NEWSLETTER 70: September 18, 2012
I finished the novel! The title is now MONSTERS OF THE EARTH. I changed the title at the last moment from Demons from the Earth because I realized that though there were demons, they didn’t come from the Earth; and they really weren’t the bad guys anyway. And Earth had to be there because of Tor Marketing, this being the third of The Books of the Elements–following The Legions of Fire and Out of the Waters.
The change in title came after I’d written the front matter, and I forgot to go back and correct it before I sent the book off. Well, that’s what proofs are for. I regret making mistakes, but I’ve never turned in a book that didn’t have errors in it.
The wordage (on recount) is 134,329. I was shooting for 130K-135K, so it was on the money. I think it’s a good book, by which I mean that I have executed what I was trying to execute.
Should I have written something else? Well, that’s always the question. The Books of the Elements are set in a milieu–in effect, the early Roman Empire–which is unfamiliar to most readers but which most readers think they are familiar with.
I’m using the real thing, which has a lot of unpleasant aspects. I’m not describing the worst aspects of slavery, for example, but I’m not pretending they didn’t exist, either.
There’s a scene in the movie Spartacus in which a Roman noble (I think he’s Crassus) tries to seduce a slave (played, I think, by Tony Curtis), who rejects him in disgust. This is bullshit.
A Roman slave had no more right to reject his master than a chair could decide who would sit in it. (The Roman legal definition of “slaves” was “furniture with tongues”.) In the unlikely event that a slave tried to reject the master, his or her fellow slaves would execute their master’s will–which might well be to gang-rape the idiot after they had held him/her down for the master.
Did the screenwriter, Howard Fast, know this? I’m sure he did, just as the screenwriter of Titanic knew that the liner’s two-tier class structure (as shown in the movie) was nonsense. For their own artistic reasons, the writers chose to hide the reality from film viewers. (In the case of Fast, a Marxist, he may have been concerned with ideology also. Those who wish to depict a corrupt ruling class are often embarrassed to admit that a corrupt system means that those at the bottom are corrupted also.)
I’m describing Roman society based on my reading of contemporary Greek and Roman authors. Those who are offended by what I think is reality are likely to claim that I’ve invented the offensive aspects when they differ from what Hollywood has depicted.
This isn’t a new problem for me. Tom Easton of Analog wasn’t unique when he accused me of being a pornographer of violence because my version of war wasn’t as clean as Sands of Iwo Jima. I didn’t stop telling the truth (as I saw it) about war, and I’m not going to stop telling my view of the truth about Roman society–one aspect of which is slavery.
To clean up the horrors of war is to make war more palatable to those who haven’t seen the sharp end. To clean up the horrors of slavery is to make slavery more palatable to those who haven’t been slaves.
And slavery still exists, even in this country. At one end, there are brothels staffed by illegal immigrants controlled by gangsters are cruel as the worst overseers of the Antebellum South. At the other, professors at elite universities are found to have “servants” who don’t speak English, and who don’t have passports or money or hope.
I don’t have any ideology, but I do have principles. If they get in the way of sales, I suppose I can go back to driving a bus; I still have a chauffeur’s license. There’s no immediate danger of that happening, thank goodness.
Monsters has occupied me for much of the year. Next on my agenda is an RCN space opera, but I’m not really thinking about it yet. I’m completely wrung out, from the novel and even more from construction of the library addition which I described in Newsletter 69.
It’s a wonderful, wonderful library, and it permits me for the first time in at least a decade to pick up my piles of books from tables and floors; but doggone, it was wearing for me to have workmen present every week day (and sometimes on weekends as well). I’ve made only slight stabs at moving books over, because the process takes a degree of intelligence; and I don’t have a lot of brain left till I come up from my present exhaustion.
I edited the Ovid translation I had just finished at the time of Newsletter 69: The Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths (the subject of the Parthenon Metope, by the way). Ovid is rightly thought of as a writer of sophisticated (not sentimental) love poetry, but there’s another aspect to his work. There are scenes in this excerpt from the Metamorphoses which would have fit him to write Splatterpunk horror in the ’80s. I learn a great deal about clear expression and vivid decriptive passages by translating a writer as skilled as Ovid.
Speaking of horror, I should mention (though I have before) that Night & Demons, my expanded horror collection from Baen, will be released before my next newsletter. The story introductions total around 12,000 words and are as much autobiography as you’re likely to get from me.
These stories, some of them at least, really are horror. Though they’re not particularly bloody, they don’t pull punches. I don’t say you’ll like them, but some you’ll never forget.
The fairly serious depression that I also mentioned in Newsletter 69 is starting to lift now that I’m done with the novel and am having part of many days completely to myself. I wasn’t in real danger, but I was pretty far down.
A friend commented that I’m fortunate to be able to work when I’m seriously depressed. Most people (herself included) cannot. I thought about that for a while.
I think the ability came from spending 1970 in Viet Nam (and Cambodia). By that time I don’t think anybody In Country believed it was possible to win the war. The people I knew in the Blackhorse believed that the politicians (including the politicians in uniform) had given up years before–an opinion amply supported by information which has come out since 1970.
The job we were doing in the field was always dangerous and occasionally extremely dangerous. And it was always miserable.
The infantry had it even worse than we (armored cavalry) did, but trust me: tents aren’t ideal living quarters during the monsoon, even six days a week. The seventh day, Thursday, was when we took our anti-malaria pills; which gave everybody the runs. Then you had the further problem of trying to keep toilet paper dry during a monsoon.
On a good day, my job was boring. On a bad day, and there were some very bad days, it was awful beyond anything I had even imagined life could be when I was a civilian.
I was depressed during my whole tour. I’d never had any faith in the war, but now I lost my faith in pretty much everything else also. Life seemed not only miserable but utterly pointless. That belief hasn’t really changed in the decades since.
But I kept doing my job. Everybody I knew in the Blackhorse did his job, and few if any of them had more belief in our mission than I did. The Blackhorse was an elite unit, and everybody around me was a self-starter–as was I. It wasn’t so much peer pressure as just what you did; the way you don’t need peer pressure to keep you breathing along with everybody else.
I came back to the World and continued doing my job regardless of how I felt. Mostly I was depressed, but sometimes I was depressed and angry. The anger has sunk deeper into the background over the past 40 years, thank goodness.
So I get a lot of work done even when I’m seriously depressed, as I’ve been for the past six months or so. This is a valuable skill which I probably wouldn’t have had were it not for my wartime service with the Blackhorse.
The thing is, though… if I’d managed to miss the war, I wonder if I’d have been chronically and sometimes acutely depressed? I’d sure trade my ability to work while depressed for a chance to feel like a normal human being again, but nobody’s offering me the choice.
I hope your lives are going well, people. Certainly mine is in every objective fashion.
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