In the land of Grand Delusia, I roam again. It is true enough that an author of fiction must persuade a reader to come along for the ride, but first the author must cajole himself. It is not a simple thing. The Lesser Existentials crowd at every side. There are shores of things to do. Mountains of bills to pay. People to see about and weather to weather. Never mind the need to rest. There is little time for play. . . .And yet, without it, all the rest and all the weather or not, mean little or nothing.
Longtime readers of this ethereal site may recall another project of that near past of some years ago when, soon after one more attempt to write A Republic of Books, I faltered again and in frustration launched myself headlong into another of my grand delusions, A Young Man From Mars. I posted several parts here and spent a year on that before running aground on the aforementioned shoals of the Lesser Existentials. I had then recently completed two mystery novels, Hound and A Slepyng Hound to Wake and that feeling of accomplishment buoyed a belief that I could undertake the larger project. I was wrong. My map was missing parts. My compass wanted other directions.
The idea for A Young Man From Mars sprung from a remark made to me by someone critical of my behavior, that I must be from Mars to believe in the things I did. And though I was no longer young even then, I was well aware that my particular delusions began when I was that, and it got me to thinking. A dangerous prospect, indeed!
I wondered not about the first settlers of that red planet, but about those who lived there afterward. How might they fare? Some wiseacre of Shakespeare’s time, excited by the news of Jamestown, might have wondered what life in the Colonies might be like in a few hundred years. Or not. But that’s the vantage I took. And the only good contrast I could imagine was with what might have developed right here in the interim. That was an easy guess.
What wasn’t easy was to conjecture how my young man might react as a stranger in a strange land.
Until he was older—as old as myself—Robert Heinlein liked to move his stories along at a merry clip. He would seldom dwell on a matter. Like Mickey Spillane, he bragged that he did not rewrite. Not much. And his boast appeared to be true enough. His stories spilled out in an irresistible torrent of ideas as gossamer fabric stitched by the merest thread over bones of wicker. But one of those was A Stranger in a Strange Land, perhaps the longest of anything he had written to-date. And never mind the jaunt with ideas of free love and the shackles of religion that so enchanted the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, the character of Valentine Michael Smith was a puzzle to me. The culture into which he was projected was obtuse and oddly rigid. How could it stand any shaking at all, much less the tectonic shifts of a free spirit like Michael?
Nevertheless, the book had its impact on a much cratered mind.
I have often wondered about our human flaws, and whether we have some predisposition to slavery or not. What is it that makes us use our wealth to build hives when we have no ability to make honey? Look at a wonder city like Dubai, or a no less geometric but equally inhumane concoction like Shanghai. What are they doing there? Human beings by the numbers, mass produced and slotted like just so many bio-chips. To what purpose? What is the goal? What is the reason? Is it only to service the greater efficiency of the machine?
The dystopian science fiction I have read, from Philip K. Dick to Ursula K. La Guin, all presuppose that mankind will willingly walk to the showers. Their warnings fail for me perhaps because I come from a breed of malcontents. Their prescriptions for salvation seem always to need some greater authority to manage our human flaws. But who will be the authority? If they are not human too, and prey to the same faults as you or I, why should there be a different outcome? Lacking that answer, most such projects imagine a total disaster, a holocaust, and offer only the possibility of beginning again, fresh, in a world unpolluted by the same human impulses that got us there to begin with—but with some magic authority to guide us to better ways.
I resist. Our human faults might be our salvation. To use our weaknesses as our strengths must be the means of avoiding the hive, as well as Chernoble. This is not my idea, of course. It was first considered in Greece, over two thousand years ago, and again in Scotland, more than two hundred years past. How do we avoid the slavery of using our fellow human beings for our own purposes? How might a society of human beings live happily with itself?
Being less than a genius, I could only imagine.
But when the time came to engage with my doubts on this subject, I was not yet prepared for the battle. After a year or so I gave it up and moved on to another project. There is always another, you must know by now.
But alas, I have started it up again. As I thrash and struggle with the CreateSpace monster or some other technical goblin, to self-publish my already completed novels and stories, I must continue to write lest, at my age, that muscle will atrophy. So here is the re-written first chapter of A Young Man From Mars, with more to come.