Shirley Says

Another fiction repost. Cheers!

“I’ve often been skeptical,” he said, “of Authors-with-a-capital-A
who insert semi-selves into their work”.
“Explain”, quoth I, myself a capital-A type.
“Heinlein. Whiney Heiney always had very samey people in his stories”.

He – his name was Shirley, by the way – began to enumerate the samey
people on his fingers.

“One, the hero. Always a serious type, usually somewhat reluctant,
always forced into a position of leadership against his will.
Two, the sexy woman, or, sometimes, women. They always had token
virtues – intelligence, sass, but apparently it was more important
for them to sport DDD cups and waspish waists, and to fuck like
viagriated rabbits”.

I snorted. He looked at me seriously. “Shut the fuck up, smythearse”.

I wasn’t sure that he was serious – serious looks are a fairly
debased currency these days – but he was. I duly fucked the up-shut.

“Now. Three. The Wise Old Man. In all stories Heinlein tend to insert
himself and his insipid socio-political commentary in the form of
an old man. This old man tended to be rich or knowledgable, or
endowed with gadgets or perhaps, a position of superior command.
Depending on the exact story, he either outlined “new” ideas or
he explained “old” ideas – old within the context of the story”.

“But surely”, I said, rising to the fight, “surely all of his
characters took a hand in introducing Heinlein commentaries.
The Hero in ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’, for instance, who
spends much time explaining what a line marriage is, and how
it works …”
“Hardly ground-breaking stuff. A different way to have sex and
children. Think about his use of the Old Man though – proposing
a no-tax government”.
“Alright. But what about the Computer? He used the Computer
character in ‘Harsh Mistress’ and in ‘Number of the Beast'”, I
“They weren’t pivotal, though. In ‘Mistress’ the Computer is a
means to wish fulfillment and general-purpose wankosity. And in
‘Number’ the Computer of the ship – ‘Gaye Deceiver’ – was not
so much wish fulfillment as utter mind-squashing tedium. He spends
more time on fucking programming than useful character or plot

He had me there. ‘The Number of the Beast’ was best known as
‘The numb-er of the brain’.

“But Heinlein wrote crap SF pulp anway”, I began. “compared to
great authors of literary history”.
“Like who?”
“Like Dostoyevsky, for example”.
“Bah! I bet you’ve never even read Dostoyevsky” – I hadn’t – “and I
likewise feel that you’re trying to give me something like a
literary pistol-whipping. As a name ‘Dostoyevsky’ could be
given to a maker of guns and other mechanical tools of death”.

I called Shirley’s bluff, however, raising my own bullshitter
stakes: “Yes, but. Have you ever read Dostoyevsky?”
“No” he replied bluntly “nor will I ever, so long as I can
breath and refuse to conform to anyone’s expections, however
“But you like Lovecraft” I protested, recalling a previous joust
in which HP’s name had come up. “Surely an appreciation for
HP Lovecraft makes you a conformist, however small the pocket
in which you belong”.
“Fuck off youngster. HP was an excellent writer stylistically
but he just could not end his stories. Reading Lovecraft is
like having fantastic sex – foreplay, penetration and so on –
and quitting just before orgasm for a cup of weak tea. He
builds you up, up up up up up! Then goes limp on you.
As a phallic experience his writing blunders about in search
of something like literary viagra”.

Just then we turned Vonnegutian.

“Oh fuck”, Shirley began. “This is about to turn post-modern,
isn’t it? You’re going to break the third wall in a blundering
attempt to make this into a story”.
“Well I thought it was rather post-modern, actually. Challenging
the quote-rules-unquote of good writing. Changing the pace”.
“I don’t think so, youngster. I know your game. You can’t
hack the pace of tying this up, so, in a lame children’s TV
attempt to rescue the humour and insight that there might
have been in this work – however mild and insipid it was! –
and turn it into something better. Am I right?”

He had me there. I had cheated by breaking the third wall.
None of this had ever happened. I’de never met anyone called
Shirley, nor do I ever expect to meet a man called Shirley,
what with the current hetero hegemony an’ all.

Currently we set off down the hill. “So what now?”, I asked,
desperate for at least some guidance, any guidance, from
this catankerous man of my mind.

“Stand back from yourself,” he replied, then: “and realise
that the world is composed of layer upon layer of bullshit.
The bullshit forms patterns of communication, they in turn
form more bullshit. ‘Literature’, or ‘literary fiction’,
it’s all bullshit, just another genre like ‘science
fiction’. Usually worse in my opinion”.

He grunted.

“I mean, it’s OK to have flying carpets and streamlets of
blood if you are a “magical realist”, but star trek is a
no-no? Captain Kirk might have been a campy fucker, but
he was more plausible than anything written by Gabriel
Garcia Marquez”.
“Is there any writer you like?”
“On principle, no, there is not.”
“Gibson? Westall?”
“They’re not literature. But Gibson is almost too popular for
me to like. He’s on probation. And 4MB of RAM? Please”.

I looked at him, rambling bastard that he was. Bob Ellis and
other ramblers before him, and Shirley, rambling-with-vinegar.
“How do we finish this?”
“I’ll insult you, in an unoriginal and vulgar fashion”.
“Makes sense. You were never well-written, Shirley”.
“Fuck you”.


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