image from Hard Magic (The Grimnoir Chronicles)*
Ideas are funny. They’re also weird and serious and by definition anything else that a person can imagine. But perhaps the funniest thing about ideas is how they jumble together in our brains so that we’ve got Sports and Dinosaurs and Outer Space all sitting there next to each other.
Doesn’t seem to be possible, does it?
Yet right behind our eyes we have mathematics and art, reason and insanity, rapt attention and insufferable boredom. Now consider this: As human brains are the only place where ideas are known to live, and the very largest human heads only have a circumference of about three feet, the two most diametrically opposed thoughts you can conceive have never physically been more than about a foot apart.
Ideas are “just there” without any concern for the appropriateness of their juxtaposition with other ideas. Go generate two random Wikipedia articles and marvel that the same type of creature wrote both of them. While this is mysterious and wonderful and poetic it also causes most of the friction in the world.
That’s part of why I’m writing this. Perhaps the biggest part. We’ll get to the rest in a bit, but we’ve got some more work to do first. Right now, we’re going to get through one of the most abstract but on-point segues ever made.
In some way that no one really understands, ideas all connect to and imply the existence of each other. Ideas even lead us to discover other ideas that no one ever had before we decided to follow the first idea. What this means is that even though no one understands why, parallel lines and transversals imply geometry. Geometry implies architecture which implies buildings which implies both people without buildings as well as universities. In turn, this implies some of the people without buildings will eventually show up at the university.
This leads me to a story, its moral, and a review of several books.
Like most colleges, mine had its fair share of indigent individuals adding flavor to society. Several of them frequented the campus itself. As a group, they could best be described as “professorial.” Their clothes tended to not be very nice, while also having once been very nice. This was because, in their own way, I believe they were showing deep respect for the university. And though their jackets and slacks had fallen into a state disrepair this is also true of most professors. Most importantly, they carried themselves with the worldly air that only comes from long and considered thought.
For whatever reason they were exclusively male and tended to arrive, as a department, a little before noon. Once in position, they would set up stalls made of shopping carts covered in:
-Nevada and Oklahoma shaped pieces of cardboard, painstakingly filled-in with illegible squiggles from mostly dried-up markers. I believe these were meant to be proofs.
-Magazine clippings that seemed to have gone through a development process of being dunked in a mud puddle and left for several years to dry in the sun. The remaining image was, at best, subliminal.
-A few photos so unrelated to one another I believe they must have been taken out of a dozen different family vacation albums that had been thrown in the garbage.
Thus styled, the department engaged in their unpaid occupation which was to educate the students of my college about things which didn’t exist.
-Hillary Clinton is a 7th level Illuminatus Warlock
Which in turn implies:
-The Existence of Magic
-The Existence of a Magical Rank System with at least Seven Levels
-That Women can be Warlocks Too
There were other areas of study. I believe Lizard Men at the Center of the Earth may have been discussed for a quarter. Numerous Shadow Governments were examined and discussed. Numerous Cryptozoids were ruminated upon and theorized. The Federal Reserve being well… the Federal Reserve was a yearly and particularly troubling favorite because of how little needed to be embellished.
If I’d stayed longer than I did, I’d no doubt have a doctorate in dozens of conspiracy theories.
Point is, if you shove enough ideas into a person’s head the ideas start to crystallize into a miniature model of the universe. Like a snowflake, no two quite the same. That’s what makes us people. It’s what separates us from the animals. And that universe of connections can look like almost anything. Anything at all. The same ideas can connect in infinite ways.
Now, a moral and then we’ll get to the book review.
One of the more mathematically inclined of the indigent professors displayed his research on a bright orange flagger jacket and yelled with his abdomen, that if you:
Take the square root of STD’s, raise this to the power of the FBI, then divide the result by the CIA and perform several other operations with other government acronyms that it all meant “Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior Get Saved Now Factorial Factorial Factorial.”
Most people walked by and chuckled.
But if you looked very closely at the back of the flagger-jacket you could make out a spot where, quite separate from everything else, had been written that “2+2=4″ inside a protective black box.
The moral being, there’s always some sense in everyone no matter how opaque their worldview might seem and that “2+2=4″ is true no matter how many times you’ve tried to find the factorial of a messiah.
My favorite thing in life is reading. I like to look into other people’s heads and see how their ideas are crystallized. I like to feel things I’ve never felt, think things I never would have thought, and mostly I like to know that the world is bigger than me and there’s more of it than I can ever see or understand.
The more I know I don’t know, the more I know is left to discover.
I also like reading because we’re all a mosaic of ideas and books capture that mosaic better than just about anything else. Books even let you take some of those ideas and patterns for yourself. After all, ideas are the one thing you can take from someone else that they’ll still have after you’ve gone. When someone writes a book, what they’re really welcoming you to do is ingest their ideas. They’re offering, freely, a bite of their imagination. What fools we would be not to partake.
Which brings me, finally, to author and internet lightning-rod Larry Correia.
If this has seemed random, meandering or unfocused it’s because I wanted to say only what I mean to say and as little else as possible. That requires context and apparently about a thousand words of anecdote and musing on epistemology. But I’ve found I can’t discuss Larry Correia without discussing Larry Correia’s ideas and by extension my ideas about ideas.
I’ll bring it all together, I promise.
Larry is a science-fiction and fantasy writer. He writes what I can only describe as “fun Fun Books.” Meaning fun books which are also in some kind of Fun subgenre that hasn’t yet been fully explored or defined. Every word Larry Correia puts down is done in service of a mission, executed with military precision, to give his readers as much fun as humanly possible. Every writer has a primary gift and Correia’s is to make you feel what it was like to be an invincible teenager again.
Right out of the gate, if you pick up a Larry Correia novel it’s like someone unscrewed the top of your skull and dunked your brain in Joy Juice. He takes everything from 80’s Horror Movies to Noir Detective Novels and supercharges them with excitement, youth and vitality. His novels in the The Monster Hunter and Grimnoir universes read like ace novelizations of big budget Hollywood Summer Blockbusters you saw when you were young and the world was new and shiny. The stories set entertainment as the highest value and deliver it consistently.
Larry has a new fantasy book out in e-ARC that’s sort of Middle-East/Asian/Indian setting with a story that feels like 70’s and 80’s sword and sorcery. I read it within two days of its release and enjoyed it immensely. As it’s an ARC it’s probably not the best place for a new reader to start, but it’s Correia having fun in a whole new genre. I look forward to its continuation.
Why does the hero have to fight a creature that gets more skilled every time he beats it? Because it’s awesome. Why is the magical heart that endows everyone with super powers running out of magic? Because it gives the hero something to think about. That’s all the explanation that’s needed or asked for. Larry reveals exactly as much as he needs to and no more. The consistency of tone, the movement of focus as well as the button-tight plotting transforms these unexplained events into virtues for Correia rather than leaving them as lazy omissions. A writer comes into their own when the things they’re not doing work for them as well as the things they are doing and Correia has had that from page one.
Correia is a modern Robert E Howard, churning out pulp at a prolific rate with skill and care and concerned chiefly, in all ways, and I can’t stress this enough, with the enjoyment of his readers. Correia does this with a masterful skill and ingenuity. If you’re looking for a page-turner, you’d be well-served by starting with Hard Magic: The Grimnoir Chronicles.
I had never heard of Larry Correia when I picked up his book. I just needed a distraction and I’ll read the Dictionary if it’s handy. I picked up Larry’s work with the understanding that it had a lot of “guns” in it, which I don’t know much about, although the “gun” thing sounded like a thing people say when they can’t think up something more meaningful. In any case, I bought it and I found a lot more than just talk about guns. I found adventure and stoic heroes and, well, everything I said up above. I read the first three Monster Hunter novels in as many days.
I set the books down and thought “This is going to be like where I read Fantasy novels in high school in my small town and thought I was the only person who had ever read the Wheel of Time.” I figured there’d be several thousand reviews. When I looked on-line to find more of Correia’s works, I did find some talk of how good Larry’s books were, and he is doing really well financially, but what I mostly found on blogs was talk about Larry Correia… being Larry Correia.
Which brings me back to ideas, and tying this all together.
We’re almost done. I promise. There’s just this last bit.
The community of science-fiction and fantasy writers is going through something of an ideological revolution. Although, from what I gather, this revolution has been going on in different forms for about the last seventy years, since the founding of the community. Whatever the cause, political ideas are everywhere in science fiction and fantasy.
Honestly? I find it all a bit tiresome.
Not because I don’t think those kinds of ideas are important, but just because authors tend to be very good at authoring and less good at talking about politics. Also, as someone who has seen his fair share of human horror I get somewhat annoyed when people run up to me in assumed postures of indignance and/or excited tones and say what basically amounts to “It’s so easy for you to stand there when XYZ hasn’t happened to you!” about things which have actually happened to me.
Not that I then use this as a reason to take away another person’s context, as I think we can all agree that would also be really annoying. It just makes me sigh and rub my eyes a bit and count to a number until I can remember to ask “What’s going on now?”
That’s probably indicative of my annoyance with United States politics in general, of which the SFF upheaval is in many ways but a microcosm, but I find it no less frustrating for being smaller in scale.
I feel like a person who likes coffee in a world where every coffee shop is a Starbucks running a year round #RaceTogether campaign. Except in this case everyone wants to yell at me about rape and make lots of insulting assumptions about my own personal history with sexual abuse. Just because I want to follow their twitter and know when their next book is out. It’s gotten to the point where I only follow about three authors on twitter, just so I can avoid getting bummed out eternally.
But ideas are important. Not every cause can have a Nelson Mandela. Ideas are the most important part about being human. And I’m not saying people should shut up just because I find them to be tiresome.
In the world we live in, Activism is the engine that drives improvement for social institutions. Activism is everywhere in science fiction and fantasy. And, again, that’s fine. I can’t say that enough because even though I’ve never been to a con, I guess there are a lot of really creepy dudes that show up there. And I guess there are also a lot of dudes who are really angry at someone they never had a chance to work things out with, and they take it out on women in the field online as well as in person. And that’s wrong.
No one should have to put up with creepy dudes. And I guess these creepy dudes need to be taken into a corner and chewed out and they’re not getting taken into a corner and chewed out. Or, I guess, bounced from wherever they’re being creepy at, or put in the back of a police car if they’re getting illegally super creepy.
That sounds like something that really important that needs to get done.
I’m pretty sure everyone agrees with that.
Larry Correia tends to pop up in the middle of these things, either dissenting with whatever happens to be the topic of the week even if he largely agrees with it, or getting selected as the face of evil. Except Larry Correia isn’t an evil person. What he is, is a dissenting loud person, like the proverbial bull in a china shop, or a WWE Wrestler giving the Pre-Match Smack Talk except on C-Span. But so far as I know, he’s never killed anybody, beaten anybody and all he’s hurt are feelings. While hurting feelings isn’t necessarily polite, it’s also not criminal or unforgivable.
It took me several months to figure out what I want to say here, because I found I can’t talk about Larry Correia and how good his books are without talking about his ideas. I also feel like I have to dance though a field of protective museum lasers to get at what I mean. Politics are Correia’s second career and difficult to overlook. Not talking about it felt false. Whether by choice or necessity, he’s pretty much the only sizable voice within the SFF community who openly has a different mosaic of idea-crystals than the other big players.
A lot of people don’t like Larry Correia because of his ideas.
Which is fine.
I don’t imagine Larry Correia particularly cares whether or not he’s liked by everyone. He’s got a mansion and a family. I’m not asking anyone to betray their beliefs. What I want to say about Larry Correia is that he’s necessary. He’s absolutely essential.
Ideas are meant to be an ecosystem. They’re meant to compete inside of our heads so we can find the best one. At its highest state, which it so rarely achieves, that’s what politics is for. And that means, even when it’s hurtful or perhaps especially then, there’s supposed to be somebody standing up in the middle of a group and saying “Nuh-uh!” to every idea presented, no matter how reasonable.
Larry Correia is the “Nuh-uh-er!” for the community of science fiction and fantasy.
That’s not meant to be dismissive. Nor was my story about the indigent professors meant as a direct analogy. Having someone there to say “Nuh-uh!” so you can feel properly challenged and check a box isn’t what I’m talking about. “Nuh-uh!” is your chance to take a gut-check and see if you’re right. “Nuh-uh!” is your chance to see if you’ve got it all wrong somehow. “Nuh-uh!” is there to keep you honest.
So far as I know, there has never been a political party which in hindsight had it all correct. There’s never been an individual politician who has not committed some transgression worthy of reprimand. We’re all human and we’re all flawed. As long as you’re not killing anybody or hurting anybody, there’s room for talk. So, I don’t know why the world always gets itself so hung up on “sides” especially “my side and “the other side” when it comes to ideas. The only side you should ever be on is the side of the idea that you personally think is right after you’ve had a chance to mull things over.
I don’t agree with a lot of what Larry has to say politically, but he is a fantastic author. He just is. He puts in the work and it shows in his books. Isn’t that amazing? Even if you disagree with him, or even especially then? Isn’t it awesome that a guy who says all these things you don’t agree with also has a square box on the back of his flagger jacket where he’s written “2+2=4?”
A while back, I did something I usually don’t do, because I consider it to be one of the most undignified things a person can do, which is I wrote a blog comment that wasn’t entirely 100% supportive. I know. I’m ashamed of myself too. I had a point though. A very important one about ideological purity tests and people turning a blind eye to things about their own “side” that they’d rather not have to see.
In retrospect, I could have written the same comment without naming the names I named. Except I got pissed and I put what was personal above what was important. I’m sorry for that. But I had a point. I did. I promise.
I don’t want to get too detailed because that’s not what this is about. I also don’t want to even risk starting an internet mob, as mobs are one thing I find truly disgusting about politics. The only ideas mobs have ever been about is feeling anonymous, mean and wrathful. And I know, deep at the center of my thought crystal, that people are meant to be seen, kind and merciful as they possibly can be.
Larry Correia amplified my comment. He made my “Nuh-uh!” matter. He helped me to be heard. In the Ecosystem of Ideas, he served his function.
If you’re reading this and you’ve ever run into Larry is a context where he’s been a dick to you, hey, I get it. He’s said a few things that have made me groan, though most people in SFF have. I’m not expecting you to love the guy. Just to know that he has a place. He’s supposed to exist. And I’m sure if you got him in a quiet human moment he probably doesn’t have fangs. That is something that tends to get lost in these idea revolutions. When you start putting people in a context and look at their entire shape pretty much everyone is human. We’re just meant to yell at each other sometimes. It makes me groan a lot, but I guess it’s the way the world works since it’s never been any different.
We’re done now. Thanks for sticking through that. I know it was a lot.