Monday, February 18, 2008

For Every Gain There Is a Loss

One of the marks of good fiction is the ability to acknowledge the complexity of the human condition, that all is not simple black-and-white, that heroes have their shortcomings and villains have their good points. It is always easy to write stories of fine heroes flung against villains of the vilest sort, but in that direction lies Mary Sue (or Marty Stu), the utterly spotless protagonist whom everybody just adores, save for the villains, whose villainy is confirmed by their implacable hatred.

When I originally read Eric Flint's 1632 , I was concerned that some of the characterization seemed rather simplistic. Mike Stearns and his friends were all so good and democratic and hardworking, the mercenaries were bloodthirsty killers, and even John Simpson, the out-of-town businessman, seemed to be more a straw-man opposition for Mike to defeat than a real contrary voice.

Thus I was very happy to read the sequel, 1633, and see the beginnings of a richer tapestry. The praise of the virtue of hard work and of the people who do it remained, but painted in a richer palette of shades of gray. John Simpson goes from being a straw-man city-slicker CEO stereotype set up to be knocked down and becomes a complex, three-dimensional person who cares for those under him and who is hurt by the breach with his son.

And the development of complexity continues in Ring of Fire II
with Jonathan Cresswell-Jones' "Malungu Seed." Here we see the story of a man who nearly became the first black Jesuit, and his desperate mission to bring to the world a treasure more precious than silver or gold. And as Dr. James Nichols struggles to save his life, it becomes an opportunity to consider how changing the world so that many of the scourges that plagued it, and in particular the slave trade and race-based slavery, will also eliminate some very fine things, including the development of whole genres of art and music.

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