What is Human Wave? According to one of the founders of the movement, Sarah Hoyt, it is stories that are not boring. And stories that do not leave the reader or viewer more depressed and hopeless than when they started reading or watching. (With the possible exception of those of us who sigh, “Dang, I wish I could write that well.”) “First, tell interesting stories.” And then go from there. Sarah followed that thought up a little later, and I’d like to add my own take on it. One of the questions that came up is “Can you have Human Wave dystopias?” Interesting question, because dystopian fiction, or books set in dystopias, have become almost universally morose, depressing, nihilistic, and in several cases just flat boring. Government corruption, giant eeeeevil corporations, environmental disaster, people waiting to die, forces of evil too strong to be challenged, yaaaaaawn. Teenage protagonists left alone after all adults die/vanish, world that makes Mad Max look like a garden, Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Now, I would argue that you can have Human Wave stories set in a dystopia. For example, the universe of the Firefly/Serenity stories is not one that I’d want to live in, because the government is too close to Big Brother in space. But that doesn’t stop Mal Reynolds and company from doing what is right and trying to leave things a little better than they were. Can they escape? Nope, not really, but they can carve out a space and leave hope behind. Although Captain Mal would never phrase it like that. Shepherd Book might. Sarah’s Earth’s Revolution books begin in a dystopia, one the characters are not willing to tolerate once they realize that there is a way out, even thought not all of them will see that promised land on the other side. Death in Human Wave stories is not taken lightly or done in vain.
Dystopias can occur in real life, as any Yazidi or Christian caught between ISIS and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard can attest. The Thirty-Years War was h-ll for a lot of people, and the early 1600s in China are one of those periods I’d just as soon never study in detail. When the planet, your neighbors, and the Manchu are all out to get you . . . But there are Human Wave stories there. In fact one thing that’s been making me growl is how Human Wave has been removed from part of the 20th Century.
I’ve developed an allergic reaction to Holocaust fiction and history. In part, I’ve gotten too much of it over the years, especially after last year when the school made a big deal of coordinating the history and English classes when they reached that time period. It is new to the students, and they need to learn about it, but I’ve read too much about man’s inhumanity to man over the years. The other reason I break out in twitches is because of the Grey Goo, depressing, “survived-but-wished-hadn’t-ruined-for-life” books that seemed to wash through the market over the past decade. I fear I am closer to the Simon Wiesenthal approach than to the Elie Wiesel school, although both are important and very valid ways of responding to the Holocaust and similar events. I strongly dislike the depressing, grey-washed “crippled forever and cursed to warp their family for generations” take I’ve read in a few novels.
Human Wave stories can happen anywhere, Some of the greatest IRL Human Wave tales come out of hard times, when neighbors help neighbors, when strangers perform the every-day miracles that plant seeds of hope and remind the world that “we can get through this. We are stronger than this.” Human Wave stories never say die. And Human Wave stories are about people who die knowing that their death bought life and gave others a chance to live.
I’m in the process of writing the final section of the third book in the WWI-Interwar trilogy. István Eszterházy’s world is falling apart around him, the fascists and Communists are tearing Hungary apart as the dogs of war are starting to snarl. But he’s not going to let chaos win. He (and Archduke Rudolph, and others) are going to fight with every thing they have to hold back the tide and to find ways to keep their people safe.
That’s Human Wave.