Sunday, May 20, 2018

Great Men

I have been reading H. Beam Piper’s ‘Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen,’ a science fiction novel from the mid-Sixties that explored the ‘multiverse’ concept. A forerunner of many books, both science fiction and fantasy, that used the idea (my own included), some good, some not so good. ‘Lord Kalvan’ teeters on the border of not so good.

The multiverse itself is handled well enough. No complaints there. But the story largely ends up being all about military encounters rather than characters — and I do not find the world building very convincing. That is not what I want to discuss here.

Piper was apparently a believer in the ‘great men’ theory of history, or at least puts it forward here. One must not assume authors always believe in the ideas they write about! He even has one of his characters make a derogatory statement about those who favor ‘vast, impersonal social forces’ as the engine of history. But I am one of those, myself.

Yes, I believe economics drives history. Perhaps I should say economics is history. The times make the man; the man does not make the times. If one ‘great man’ doesn’t come along, someone else will do something similar and things go on much the same way. Don’t think that World War Two would not have happened if Hitler had been assassinated. Maybe the Holocaust wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t count on it — and the Holocaust probably had little effect on history, in the long run. People have been killing each other for a very long time.

Does this mean I think individuals are meaningless? No, certainly not. Things are still done by individuals, after all, not some great god of economics. All I say is that those individuals are fairly interchangeable. But they are humans, with human lives and wants and loves; that is what I choose to write about.

And why one is unlikely to find ‘great men’ in my fiction.

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