Guest post by author extradinaire, Sarah A. Hoyt:
What did I want?
I wanted a Roc's egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword,. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get u feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a like wench for my droit du seigneur–I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.
I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, "The game's afoot!" I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin. I wanted Prestor John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”
Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road
Lately there has been an argument raging, partly in #gamergate, partly in science fiction, and partly – as far as I can understand – in every single online group devoted to every single pastime that anyone ever dreamed up.
The argument, which seems almost ridiculous is simple: what is entertainment for?
Whether the entertainment is books, or computer games, or RPGs, there is a group of people saying that there is something wrong with escapism, something wrong with dreams.
They maintain that real adults; responsible and worthy people don’t want to escape the mundane realities of the real world. They want to be told about the downtrodden. They want to spend their entire time pondering what, in our society, is less than perfect. They want to think deep thoughts and be lectured about their inherent privilege and their shortcomings, what they have done and failed to do.
The purpose of fiction – insofar as fiction should be allowed at all – is to raise public consciousness; to spur us on to be better people, or at least to feel really bad when we aren’t.
Then there is the other side. The other side says while it’s permissible – and might in fact be impossible to avoid – to have the author’s point of view and his/her take on the world in a story, the main purpose of the story, the reason we read/play games is to escape, to dream, to be someone else doing something else.
I am solidly on the side of escapists, and I don’t think that wishing to enjoy a good tale makes you less mature.
Perhaps this opinion is influenced by the fact that I first started reading (everything I could get my hands on) because I was so sickly as a child. But the truth is that happy or sad, contented or not, I view reading as a chance to experience being someone else for a while.
There are lots of advantages to this, including that it promotes empathy and gives you knowledge of many times and places.
But it all starts with the dream; with wanting to be someone else, doing something interesting. If the dream doesn’t hook us, we don’t follow along and we don’t learn anything.
It seems to me that the other side’s opinion is driven by the fact that they have experienced too few challenges/real adversity. They seem to be, by and large, people who have had an easy time in life, and who therefore feel they have to justify their existence by thinking big thoughts and trying to correct big wrongs. But perhaps I am unfair to them.
Their side of the debate has always existed. In every human civilization there have always been those who think that any form of frivolity and amusement should be forbidden and that all of humanity’s powers should be devoted to making the world a better place.
It is just that throughout most of Western history the people preaching the more serious point of view, and how entertainment should follow a moral view were preaching Jewish/Christian morals and personal improvement.
I’m not going to pretend that I was enthralled with fiction that tried to serve that sort of moral purpose. I read the Countess of Segur’s more “moral” books – not the fairytales, but the stories of good little girls and bad little girls and perfect young men who get rewarded by becoming Swiss guardsmen and dying defending Rome – and I curled my lip and rolled my eyes with the best of them.
However, even when blatantly preachy, those books tried to build up civilization, for which one might perhaps forgive them their preachy tone.
The current wave of preachy fiction is the bastard child of Marxism by critical theory. It is just as preachy as the old stories, but he preaching it does seeks to tell us about vast classes of downtrodden (not as individuals, but as classes) and make us feel better for our privilege which apparently is something we have if we’ve ever worked or achieved anything.
It’s composed almost exclusively of stories in which no one is ever good or does anything good, and if a character who is well intentioned slips through, he must be beaten into a pulp and all his beliefs disproven.
I’m a depressive. I can be in that frame of mind, and often am. But I don’t mistake it for high art. Or for that matter for something I should inflict on others.
In reaction to this, in longing for the books of my childhood (even the one with the dying Swiss guard was more fun. At least it took place in Victorian France) I came up with the concept of Human Wave. (http://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/03/21/what-is-human-wave-science-fiction-3/)
Yes, it was partly done tongue-in-cheek to bounce off “New Wave” and partly symbolically to indicate a wave of human interest submerging the pointless stories.
I’ve been asked time and time again if Human Wave is superversive or Superversive is human wave.
I think that the two need not be contained one in the other. But in the sad state of affairs we’ve come to, in which most books feel at least the need to nod to Marxist tropes: to blame males; to make all women sound oppressed; to speak of the “problems in society” or to make humanity “a plague upon the Earth” for shock, for surprise, for the ability to transport you to a different time and place, Human wave is shocking enough to cause a frisson of wonder.
Human Wave is superversive.
If it succeeds, it might just be “normal.”
For more by Sarah, visit her blog, According to Hoyt