Monday, February 7, 2011

"You can't do that."

Firstly, forget about the all the political implications of the words ‘liberal'or ‘conservative'. After a lifetime of looking at it I have concluded that in political terms they are nearly as accurate in conveying true meaning as the words "People's Liberation Army". Anyway, I am not talking about politics, I am talking about books and writing.

To define my terms: Conservative = like to keep the status quo. Liberal = free = think the status quo sucks. Want change. To avoid the political implications let us call them xenophiles. Most people have some aspects of both. It's only the percentages that vary. Neither is ‘right'(or left) any more than red leaves are right and green leaves must therefore be wrong (under certain circumstances red leaves are better for a plant. Under other others green is).

Taking 51% desire to ‘keep as is' as the cut-off to call people conservative or xenophile: Around 98% of the world is in fact conservative -- even when it is obvious to the dispassionate observer that really change would make them better off, happier and longer lived. It's hardwired into us: stick to the known - even when forced to make big changes, only change what is absolutely unavoidable. Ergo: British settlers in Australia - and South Africa, continued to wear clothes that simply were a bad idea for the climate for generations. And to eat hot fatty meals on Christmas day... when it's hot enough to boil a monkey's bum, and the weather suits salad and ice-cream. Likewise - or even more so - with settlers from failed countries bringing their culture/clothing/etc etc with them now. Following the herd, or rather, staying within the troop is survival central to most simians, let alone humans. It's easily confused by terminology: to explain - Teen rebellion - growing your hair, gelling your hair, free love, screaming death to the establishment -- is conservative behavior if a large number of teens are doing this. That is the status quo, they want to be part of it. Wearing Birkenstocks and going on support the Free Palestine marches is arch-conservative if that is what all your peers do (see why I said to forget the political labels). Following the fashion (dress or behavior) of your peer group is a classic example of conservatism.

Of course it is also hardwired into us - or at least some of us - to be curious. To experiment. To be xenophiles and try things precisely because everyone else in their peer group isn't. I thumbsuck the extreme end of that behavior as being about 2% -- who run left when the group (whatever group, be it the Hitlerjugend or the Gay Liberation Front) runs right, just because that's different. Well, some because they think about it, some because they're contrarian. This little group is also genetically very useful to a species, because every so often circumstances change and it means they survive, and the bunch who went right die. They're why humans are spread across the globe and not long extinct in a dry valley somewhere in Africa, because they move things forward. And of course there is a little bit of this in all of us, just very often it is over-run by a fear of being out of the troop.

So how does this affect writers? Well, actually it shapes everything -- both our interaction and acceptability with readers, and our ability to get publishers (who are, if anything, more conservative in their peer group than most. Ergo the hard time they give Baen because Baen runs left when they run right - and yet Baen is also, in its peer group of authors and fans, moderately conservative. Quite funny, really.) It's even odder because Science Fiction per se was a 2% ‘xenophile' in literature. Within its peer group of publishers and editors course it has gradually (as the genre ages, because liking your status quo is very much a feature of getting older) as conservative as the arch-conservative modern literature and trending back toward being the same as that. That's their status quo, it's safe.
There are two down sides to this of course: while readers of sf do want some ‘status quo' features - for example more Miles Vorkosgian books - returns to favorite universes, they are also drawn to sf by xenophilia. It's a balancing act. I've been repeatedly amazed at just how conservative editors appear to be on the science side alone. RATS, BATS & VATS for example has its genesis in a major short story market editor telling Eric that there was no way rats or bats could be uplifted to sentience. ‘You can't do that.' There are large numbers of terraforming Mars books... But when I suggested that actually it was a worse target than Venus I got the automatic ‘you can't do that', from a couple of editors (despite Landis having suggested some good ideas for how to do it) Sigh. Actually, no I can't. Not this week, I'm busy. But I can see at least three ways of making Venus habitable... Some of them you do not want to try in the comfort of your own universe, let alone solar system.

So what is the author to do? Well you can either try peeing against the tide and remain unpublished, or you can go with the flow and write the ‘conservative' stuff the publishers want -- which is not the xenophilic stuff readers crave. Or... you can try and box clever. It's -- to the best of my limited ability -- what I have been trying to do for many books and years. It's a sort of Aikido approach - to use the opponent's strength against them. If I write about Venus... they'll say ‘you can't do that'. But fine if I write about the terraforming in another star system of a retrograde rotating planet which has a 243 day rotation and a very hot atmosphere... (probably not carbon dioxide - that might be pushing the envelope too close to the detection limit). And if I set the same in a space opera setting, or have this - a la Larry Niven - as an alien artifact, they don't have to take it seriously and that's just fine. And after a time - well, a few times anyway, that too has entered the status quo and is safe to write about (Which, for those of you who have read RATS BATS & VATS is exactly how we dealt with uplift in that. And for those of you who read SLOW TRAIN TO ARCTURUS was how we dealt with several more ‘you can't do that's')

Does it work? Well, yes and no. The honest truth is if you just want to get a book published, study your target editor/publisher and give them something that fits in perfectly with their views. They like their status quo, even if the evidence suggests their status quo and readers ideas of what they would like that status quo to be are not the same. You'll get push, and resultant sales. Doing it my way, you'll have to rely on readers... So is not what you should do, and the status quo in publishing suggests you will survive best by given them the status quo they want and never doing a ‘you can't do that'. But as I believe times are changing and there really is a hunger for new and different - not just the same miserable future in which there is a lot of angsty whining, odd sex and in the end the bad human (male, hetrosexual and white, ideally) crawls into a corner and dies of remorse for his awful destruction of (add editor's pet agenda here) or heroically (with lots of explosions) with FTL and spaceships bashing wicked space Muslims (or aliens who are oddly just like the current bete noir) into a grand military ruled empire, with odd sex... or whatever, blah blah fishpaste sameold sameold...

And if you get it right... well YOU might become the new status quo.

So: Rowena started us on good future we might have. Here are my "You can't do that" futures. They're not as nice.

It becomes possible to choose your skin color as easily as your shirt. It becomes as easy to choose your gender or physiognomy as your car. Will groups claim ‘ownership' to ‘genetic heritages' - say ‘black' or ‘female'?

It becomes possible to uplift (either cybernetically or biologically) almost anything - except for socio-political reasons - humans. So would a dog be allowed to farm or keep as pets subnormal humans? There are humans out there already with IQs below a bright Border Collie (which reach 3 year old human level).

While ‘who needs men?' was a politically correct sf concept, given VR and vat culturing of children - who needs real women? (Or men, but that one has been OK to think for 40 years). The computer generated VR image would fulfil any fantasy, even if that fantasy happened to be keeping house, taking the ‘man-of-the-house' word as law, and basically being a chattel (a situation that would please some people. I'm not one, but then I don't like boring). Given that sex selection is going to be possible, and many cultures who still consider women worthless/ lesser citizens, and these trends are slow to change, maybe women could become a very small minority (at least say in China or India) Of course they'd have VR men too.

Given that we should be able to store (and recreate, with mixtures and variations) the DNA of any and possibly every life form, and change them to fit a vast range of environments, and even imprint memories and personalities on them, do we have any need - or even desire to practice conservation?

Is there a real place for ‘apartheid' of uplifted species, to let intelligent dogs, for example, behave like dogs, without forcing our mores on them?


Mike said...

Might as well toss it out there and see what happens to it -- given uplifted species, would you let your (sister/brother/other) relative marry one? Why not? Are they, or are they not, equal?

Dave Freer said...

Any uplifted beastie wanting to marry my sister (who is a sixty something spinster who has never had to please anyone but herself, and had my mum look after her (in the housekeeping sense) until last year (ie. she can't do the most basic of cooking or cleaning for herself, as she never learned - unlike me, boarding school army, marriage to someone who had grown up with several indoor servvants - and moral objections to the same, let alone no money) gets my blessing, my sympathy, and me checking if it's uplift certificate is faked (it's still fine, really. Just so long as the beastie looks after her.).

MataPam said...

"Hey! Hey, you! I've got the patent on that skin color. Show me your certificate or I'm calling the cops!"

"What do you mean you were born that color? And never changed? Yeah, right. Nobody is that retro!"

And the VR Pleasure Girlls will ally with the Dancing Boys and Unionize.

The first Canine President of the United States will win on the platform of letting dogs be dogs, and motorists better look where they're going and drive at safe speeds.

But the real money maker will be the designer pets.

MataPam said...

Mike, would that be a Term Marriage, exclusive or poly? Reproductive marriage with tech assist? Permanent marriage, childfree? Contracted Financial Agreement? Or . . .

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I wrote, and sold Go Tell The Spartans, in which women have just been rendered unecessary.

Took me forever to sell and sold only when a friend's antho needed a last minute hole-filler.

It occurred to me several times that I should just change the genders and it would sell to the majors. But my spirit rises with every attempt to depress it -- to quote Pride And Prejudice mini-series.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Go the 2%!

Kate Paulk said...

Oh, yes, the outlier's outliers. And possibly another layer or three deep. Although even the most contrary don't notice the social conditioning unless you live in a different culture for a few years.

As for "you can't do that!" - Single parent children. Not clones, but two sperm or two eggs from the parent, artificially induced "fertilization" resulting in a unique recombination of the parent's DNA. I gather it's been done with two male rats. (And of course, two women could have their child, and two men, and... well, pretty much every combination imaginable, eventually).

High-technology base plus fundamentalist religion that isn't "cartoon evil". I don't see it as that controversial, but I suspect something like that would cause a firestorm in some circles.

Pope John Paul XXVI states that vat-grown transplants are not living, ensouled beings, but clones are, including anencephalic clones grown for whole-body transplants (aka "brain transplants"). The Pope further states that the agents used to ensure a minimal brainstem with a healthy body are immoral. (No, I do not have the time to do anything with this as a story. Feel free to take it).

Men are men, women are women, and sheep are scared.

One that seems particularly heretical these days: people can mostly figure out how to solve their problems themselves, and proceed to do so.

Okay, I admit it. I like playing Devil's Advocate, and I'm about as tactful as the back end of an axe. And that's on a good day. I figure my purpose in life is to scare the crap out of people and soften them up so that the ones like Dave and Sarah and everyone else where who stealth it can get by the gatekeepers, who are very much the Defenders of Orthodoxy. Which orthodoxy they're defending depends on whose gates they're keeping, but the end result is the same.

Dave Freer said...

Hmm. Matapam considering the various shall we say ethnic groups already flying off the handle about writers - who are not of said group - writing from their viewpoint (and in the logic of these things, complaining of discrimination when author leaves them out ;-/) (You can't write about Sihk/Native (well, earlier colonist) American/Chinese/Aboriginal/Black African/Female because it is not your heritage/experience and you can never understand it, because you can never experience it... It's OURS. WE will write about it if we want to/ get around to it. (Or you can get our permission and probably pay us).
Suddenly said author actually can experience childbirth if they so desire. Can know exactly what it feels like to be sky-blue-pink or puke green if they want to. And the victim who has suffered from being xyz discriminated against... can be anything not discriminated against instead. Hmm. Not going to be popular with those who benefit from guilt farming or taking advantage of their birth is it? Probably demands for royalties will ensue. Which raises another 'you can't go there': All this is going to require accurate genome analysis - which will bring to light millions of people whose forefathers of mixed ancestory decided that it was easier/better to be say 'Dutch and European and 'white'' than say 'Khoi San and not 'white''. The end result - in South Africa was that the architects of Racial seperation - the Afrikaans 'whites' are actually ALL as much Khoi San as the 'Coloureds' (not an insulting term in SA - and a seperate group to black South Africans). They have the same genetic disease profile, same genetic markers (they even speak the same language, and eat much same food). The Afrikaans are just the paler skinned (and often, not much if at all) half of the SAME population. Which of course if you take genetic 'right' to territory as belonging to the earliest settlers - or surviving blood relations of those, makes the Afrikaans (the architects of apartheid and frequently villified as white settlers) actually a substantial majority part of the 'indigenous owners' - black settlers having moved in to Khoi San lands from further north. That'll go down well, won't it? There are similar cases in very nearly every country - from China to Chile where one group had power/dominance advantages. (I am reminded of Mark Twain and reference to the blond, blue eyed 'negro' slave who was 1/16 black, but that 1/16 outvoted the other 15/16 and made her 'black' and a slave). It's going to be messy. Don't try finding a publisher for a story about it!

Kate Paulk said...

Actually, Dave, your comment brings up another "you can't do that!" - if skin color and hair color can be manipulated, so can metabolism. No more lecturing us fatties on having bad diets, bad lifestyles and bad everything else. They couldn't even accuse us of blowing out health care costs for the "righteous skinny".

And then imagine the reaction from that same crowd should certain cultural groups decide that pale skin and big, plump bodies are what they want.

It's fun to think about, but it ain't getting published.