In a lot of ways, it’s become increasingly evident to me over the years that my love of books didn’t follow the same trajectory as most of my fellow sf/f authors. When they recount the first books they fell in love with, almost without exception they’re sf/f novels. With authors of a certain age, it’s almost guaranteed to be a Heinlein juvie; I wouldn’t be surprised at all if in a few years almost every new sf/f author says it was the Harry Potter books. With authors around my age, it’s more varied, but it’s still always the same genre they write in.
That’s not the case with me. The first book series I fell in love with . . . well, the very first was the Berenstain Bears, so let’s go with first novel series instead . . . was the Little House books. I’m well aware of all the “issues” with them, thank you. Yes, they’re racist. Yes, they’re sexist. Oh, wait, no . . .they accurately represent what people in that place and time thought, you dumbasses! For the most part. Some of the Native American dialogue is very cringe-worthy, but, the books were written in the 1930s. They’re fair for their day. (And, yes, that is a valid defense of a “problematic” work.) They commit the terrible, horrible sin of . . . brace for this . . . not having a plot!
Yes, I’ve read the dumbass things about how the books are about showing how the Ingalls survived. That’s people trying way, way too motherfucking hard to make the books be something they’re not. Especially when people say that about Little House in the Big Woods and These Happy Golden Years. (I’m also aware of the people who see them as being about things like “Good Christian values” and “how wonderful life was when more people thought like libertarians” and shit like that. These people are also reading way too fucking much into them.) (I also have a parentheses overuse problem.)
What are they? Slice-of-life. A record of life as it was decades before she wrote them . . . not quite historically accurate, as surviving letters between Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter show changes were made to make them more exciting/flow better/all that other sort of editorial stuff necessary so that slice-of-life stories don’t become “and then we spent six months doing absolutely nothing interesting” . . . but still, in broad strokes, they tell how things were, as the very first line says, “Once upon a time, sixty years ago . . .” (140ish years ago now, but they’ve never changed the beginning.)
I frequently think that this series, Little Women, and the Anne series being my childhood favorites has a lot to do with why I don’t write the same kind of stories most of my fellow sf/f authors do. When they were internalizing the idea that novels were about plot and technology/magic, I was internalizing the idea that novels were about people.
Sometimes those people have cool adventures, but sometimes they’re just living their life.
“What do these people do when they’re not saving the day?” has been something I’ve wanted to show in Universal Nexus fiction for a long time, because of these influences no doubt. I tried last year with Intertwined Lives, but that experiment was a failure for many reasons, which I won’t enumerate here. The premise though, showing what goes on in a space opera setting when there aren’t evil empires to overthrow and princes to rescue and all of that, wasn’t a bad one. Combine this with me recently re-reading the Little House books, and an idea I had about two years ago that I cast aside as unworkable bubbled up in my mind again.
Jake, of Jake’s Last Mission
, has a life that leads itself to a Little House inspired series. He starts out the son of a widowed ranch hand struggling to keep food on the table and ends up a military officer on a world that, even with ships capable of going over a thousand light years per day, is two weeks away. I worked it out the other day and the story of his early life even breaks down readily into the same number of books as the Little House series, coincidentally.
So, there’s a new project for me: Little House in Universal Nexus. (Obviously this is not the final title.)
I have some issues to work out before I can get started, alas. I’m not sure I can write from the pov of a young child, and I think it’s been pretty well established by now that I write much better in first person, so that’s an issue. I might ignore how neatly it could be made to parallel the Little House series and start the series in Jake’s adolescence. Or I might write the first few books from the pov of his father and switch to Jake when he’s older. Or I might write a series of books like this about some other character completely. Who knows at this point?