Monday, December 15, 2008

What is it about freedom lit?

Freedom literature sucks, more often than not. I'm actually stating this rather mildly; the sentence would probably be more accurate if you dropped the last four words.

The "freedom movement" has a lot of sub-sets. There's the Libertarians (big- and little-L). There's the "left-libertarians" - the agorists and mutualists and what have you. There's roughly as many flavors of anarchist as there are anarchists. They despise the "minarchists," in all their multitudinous flavors. There's the pitiful remains of the militia movement. There's the sovereignty movement types. There are all sorts of Christian groups that usually concentrate on RealID and its parallels with the Mark of the Beast. Lots and lots of sub-sets.

They all have one thing in common; they all sit around dreaming about the way the world ought to be and/or the way it'll fall apart, they all write fiction about their dreams, and it all sucks. Okay, that's three things.

Classic examples, recently encountered, here and here.

Even good writers who stoop to fiction somehow fall under this unfortunate spell. I give you Vin Suprynowicz, an awesome writer of angry essays and columns about TPTBs outrages against freedom. Give him a quill and a license to write fiction, and he disgorges The Black Arrow, as self-indulgent an exercise in bad fiction as was ever penned by an otherwise excellent writer. A superhero...uh, hero. Hot chicks. Evil, stupid baddies. Lectures, lectures, lectures. At least TBA has decent grammar and punctuation, mostly.

L. Neil Smith, probably the best-known living Libertarian author, wrote The Probability Broach in 1980ish and a whole bunch of books since then. He's got a regular following among all sorts of freedomistas. And he can't find a publisher. Why can't he find a publisher? Because that "regular following" of his (which includes me) probably doesn't number more than a few thousand people. And I understand why: Good stories, mostly, but yowza howdy does that man ever like to lecture. Talk, talk, talk.

And that's one of the two problems I see, which condemns "freedom lit" to such a ghetto of mediocrity. The first, of course, is obvious: We're a bunch of amateurs. I'd guess that most erotica is probably awful too, and for the same reason. People like to write about what they like to think about. People like to think about sex. But that doesn't mean they know the craft well enough to write a readable story.

But how does that explain writers like Smith, or Suprynowicz, or Royce: Good, professional writers of polemic essays, who fall on their faces with fiction? I think it's just that they can't lay off the polemics. They want to educate. That's great, but education is not the principal purpose of fiction. Fiction must entertain; first, last and always. Otherwise any beneficial message woven into the story will be lost because the only message the reader will get is "this book sucks."

People, there is absolutely no point - you have no right - in complaining that no large audience of readers will appreciate your fiction, if your fiction sucks. I'm sorry it's that way, I really am. But that's the way it is. Reality sucks sometimes, too.


The last cause said...

Food for thought Joel, one thing to keep in mind is the best selling type books have both publishers willing to market the book, and Chains of Stores willing to display them prominently.

As for the quality of the fiction, eh, that is in the eye of the reader, for example, Rand is difficult to stomach for my tastes, yet Atlas Shrugged has been in print for close to 60 years.

BTW, I'm "padre" from TCF.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, padre.

Also, I don't think any of those writers expected to head the New York Best Sellers list to start with. The whole point of writing those stories WAS to preach the gospel of freedom - and I doubt they had any illusions of converting the masses.

At Free State Wyoming we've seen a large influx of new members who discovered FSW, and some just discovered the idea of individual liberty, via Boston's book.

While there are not large numbers of them compared to US population, they are significant to us.

Consider the sort of "popular" fiction that does appeal to the general public. They are usually filled with either evil (aggrandizement of aggression)or ugly indulgence in everything that keeps Americans fat and lazy, sucking off those who think and produce.

Now, that really SUCKS.

I'll take Heinlein or L. Neil Smith's delightful and zany stories any day. Beauty, and fiction, are in the eye of the beholder. :)

Joel said...


Okay, so I'm a purist. Considering my background I guess I'm likely to be more critical of the writing that goes into a story. And I'm a fan of a lot of these stories. I've read El Neil for decades. I own copies of UC and TBA. And sometimes, it's true, a book or story can transcend its internal quality - Atlas Shrugged being the classic example.

But they're not really very good fiction. And I do hear writers complaining that no one wants to read their stories, particularly that they can't find an audience outside the choir loft. I was just giving my take as to why that is.

The last cause said...

True, but do notice, L Neil has been writing for decades now, his books have wide exposure and he is a columnist (or so I thought) for a NV newspaper.

The average Freedom Lit Author does not have that sort of access to the general public.

As for the quality, I'll agree, it can be a mixed bag, moments of brilliance interposed with pages of blandness..

Anonymous said...

Ken McLeod has written some good freedom SF. Heinlein was almost always a good read. L. Neil Smith was good, in the early books. Spider Robinson is good, if only freedom-leaning. Michael Chrichton leans freedom and writes very well. J. Neil Schulman is quite good. Victor Koman is a wonderful writer, but may have gone inactive.

"Atlas Shrugged" was probably the worst freedom book I've read so far. The sixty page radio speech at the end...