Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Artificial equations

I know I'm post-y today. Sorry. I promise no more babbling on until I'm back from Michigan on Sunday. I'll have e-mail and internet access at our hotel, but I have no idea how much time I'll have. (markgritter and I are joining seagrit and various other NOLJ family members for my little brother-in-law Matt's college graduation. The PotUS will be the graduation speaker. I hope to have nothing whatever to say about that, but we'll see.)

Anyway: over at matociquala's, a bunch of us are talking about John Kessel and Ender's Game and many good things of that nature. Other people have had branching-off posts from it, too. I ended up saying this:

It's like "The Cold Equations." The author has set it up to make his point: the choice is deliberately impossible. In both cases, the author sets it up so that it feels to the reader like a natural thing, like "the world" has done this, but in fact it's not natural at all, it's extremely artificial, human-created.

I have grown extremely skeptical of situations where "the world" demands much of anything. Not that I think they don't exist, but that they are often used in authorial slight of hand, especially in spec fic where you have the choice of your worldbuilding. "The world" doesn't like magic-users: why not? More often than not because the author wants a disadvantage to magic use, or because the author wants to write about besieged smart people in disguise. And it's fine to do that, but it's also fine to criticize it, to say, no, human nature isn't like that: human survival does not rely on vicious abuse of a gifted little boy, and it never will. That will never be the only option unless we
make it into the only option. I would like to have seen that recognition from Card, and I don't think it's in any of the books at all.

I wanted to put that where I could poke at it and see if anything else came out. Especially if some of you want to poke at it with me.

I also want to say that accepting things as "laws of nature" that are actually human decisions is responsible for a good deal of misery throughout history and into the present, and spotting it in fiction may well be a useful exercise, because we will need to keep spotting it in our lives. Finding a multiplicity of choices where we're handed two bad ones, or one, or none, is one of the things creativity is concretely good for. We're not excused from it just because it's easier to choose between killing the alien race and sacrificing ourselves than to see what other options might exist. Manufacturing things that aren't evil when we're handed the choice of the lesser of two evils: that's part of the job of being human. Sometimes we fail in it. But the effort is not optional.
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