Ask A Writer Feedback on Politics, Bureaucracy and Related Issues

26 Jul

I actually had to think how to title this post – the original subject was ‘regulation of hairstylists,’ which wasn’t that detailed. Hopefully, I made it a little more suitable.

I enjoy your books immensely. You’re a great storyteller but sometimes I wish you would do a bit more research. Barbers and hairstylists are regulated because of the public health and safety aspect of their jobs. Knowing [how] to properly sterilize scissors and combs, etc. is part of the job. Dealing with lice infested customers [is] part of the job. Disposing of biological waste is part of the job. Dealing with accidently spilled blood is part of the job if they nick an ear, etc.

Insisting on a basic level of training for hairstylists does not make bureaucrats look silly, as the narrator in Wolf’s Bane suggests…

So my question for you as a writer is, do you want to hear this stuff? Like I said, I’m a fan. I noticed how your use of the word "dissemble" evolved with your work, and I’ve noticed other things. If you’d rather not here it that’s cool- I’ll keep buying your books either way.


That’s … actually quite a tricky question.

On a personal level, I am always open to someone telling me that they disagree – provided that they produce a coherent reason and/or rationale. There is usually a grain of common sense buried within even the most absurd bureaucratic regulatory nonsense. Someone who launched a thunderous broadside designed to instantly put me on the defensive would, on the other hand, convince me that they didn’t have anything useful to say. This would go double for anyone who tried to ‘call me out.’

The truth is, I don’t know everything. And sometimes I may miss the reasoning behind a regulation. And if someone made a reasonable case for that regulation, including a cost-benefit analysis and a statement of how they intended to handle the negative side-effects of that regulation, I would certainly consider changing my mind. But that’s not what people do, as a general rule. It’s all ‘think of the children’ or ‘anyone who disagrees with this is a racist’ or ‘if you don’t understand this you’re an idiot.’ Far too many people are too wrapped up in their brilliant idea or their political positions to remember that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

If the key to getting a hairstylist’s licence was a day’s training at a very reasonable rate, covering all the points you mentioned above, I’d probably be in favour of it. On the other hand, if the price was too high for someone who wanted to open a business, or if the demands were unreasonable, or if there was a cap on the number of people who could be hairstylists at any one time … well, I’d see it as yet another government regulation impeding the free market and killing any prospect of expanding the economy. I find it very hard to believe that anyone who wants to be a hairstylist needs a six-month course before they can stand behind their first customer. (And I speak as someone who spent three years learning to be a librarian, only to find that I didn’t need anything I hadn’t already had before I went to university.)

Having said all of that, if someone sends me an email disagreeing with one of my points, or posts on the forum, that’s fine. Someone who basically turns a minor issue into an excuse to attack me is not going to convince me that they have anything useful to say.

As a more general rule, authors write characters they don’t agree with all the time. I have a long list of characters who say and do things I would never do, or hold political beliefs that I find unworkable. Not all of these are bad guys, too. Sometimes I write them so they can come to realise what I already knew – that what they believe is unworkable. Others are characters rooted in their time and place. It is simply unrealistic, for example, to encounter a person with modern day views on … well, everything, in a time or a world not our own.

Attacking these authors for writing these character is pointless at best, trolling and outright sabotage at worst.

But that’s just my opinion.

Any more questions <grin>?

14 Responses to “Ask A Writer Feedback on Politics, Bureaucracy and Related Issues”

  1. merr49 July 26, 2017 at 10:07 pm #

    From what i hear in my country the hafe year course is very intense and actually difficult to pass.
    The good side of this is quality hair cuts.
    On the other hand i have not heard of there being a legal requirement to do the course it’s just that you are more likely to get a job with the course(so everyone does it).

  2. Pyo July 26, 2017 at 11:55 pm #

    That author protagonist politics is super-difficult for readers to discern. I mean, if I read Daughter of the Empire, where the heroine is from a slave-keeping society and she’s all “slaves are OK; everyone should own them” I can assume that’s not the author’s opinion. Or when the abused-girl-gone-crazy in the Godspeaker trilogy is of the opinion that a whole bunch of people should be butchered in the name of the evil scorpion gods I’m (reasonably) sure that the author doesn’t secretly practice or endorse human sacrifice.

    And when it comes to fiction I also don’t want to read a scientific paper on a topic. Like, you could criticize the magical elite in parallel to Bourdieu’s homo academicus which is all about hierarchies at universities and similar institutions and thereby express your opinion on how such things should work. But that book is a few hundred pages for a reason!
    Of course it’d need to be simplified in fiction, so an author would maybe have some elitist, stuck-up people = bad people and that’s something the reader can understand and that fits within a novel and gets a simple, understandable message (don’t be a stuck-up elitist! in this case) across.

    So the hair dresser thing is the same. If you want to express an opinion on bureaucracies then you want to do it with a simple example and be done with it, usually. Of course it’s not going to be super-nuanced.

    It’s noticeable (or maybe it’s just the books I read…) that there’s a tendency in scifi and fantasy for writers to go for lean, fairly autocratic models and praise them as “good”, and somehow miraculously they work perfectly – because, obviously, if that’s what the author wants then there’s nothing stopping them from making their universe that way. And that can be annoying with topics where the reader disagrees, but what’s the author supposed to do? Provide alternatives for everything? Write some super-complex political and economic model that’ll take up 700 pages of each novel? Where the protagonists then does some things and then everyone is like “well, maybe it worked or not, we’ll be able to tell in 20 years”? Having a monarchy or something is simple, you need few characters, changes can be implemented top-down, you don’t need to worry about constitutional restrains (much) and so on. It’s useful for fiction, even if it’s rubbish in real life.

    Most of the time anyway.

    So I’m trying not to take any politics too seriously when they are fictional. But of course sometimes it’s hard. Plenty of authors out there that aren’t shy about using their stories to express their opinions – which often is a good thing, but sometimes not.

    As for the details about the hairdresser: I must admit that I’m of the opinion that an attention to precisely such details makes for me the difference between a good and a great novel. It doesn’t automatically make a novel great to get all the details right, but not getting them all right most of the time relegates them to “not great”. Assuming I notice the issue.

  3. Ihas July 27, 2017 at 6:19 am #

    I’ve actually had a difficult time pinning down your politics. When I read Weber’s Honor Harrington series, I was put off by all of the thinly disguised, recycled, Ayn Rand style, right wing preachery that relied on highly contrived, extreme social constructs to target low hanging fruit in a one sided way. I felt the same way with the Kris Longknife series, which read almost like a spoof of Weber with some pretty ridiculous governments used to take right wing ideology to its ridiculous extremes and thus push a leftist agenda. I only got a couple of books into that one.

    I don’t really enjoy military sci if unless it’s driven by a strong, female protagonist, and so, of your work, I’ve only read SIM, except for the first book in the Ark Royal series. With SIM, I initially got the impression that you were another Ayn Rand acolyte, mostly because of the baronies having high taxes and trade restrictions, and the prosperity of Cockatrice resulting from lower taxes and deregulation. Also, monarchy is an easy target for criticism, and I felt like you were fairly one sided and even simplistic in picking on the low hanging fruit without engaging in a contemplation of the many ills of democracy and capitalism. Alternatively, I thought maybe you were trying to write for a younger audience, and thus avoiding complexity there.

    But then book 12 highlighted problems stemming from a lack of trade regulation and an inability to use imminent domain to push through a railroad, either of which would place you firmly in the snowflake pile here in the states. Plus, one of your recent posts evidenced a thoughtful, two sided analysis of some political issues that led me to think you might be more moderate in your views. But I’m not sure.

    The bottom line is that I look forward to seeing how you handle politics and economics in future SIM installments. My curiosity has been raised.

    • chrishanger July 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm #

      It’s a complicated subject

      There is a strong case to be made that Britain had a significant economic advantage over France during the Revolution and Napoleonic periods. David Weber modelled the Manticore-Haven War on that time and much of what he said is correct (if altered for a different tech base and suchlike). At the same time, there is also a case to be made that France had an advantage in army talent as the revolution allowed untitled officers to actually rise in the ranks (evolution in action) by removing the brain-dead aristocrats who previously held commands. The UK produced Wellington, true, but it also produced a number of failures.

      (This wasn’t true of the Royal Navy, which was much more meritocratic.)

      The French aristocracy did play a major role in hampering economic development, both by restricting trade and by passing taxes down to the very lowest levels (which caused a whole series of bitter revolts.) This was also true of Britain in the Tudor and Stuart era, where monopolies distorted the economy and hampered growth. There is a strong case to be made that Parliament won the later civil war because it enjoyed both an economic advantage and better commanding officers.

      The bottom line is that if you choose your leaders based on anything but merit (birth, for example) your leaders are going to decline – because they don’t have to fight for power – and lose touch with reality. On the other hand, if you smash the old order beyond repair, what takes its place may not be to your liking.

      Personally? It’s a balancing act. Too much regulation is disastrous, too little regulation is equally bad. Somalia vs. Soviet Russia. Etc.


      • Vapori July 28, 2017 at 8:44 pm #

        I guess it’s a mixed economy that has been the most useful so far total capitalism and freedom o trade doesn’t work. And a command economy doesn’t work as well.
        after all most countries in the world today are some form of a mixed economy.

        And so it is with talent for army political leadership and such alike, people can rise to the highest rank starting low, but usually the pople already in a good position from birth still have it much easier to beat the competition thanks to their head start.

        also there are so many factors that shape a state appart from the laws.
        For excample:
        The french king held paris and the ile de france as a personal (royal) domain for most of France history. the most densely populated area in Europa that could be crossed on a horse in one day. and easily to defend as it’s mostly surouded by rivers.
        That made it a perfect central save point to govern a larger domain and gave the king of france much more personal power then the king of england or spain or the emperor in the holy roman empire held. within their territory In england there were always a few houses that held plenty of power. The holy roman emperor had more powerful subjects then the french and englisch king combined.

        So the french king was more easily able to strong arm decisions and supress uprisings then his counterparts in other states and he tried to use it.

      • Ihas July 29, 2017 at 5:23 am #

        Thanks for the reply. I’m surprised to learn that Haven was based on France. If I recall correctly, Haven was described as an aging socialist state that relied on conquering and exploiting other worlds for its citizens’ prosperity. That doesn’t sound like France to me at any point in history. And to whatever extent France colonized the Americas, it was nothing compared to Spain or the British empire. I’m just not seeing it.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard July 29, 2017 at 1:57 pm #

        Two points.

        First, Chris said that the Haven-Manticore War is modeled on the French-British wars of the Revolutionary-Napoleonic era. France during that period was expansionist so that’s the model for Haven in that area.

        Second, while David Weber has stated that Haven is modeled on a US gone dangerously down the socialist road, David Weber also “added” bits & pieces of France into Haven. IE Rob Pierre = Robespierre and others.

      • Pyo July 29, 2017 at 7:00 pm #

        Yeah, but frankly that’s a different cup of tea. Of course the war is modeled after the French-British conflict of the Napoleonic era, Weber isn’t subtle about it. Heck, it’s a Hornblower copy, and that’s flat out British-French, so there’s little to debate there.

        But the Havenite politics have nothing to do with France of the time so I find that argument based on dubious assumptions. And Weber does obviously make a political statement there.

        However, it’s a) a very extreme statement so I don’t think many will object. Any concept taken too far will go wrong, so I don’t think too many people will argue with it. And b) there frankly isn’t much on the economy and social reality of the other nations so nobody can say how good his counter-arguments are or would be. Therefor, there’s little point to arguing with him.

        Where I see more problems is how he handles the Manticoran opposition. The conservatives are clearly the good guys, while the social guys are clueless ivory tower idiots and (the bad) aristocrats are selfish idiots.
        This turns them into incredibly one dimensional and therefor boring antagonists. I don’t care about the politics, but I do care when it has impact on the plot!

        For more satisfying if the antagonists have a point, too. And I mean, he does pretty well with Haven after the 2nd revolution there; they aren’t evil bad guys, they are just fighting for their own country. Very refreshing and how probably 95% of all historical conflicts were. But he doesn’t do the same for the domestic front, so to speak, and I believe that this is a mistake.

  4. bexwhitt July 27, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    The weird thing about licences is “the land of the free” seems to have them at a ridiculous level and not just in the left leaning states. In the UK not so much apart for the oblivious.

  5. Vapori July 27, 2017 at 4:59 pm #

    I think your reaction is only common if somebody is telling you off for your option and why his option is brilliant then, nobody changes his mind because o that.
    When somebody tells you off for a political view and try to promote their own view loudly, they mostly don’t want to change your mind, but they are basically cheering for their own team and showcase loudly how they are snowflakes liberals ultra conservative or whatever else.

    On hairstylist.
    In Germany the apprenticeship for a hairstylist takes 3 years. well you get roughly a third or so of the pay someone professional get’s at a minimum.
    I guess it’s like mostly historical reasons. The people who did it professionally for a long time don’t want people who didn’t have experience and a certificate to take the same tittle as the one they already used.

    So that potential customers can easily see the difference between a guy who only did the job one time, over someone who has done it a thousand times, and know that difference before they get their hair cut.

    I guess it’s not that important for let’s say a singer to study music, if she sings terrible nobody is harmed, but for a doctor or master chemist or something, strict requiremnts are nescassary.
    At least I wouldn’t want somebody unqualified at my workplace.

  6. Big Ben July 27, 2017 at 6:02 pm #

    When did folks start taking fiction so seriously?
    I enjoy reading all of your different series because it’s all fun, well written escapism.
    I enjoy reading your posts on this forum because most of your political views are different than mine, but you’re always articulate and thoughtful … even if I think you’re often, ah, misguided.
    I love Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson and the April series by Mackey Chandler because the societies depicted appeal to my basic libertarian / free market ideals. That doesn’t mean that I beleive such societies are workable anywhere here in our reality. However, there are fairly negative reviews posted on Amazon about these books wherein the reviewers primarily rant and rave about the politics and societies depicted in the fictional stories.
    It’s supposed to be fun, you know? A chance to escape from the mess we’re making of our own societies and planet.
    I think I’ve just developed a new pet peeve: people who take make-beleive way too seriously and reality not nearly serious enough.

    • Pyo July 28, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

      First of all: when did people take fiction seriously? Since the first time it ever came up. In fact, it was a primary why to get out your opinion on stuff.

      Secondly, I kind of agree. Stuff like the dueling in April which sooo easily could and would be exploited (see that Summervale guy in Honorverse, essentially) is hard to take seriously.
      Yet at the same time I personally feel that not taking the politics seriously is a disservice to the author, too. Chandler obviously thought a lot about his universe and how and why it supposedly works. Just saying “don’t take it seriously” feels a bit like an insult to him.
      Besides, taking things seriously in fiction shows a certain level of emotional commitment to the fiction. Which is after all what the author wants, right? If I don’t care, I won’t take it seriously, but it’ll also mean that the positive stuff will leave me cold because whatever, right, it’s just fiction, why should it bother me?

      And there’s authors that do interesting and nuanced things with “serious” politics and economics. Like Traitor Baru Cormorant, for example.

      I agree that one should try not to insist too much on personal convictions and solely because of that bash novels. That’s unfair. I think it’s fair to mention it in a review, since chances are other people will feel the same. Just don’t let it be a reason to be insulting.

      But that’s different from pointing out blatant flaws were the author is incredibly one-sided. Like with romantic development or how a protagonist solves a mystery politics in a novel need to be reasonably sound, too.

      And, but that’s just me, maybe other people are better at it, but essentially you’ll try to emphasize with the hero/ine. That doesn’t mean you need to agree on everything, but you should in some way be able to follow their thoughts and logic. And when some opinions are expressed too much, and you completely disagree every time, that just stops working for me. I’m too different from them, then.

  7. Andrew Jones July 29, 2017 at 7:05 am #

    I’m skeptical of any license required to do something your mother is allowed to do with out the license.

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