Monday, September 16, 2013


Apologies for yesterday's lack of a post, Gentle Reader. Things have been beyond hectic lately, and I don't always manage to carve out enough time to produce something worthwhile for Liberty's Torch. I hope today's grab-bag will suffice.

Just now I'm deep in the first draft of Freedom's Fury, the concluding volume to the Spooner Federation trilogy that opened with Which Art In Hope and continued in Freedom's Scion. It's a challenging novel to write for several reasons, not the least of which is that my plot-braid requires that I coordinate developments widely separated in both space and time, but which must converge in a fashion that lends power to the novel's overarching theme. The need to keep all those dishes cooking at the right speed is costing me quite a bit of hard thought.

In the course of this adventure, I've found myself diverted into appealing side trails more than once. A couple of those side trails have pulled me in against my will. That's one of the hazards of letting your characters define your stories, rather than the other way around. But if you insist on writing about larger-than-life figures, you have to let them have their say.

This is a warning of sorts to those who are anxious to read Freedom's Fury. You're going to encounter developments and ideas you'll find surprising coming from me. You might not like some of them; indeed, I can practically guarantee that you won't. But fiction has its own demands. They create a space that's quite a distance from that of the "real world," however unreal it might sometimes seem, into which I hurl these obnoxious op-eds.

Among the more difficult things I occasionally commit to doing is reviewing others' fiction. It's not difficult for technical reasons; a good book review -- a good review, not a review of a good book -- must follow a fairly rigid formula, regardless of the book, its genre, its subject matter, or the reviewer's opinion of it. It's difficult because of Sturgeon's Law:

90% of Everything is Crud.

That's as absolute a law as any statement outside the laws of physics. Indeed, it approaches tautology, for reasons about which a whole encyclopedia could be written. But let's stick to the subject of fiction.

Given Sturgeon's Law, a randomly selected work of fiction has a 90% probability of being crud: unsatisfying; unmemorable; disposable. It might still have been worth its purchase price; after all, we all need some disposable entertainment in our lives. But it's likely that you won't remember the experience of reading it at all vividly, and you're not likely to recommend it to others, at least not enthusiastically.

That's where my difficulty lies: I have a very hard time giving a crud book an appropriate review. As it happens, when I commit to writing a review of a book, it seems I thereby elevate the probability of it being crud, even though any sane physicist will tell you that time travel is theoretically impossible.

I know, I know: it should be my worst problem. (It isn't.) All the same, it makes me sad to have to tell an author that his creation, of which he's surely proud, is crud. As if more were necessary, there's a major irony looming behind most crud fiction: the overwhelming majority of crud books are crud because they violate one of the two iron laws of fiction, most memorably enunciated by the late John Brunner:

1. The Raw Material Of Fiction Is People.
2. The Essence Of Story Is Change.

The book I'm struggling to review at the moment violates the first of those laws, by implication: it fails to make the reader care about any of its Marquee characters. Atop that, it's so crusted with a multitude of details, major and minor, that the reader must absorb and retain to understand what's going on that it takes a great deal of effort to read it, thus compounding the damage.

But I promised the author I'd review it...and he asked me to let him know when the review has been posted.

I really have to learn not to make that particular promise any more.

What's this? Another segment about a book? Well, yes. But this time, it's nonfiction: Dr. Helen Smith's Men On Strike.

There are several noteworthy things about this offering from Dr. Smith, an accomplished psychologist with a lively and enduring interest in men's-rights issues and relations between the sexes generally. First, it's coherent and informative despite being rather discursive. Second, Dr. Smith casts a wide net: she employs the insights of many persons, among them several bloggers who've also written on the subject. Third, it's not at all jargonish; rather, it's written in a colloquial and easily approachable style. (It could have used more editing than it got, but then, I say that about nearly everything.) Fourth, it lays out paths to follow for those who take the subject as seriously as Dr. Smith does, though in a couple of cases pursuing those paths would engender -- sorry, Gentle Reader -- significant resistance and resentment from the women in one's life. And fifth and perhaps most remarkable, the word Instapundit appears nowhere on its pages.

All that having been said, Men On Strike is a worthwhile survey of what might be the most important psychosocial trend in contemporary America: the consequences of the meta-feminization of our society, its inter-gender relations, its legal corpus, its educational institutions, and its entertainment infrastructure. It nicely complements several other books on the same and peripheral subjects; America Alone by Mark Steyn and Taken Into Custody by Stephen Baskerville come to mind at once.

Unqualifiedly recommended.

It's an easy segue from Men On Strike to the reactions to my recent screed about being fit to live with. Even though the malady that formed the subject of that piece is gender-independent, most of the email I've received about it was from women. (Surprised?) The overwhelming majority of those emails expressed two things all but exclusively:

  1. You're a male chauvinist pig, Porretto;
  2. We're just getting some justice for all the centuries you brutes held us down.

I shan't dispute the first assertion. I am adamant that women are the lesser sex; that men are the creators and maintainers of the skeleton and sinews of Western Civilization, without whom women's lives would be Hell on Earth; that men have an obligation to protect and provide for their wives, and that mothers have an obligation to protect and nurture their children; that women's gender-specific strengths pertain to a far smaller range of undertakings than the feminist activists claim; and that attempts to dismiss any of the above will inevitably bring about mass misery, social dissolution, and overall chaos. Put any label on those statements you might care to apply to them, ladies. That's easy enough. Convincing me that any of them is false will be much harder.

It's the second claim that's worth a close examination. As usual, it misuses a critical term in an attempt to put a patina of righteousness on a desire to act very, very wrongly.

I doubt the Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch will need more of a hint than that. However, being a generous sort, I'll throw in another pointer, which everyone capable of speaking the English language has surely heard more than once -- and to prove that I'm capable of being just as subtle as my oh-so-subtle detractors, I'll put it in teeny-tiny type:

Two wrongs don't make a right.

Those who disagree should feel free to soak their heads in hot paraffin.


Guy S said...

"Consider that two wrongs never make a right, but that three do." from the "Deteriorata". Sorry, couldn't resist.

On a more serious note. I grew up in the same general time frame as you did, Fran. And yes, not only were things (at least to the eyes of a child, back then) simpler, more black and white. But the gender rolls seemed to be much more defined. That they were "the way they always were" seemed to provide no small measure of comfort/stability to all parties.

The above being said, I have no problem with anyone (of any race, creed*, color, or gender) being able to pursue any career/job their little hearts desire. Provided they can meet, and or exceed, the criteria/qualifications (intellectual/physical/emotional) said choice demands or requires.

This may mean they are going to have to "give up" (at least for the duration of said job) other perhaps more traditional roles. (Housewife, or mother, for example.) But life is full of choices, of paths not traveled.

Where this whole (at least the face shown to the public) women's lib/feminist agenda really jumped off the track, was when, after being "allowed" to venture into career paths traditionally held exclusively by males, the requirement "goal posts" were lowered to allow for their being able to "meet" the requirements!

You saw this on the Police and Fire Department side of the street, for those of you in the civilian world. And we saw it across the board, in the military. (Indeed, it still goes on there to this day.)

Over and above the emotional (and whiny sound) response of : "It's not fair that they should be given this (these) advantages!" There is a far more important aspect of it being intellectually and morally wrong. It is a lie to have the playing field "leveled" in such a manner as to give the false impression that both sexes (to use just the gender issue) are truly equal in all aspects. Physiology dictates otherwise.

I could say more, but you get the idea.

And yes, I am in complete agreement with you.

*the one exception to the "creed"....why Islam, of course!

pdwalker said...

The need to keep all those dishes cooking at the right speed is costing me quite a bit of hard thought.

If it was easy, it wouldn't be as much fun now, would it?

Julian O'Dea said...

Cites your piece and is interesting. A woman writes about her inferiority:

Xealot said...

1. The Raw Material Of Fiction Is People.
2. The Essence Of Story Is Change.

I admit I lost sight of these principles and am having to rediscover how to make use of them. Still, don't be sad to tell an author his work stinks like yesterday's meat.

The fact of the matter is, a review and feedback is helpful -- especially if it is negative. We learn more from our failures than our successes, more often than not, but one has to first know that something is a failure. That is difficult for a writer without a qualified second opinion.

I appreciate your looking at my short story earlier - and your feedback in my case, though decidedly negative, was also incredibly helpful.