atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#5005: Difficulty--or, rather, inertia

Getting started is always the hardest part.

It used to be that the actual process of writing fiction was effortless for me, so easy that I could do it regardless of circumstance. High school, for example; I could sit down in class, ignore everything around me, and write pages (longhand) of story, pack up and leave the room when the bell rang, only to repeat the process after getting to my next class. There were some classes in which I couldn't do this, but by and large I spent a lot of time writing when I should have been listening. (90% of high school was crap, though. I still don't think I missed anything important.)

It's not like that any more. These days it takes a concerted effort to overcome inertia and start the flow of words.

Partly it's a matter of habit. Like muscles which aren't used regularly, my ability to turn the tap on and off has weakened, become less efficient. I can do it, but it takes more effort and it's less comfortable. There's no way to have avoided this, though, because like most people I must work for a living, and do other tasks, which precludes spending five, six, seven hours a day sitting at the computer and rattling the keys. You can do that when you're an idle teen; not so much when you're a responsible adult. (Or trying to be.) You have to work, pay bills, do household chores, and sleep; there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

This is what life is.

Someone who is comfortably established as a published author, who is earning all his income from writing, that person has the luxury of treating the writing as his job (which it is, in fact) but for the aspirant--like me--writing fiction must, of necessity, be a sideline. Still, I have stories to tell, and some of them may be good enough that people will pay me for the privilege of reading them; thus I maintain.

Most recently I've been re-thinking an entire story, one about a monk in a religious order in the 28th century. He's an Inquisitor; he solves crimes committed within the order or against the brotherhood, but this is not the main thrust of the story. The crime he solves in this story is a MacGuffin--it's the reason the story takes place--and otherwise is not really all that important, as the story is not really meant to be a murder mystery.

It suffers from this incoherence. Not really a mystery, not really a story about morality, not really a story about a lot of things--and that's why it fails, why I find it unsatisfying. I can define it more by what it's not rather than what it is.

So I find myself frequently revisiting it, turning over the basic premeses in my head, trying to get a handle on what's wrong with it. I've thought about changing the setting (the time, mainly--22nd century, rather than 28th) and I've tried to decide which aspect of the story should be foregrounded. Nothing has really helped, though.

At the center of it all, though, is an important part of the SF universe itself: the near-total elimination of sexual paraphilia due to advanced medical technology.

Despite the best efforts of some sectors of the biological field, we can't seem to find any genetic causes for behaviors; at best we can find genetic indicators for possibilities. Yet if you ask a homosexual about his predilections, he'll insist that he was born that way, that he didn't choose it (and some are most vehement that they wouldn't choose it, which shoots "pride" right in the foot) and that his orientation is entirely avolitional.

Combine that, then, with the way disease organisms and their macrobiotic victims co-evolve over time. We have bacteria in our guts; that bacteria was fatal to some distant ancestor of ours, but the two organisms have adapted to each other, into a symbiotic relationship--we can't live without the damned bugs in our intestines, and while the bugs can live outside of us (by virtue of being much simpler organisms) they tend not to. (This is one of the basic theses behind Crichton's Andromeda Strain.)

Medicine concentrates on disease, which is to say, things that make us unwell. We get a sore throat, we get an infection, we get cancer, we get heart disease--we concentrate on the things which are obviously symptomatic and never, never, ever consider what effect a benign infection may have on us, something that causes either very mild symptoms, or none at all, because we don't know an infection is happening.

Our bodies are a seething, bubbling stew of organisms, all in competition with each other. The flu is obvious, but there may be other infections we don't know about, and they might happen all the time, only the pathogen is relatively harmless to us so our bodies don't make a big deal about fighting them off. It just does.

But imagine if a pregnant woman is infected with one of these mostly harmless pathogens, and this pathogen's main effect is to alter the development of the human brain, slightly. And because she's had an active infection of this bug during her pregnancy, her child grows up to be sexually attracted to children, rather than adults. (He could just as easily turn out to like animals, or others of the same sex, or pick-your-philia.)

The child was most assuredly "born this way". It's not a choice. It's not his fault; it's no one's fault. But rather than a genetic trait, it's a congenital trait, one that's developed during gestation because of an outside factor.

Setting that aside for a moment, then, let's postulate a medical development which renders humans effectively immune to infections, something that ensures the human body will stop cold anything which causes deleterious effects to it. Something that works with the human immune system so that nearly every pathogenic disease fails to get enough of a foothold to make you sick. You get the flu, it's a bit of crampiness and feeling a little tired. A cold is a couple days' worth of extra snot, nothing big. Cancer, however, is nearly eradicated, and a lot of little things which we just live with right now no longer exist. (Pimples, for example.)

...and along with this sudden cessation of malady, the occurrence of paraphilias just...goes away.

The prevalence drops, and over time society's guardrails against the behaviors wither; it's no longer necessary to have moral codes against them because they don't happen. (The same way our society has no morals against sex with aliens, because it doesn't happen.) When they do happen, it's noteworthy because the behavior is uncommon, not because of a moral outcry.

Now, the murder victim in this story is a pedophile. He's a rarity, an outlier, something which is so uncommon they don't even have statistics for tracking the prevalence of it.

Protecting one's children from harm is an instinct. Even if society doesn't care about a person who likes kids, parents aren't going to sit still for his predation. So the decedent leaves his homeworld for the one world inhabited by humans where there are some permissive customs surrounding the sexual development of children, where his proclivities won't get him arrested or lynched, where he can actually have a catamite without being destroyed for it.

And a noted politician decides to establish an age of consent on this world, to bring it in line with other human worlds, because no one really does all those old "teach the children well" things any longer and our society is no poorer for the lack of those old customs. Mr. Boddy tries to show the politician the error of his ways, and then holds the evidence over his head--blackmail--and is killed for it.

So far, all I've talked about here is the bad guys in the story--Mr. Boddy is a bad guy, too--and I've given away the reason for the murder. And I feel comfortable doing that because all this is the MacGuffin, and I don't know what the story is really for.

The Inquisitor is from a human world with morals against pedophilia, and he has to learn over time to think the way Mr. Boddy thinks, the way the politician thinks, in order to understand why the murder took place. At first he thinks it's the pedophilia, but it's not; it's because of the blackmail.

The story, then, is ultimately about culture. The politician kills because he is confronted with blackmail over his hypocrisy (he doesn't share Mr. Boddy's sexual preference, but he also doesn't demur when a willing young girl is presented to him) not because he abhors his victim's predilection for young girls.

Ultimately, then, this is why the story is so difficult; the exploration of basic human morality--and why and how it can be malleable, and (worse) why moral relativism is a bad thing--all this is a tough subject, something philosphers have struggled with since we had the luxury of having philosophers at all. And I'm using this as the backdrop for a story which is meant to entertain.

The rough draft is readable, but it's lain dormant for years because it's not really all that good, and I don't know how to fix what's wrong with it. So, yeah--gonna be chewing on this one for a while.

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