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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing Wibbles

Let’s start by welcoming a new follower to the free-range insane asylum: Caine Dorr, author of the Masked Marauder Matinee serial and the Paladin Brigade webcomic! Your badge is on the table. (Did you bring comics? The inmates like comics…)

Cranking in beta feedback on White Pickups is going about as expected: slower than desired, faster than I should have expected. There’s several scene rewrites, mostly in the early going, that are taking the most time. I was hoping to drop the whole shebang on my editor come Sunday, but that’s not going to happen.

I’m waffling on some of the scene additions: should I add a brief scene where Cody’s parents drive off? What about the initial clash between Charles’s group and the bashers in Midtown? The latter especially gets retold by Charles and Cleve later on, at separate moments, so I’m not sure it would add anything to the story. When it doubt, leave it out is probably the best policy.

What makes a story a story?

On Monday, Sonia Lal tweeted a link to a Guardian article that asks Why are English and American Novels Today so Gutless? The author laments the lack of political novels.

The question I have is: is a political story that’s ONLY about politics worth reading? Even 1984 was more about two people rebelling against the oppressive regime than the politics itself. Many people who don’t read science fiction like to say it’s all about… well, “rockets in space” was the catchphrase a generation ago. But very few people, even those who enjoy sci-fi, would enjoy a story only about rockets in space. The rest of us would (if the story is written well) care more about the people on board that rocket. The only exception I can think of is a short story by Vernor Vinge, called Long Shot; I read it back in high school, and that was about the AI onboard rather than the ship itself.

A month before I was born, in 1958, Isaac Asimov had published an essay called The Thunder-Thieves. Sputnik and Vanguard were in orbit; digital computers and other technical advances were either on the way or already on the scene. So many things were happening, that were once thought the realm of fiction, people had begun openly questioning what was left to sci-fi. Asimov’s reply was, “The answer: Everything!” Because sci-fi (and by extension, all genre fiction) is about people. The genre simply defines the background, against which the characters interact.

So while White Pickups (and moreso FAR Future) have their moments of politics — and they both come down solidly on one side of the fence — I wouldn’t characterize either one as a political novel. Nor would I call them “gutless.” But I suppose that’s in the eye of the reader.


  1. Hey,
    Thanks so much for the plug. :)

  2. The gutlessness accusation bugs me too, Larry. It seems more like an argument for short shelf life. If Arthur Miller just wanted to attack McCarthy, The Crucible would be worthless to the contemporary reader. Instead it remains provocative because it delves into common human motives and actions that flourish in many political environments. The day novels start arguing which party I should vote for is the one when art goes in the toilet.

  3. Good luck with the rewrite, Far. I must say that I enjoyed the original when it appeared on these very pages not very long ago.

  4. Hi Caine, and once again, welcome to the free-range insane asylum!

    John, I would think an argument for a particular party would be more a polemic than art anyway. Novels that target a particular person, like you said, become dated far too quickly. Better to address the themes — because while Joe McCarthy is dead, his spirit and methods live on. I changed the name of the evil preacher in White Pickups because it sounded far too much like the name of a real-life megachurch preacher in the Atlanta area. Even though I disagree with a lot of this guy's message and methods, he's no Worleigh.

    Thanks, Boran — I hope what I've done is improvements.

    As a general aside: it turns out I'll have the MSS to the editor on Sunday after all. Once I got through the early going, there wasn't much left and I finished cranking in the fixes this evening. That could mean I need more fixes, though. We'll see what happens…


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