Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Problem With Politics



Politics in fantasy and science fiction, that is. I'm not going near the tar pit that is modern politics in any country.

Something you notice when you read a lot is that most people haven't got a clue how politics actually work, leading to what could be described as Tough Guide to Fantasyland political systems (If you haven't read the Tough Guide, find it and read it. It's hilarious, and boy does it skewer shoddy the fantasy cliches). Sadly, the same kind of thing also shows up way too often in science fiction, complete with the fantasy memes of the Evil Empire - it doesn't matter what it's actually called, if it functions as an Evil Empire, it might as well be one - the noble, heroic anti-imperial forces, usually horribly outnumbered/out-weaponed and so forth.

Part of the problem with imagining other forms of government is that English is actually a very egalitarian language. Over centuries we've lost any distinction between formal and informal address, much less anything more complex. Compare this to some of the European languages where there are formal and informal forms of "you", or some of the Asian languages which have multiple forms of address depending on rank, level of intimacy, level of formality, and so forth. To most native English speakers that kind of distinction is beyond confusing and heads rapidly into the realm of utterly incomprehensible - with the result that we find it very difficult to truly understand the kinds of protocol that go with any highly class-conscious society.

A rather length aside here - even English royalty is remarkably egalitarian. The rule for speaking with any member of the English royal family is burned into my memory, courtesy an incident from when I was part of a choir in Australia. The choir was singing at a college graduation where the Duchess of Kent (as patron of the college) was presenting the degrees. One of my sisters was graduating, so naturally the whole family was there - me and my mother in the choir, the graduating sister in with the other graduates, and the rest of the horde in the general audience (Yes, my family is a horde. I'm the oldest of 5. Back in the bad old days when the Queensland Government restricted public gatherings, we used to joke that we needed a permit to go anywhere as a family). Security, naturally, was tight, but we choristers were told that if by chance we did end up speaking with the Duchess, the rule was to address her as "Your Grace" the first time you said anything, and "Ma'am" after that. I wouldn't remember this except that... mum is a mad keen photographer and she wanted a photo of the Duchess. So, after the graduation is finished and everyone else has gone home (it was well after midnight) mum manages to find out which elevator the Duchess is going to be using and positions herself there - and gets permission from the security people, who basically said photos were fine so long as she stayed behind this line. I'm hanging back - figure painfully shy mid-twenties in dorky choir uniform and you've got it. Besides, mum's the outgoing, impossible to embarrass one, so if any of the horde gets to talk to the Duchess, it's her. The elevator opens, the Duchess sees mum with camera and pauses long enough for mum to get a nice photo, then heads straight to me. I'm not sure how long I was the very picture of gobsmacked, but it was probably a lot less time than it felt like! There was this moment of pure panic followed by a thought along the lines of "Oh, crap, what were the rules?" Fortunately the Duchess is a very gracious lady who knows how to talk to painfully shy, overwhelmed people - we ended up having a short but relatively sensible discussion about the choir she's a member of, the policies of both choirs about what jewelry the women can wear for performances, how much fun it is to sing certain works and so on. But after being singled out - I suspect because she saw me hanging back and I was in the choir uniform (so was mum, but she was waving the camera around, too) - I'm never going to forget that rule!

Anyway, back to fictional governments and forms of protocol that go with them. What you could call the 'default fantasy' setup involves a king, some number of usually not very well defined nobility, mostly parasitic, and everyone else. It doesn't take too much thinking about the setup to realize it not only doesn't work, it can't work. Part of the function of class distinctions is to define responsibilities - the higher the class or rank, the higher the responsibility. Slaves are responsible for whatever their job happens to be. Serfs (slaves tied to land rather than people) are responsible for feeding themselves and their families fed and usually having enough surplus for the land owner's requirements. Free farmers are responsible for feeding themselves and their families, usually providing at least one armed man for whatever purposes are needed, and paying taxes to their lord in either money or goods. In towns, the various merchants are responsible for making enough profit to keep their families fed, paying taxes to both the town upkeep and the lord, and usually some form of guild association as well. The 'noble' class - ranging from relatively small land owners to control of several cities - are responsible for keeping everything they own in good running order, collecting the taxes for those higher up the chain, enforcing the laws and where necessary making their own laws for problems specific to their regions. Royalty is responsible for keeping the nobility in order, relationships with other countries, maintaining law and order, and generally keeping the whole thing running - which is a huge simplification. In a fantasy setting, the effective limit of a country's size is based mostly on how long it takes to travel from one end to the other. Anything more than a few days becomes very difficult to manage unless there are trusted governors/nobles/whatever in each district who can act as royal proxies if needed. China overcame the distance issue by imposing a common culture on conquered peoples. Russia didn't reach its full extent until the late 1800s, when rapid communication by telegraph was possible. The British Empire managed to hold on to territory all over the world by a combination of local governors with vice-regal authority (that is, they could act as if they were the monarch) and relatively fast shipping which allowed them to reach pretty much any part of the Empire in six weeks.

To successfully deal with all the complications that arise in anything like this, you need to know who is in charge of what, because the actual distribution of control/responsibility gets pretty diffuse in anything large or complex. The whole system might be pretty much invisible to Joe Average - but it needs to be there, or you get the Tough Guide effect where it all seems to exist on tourism from adventurers.

On the science fictional side of the coin, it's often even worse. Those star-spanning civilizations connected by whatever macguffin is used to permit space travel? Impossible, even with the handwavium of faster than light/wormholes/whatever. Here's why: in any sufficiently technologically advanced society, knowledge is the key to wealth, and currency is typically a nominal unit of value rather than the 'hard' currency of less technologically based cultures. One of the things that makes this possible is effectively instantaneous communication, which can be done on a single planet. Over several light years? Not likely. To have a functional currency through a multiple star empire, you need to be able to withdraw money from a bank on planet A, and have that balance reflected instantly in the database on space station Z. I've yet to see anything that takes this into account.

Then you have the lunacy that is standard SF trope interstellar war. By using a quasi-Napoleonic environment, some authors make this sort of limp along, but space is effectively boundaryless. Your space empire or republic or whatever is effectively a collection of discrete islands surrounded by a whole lot of buggerall. If you've read anything about the problems of naval warfare during World War Two, you've got some idea - just extrapolate to three dimensions instead of two, and expand the scale from "big" to "so utterly freaking huge it's mind blowing". The Napoleonic analogy is probably as close as you can get, but even so, the assumption behind that analogy is still one of scarcity of resources when most planetary systems have more than enough of everything for a sufficiently advanced technological base to leverage - and that's without the extremely high likelihood of some degree of replication or fabrication.

Without near-instantaneous communication, there can't be any viable star-spanning anythings - instead there'll probably be a series of effectively self-sustaining/self-contained settlements and settlement clusters, each with its own economic systems and rules - making life very interesting indeed for the space traveler. The likelihood of this generating any kind of empire, much less an Evil one, probably has so many zeros after the decimal point it might as well be zero - except that there's a 100% chance some lunatic will try to form one. (There's a large historical precedent for this. Practically every attempt at building a utopian society anywhere falls into this category, because people aren't perfect and trying to make them fit the vision usually ends badly.) Not to mention that, like the fantasy realms, they're not going to be homogenous. There'll be misfits, eccentrics, leaders, followers, predators and prey, because every society has them.

All things considered, I'd better leave it here, because if I get into economics and how that works - or doesn't - in the vast majority of science fiction and fantasy, I'll have to write a book-length rant, and I'd much rather just write a book that does get it more or less right. I hope.

Who do you think does get it right, or close to right? What do they get right?

45 comments:

C Kelsey said...

Lois Bujold once said that she is routinely surprised by the fact that most people, to at least some degree, expect science fiction to have some degree of politics in it. It makes perfect sense when you consider that, on the scale we like to write our space operas at, there has to be some sort of polity to interact with and control things.

This post reminds me a bit of the discussion on how large a country is etc. Eventually, characters step outside of that village. When they do, they not only encounter a larger world, but they encounter the governments of that world. And those governments have to make sense to govern the people. Anything that is "evil" has to have a reason of some sort to be "evil". So setting up a good kingdom versus an evil kingdom just doesn't work... unless you're writing a comedy. There's comic gold in such a setup IMO. Which, of course, reminds me a story that I want to write.

Excellent post!

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Then there's the cliche of the high-tech, heavily-populated planet with a completely homogenous population and a single government for the whole planet -- kind of like the socio-political equivalent of the planet that has the same climate all over.

In an interview I read, I thought Charles Stross had an interesting take on that: "If you show me a planet with a single government, I'll show you the mass graves."

matapam said...

Speaking of Bujold, she frames her space battles around possession of wormholes, thus limiting the direction from which an attacker can come, or around which a defended must array his forces. Very sensible, fictionally. Always makes me wonder how silly it will sound in a hundred years, but then so does Dave Weber's hyperspace.

Both of them do a decent job with the politics.

Fantasy? Tolkien was so bad . . . Sorry fans, but a king in exile for generations? Anyhow he mostly skipped over the day to day life, and once they were out of the Shire, no money was involved.

Most others I can think of keep to small countries, and precious metal coinage.

Interstellar trade? Andre Norton's Solar Queen series was excellent. Trade goods, and you'd better hope you get them right. But plastic beads for the natives isn't going to work hopping between high-tech space-going civs.

If trade or tourism is to be encouraged, some sort of currency exchange will be needed. Perhaps like Heinlein, by a bank that moves gold (TMIAHM) or another valuable commodity so as to have undeniable assets in all it's areas of service. The info transfer would be like a passbook bank account, you carry it with you, and it electronically reports it's own balance. Lost, stolen, hacked, counterfeited. All sorts of possibilities for writers.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Loved your post, Kate.

I find how societies work fascinating. They used to say environment shaped a society. But you can find villages in Papua New Guinea only a few miles apart, with totally different systems of running.

Also loved the cat in the Darth Vader costume!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

The cat in the Darth Vader costume was evil. It got tea on my keyboard. Some warning, please.

Beyond that, well... my favorite was the old style SF where everyone is addressed by his profession. "Why, engineer Smith, yes I would like to have tea with you and mechanic Brown." I recently found this in manuscript I judged for a contest which added to the charm by having numbers instead of names. It was Engineer 123456 and Mechanic 98798. Which for someone like me, who is digit dyslexic, created no end of FUN. Also, of course, gives it that Beagle Brothers (Scrooge comics) feel.

My favorite question is -- in any society with magic, why would noblemen NOT be magicians? Or why would magicians be poor? Or plebians?

Just asking.

WangZheng259 said...

Tom Kratman's Terra Nova books are explicity a challenge to all monocultural one government world's in Sci-Fi. I also consider them an excellent example of politics done well. Of course, scratch Terra Nova, and you can see contemporary Earth. (Albeit one with an Evil Space UN that works well.)

Nobility is a function of the dominant weapons system being prone to a hereditary monopoly. Good steel melee weapons are both costly and work best with training from early childhood. Rifles are cheap, and much easier to learn, hence we are equals of each other.

So, Magicians would not be noble if the drawbacks or limitations of magic cripple it as a weapons system compared to the others. Or, if magic is not usfully hereditary. (Perhaps the users are chosen entirely at random, by an uncontrollable process, which also imprint all useful information on magic? Or perhaps, magicians are inherently weakminded and softhearted?)

Magicians could be poor, if compared to other workers, they are less effective, or the usual of them being lazy, unable to hold on to money, or mentally ill. A man whose skills could earn him a million dollars a week, might still be poor if he doesn't use them, can spend the money in a day, or if everybody else can earn ten.

Of course, the side effects of using magic might be such that noone, including the other magic users, will tolerate a magic user being in any position of power. (Aside from the magic of course.)

I do not know about information being a foundation for an economy. I think the useful chunk of the population will continue to be the critical factor.

I also think we had multibranch banks in the days prior to having instant communications between them, but I have not done any recent research.

I think there will always be scarcity of space to live in without /those/ people on it. If the FTL macguffin does not go fast enough to allow feuding with the next planet over, the planet likely splits into factions and has it out there.

One empire? Probably not, although my current effort has rupper science, rubber history, and rubber magic, and there is a fellow who managed to unify most of humanity under its rule. (There is an external enemy, and there is a very large cost in bodies.) But if travel speed, organization, and enough inhabited worlds allow it, it should be possible to assemble great intersteller powers, at least for a period of time.

Kate said...

Chris,

With precious few exceptions, people don't get out of bed and say "today I will be evil". The more common view is "We are the only real/deserving. Anyone who opposes us must be evil." Two groups with different vies and that particular mindset are going to end up at war.

You're right, there has to be some kind of politics in science fiction and fantasy, if only because we don't have the "real world" to scaffold on. All of that stuff is assumed in contemporary fiction and can be conveniently ignored. Your character can catch the flight to Timbuktoo without anyone having to do the mental work of devising the Industrial Revolution, the growth of aviation technology and everything supporting it, the existence of airlines providing long-distance travel at a reasonable cost (we could argue about that, but let's avoid the tarpit. I'm arguing with flu and really don't want to get nasty), etc etc etc. You do that in fantasy or science fiction and you have to have at least some idea what's involved and how it all works. "There are magic carpet ships because I need my characters to travel long distance in exotic style" might be fine for the first draft, but you've got to figure out why anyone would expend that much magic to transport things (it's faster than ships, the stuff arrives in better condition, and oh, yeah, we can take paying passengers as well so it costs less per trip), what kind of magicians would fly them, and so forth.

Which just happens to be the kind of thing I really love doing :-)

Kate said...

Robert,

Oh, yes, "the desert planet", "the forest planet", and so on. There is actually one scenario that could produce a homogenous-ish population, and that's a planet with a single continent that sits entirely in the one climate zone and has no significant natural barriers. Then you could get China writ very large - but it's still going to be a case of the most powerful group imposes its values on the rest.

matapam said...

Sarah,

Kate Elliott's Crown of Stars series was nice, because with magic, the division of power between male and female was much reduced, even generations later when magic was quite rare.

Magicians being the Top Dogs of a society would depend on the nature of magic, its costs, its distribution through the population, how well it is controlled during sleep, and how it interacts with tech.

If genetically conferred, if one can use it to hunt and to fight, I think it will start out with the magicians on top. But does it help with agriculture? Control the weather, fix nitrogen? Then the magicians can stay on top. If it is sufficiently long range that it is not seriously disadvantaged against bow and arrow, and can be used with or against swords then the magical leadership will survive the Medieval period. If it plays well with steam engines, electricity, and radioactive materials, magic could be dominant all the way into the nuclear age.

On the other hand, who needs a working rain dance when you've got an irrigation network? And the founding kings may have had magic, but their kids may not, but if they have mundane power, they'll still be on top. I mean, look at the hereditary leaders, even of commerce. Three generations away from the founder, and you've got idiots.

Most fantasies that I recall off hand, that had the magicians poor and powerless had strong prejudice against them, frequently religiously driven. The magicians were few, and thus could be overwhelmed by sheer numbers if nothing else worked.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Wang, if magic is worth anything -- sufficient to be an integral part of the book and not a doilly over the less interesting parts, then it is power and power will tell. Magic can be either power literally -- i.e. energy, or it can be force -- against something. In either case, by definition, the magicians will neither be poor nor plebian for long.

Oh, I'll grant you it is possible to imagine all the cases you're talking about, though I'd like to point out that not being trusted in power doesn't mean you're not in power.

However, in most fantasy novels, the existence of magic and poverty/oppression SHOULD be mutually exclusive.

Also, I think Kate was talking about information being power in any sufficiently advanced society, particularly one stretched far enough. Because what you're trading for is more likely to be symbolic or knowledge of how to do things (note the unfeasability of carrying materials long distance) than raw materials and precious metals. And particularly money at a certain level of development seems to become an idea, rather than an object. I will grant you multibranches in the days before telephones. However, it could also be argued that efficient multinational companies came in with the telephone. Yes, empires were possible before, but the rule was very loose.

FTL or not, the idea of a multi-planet empire well... I suppose it will be possible to have a galaxy-spanning empire, if you don't mind your hand resting very lightly on the rudder. It's more likely to be like the Roman Empire, which as you know had immense variations from place to place despite its magnificent organization, or perhaps the Celtic commonwealth where the center pipes the tune and the fringes improvise.

It could be argued that other than our magnificent constitution (and you won't hear argument on that here) what has kept us from some of the European excesses has been our spread-outness. If that has changed in the era of near-instant communication, remains to be seen. Perhaps we're England-with-the-chunnel now.

As for fighting other people over space... um... depends on so many things -- most space opera pressuposes vast Earth like or terraformable territory.

Frankly most star empires -- with exceptions. I like Weber's books, for ex -- feel unlikely to me. Though I'm willing to suspend disbelief, it doesn't "feel" right.

Kate said...

Matapam,

Absolutely. If space travel happens via known, static locations, possession of those locations equals power to whoever has them.

Tolkein... was writing legends. I don't think he intended Lord of the Rings to become actual fiction, and the results speak for themselves.

There are indeed any number of possible ways around the difficulties - which is why it gets so irritating when someone doesn't bother. In my current work in progress (space opera with sex, blackmail, and various other goings on), banking accounts are local to the planet, space station, or whatever. Most people don't need anything else because they don't go anywhere else, and those who travel carry small high value items - particularly things that don't replicate well.

Kate said...

Rowena,

It's remarkable how one little difference can reinforce itself over generations and lead to such dramatically different end results. The New Guinea tribes are fascinating for that - so many small, isolated cultures in tiny little pockets.

The cat's delightful, isn't it?

Kate said...

Sarah,

If I'm talking about the Evil Empire trope, of course I'm going to have a picture of Darth Kitteh-Vader.

Oh gawd, the everyone has numbers instead of names thing... Yuck! If someone tried to impose that, you'd end up with nicknames instead, and everyone would 'know' that 116933 was 'orgy-boy'. Or something.

And yes, unless there's something actively working against magicians having non-magical power as well (being able to turn someone into a frog or zap them with lightning tends to inspire a certain amount of respect, or at least healthy fear), they should rise to the top and become the nobility.

Kate said...

WangZheng,

An evil space UN that works well? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? If you mean 'functions efficiently', then it's highly likely that most of those who live in it don't see it as 'evil' so much as 'better than it could be'. If it works anything like today's UN... OK, I am so not going there.

And no, nobility is not a function of who can get at the dominant weapons system. It's a function of who can most effectively organize people to support his (and historically, it usually is a 'he') goals. Those people can get whatever they need, where the disorganized can't. If working viable magic requires mental focus, it's a done deal. The magician has powers that aren't necessarily available to everyone, and has the skills to organize supporters - particularly if he can use his magical abilities to either make enemy weapons less effective on his people, or his weapons more effective on the enemy.

If earning a million a week is problematic because everyone else can earn ten, you have a hyperinflation situation, an inherently unstable economy, and something is going to go ugly very soon. Good novel fuel, but not something that's going to stay intact for the length of a book (unless the book only covers a day, possibly not even then).

If a substantial working population is needed for wealth, then Monaco would be one of the poorest countries in the world. It's not. Knowing what you have and how to use what you have to the best advantage - namely knowledge is the key. China's billions working away didn't transform the country - aiming them in a direction that worked with human nature instead of against it did.

Multi-branch banks were initially limited to within the one city, and gradually spread as the ability to communicate improved. The reason many banks still impose a week's wait on deposits of personal checks is that it used to take that long to get a message to the bank of origin, have someone make sure the check was on a valid account and there was enough balance, and send a 'wire' (telegraph) to notify that it was okay. To actually physically transfer the money could take longer.

The kind of scarcity you're talking about could well be an artificial construct - if it's relatively cheap to establish and maintain a self-supporting orbital habitat, there will be orbital habitats with small populations around anything with enough gravity to maintain a stable orbit and not too much other junk orbiting it. In any case the kind of war that would occur in this situation isn't interstellar, it's local, and would operate mostly on the principles we already know and love to hate (orbital bombardment, blowing stuff up in assorted creative ways, and so forth).

Travel speed and enough people might allow the possibility of a large interstellar military force. Organization would be an issue - how would you communicate between the various stake=holders? The effective communication would be very like the communication levels in the medieval era, when letters might or might not reach the recipient, and you could wait months for a reply - and in the meantime, the crisis that's inspired you to send the message isn't getting any better.

Kate said...

Matapam,

A counter-example for you - if there are enough magicians to ensure the crops grow well and arrange some of those little luxuries, who is going to need technology?

If you take magic as inheritable although not always (rather like those modern business empires where the management nous is inheritable but doesn't necessarily get inherited), there's going to be a lot of competition and while the magicians are generally doing more good than harm in the view of the non-magicians, magicians will be desirable - which sooner or later will spread minor magical skill (enough, say, to ensure one's crops grow well and to do domestic chores quickly) - probably well before technology gets to a level where it can act as a replacement for magic. Who's going to build a working irrigation system when a simple spell does the job?

The question of religion being hostile to magic can be addressed in any number of ways. All you need is one priest who attributes his magical abilities to divine approval, and "blesses" the crops.

From my perspective, the hostility to magic thing only really works if magicians have been beyond stupid and abused their abilities to a level where they were forcibly kicked out, or if magic itself is so dangerously unpredictable the magician is as much at risk as anyone around him just by existing.

Which is, of course, interesting story fodder in itself.

Kate said...

Sarah,

Where do you get the magic doilies to cover the boring bits? I need a gross or two.

Power - including magic and the knowledge of how magic works - does indeed tell, and a pleb magician isn't going to stay in the lower classes unless he's also dumb.

Being in power and not being trusted... I though that was the norm? Oh, sorry, that's the Australian norm. We should do like Pratchett suggests in Last Continent, and put them all in prison as soon as they're elected. It saves time.

Anyway, to stay in power you don't need to be trusted. You need to be sufficiently valuable in power that you not being in power is much worse, or trusted by enough people - often for gold-backed versions of trust (the Varangian Guard and its ilk) - that you're not going to be unseated. Generally speaking, once you have power if you're not in a situation with regular votes, you're going to stay there unless you screw up. Most people prefer stability, even bad stability, to chaos.

Yes, I was talking about a technologically advanced society - although in a less technological society even something as simple as knowing who to ask for which favor confers a certain amount of power. In a space-going society, unless you macguffin instantaneous transfer of information, then knowing what is in demand where, and how to get it becomes hugely valuable.

I agree that a Roman-style empire, where each planet/easily accessible region is effectively autonomous with a loose central guide is possible - I don't think I've seen anyone actually write one, though. With a very few exceptions (Weber being one) most space operas I've seen tend to assume 20th-century style government. Maybe I've only seen the bad ones.

matapam said...

Power corrupts. Governments get overthrown. Not always as umm, stylishly as the French Revolution, but I wouldn't expect governments to last forever in a fictional world either.

So one might have a history of the Tyrant Wizards, which is why every kid that shows a sign of magical ability gets burned at the stake. Or wars between nations, where one winning tactic might be to throw everything at the opposition's magicians, and then your magicians can deal with the ordinary troops. This could result in a loss of magical genes to both populations.

As to rain dances vs irrigation, how long distance is your magic effective? It's a lot easier to make that cloud blow this direction and cool down and start raining, than it is to reach thousands of miles and try to shift a high pressure ridge that's causing a drought. Having limits means Grimmer Wormtongue can call you a Demon and suggest that tossing you in the volcano will placate the gods.

Or the arrogant wizards charge too much, and it's cheaper to take your grain to Tom, with the mill down by the stream to get it ground.

How your magic works will determine how it affects the growth of tech. Maybe it just isn't any good for grinding grain and weaving cloth. And there aren't enough wizards to have more than a few in the large cities sending and receiving messages, which might accelerate the invention of mundane devices to do roughly the same job.

Fictionally, magic that is too strong makes for a boring story. or you wind up with your cardboard Good Wizard vs Evil Wizard and the rest of the society is of no consequence to the tale.

WangZheng259 said...

Kate,

Works well as a bit of political worldbuilding. It is also very efficient at the things the real world UN is good for. The Class Ones would certainly agree that it is not evil.
Magical and human systems are considered to be part of the weapons system. It was Roman society as an institution, that allowed the creation of the legions as an institution, not the weapons. A sword is a weapon. A sword in the hands of someone who can use it is a weapons system, or part of one. To field swordsmen, you need the wealth in metal for the swords and armor, and the wealth in food to support the people as they aquire the skill. Having the wealth, one is in a position to train heirs to be better swordsmen, and better at leading swordsmen. Then use this to get more wealth. It is the same with magic that trains the same as swords, and better with inherited magic. Steel and food are cheaper these days, and training riflemen is much quicker than swordsmen. A longbowman on foot does not require the resources of a knight in full plate on a charger.
Consider superheros. The world building is usually automatically done to be just like the real world except... However, the supers essentially are automatically equipped with a weapons systems that trumps everyone deployed by the mundanes, who are mooks. (This is so the hero can save the day.) The problem is, this means that the supers essentially have all the 'guns', and are essentially in a position to dictate to society. However, the comic book writers want to have the hero always saving the day, while keeping the world otherwise just like our own, so that the reader will be able to identify with it better. This conflict, and, I think, lazy writers, leads to things like Marvel's Civil War storyline.
I don't know about the million/ten million thing. I think that is more than the difference between, say, below minimum wage and what petroleum engineers get. I probably should have said a million currency units instead, as a fantasy setting may have nothing that can really compare with the American dollar.
I think the scarcity I am talking about is more closely tied to human nature and transit speed. You care about the people you interact closely and quickly enough with, or who can closely and quickly interact with you. If you can't trust them not to attack, then you can't let them go hole up somewhere to rearm, or you have to hunt them down. Back in the early nineteenth century, a frontiersman might not care at all what was going on in China, because the transit time was too long. Now, the range of caring has increased, I think because of quicker cheaper transit.
Warhammer 40k is a space opera setting whose human government is very much not 20th century style. Now, it has a great deal of monocultural, monoclimate, single zone planets. But the Imperium is one big hetrogenous, imperfectly administered mess circling the drain.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Warhammer40000

WangZheng259 said...

Sarah,

I was trying to establish where the breakeven points were. I have had settings on various different places on the diagram. The one I'd imagined for the 'will not tolerate' involved magic being so disturbing that no one, even the girl with the scary power, will tolerate magic users as greater than say, Omega status, even in the case of someone stable with a innocous and useful power, that could, in theory, be of great value if they had a position that would let them coordinate with others. This would be so strong that anyone, user or non user, would cheerfully get themselves killed to keep a user from taking, having, or getting higher status.

I think you are probably correct about most cases in fantasy. A story in a setting where the magic users are innately constrained to be commodities rather than actors would likely not appeal to most fantasy readers.

I think most of the religiously persecuted minority magic user fantasy stems from the whole benevolent mother goddess, Catholic Church and the Salem witch trials narrative popular with some. (As an aside, is anyone else annoyed by the notion that the Salem witches must have been real magic users whose tradition was continous with that favored by the person discussing things? Fantasy or not, if it were an inherited tradition, heirs of it would have need to be very stupid to have joined a group of pilgrims likely to be jumpy about such things. If acquired, again, one would have to be very stupid to do it in a culture or subculture that viewed it the way we might, say, someone trying to set up a terrorist group.) Omit Urban Fantasy from this broad brush, as I have odd notions regarding the sub genre.

Wen Spencer's Tinker stories are also an example of good politics.

I'd argue that modern transit is at least as important as modern communications.

Shipping information alone would still seem to require competant people on the other end to make use of it. If they are truely competent, perhaps they are able to come up with it on their own? I think there will always be a scarity of people who can get things done.

I do not think that I was arguing for a uniform multi-system empire or confederation. True uniformity is very difficult, even on smaller scales. However, a small enough empire might well be able to manage a common tongue. (My oversized empire is not very uniform. The founder is, literally, a combination of, among others, Cthulhu, Azathoth, Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth. There were also things that went into the composite that were very capable of understanding, leading, administering, and caring about humans, and it still just barely pulled things off.)

Myself, if I am willing to bend physical things to allow for significant space travel, I can also bend things on the human systems front, if I need to.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

Which is the whole point of my magical british empire. If it ever goes on. (Oh, who knows? Not at this point, but...) we'll find that weres brought their present proscribed issues on themselves. And the magical nobility of course, spread it around a bit much. Coff. Literally.

Chris McMahon said...

I liked the way Sean Williams did the Astropolis series. Particularly the fact there was NO faster the light, even though there was a widespread galactic presence of human civilisations (many of which weren't kind of human anymore). His characters were all pretty much modified, and could alter the speed of processing of their consciousness for long distance travel (and their enhanced bodies took care of themselves).

From a political point of view things were sort of a mess. In the latter books the central character was trying to re-establish a kind of empire, but I'm not sure I buy that. There was the implication that AIs were needed to keep things running/sensible across the distances/times involved.

AIs kind of annoy me too.

matapam said...

The Superheroes that only save the day, they never rule is a good point. They are usually such a tiny minority that they would have to have a lot of outside support from normal people to rule, and then like as not they'd just be the figurehead of a bureaucracy of ordinary people.

I wonder what percent of a population would have to have extra ordinary abilities, in order to take over and really be a distinct ruling class. You'd need the Mayor and Police Chief of every town, the head of the local Chamber of Commerce and one or two of the large employers. State and Federal Representatives, judges.

I'll bet you could do it with 0.1%, depending on how good the special skills are at influencing people. Of course and elective system would be much more easy to penetrate than a rigid class system.

Speaking of things Fantasy writers miss. You live and die in the class you were born in, in much of the world. Upperward mobility? Not into the nobility!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

To make my comment clear, Pam, other than bragging about myself -- sorry, I'm still not very clear headed -- those ideas you pose (which are good stories starting points) are by definitiona good thing, because it means you thought about how you got there. What annoys me about the "poor, plebian" all powerful magician is that there's never a reason why. It's just, they're "unnappreciated." Kind of like... beginner writers, say. :)

WangZheng259 said...

Sarah,
The Psykers from WH40K are a good example of magic users in poor shape. The setting predisposes them to madness and possession. (At least the ones that are human.) The methods the human Imperium uses to control this and make use of it are not nice. If you are a normal kid, and find out that you are a Psyker, full knowledge of the setting might suggest that shooting yourself is the cleanest option. (Of course, full knowledge of the setting might be used to fix things, and might get one eaten by Tzeentch before pulling the trigger.)

WangZheng259 said...

matapam,
The power to protect is not the same as being able to enforce one's will on a population. However, the power to protect is the power not to protect, which can be a potent method of coercion. If the heros had gotten together, they could probably have altered a whole bunch of the rules of normal society which tended to cause them trouble, like Joker getting released on parole, or not being able to turn in Kingpin because your evidence was gotten very illegally. (Heroes of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.) This, of course, would have ruined stock plots, and the image of the heros with much of the American comic reading public. If they had powered up the army and the cops to be realistically competitive, then the heros wouldn't be surrounded by mooks.
It does kind of depend on the setting. For Marvel, they used to have enough mutants to try to protray them as an oppressed ethnic minority. (I think they depowered a bunch of them recently, and the mutants took over in at least one timeline. I figured mutant powers was more of a second amendment issue.)
I think Kratman quoted a number of 1% or 3% of the population for normal fanatics taking over their own society. The downside of an elective society that you are removing a much larger chunk of the population from power, which can mean more killing.

matapam said...

Maybe that's the problem, Sarah. We writers know all about downtrodden and lack of appreciation but, (and despite our Universal nobility of soul) haven't a lot of experience with the sheer isolationist and arrogant superiority of the elite.

Amanda Green said...

WangZheng, the whole thing comes down to several very basic issues. One, does your magic have rules and do you stick to the rules? Two, does it fit into the world you've built? In other words, is there a reason for it to exist and does it make sense? You can't have a 21st century world as we know it and then suddenly plop down some guy who can pull a Merlin out of nowhere without laying the groundwork. Three, magic must have costs. Magic is energy in one form or another. Because of that you must be able to supply energy for the "spell" to work -- whether through your own personal energy, ley lines, ritual, etc or sacrifice -- and that use of energy will take a toll somewhere that is NOT the target of the spell.

As for magic needing to be part of the weapons system, no, it doesn't have to be. Not everything is identified in those terms. It all depends on the rules of your world.

As for a magician being poor, I think what Kate was talking about is that a competent magician has no reason to be poor. And yes, one of the tropes in fantasy has been the master mage or magician who has to beg for food. It makes no sense and is a problem with world building.

Whether you are dealing with advanced tech or magic or a mixture of tech and magic, you have to have solid world building. That includes not only knowing the limits of your tech and magic, but also your political, social and economic systems.

I am not going to spend a lot of time discussing comics or gaming. They have established systems. However, those systems do not translate well into novelized fiction, imo. The rules are simply different. Same with comics which have historically been more limited than novels.

I could go on about all of this but will hold off until Sunday. With Kate's permission, I'll discuss the rules of magic in world-building some more then.

Kate said...

Matapam,

Yes, books about all-powerful wizards flinging impressive magic at each other and ignoring everything else do tend to get boring very quickly.

Part of the issue is that I don't think many people think through the consequences of their world building - especially at the slush pile level - and even fewer think about the necessary antecedents for their neat story.

As you said, if magic is feared and magicians are killed as soon as they show up... why? Was there some horrific all out magical-war in the past that left much of the land unlivable? (Holly Lisle has used this device). Did magicians gain power and become such horrendous tyrants that they were overthrown in a bloodbath like the aftermath of the French Revolution?

It all comes down to the world building - if you've laid in your antecedents properly, most of what happens will fit.

Kate said...

WangZheng,

First off, the medium has a very large impact on the kind of things you can do. You're referencing comics and role playing - both of which have very different structures and constraints than novels, making your comparisons less than helpful.

Role play tends to be much more categorized - and I can spot a role-player attempting to write a book a mile away. I've only seen it done well once - Weber's Bahzell books. The rulesets that role playing adopts in order to facilitate play tend not to translate to novel world-building.

As for comics, perhaps the biggest constraint is the episodic format, often coupled with the demand - by readers and sometimes execs - that nothing important can change. DC has tried to "retire" Superman at least three times because he's pretty much a plot-killer. Each time, they've been forced to bring him back. This does not translate to novels. Period.

If you've got some good examples of books - and books that are not based on this or that role playing universe (which are mostly mediocre not because of the ability of the writer but because of the constraints of role playing games) - that reinforce your points, bring them on. I can't speak to Kratman's "evil space UN" for the simple reason that I haven't read it.

Kate said...

Chris,

That sounds like a well-thought-out series, at least to start. I have to agree with you in principle at least about the space empire idea being kind of irritating, and the idea that you need AIs to run it all being even more irritating.

Unless the AIs are sufficiently human-like to have ethical considerations (and I have no idea how something like that could be programmed in and follow logical rules - which computers by definition must do) and recognize patterns (which computers are very, very bad at), in which case they're going to be as fallible as we are, since the pattern recognition can lead to spectacular glitches... Okay, that's meandering.

If your AI is going to be able to handle complex amorphous tasks, it has to be close enough to human as makes no difference. In which case, you might as well have a set of computer systems that act as data-filters for the well-trained human operators, since the AI would be doing the same thing.

RJ_CruzeJr said...

Kate, on RPGs: I think the key reason why the Bazhell books totally rocked (IMO) is that DW was storytelling, not gamemastering-by-proxy. His characters were actual characters, not a simple collection of attributes and skills -- if they were, you'd have thought by the end of Oath of Swords, Brandark would have used some of his XP to improve his Singing skill :-D

I believe the oft-leveled complaint about so many rooted-in-roleplaying stories is: "You could actually here the dice rolling." Which is sad, because I think you really limit yourself as a writer if you let yourself be hamstrung by a set of artificial gaming mechanics. Think about it: wouldn't it just suck to have your plans for a seven-volume fantasy trilogy derailed because you rolled a couple critical failures and had to kill your main character off halfway through Chapter Two in the first book?

Just my two cents. (Not like I've ever tried writing an RPG-esque story chronicling a particularly wild and woolly campaign I gamemastered back in tech school. Nope. Never. And I'll have you know the protagonist made it to Chapter Five. Stupid saving throws...)

Kate said...

Robert,

Exactly. The gaming mechanics that let players and gamemasters have the most fun playing work against good storytelling - and in quite a few cases, against good world-building, too (The D&D collection of just about every polytheistic religion every recorded comes to mind...). It's fun to play with, but writers working in that environment are usually hamstrung by those same mechanics.

The seven volume trilogy is an affliction peculiar to fantasy that seems to be caused by the attempt to stretch a three book story as far as possible in the attempt to make lots of money. Not naming names, but the story I heard (from a well known author of several multiple book fantasy series) is that at least one of the exploding trilogies happened because the first two books sold very well, and the publisher offered much moolah to keep the series going past the planned third book. Not unnaturally,the author in question said "hell yes", and proceeded to stretch book three into as many books as possible.

matapam said...

Now, I've rejected plenty of Fantasies that start with a swordsman, an Elf archer, a dwarf with an ax, and a thief meeting in a tavern . . .

But that said, as a gamer, I do occasionally use dice. You have your group of people in a fight and they can't have all gotten out unscathed. So you roll to see how badly each on was injured. Then one of them dies, and you immediately say, whoa, gotta reroll that one - and you realize you have managed to communicate with the backbrain that has the story all planned out. Kill someone else, and keep an eye on the first guy, he's up to something . . .

Really, it's one way to get through the tedious mechanics of planning the battle before/as you write it.

WangZheng259 said...

Kate,
I'm not entirely sure what my points were, aside from Government, being in part the control of the use of force, must necessarily reflect the most efficient and effective ways to use force. I think that representative, consensual governments require circumstances where the best, or a best way of waging war promotes or allows such governments. I think tyrannies or aristocracies require the same, except promoting that type of government.

I do not think that WH40K, whose fiction is fluff for the table top war game, is a good example of a way to build a setting for fiction, that sells on the strength of the novels alone, but it did seem to be different from some of the other examples mentioned here.

The economic value of a skillset is not just based on the absolute utility, but is relative in value compared to other skillsets. What fraction of the population has a more valuable skillset? Does society have more people with one's skillset than society can make use of? Is one dysfunctional in ways that prevent one from using one's skillset to best effect?

That said, I do agree that there aren't very many good ways to have a truly destitute magic user, and fewer that would really appeal to a fantasy reader. If magic requires any effort to learn or use, then someone capable of that should be able to learn useful economic skills, even if the magic somehow is economically useless. (A lazy, selfish wizard might well prefer to make people give him food in the guise of begging, but that is different.) As a group, presuming economic utility and ability to function in society, magic users should be at least able to support themselves.

Kate said...

Matapam,

As a tool, fine. Like you said, there are way too many slush entries where you can hear the dice rolling.

Working out what happens in a hand-to-hand fight can be difficult, especially if you're not a fighting member of a reenactment group. Even if you are, the need to make sure you don't die tends to affect the mechanics of reenactment (Hank Reinhardt's Book of Swords has some excellent commentary on this point).

Kate said...

WangZheng,

Could you please give me a little more to work with here? I've been fighting off a possibly oinking flu for the last week, and I really couldn't see what you were trying to say.

Sorry, I'm just not all there and need things in simple, clear points right now.

matapam said...

The beauty of written fiction rather than reenactment, is that you just need to follow a single POV through the fight. Then when it's all over, you can stop and see what shape his friends are in.

That's generally when I start rolling dice, it saves a lot of agonizing over "Oh, but I like that Character, he doesn't deserve _that_!"

And then, of course, you pop back into the fight scene, so your POV character gets a flash or two of his friends getting mowed down.

Kate said...

Matapam,

A very practical approach indeed :)

Of course, if you want to be particularly evil you can drag out the tension by your POV character not finding out if his friends survived or not for some time afterwards - or if your guy is on the losing side and escapes, not knowing if his friends are dead or prisoners.

Not that I've ever done any such thing...

WangZheng259 said...

Kate,
If learning magic is learned and used as a weapon like a sword, then maybe you get mages as nobility. If magic is aquired, learned and used like a rifle, then you may be more likely to get something like America. (Many more things than rifles went into America, but the Phalanx and the oared warship had a similar effect on the Athenian democracy.) This is to say that depending on how the magic, super powers, psionics, weapons and so forth of the setting are designed in world building, one would expect that different societies might come about. Human factors can also be important, but a magic system can determine whether magic users are god-kings, a chosen caste, upper class scholar-warriors, or just some joe sixpack who hunts demons when they are in season.

Part of things is that I can not arguing in a coherent, clearly reasoned fashion. My intuition tells me I have points to make, and then I try to translate what is in my head into words. I also tend to be excessively confrontational and argumentative. So, I end up shoving many different lines of analysis into a single post. I am not sure I am entirely here when I am trying to make my points. The paragraph above this one is seperate from the ones below.

Say that magic is as valuable a skill as engineering. Now, quite a lot of the people who have turned themselves into engineers will never really lack work. This is because a really good engineer can make a job for themselves, economy willing. However, not all engineers find jobs. Sometimes a competant, industrious engineer may be out of work for an extended period of time. Maybe there is an economic downturn, maybe one has not distingushed themself, maybe the colleges have graduated more engineers then can be employed. Someone unprepared, who is an engineer is just as vulnerable to dying if dropped naked in the wilderness as anyone else.

If this can happen to an engineer, I don't see why mages should be immune. I think that in some settings, most mages should be very wealthy, in others, maybe some of them have to worry about making ends meet. In some few, the author will have come up with a legitimate reason to have all magic users destitute.

(For example, the touch of the uncanny is unnerving, and even magic users are bothered by other magic users. This goes to fearless murderous rage whenever certain social thresholds are breached. The nature of these thresholds make economic activity and being a parent impossible, but it is possible to avoid becoming a magic user through willpower. The story would be partly about adapting to these difficulties, and the main characters developing the coping mechanisms to have a relationship.)

I do not know of a fantasy anyone has written that both has all magic users as destitute, has solid world building behind that, and is enjoyable and upbeat. It may be that there will never be one on the market. I imagine that broadening the catagory to include downers, and horror would provide much more actual examples.

Kate said...

WangZheng,

The only way I'm going to get anything remotely coherent here is by massive copy/paste - I'm actually feeling a lot better than I did early this week, but still have trouble thinking analytically. Plus, I tend to ramble anyway if I'm not careful, and I really don't want to mung up what you're trying to say and get this all bass-ackwards.

So....

You said:
If learning magic is learned and used as a weapon like a sword, then maybe you get mages as nobility. If magic is aquired, learned and used like a rifle, then you may be more likely to get something like America. (Many more things than rifles went into America, but the Phalanx and the oared warship had a similar effect on the Athenian democracy.) This is to say that depending on how the magic, super powers, psionics, weapons and so forth of the setting are designed in world building, one would expect that different societies might come about. Human factors can also be important, but a magic system can determine whether magic users are god-kings, a chosen caste, upper class scholar-warriors, or just some joe sixpack who hunts demons when they are in season.

If I read this right, you're saying that how the magic works and how it's used affects the end result? Absolutely, although with the caveat that a bit of imagination can see things being used in interesting ways - you can, and mostly do, use firearms to shoot things. They can also be used to give a warning, make very impressive displays (if you've never seen a really good drill team at work with rifle and bayonet, you haven't lived. They toss those things around like they were kiddie toys), as a stilt or a stand or even a tent peg or a hammer. Granted you probably wouldn't want to have to fire it after that, but it can be done.

Oops. Ramble. Onward and hopefully upward.

You said:
Part of things is that I can not arguing in a coherent, clearly reasoned fashion. My intuition tells me I have points to make, and then I try to translate what is in my head into words. I also tend to be excessively confrontational and argumentative. So, I end up shoving many different lines of analysis into a single post. I am not sure I am entirely here when I am trying to make my points. The paragraph above this one is seperate from the ones below.

When you're writing off-the cuff organizing what you're wanting to say isn't easy. If you have difficulty with it, I'd suggest you start with a series of points, order them in a way that makes sense to you, then expand on each one. It's more work, but it might prevent you irritating people and frustrating yourself. Not that I every make the same mistake, oh no. Not me...

(continued - this is too long for a single post)

Kate said...

You said:
Say that magic is as valuable a skill as engineering. Now, quite a lot of the people who have turned themselves into engineers will never really lack work. This is because a really good engineer can make a job for themselves, economy willing. However, not all engineers find jobs. Sometimes a competant, industrious engineer may be out of work for an extended period of time. Maybe there is an economic downturn, maybe one has not distingushed themself, maybe the colleges have graduated more engineers then can be employed. Someone unprepared, who is an engineer is just as vulnerable to dying if dropped naked in the wilderness as anyone else.

Okay. This makes perfect sense. I wonder if we can perform the naked in the wilderness experiment on Congress... *ahem*. Sorry.

You said:
If this can happen to an engineer, I don't see why mages should be immune. I think that in some settings, most mages should be very wealthy, in others, maybe some of them have to worry about making ends meet. In some few, the author will have come up with a legitimate reason to have all magic users destitute.

Ah, now I get it. You're quite right: depending on the situation, there could well be a very large disparity in how wealthy magicians are. Or, for that matter, in what constitutes 'wealthy' (I suggest that if magicians can transform things, they can make as much of whatever the legal coinage happens to be as they need - which brings its own issues.)

You said:
(For example, the touch of the uncanny is unnerving, and even magic users are bothered by other magic users. This goes to fearless murderous rage whenever certain social thresholds are breached. The nature of these thresholds make economic activity and being a parent impossible, but it is possible to avoid becoming a magic user through willpower. The story would be partly about adapting to these difficulties, and the main characters developing the coping mechanisms to have a relationship.)

So you're saying that if magic is too weird/unpredictable/scary, people would drive out magicians as soon as they realize someone's becoming one? And magicians themselves would suppress their own abilities? That would make an interesting story.

WangZheng259 said...

Kate,

I think I've been about where you are before.

If I read this right, you're saying that how the magic works and how it's used affects the end result?

Partly. I'm also saying that anything and everything can be a weapon, but some are better than others. I am having trouble putting it into words, but I am trying to bring in the War-as-a-facet-of-soceity stuff that Tom Kratman talks about on the Bar and in his books.

So you're saying that if magic is too weird/unpredictable/scary, people would drive out magicians as soon as they realize someone's becoming one? And magicians themselves would suppress their own abilities? That would make an interesting story.

Generally, yes. If I didn't find it potentially interesting story material, I probably would not have put so much effort into harping on it. The text you responded to here describes a story which may end up my NaNoWriMo project this year. In this specific case, magic users are instantly identifiable, and very little driving out actually occurs.

The below material is only of relevence to said proto-story, and can be safely skipped.

The best option is to cut one's ties and leave before friends, family, strangers and other magic users are forced to kill one, because one was not able to avoid violating a rule.

Becoming a magic user is an irreversable mental ritual which some would have to work to complete, and some have to work not to complete. The more successful magic users develop an etiquette that lets them interact with people without triggering the killing impulse, but it is very limiting. (The trigger condition is holding a position of trust or responsibility, with a very broad definition of same.)

The part I am still trying to figure out is how to put enough happiness and hope in the story for it to qualify as fantasy to a broader audiance. Anyone can imagine a setting where everyone is destitute, or miserable, but that is usually horror, and is not something I like to read. The trick is to write strong people in a tough situation, dealing with it well, and sell that to the readers.

Kate said...

WangZheng,

Now the little light goes on. What I think is happening here is that you're getting world-building, plot, and character all tangled up. Your world-building is fairly dark and suggests that things will not be pleasant - but your plot and characters do not have to be dreary, miserable or all die (i.e. it doesn't have to be a horror or angsty story)

If you want the advice, I'd suggest the following:
- forget Tom Kratman or anyone else's philosophies. Philosophy is an interesting thing to play with, but it gets in the way of crafting a good story. Trust me, if the philosophy appeals strongly enough, it will find its way in there anyway.
- find your character(s).They live in this world and this world is normal to them. You need to know who they are and what motivates them (note that this will change as the book progresses. That's kind of the point).
- find your story. Something happens to your character(s) to kick them out of their normal lives. How they handle the change and find a way to deal with their new circumstances (which can of course keep changing on them) is what's driving your story, in the crudest sense.

As an extra note, if you want to look at philosophy of war in society, I recommend Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. The translations are usually not easy reading, but they're worth the effort.

WangZheng259 said...

The Tom Kratman bit is a completely different from the story I am planning. Tom Kratman writes a lot about defense procurement, training, and everything else involved in building and training armies. This, and my other reading, informs my understanding of the interrelationship between militaries, war, and soceities. This understanding is a significant componant of the little mental diagrams I draw to see how varying factors might alter a society, and determine if a nobility is formed, or something else.

That line of analysis was more or less complete for this setting some time back. It had never really occured to me to spend much time looking at it from that angle once I had generated the core of the concept. No army or nobility is likely to last long in this setting. In fact, it occurs to me that this may be as close as I ever come to a human society without war in my fiction. (They do have war, it just tends to burn itself out fast and messy.)

I am interested in writing some sort of brighter fantasy in this setting, because that is more to my taste, and because I am argumentative. If I were interested in writing angst or horror, it would make my work easier. As it is, the course I have plotted is quite a bit more talky and thinky than is my taste. (I do not have a good intuitive grasp of social situations, and a lot of such books tend to bore me, as a reader.) I have a plot and characters that will end up sort of happy. I have a villain that will end up dead, cleanly, and with a minimum of psychological harm. I have a hero and a heroine that are more sympathetic and humane than most of the cast of my main project.

Thing is, while it is clear to me that 'people who happen to be travelling together, and who, apparently, neither trust nor are responsible for each other' is about the best the hero and heroine can end up, at least at first, I suspect that people expecting romance might think it a downer ending. It is better than where they start, but I need to keep on thinking about how I am going to convince someone of this, while at the same time, make them want to read it.

matapam said...

Don't worry too much about the lack of a traditional romance. Sometimes an unspoken, unacknowledged attraction can be interesting, leaving the reader with so much to speculate about it's better than a single solution.