Grey Goo and Human Wave

It started as a complaint about a certain type of sci-fi/fantasy story that drags the reader into the Slough of Despond . . . and leaves them to drown, emotionally and perhaps spiritually if not physically.

In March of 2012 (!), Sarah A Hoyt issued “a manifesto” demanding books that didn’t drag readers into the mire. A spate of depressing, anti-human, morose, “no one is good,” “the bad guy is just the same as the good guy” books had pushed her over the edge, leading to a call for uplifting, inspiring, human-centered sci-fi and fantasy. They could have sorrow, and tragedy, but had to be inspiring and hopeful as well. And well written, and entertaining. No preaching, please, unless done very, very well.

Other writers and fans picked up her idea and ran with it. Not long after, John C. Wright coined the term “Superversive” to describe positive fiction that sought to inspire while entertaining. The “school” that developed from his idea is more Christian-centered than is Human Wave, but the two overlap a heck of a lot, and share the same goals – fun books that don’t leave readers racing to take a shower and scrub with Brillo™ to get the grey ick off of themselves.

Indie books had been around for, oh, two or so years. Yes, small presses and vanity presses had existed, but self-publishing of the sort we take for granted today was very, very new. And it opened a niche for writers who wanted to publish fun, pro-people stories. The kind the then-Big-Eight were buying and selling. Sarah Hoyt, Amanda Green, Kate Paulk, Baen Books, and a few others kept pushing Human Wave books, although not always by that name. Sarah coined the term, and it describes a feeling more than a checklist. Baen had been around for a while, and you could safely bet that anything with the Baen logo on the spine would be hopeful, even if it wasn’t entirely your cup of tea.

Nine years later, Human Wave is still going strong. The Big 5 are still cranking out award winning titles that more people are avoiding in droves because . . . they’re not fun. Human Wave is usually fun. Human Wave laughs at life, even when the world is going to Hades in a fishing creel. It doesn’t have checklists, or Great Messages that are underlined, highlighted, and with a test at the end of the book. Human wave entertains, it uplifts spirits, it is hope. Even when things are grim and dark, hope always shines through in Human Wave stories. All of which explains why more and more sci-fi and fantasy fans are slipping over to the indie side and sampling books, anime, games, webcomics and other comics, and stuff that entertains without preaching.

I write Human Wave. I can’t help myself. I don’t want to read Grey Goo. If I want to be mired in despair, I’ll read newspapers and HR training materials, and the Congressional Record. I want a world where good is rewarded, evil is punished, the good guys get to enjoy some peace and happiness, and parents love their kids (and vice versa). Or as André Lestrang put it, “Will you settle for ‘happily for the moment and we remembered to get milk on our way home?’ “

Life’s too short to read Grey Goo!


15 thoughts on “Grey Goo and Human Wave

  1. Yes!
    To me, despondent books with no future have no point – and so what if they win awards, if people don’t read and enjoy them?
    I don’t think this is a new issue (see Hemingway) but I’m glad there is an explicit movement against it.

    Do you consider this a religious issue? I feel that as Christians, our expression (art, writing, outlook on life) should be positive since we know the ultimate outcome of both history and life – that no matter how bad things are now, we know Who will win in the end, and thus their is no reason for long term despair.

    • It seems to have religious elements, in the sense that the purveyors of Grey Goo (and certain unhealthy sub-genres) seem to adhere to a creed and belief system that leans toward anti-humanity. “People are killing the environment,” “all men are horrible but a Strong Woman™ can fix them,” “all people-of-pallor/ people-of-straightness/whoever are guilt of Original Sin (as we define it today).”

      Any belief system that looks to the future and encourages followers to build toward that better future,— keeping in mind that 1) we’re flawed and will make mistakes and 2) there’s Something or Someone bigger than we are who knows what’s up and who we should try to emulate so we improve, — seems to collide with the Grey Goo ethos. And other materialistic philosophies as well.

  2. And that reminded me to buy Fountains of Mercy, likely to pop up to the top of the TBR stack.


  3. As a further point to Sarah’s MGC post this week, I can’t think that a steady diet of grey goo is good for the mental or moral health of its readers. If there is no difference between the good guys and the bad guys, if evil prospers and honor is repaid with death, then why bother trying to do the right thing?

    To paraphrase the great marshwiggle, I’m sticking with the human wave stuff because even if the grey goo is more “realistic,” I’d rather aspire to be one of the heroes even if there aren’t any such things as heroes.

  4. Concur with all, I try to write human wave/superversive too! People want ‘escape’ not the same crap they get on TV and in movies… Besides, scrubbing with a brillo pad HURTS, unless you’re trying to get rid of fingerprints for ‘reasons’… 🙂

  5. Akshully, I read a story recently about more or less scrubbing with a brillo pad to get the ick off that I really enjoyed…

    Basically, genre convention. Xianxia has a lot of physical transformations in it, and one of the flavors is violently excreting black ick, impurities. Usually it gets ‘sweated’ out.

    Update recently of one I’ve been following gave some of the heroes particularly bad experiences of that sort, and they really wanted to be clean.

    I’m not sure the thing counts as human wave. It tries not to be grimdark, but the author is an academic interested in archeology, anthropology, and mythology. They seem at least partly sympathetic to some of the unduly positive perspectives on tribal/indigenous societies, so I’m a little worried they might be the bad kind of crazy.

  6. Man, back then, I was all “yes, this is what I want to read! Somebody should make a lotmore of this!” Which lead to writing things because I couldn’t find anything like what I wanted to read…
    Be careful what I wish for, eh?

  7. My late mother’s ultimate condemnation of a book or movie was “That’s not very cheerful.”

  8. Superversive books have the heroine chase small streakers back, to get dry and dressed. Life brings small and damp joys.

Comments are closed.