew their target audience and hit them dead center.

        1. I once read a Jack And the Beanstalk retelling where they gave him a sister to make her the heroine. . . .

        2. People look at me like I’m from another planet when I tell them that the mainsteam publishers are highly opposed to men as heros or men as strong characters.

          Yet, that’s what I’m making my living off of, Strong Male characters and guess what? I even have Strong Female characters! It’s like, you can have both! Who woulda thunk it!!

  21. I’m quite fond of the older books, and am willing to give a pass on technology to get a well-told story.

    Especially when there are details that I’ve got special expertise in. Let’s just say that I got a big giggle out of Larry Correia talking about “giant cargo airships” that are three hundred feet long. It’s a field I spend a decade in…and he’s off by about a factor of three, maybe four. Airships are BIG.

    1. Yeah,
      hell the Good Year Blimp is almost 200 feet and is a smallish Blimp (until the later smaller airships became popular for advertising).
      The replacement Zeppelin Good Years are a bit longer, but still small for cargo. The Graf and Hindenburg were 700-800 feet or so
      300 feet wide, now . . .

        1. Possible…but mooring a monster THAT size would be a nightmare. About the only way to get room would be a ship-mounted mast, which brings a bushel of problems.

          1. Yeah, that’s why the “only slightly heavier than air” airship designs are so interesting – they stay put when you park them with only a little tethering.

            I had thought the US DOD had managed to kill off all the airship projects again, but IIRC there’s one spinning up for oil shale field resupply up in eth Great White North, so maybe lighter(ish) than air will actually have a fair try.

          2. His airships didn’t have to obey the laws of engineering; in the Grimnoir universe, a gravity spiker could just tell it to stay put.

  22. “The internet, while seemingly innocuous and unobtrusive has changed our lives at such a fundamental level that even those of us who grew up through the shift don’t fully understand how different things are now.”

    Oh, yeah. I can throw out a question to my friends and get lots of answers in a short period of time. Or google a character name in a story to make sure it’s not being used by someone else. When I was researching the story I sold to Heroic Fantasy Quarterly last year I was able to do in-depth research on the vegetation of an area in Britain in the exact time period the story was set in. I wasn’t even expecting to get information that specific.

  23. Reminds me of people who come to The Lord of the Rings after binging for years on modern “Extruded Fantasy Product” and going “Meh! This is nothing special!”

  24. One thing I like to do is to go through Project Gutenberg looking for older books that could be interesting. Lots of now-forgotten mysteries, for example, are still a good read. I usually hit PG once a week and scan through the newly-entered books looking for things in my specific areas of interest.

    1. Don’t forget archive.org – their pulp magazine collection has thousands of copies of old mystery magazines. Find one of the sites that has titles of old mystery magazines, then type them into archive.org’s search bar.

      I’m still boring through their SF magazine collection… every time I think I’ve found them all, I’ll find several entire runs of magazines I’d never heard of before.

      1. I boggle that all that stuff is public domain. They have obscure items that I’d seen once decades ago, and thought I might have imagined them…until, wow, there they are!

      2. Yep, good point – archive.org also has lots of good stuff. Not all is public domain, though – sometimes you have to check it out, ala a library, and there are often waiting lists. Still, there’s also plenty of good public domain stuff there, including things like military manuals.

  25. Yeah.
    “Shakespeare is full of cliches”
    – “They weren’t cliches when Shakespeare invented them”

    And, the competition isn’t the members of SFWA or whatever, it is everything that has ever been written down. (Similar for musicians and filmmakers of course).

  26. When a couple friends read some of my “practice” writing, they both said that it felt similar to McCaffrey’s writing style. To them, both fans of McCaffrey, that was a good thing. Then they wanted to talk about Pern and Dragons. Funny thing is, I’ve only read ONE McCaffrey, and it was one of the Chrystal Singer series. I was in middle school, and it was the only thing around to read at the time. I am, of course, aware of the Pern books because how can you be around SciFi/Fantasy and NOT be, but I always had the impression they were geared more towards girls (I had that same impression reading the one Crystal Singer book, although I admit I remember enjoying it anyway). I’ve read a WHOLE lot more of a whole lot of other authors, so I can’t imagine reading one McCaffrey book really effected my voice that much.

  27. What they don’t know about the middle ages…

    Heck, all you need to “get” Robin Hood is a very basic understanding of that scene in the Bible where Jesus meets with Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who repented of taking more than he was supposed to.

    You don’t even need to READ it, the scene is hugely popular because you get to have a little short, fat guy, usually in a poorly fitting robe, scrambling up a tree– I can’t rememberwhere it’s from, but my favorite version has him getting at his store of money in his house by having to hop up on tippy-toe before he can present it to Jesus. ^.^

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