Bleed Red

I was at sea on 11/11 at 11 past eleven… when we remember the guns falling silent on the Western Front. I did manage to notice the time and spend a minute in silence, remembering. Barbs’s father actually served in that war, having enlisted in the Navy, lying about his age, and having had a daughter at 59. It’s not that far behind us. The courage and sacrifice of soldiers is too easily and too often forgotten – particularly by writers. It’s in part why I wrote the RBV books.

I’ve been reading about Beersheba (1917) – the last great cavalry charge of the Anzac forces. It’s a fool, an even bigger one than I am, who does not try to read and learn about the history and people of the country he lives in, and this is doubly true if you weren’t born there, and absorbed it all your life. Besides as a writer, it’s always grist for the story mill… except in this case it isn’t. No piece of modern, plausible fiction could include it. The Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade charged into the face of machinegun and rifle fire and took the trenches of Ottoman Turks, with their bayonets in their hands, rifles on their backs.

Man… I know they were Australians not Scots, but kilts would have been more comfortable for men with balls that size. It’s almost impossible not to respect that kind of courage.

Mind you, just going over the top – as tens of thousands of men did, well, they probably all needed kilts. This – the trenches of Somme – shaped JRR Tolkien. This, in its way, made the LORD OF THE RINGS what it is. It’s a far, far cry from the caliber of self-elected ‘elite’ of modern sf and Fantasy, having tantrums because someone was so terribly, terribly, horribly awfully insensitive and used the term evil ice-cream name ‘tutti-frutti’ in the title of con talk. You have to laugh. We’ve passed through micro-aggressions, down through nano-aggressions, into pico-aggressions. And they’re demanding ‘respect’. I had a few orificers who demanded respect, back when I was in the army. They didn’t get it: it’s not something you can ‘demand’. It’s given, when it is earned.

You have to wonder what ‘great literature’ to rival Lord of the Rings pico-aggression meltdown will produce. I’m sure that it will be Hugo-worthy.

Anyway, to leave irrelevancies behind (they tell us they’re important but, to give you a practical example of the 7000 + hits on Dr Mauser’s post last week… only 5 (Maybe if the post had been in Mandarin it would be different) came from that ‘vital’ multi Hugo award winning site, file 770, where these self-nominated ‘important’ people hang out. Most of them are clients or dependents of various panjandrums in the slowly dying and shrinking traditional publishing industry.) and to talk about what those men – from many countries and backgrounds, who mastered their fears and rode a horse at entrenchments, charged with fixed bayonets at entrenched foes, or poured out of landing craft in the face of withering fire.

Men from many nations. Men from many backgrounds. And yet… very alike. I know, it’s become fashionable to divide the human race, and pretend we’re not alike in any way. We have different cultures, different backgrounds. Maybe Pommie bastards do get on better with Poms than with Frog-eaters. I chose those terms with deliberate intent, and not just to show what an insensitive clod I am – because you all knew that.

You see: Western culture at its apogee, has an odd, admirable trait – we’re kind to the weak, to the small children, or to the mentally incapable. We don’t put them down or take the Mickey. That would be cruel and pointless. That’s for equals – or even superiors or those who are far more powerful, who will give it back in spades, unless they think we’re the weak, small children or the mentally inferior. I’m thus always mystified as to why some people want to denigrate women or people of other races by treating them as if they were weak, children, or mentally inferior — or why anyone would want to be treated that way.

To return to ‘human’. Take Tolkien, again. His family were epitome of Englishness – and yet… The family origin is German. Just as I study to be Australian, to read the poetry, to read the books, to mix as much as possible with the ordinary people of my country, they did, and had become very English. Which kind of brings me, finally, to my point for tonight. Most of the time I think giving the audience pretty much what they want and expect is probably a good selling technique. There is a time however, when I personally can’t do it.

When Eric and I wrote PYRAMID SCHEME – one of my characters was South African – a zoologist, Liz De Beer. Now, those of you who know me, know I was writing just what I know about. The character is loosely modeled on two South African female Zoologists. We got a complaining critique – they enjoyed the rest of the book, but the authors plainly knew nothing about South Africans. Liz was simply an American woman, who sounded and behaved and thought like an American woman with a few irrelevant bits of fake foreign-ness from people who knew nothing about South Africa.

Huh. I wrote her in the entirety. I’d spent a whole 10 days in the US, ever. If Liz sounded and behaved ‘American’, the problem wasn’t my ignorance of South Africans of her background, culture, and education.

The problem was that the reader had their own illusion of what a ‘South African’ was. I realize, now, with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, that what they wanted was for Liz to be their caricature stereotype of a ‘bad white South African’ and I had written something ‘false’ because instead I showed her as just as human as an American woman. I have news for them – people aren’t caricatures, or stereotypes. Not even Pommie bastards or Frog-eaters – we know that, just as we call them that.  I know my French and English cousins well.  The family likeness of character over-rides the differences of language and culture, and we’re very fond of each other, respect and trust each other and insult each other a great deal.  People are varied, and some of them will be very like you in what they do and feel and want. And some vast differences may exist… but I can’t, honestly, write something that fits their delusions to feed their bigotry. And I am far from the only author facing this. This American of Korean extraction found the same situation.

We are different. But we’re not caricatures or stereotypes. And most of us bleed red.

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Bleed Red

  1. I often like reading about other cultures (dang anthropology major!), especially by people who have lived it. One of my favorite authors is James McClure. I find the apartheid era of South Africa quite fascinating. And far from being horrid people, his characters come across as very likable and human. Human nature doesn’t change much, particularly between related cultures. There are good and bad people, and their motivations are often similar even though they view the world through a slightly different lens.

    • For some reason, this reminds me of the dear sweet well-meaning friend of my mothers’ – a college creative writing teacher no less – who was an alpha reader for the Adelsverein Trilogy, and had a fairly comprehensive fainting fit over the way that I described the Comanche. The brutal war-lords of the Southern plains, who fought, slashed and exterminated their way through dozens of less war-like tribes, once they got horses… (lashings of theft, rape, kidnapping and psychotic torture along the way, none of which I whitewashed)
      My mothers’ friend was shaken to the core that they weren’t gentle, peace-loving primitives, in touch with nature and cruelly treated by the white man for no good reason at all. Upset her preconceptions horribly. Friend of my mothers’ – what could I say?

      • There’s a reason why the first major history of the Comanche (after _The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement_, which is a great primary source but a wee bit biased), is entitled _The Comanche: Lords of the Plains_. And no, they manage to make the Navajo and Lakota/Dakota look almost charming and peaceable. Almost.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          No, _The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement_ sounds evenhanded and fair. To someone of the school of foreign policy thought that _Canadians: The Great Enemy to the North_, _Iran: Finishing What Tamerlane Started_, and _Communism: The Religion With Which There Can Be No Peace_ are an important part of a highschool civics education.

    • This. Precisely. And the lens is somewhat more different when it’s more alien to us, but they’re still human.

  2. “…of the 7000 + hits on Dr Mauser’s post last week… only 5 came from that ‘vital’ multi Hugo award winning site, [redacted], where these self-nominated ‘important’ people hang out.”

    Five? BWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!!!

    Even I get more than five from here, MGC, every time I post a URL. Seriously, the much-vaunted Pixel Smear weapon was used, and Dr. Mauser got -five- hits from them?

    You know, if I was a publisher and I started seeing numbers like that, I would take a very hard look at the volume of sales generated by that clique. It would be a no brainer.

    Publishers, unlike us mere scribblers, have actual data. They -know- how many of what book sold, and where, and when. They know how big a push a book gets from a “major” award. They know how well the award-winning books do in the short term and the long term.

    But if this number is representative, and it seems that it is, then teh Big Dawg in SF “Award Worthy” Fandom has no traffic at all. He’s not even in an echo chamber, he’s in his mom’s garage with five other pimply nerds. They just sound big because of the volume of ruckus they make on social media.

    Makes you wonder how many sock-puppets some of these people run. I read yesterday that two-out-of-three tweets on the “NATO in the Baltic” issue were ‘bots. How many of the seemingly endless avalanche of SJW wankers are the sock-puppets of like five or six OCD weirdos who have chained themselves to their computers?

    One begins to suspect most of this “principled objection” and “resistance” is coming from an amazingly -small- group. As in dozens, not hundreds.

    • A caveat – there may be more than 5… but they never bother to read the context or the entire thing. ChinaMike ™ gives them his selected out-of-context quote – just as he will of this and his spin on it. They take that as the entire gospel, have their 5 minute hate. They never think to question or read for context. Those sort of numbers are typical of the 770 trackbacks to here. I recall on one occasion – we had 2… and they had more than 90 comments about something they hadn’t read and ChinaMike had got arse about face in his effort to denigrate.

  3. paladin3001

    Give a character a name, give them a description, write them like they will act and be. Have a few characters from differing backgrounds in my current WIP. They have one thing in common. They are Canadian. Doesn’t matter what their melanin content is, where their parents came from, they have a certain nationality that is the core of their souls.
    They are different of course, life choices, environment, and ages will change things. Doesn’t mean they aren’t people.
    Mind you I have used “caricatures” in the characters mouths because, human, it happens.

  4. tprice

    OK, I evidently missed something. What was the hissy fit over ” ‘tutti-frutti’ in the title of con talk” ???

      • All I can say is a whop bop a lop bop a whop bam boom.

      • That’s comedy gold right there. OMG, someone used a word/phrase that has multiple meanings to different micro-minorities! It’s kind of fun to watch them eat their own over perceived slights.

      • Zsuzsa

        Okay, I’ve read that link, and I’m still not really sure what all the fuss was about. Actually, reading that link made me suspect that even those fussing didn’t really know what all the fuss was about.

        • tprice

          I agree with your supposition that even those fussing didn’t know what the fuss was about more than “Oooh a chance to signal my virtue!”

          WindyCon is technically my local SF con but I’ve been attending less over the past few years as its been rolling harder left. I missed this last weekend’s con because of a friend’s birthday party but I think I probably had more fun doing the escape room with friends than I would have at the Con. 🙂

        • Joe in PNG

          Fainting fits over nano-agressions is a road to status in some circles.
          If you are the one agressed, and throw a big enough fit, then those people will bow and scrape and give you things to stop your tantrum.

          • And of course that will stop you having the next tanty to get get fussed and petted and given treats. Because that’s how humans (and dogs for that matter) behave. They never repeat (louder) what got them the reward in the first place./s

  5. I wonder: is the fuss about using the name ‘tutti-frutti’ allowed to take up resources because there are no issues more important that should be addressed in that venue?
    Or, is there a very important issue that the persons behind the t-f uproar are attempting to to distract us from?
    I’m inclined to believe that NOBODY has the skill set and time to hide a huge problem under the trivialities that we are being presented. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

    However, I DO believe that there is damage done in diverting attention from solving some specific, individual issues, by rants about trivia.
    For example, I want to know exactly what went wrong when Philando Castile was shot and killed by police while carefully following their directions. I’m not accusing anyone of institutional racism. But SOMETHING went wrong, and I don’t want the tiniest speck of interest removed from that case until we know what happened, and how to keep it from happening again.
    Another example: a little over a week ago, a man kills 26 people, mostly children, in a little church near San Antonio. The man was a convicted domestic abuser; he had been awarded a Bad Conduct Discharge by a General Court-Martial, which SHOULD have been reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check, making it impossible for him to have purchased any of the four firearms he acquired by going through the correct procedures. I don’t want ANYTHING of trivial importance to interfere or distract from the investigation and resolution of this issue.
    Stupid stuff interferes with important stuff all the time. In a short while, Moira Greyland Peat’s book, “The Last Closet” is going to be published. Follow the links; go back and read about what was became known as the ‘Breendoggle.’ Stupid stuff (whether Walter Breen should be barred from attending certain science fiction meetings) took precedence over important stuff (he was using attendance at those meetings, held in the homes of members, to have sexual contact with their children).
    Stupid stuff should NEVER be allowed to interfere with important stuff. True, there are always people delighted to drop grit into the machinery because it’s not their machinery, they like the sound it makes, they don’t like the people who own and maintain the machinery.
    But does being a libertarian mean we ignore BEHAVIORS that harm us? I’m not calling for thought police; but, disrupting an event because you object to what you perceive the speaker believes is not thought. It’s not speech. Disrupting an event is behavior, and nobody gets a free pass on their behavior.

    Sorry for the rant.

    • Why? Because that’s the worst thing they have to worry about. Do you think the soldiers who went over the top in the “War to End All Wars” would have given a fig about it? Naw. It’s like what the Civil War ancestor told one of my grandmothers when she said something was nasty: “Don’t you young ‘uns tell me what’s nasty,” and he went on to describe in detail drinking water men and horses had bled and died in, and was glad to get it. Such things concentrates the mind wonderfully on what’s important and what is not.

  6. My Grandfather was in WW1, in France. I only got to talk to him about it once, many years later when I was in college. The picture he painted of what it looked like was not a very pleasant one, to put it mildly.
    Hearing it from someone who fought, went over the top for the charges, was mustard gassed once, and eventually seriously wounded, really brings it home. You look at the movies about it differently after that, because you realize that even the worst of them have been heavily sanitized.

    • My family fell into a notch where they were too old and too young for service. The only story we have is the US Government wanted our black walnut trees for gun stocks. Those black walnuts were Christmas money, and my father’s parents wouldn’t hear of it.

    • Likewise. Great-grandfather was too old, grandfathers were too young, then too old for WWII or in critical industries, but a lot of the uncles were in WWII. The other great-grandfather had 4 kids (eventually 6) and was the only surviving son, and was in a vital industry, so he was exempted. He later lied about his age, rounded it down by at least a decade, and worked in the Houston shipyard during WWII.

  7. Uncle Lar

    Pity that so few these days have to hunt or fish or grub in the ground for their sustenance. Doing so gives one perspective on what’s important in life. A soft life leads to soft headed thinking such as your own picaune problems must of course be the most important things in the world.
    And Dave, true you are an insensitive clod, but you’re our insensitive clod so please never change. Clean yourself up and act like a city bloke and we’d not know what to make of you.

  8. It’s funny that people who have never been anywhere else but their own country are trying to tell you how to interpret a group of people they’ve never even met.

  9. I love fiction with foreign settings. Mind you, I have minimal personal knowledge of most of the places, so I cannot judge the accuracy of the portrayal. But checking the author’s bio just might give a clue.

    Oh, and speaking of WWI, half my knowledge of Australia is from reading the murder mysteries of Arthur Upfield, whom I see from his bio, fought at Gallipoli and in France.

  10. Mike Glyer

    My gosh, Dave, another column about something you read at File 770? Who’d have expected that, after all your bluster the last time I pointed that out.

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