Tuesday, April 11, 2017

More On Politicized Fiction

     Yesterday’s emission drew the usual angry dissents from a gaggle of the usual suspects. They bore a certain aroma of desperation, as if the writers were straining to convince themselves. But really, that’s not unusual. Oftentimes, when the evidence contradicts a man’s preconceptions, his immediate reaction is to deny it, or failing that, to screen it off (Eric Hoffer) so that it will cease to disturb him. Ultimately it won’t matter; reality has a way of being...real.

     This morning, Dave Freer touches on the subject from another perspective:

     My own sense of the mood in the writing world...is that changes are happening. In a way the things we here on MGC write about are change symptoms, not the causes – we write about the self-pub revolution, the disappearing agents, the way the big six became the big five, will probably the medium-sized four, and changes in things like distribution. But if things had stayed the same, continued down the same track, none of this would have happened. The zeitgeist was ‘progressive’ – against the center, the libertarians, the conservatives. Most publishers were left wing, or hard left as a result, and de facto, their authors largely were too or at least put on a good attempt to look that way.

     In my opinion the left wing zeitgeist hit apogee in about 2007 with the financial downturn. The media, the politicians, academia, the churches, and publishing continued on with yesterday’s trend – growing further from the ordinary people and how they felt. By 2016 things slipped off the plateau and began going the other way.

     What has happened (and all of the symptoms feed back into the causes) is that the readers – whose buying supports the bulk of the writing industry – buying… or not. This is probably best illustrated for us in the collapse of the traditional sf/fantasy sales (I’ve graphed this for you before) or as recently illustrated Marvel admitting their direction – for more ‘diversity’ and ‘social justice’ in comics had failed.

     ...[N]obody (or, to paraphrase the HH Guide, nobody important) reporting these figures wants to admit the direction is wrong, that there are problems. They liked, approved and supported the direction that sf and fantasy and indeed comics were taking. If there was a way to hide these declines, they would. The fact that this sort of data is creeping out means that financial problems, even bankruptcy, are looming, and there are no other choices. When some Jackass says ‘Oh they’re wrong, I luv Burkawoman, and Miz Marvel and Black Panther have both been nominated for Hugo Awards.’ What that says is that Jackass and the Hugos are out of touch with the buying public. There is a market for this, just as there is a market for the taste of the Hugo voters. It’s just 95 pound supply trying to fit in 5 pound demand bag.

     Their idea was they could change demand…

     It seems not.

     No, it definitely is not. Which is to the good – but not if fiction remains politicized, even if its vector should turn in a conservative / pro-freedom direction.

     Fiction is first and foremost an entertainment medium. Yes, it can be polemically potent – I made that observation during the final half hour of this radio broadcast — but if it’s used overbearingly, it will fail to entertain and will be rejected by the readers.

     This is the rock upon which the Left’s heavily colonized world of traditional publishing – Pub World, TradPub, insert your moniker for it here – has been smashed. A reader seeking a brief escape from his worldly cares will be greatly displeased to discover that he’s purchased a political tract when what he wanted was a bit of entertainment.

     Pub World’s error is correctable. That doesn’t mean it will be corrected.

     I’ve written more than once about the Left’s conviction of intellectual and moral superiority and how it’s bound to leftist political positions. As the circularity is obvious to anyone with three functioning brain cells, the ironies go very deep. But more important than those ironies is how the conviction prevents the typical leftist from learning anything.

     In A Clockwork Orange protagonist Malcom McDowell is supposedly conditioned out of his penchant for violence by a radical technique that renders him safe for release from prison. At this time there is no such thing as Burgess’s “Ludovico technique.” Perhaps there will be, some day, though I’m reluctant to bet either way. But imagine if there were. What would that mean for the ability of someone thus conditioned to acquire new knowledge or skills that were inimical to the conditioned-in behavior?

     The closest we can come to a contemporary “Ludovico technique” is relentless peer-group reinforcement and correction. Broadly speaking, it would consist of frequent immersion in a group dedicated to certain ideas, which would regularly test each of its members for orthodoxy. A member that’s found to have begun to veer toward deviance would be catechized by the rest of the group. The Chinese and North Korean Communists are known to have used such an approach. Perhaps other totalitarian societies have done so as well.

     That strikes me as a close approach to the reinforcement and correction the “social justice” crowd inflicts upon its members. If all one’s friends, acquaintances, and commercial associates are of particular convictions – in this case, “social justice” progressivism – then by deviating from the group orthodoxy he would risk losing all of that, possibly including his livelihood. And of course, “social justice warriors” are well known for their practice of encysting dissenters among them and either driving them out or browbeating them into conformity.

     If this be the case in Pub World, its current incarnation might not survive. It might need to collapse completely, not one stone remaining upon another, and to be revived by a completely new, non-political set of agents, editors, and publishers.

     Whatever may happen to Pub World, the English-language reader of fiction can look ahead with pleasure. The indie revolution is turning up gifted, previously unpublished storytellers at a heartening rate. That some of them could use editing help is undeniable; still, a talent will shine through all but the very worst of technical sins. More, their offerings are typically less expensive than those of Pub World, which is appropriate for the electronic medium in which most of their works are published.

     Yes, writers will always write from their own perspectives, including their political perspectives. But even when political developments and positions must be an element therein, a good storyteller will know that politics cannot be the heart of his story. Remember John Brunner’s Laws of Fiction:

  1. The raw material of fiction is people.
  2. The essence of story is change.

     It won’t matter a damn whether the book’s distribution medium is electrons, paper, or cuneiform tablets. If the story is good and readers notice, it will sell.


Tim Turner said...

Fran, I took advantage of that free week (or whatever it was) on Smashwords.

What are needed or indie editors.

There are interesting writers out there, but, for one reason or another, their grammar and spelling - at the very least - are . . . not Strunk and White.

I could do that. But, as you've blithely gone on with your stories against some of my "narrative" criticisms, this points out a problem.

I think most writers are coming from a personal perspective, where they feel the story they want to tell is purposely not mainstream. Or, maybe it is "off-center." So how could a "traditional" editor appreciate it? After all, maybe Heinlein, Asimov,et.al., have already told the basic stories, so these newbies are challenged to broach new vistas, or the old ones in a new way.

Given that view, the idea of an editor being more than a grammar-corrector is maybe anathema to a modern writer.

So, the position of past editors - and I needn't name them - of SF&F fiction has been undermined. (Much as the position of any politician or person we thought was authoritative . . . not the same as authoritarian.)

So. Who do you listen to? Orson Scott Card went to writer's class after writer's class and produced 2 - almost 3 - hugos with his Ender series. But newbies make money defying the conventional wisdom.

My case here is for editors. But who would anyone trust, anymore? And before that, these indie authors need a copy editor at least as much, to correct typos, grammar errors and the like.

ELittle said...

Francis, Is this THE Francis W. Porretto of Long Island? I lost track of you a couple years ago, but just found you by way of Uncle Remus of the Woodpile Report.

I used to run a blog called Island Voice from over here on Block Island until I couldn't stop my self from writing nasty things about BHO! Then Google changed a lot of blogging stuff and I had to start over as Island Voice II.

Have really mellowed out a lot since the election but it still galls me that t looks like the Clinton's and the Obama Thing are going to go un-prosecuted for all their treasonous machinations!

Did you ever get the generator that you were looking for? Best to You Everett R Littlefield

OBTW, I'll be checking in on your site now and again.

Unknown said...

Read a screed a while ago, from Pournelle or someone of his ilk (he has an ilk, who knew?), that the 'killer app' for indie publishing would be editors. Didn't really get into the nuts and bolts of how to do that. How do you demonstrate competence and credibility. How do you set fees? How do you get yourself out there?