Lately I’ve got interested in stereotypes. Oh, not racial or cultural. Not gender either. More like the old stereotypes of our field, the stories you think you know where they’re going (the stereotypical — or should I say archetypal) characters and stories are so old you mind starts filling in stuff just from reading a few lines. Which btw means the author needs to do a lot less work…. and more work, at least if we don’t want to make it paint by the numbers boring. Though I’ll note in the new era, the paint by numbers pulpish stereotypes sell better than the “so innovative, so literary, so relevant” stuff. (Mostly because those are usually wrong on three counts.)
OTOH I know myself, and things would get interesting/sideways/subverted. Because I’m me. What they probably wouldn’t get is pulled down into the mud and rolled in with the pigs. Because, yeah, some humans are terrible, but if you live in the real world and pay attention, you’ll find more heroism and glory in anyone’s life than petty self-betrayal and amoral vacuousness.
I haven’t had time. We’re halfway, in number of rooms (in size of rooms it’s different, though as husband pointed out most of the large rooms remaining ARE very straightforward with no weird angles) in flooring the house. Three to go. One very small, but….
And I have a million stories ahead to write, anyway, all planned, laid out, some started some almost finished. But I’ve been grabbing almost randomly old stories (and filk) when I sit down. (Old stories in paper. Part of the job is shelving stuff in the library, where the new and improved (my old rendering computer almost 10 years old) publishing computer is going, so younger son can use it, and make me paper editions of everything, and run the new, upcoming, wonderful (look, I need to sit down and edit, and — if she signs/agrees to the contracts — republish Kate Paulk, including her new one. And we have a dozen anthologies in the works too) inkstain publishing (shared worlds, anthologies, and perhaps Kate Paulk, if she so wishes.) Thing is the thing needs management, and I haven’t even been managing myself well. Younger son will take it up while he’s looking for work. And hopefully when he finds it and likely moves out of state, there MIGHT be enough money to hire someone for the job — gulp — I hope.
So anyway, I’ve been grabbing old books, the ones whose covers were in primary colors and whose pages sometimes crumble at the touch. Not all SF/F. I have a collection of pulp mysteries as well, mostly picked up when I was depressed and needed comfort.
Look that type of space opera is barely science fiction unless you extend the definition to mean “Man faced with strange situations.” I mean, the science is usually cursory and/or waved at. Yes, Heinlein did it better by injecting real science. (I try, okay. A part of the science is handwavium — well, isn’t it always? — but in the part that is essential to my premise I bug all my contacts. Yes, including sons.)
But Heinlein leaned heavily on the pulp stereotypes, the stereotypes of the human mind that go back to — if you could verify it — the campfires of the indo-European culture (whose main strength was apparently multilayered endless sagas. They worked to draw other tribes to the culture apparently. Or at least that’s one of the speculations. Not so much by the force of arms but by story they conquered. Um….. Nice work if you can get it.
If you don’t believe he leaned on those, go read the opening to Citizen of the Galaxy. Or the first chapter of Starman Jones. Or the scene when Star appears to Oscar for the first time.
I’m not Heinlein. I couldn’t even play Heinlein on TV (though if I don’t wax, the mustache could pass.)
But those old stereotypes have been rolling through my mind like thunder. I’m not sure what the hell to do with them, but they’re there, and maybe something will come of it eventually.
Tell me you don’t get hooked, and sense the surprises hidden in each of these. (And it’s me. The surprises would probably surprise you.)
There was a laughing devil in his eyes. He was a disreputable, scarred man of middle years, sliding reluctantly into old age, kicking and screaming the whole way. Flesh hung loose on his broad frame. His left eye was missing. What remained of his hair was red and looked like he’d given himself a haircut using metal cutters.
But his remaining eye was the dark blue of space. He walked with the rolling gait of a spaceman, too long in free fall.
There might be another reason for his walk. In the bars of Far Itravine, in the Blind Seer system, he told stories of his fighting pirates in Antares and barely piloting away from a black hole in High Mauritius. People bought him drinks.
But if you waited around after you left, someone would come and tell you, “Bless your heart, sir. No. He was a stevedore down in the spaceport locks. The eye and the scars are where an AI loader’s grappling hook hit. His mother was a spaceport whore. I don’t think he ever spaced.”
“Need some company, spaceman?”
I looked her over. You never know, in these far ports. She looked eighteen, maybe twenty. And she was pretty. Pretty enough to hit close to the uncanny valley.
Instinctively I looked for those seams that join head to neck and neck to body. Look, none of the comfort women are real humans. Humans are spread too thin over the universe to waste on that kind of thing. Particularly when androids do it better, and you don’t need to worry over their feelings.
To my surprise I found none. And yet her greeting was straight from historical hollos, and she was wearing something shimmery and so light I could see the shape of her rosy flesh beneath.
I looked at her eyes, improbably spring green, and she smiled back.
That did it. No one smiles that willingly at a guy with my mug. She was either an assassin — since when did I rate assassins, though? — or an alien in human disguise.
Things were rolling along pretty good in Myroclady. Well, as good they could be, in the middle of the war.
Conscripted laborers had settled down to building the new shiny war ships. Engineers — male and female — worked overtime at the designs, and laborers slapped them on frames as far as they would go.
And then people started talking of seeing the Invictus.
Yes, that Invictus, the ship blown up with all hands at the beginning of the confrontation with the Alliance. The one that had aboard the best regarded of our commanders, and his son the Young Hope. And the best brains the human race had ever thrown out. At least on the side of free men.
It started with one of the women assembling the shipskin in the molecular vats. She was walking home, late at night, and swore she’d seen the Invictus — “As I remember, sir, from a hollo at school” — materialize in the skies. So close she could see the faces of the lost at the viewports. She said she saw Vir Hopewell — Young Hope — at one of them. “His hair was just like in the holo, but he looked sad. And he lifted his hand at me. Not quite a wave, you know, but like he knew me.” And then she burst into tears.
Now, these could be set — with modifications — any time from the ancient agean to the present. Why set them in space?
Well, obviously, because that’s the frontier we instinctively know we must colonize. It beacons and calls to us, and our dreams are there.
In the nineteenth century, people told stories of Africa that had very little to do with the real Africa, but they sold to the restless. I think it’s something-like with pulp.
And why some people are so invested in making sure we never dream of that frontier.
They will yell how colonization is bad, even if you colonize emptiness.
Unfortunately all species, at least on Earth (though if it’s not the same in other worlds we don’t need to worry about alien competition) either colonize or die. A niche species is an endangered species. It endangers itself.
Sure, we can choose to commit sepoku and die in your cradle. Or …. or we can go find out what’s there.
And stories pave the way. Which, I think, is why evolutionary we’re attracted to them. They make us human.
And humans, by definition want to push ever onward, into the infinity which calls to us.