My agent O’Mike was suggesting on twitter I write a colony planet / McGyver survival story:
I live on a remote island, a mountain in the sea which was once colonised by Australian Aboriginals (and please, let’s not start language-bashing. You know what I mean, and it is the local term used by the local people of part Aboriginal descent. If there is one that pisses me beyond measure it’s the needless ideological offense seeking by the gung ho PC rent-seekers, where no offence was meant, and none taken by the people concerned) when there was a land-bridge (when sea-levels were lower) from Mainland Australia to Tasmania. It must have been a fairly bleak place then, with where we now live on being the cold, snowy high-lands, probably hunted on, if most of it wasn’t too cold and bleak. Sea levels rose, and the human population, if they remained, died out – either in a cold/drought period or as result of the population being to small, or of starvation. Maybe we’ll know one day, but there is little appetite and even less money for research: this all happened thousands of years before ‘white’ colonists arrived. When they did arrive, there was no other human living here, and they carved out a living for themselves (sealing first, farming later) and took/traded (this is from Grease and Ochre, written by one of the Aboriginal descendents, Patricia Cameron. Worth reading, and not your usual at all) wives from the aboriginal population on Tasmania, and possibly Victoria. In the attempt to ‘do the right thing’ there are records of the British authorities taking these women back… only to have them return. We will never really know precisely why. You can reach your own conclusions, which will almost certainly be at least partly wrong. All I can say as hunter-gatherers, life was not long, and food was uncertain, and women had shall we say, all the fun, as they got to collect all the shellfish. It’s process which I know is wet and cold wearing a lot of neoprene, with a towel and warm dry clothing, not a fire and some skins. Everytime I hear ‘wound back all the gains of women’s liberation’, I’d like to sentence the speaker to a week’s worth of living as a woman back when a sealer’s hut was comparitive luxury, or indeed to the norms of a woman’s life in much of pre-European colonial Africa.
It’s green place now, with good grasslands, and millions (and I mean millions) more animals than it supported before settlement and farming, both native and introduced (it was almost entirely forest, it’s now around 40 % forest) It probably has less birds (although some have done exceptionally well as result of the pasturage) and certainly less fish. For a while at least it was one of the last wild frontiers of Australia settled.
Some of its natural treasures have been lost – a large area of swamp/lagoon land was cleared for soldier settlers, and some areas of old growth temperate forest are gone. Neither are gone completely, and the Cape Barren Geese, the Wallaby and the possums have thrived on human interference.
I know a little about carving out a life from the bush, nothing compared to those sealers, or indeed the first humans to cross that land-bridge. My father spent his formative years as a part-time hunter-gatherer in the mountains of Basotholand. He’d get home from the boarding school I also got sent to, probably from the age of about 8, sneak into my grandfather’s trading store, steal as many cartridges as his pockets could carry, a bag of maize meal, and get onto his pony and ride off to join his friends, the herd-boys, who watched cattle up on the high mountains 6-8000 feet in all weathers. When school time or some big event rolled around my grandfather would send out a message to him, by telling the nearest MoSotho man. My mother’s family have some Khoi-san hunter gatherer in them somewhere down the line, and anyway boer trekkers who couldn’t live off the land, died. This was how my family saw the land and the people in it. We’re part of it, and it of us. The bush was my playground, the sea my world. The city/suburbia something I had to put up with and escape as fast as possible. I started diving when I was… hell, I dunno. ?6. Just puddle jumping (the shallows at low tide), collecting sinkers, while my older brother dived for spiny lobster, but I caught my first when I was twelve, and had swum a few hundred miles by then if you added the water time together. I learned to find octopus and collect shellfish, and catch and clean fish before I could write. I remember going to the docks where my dad was working on the boat, and losing my dad’s knife into the harbour, and going in after it as pre-school brat – lucky not to drown. It’s in my blood, in my instincts, in my rearing. I know it and love it. TV Survival programmes tend to make shake my head a lot…
One of my favorite, and probably most formative sf books was Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD – which is both a very clever satire (that floated right over my head when I first read it at about 8 or 9) and a book about carving out a life on an ocean world – where there is no land at all, and the crashed spaceship survivors/colonists live off the sea on vast drifts of floating seaweed, in an environment where there are no metals. The story is about King Kraken – a squid-like native life-form that has become used to terrorising and being appeased by the ‘settlers’ and the social battle to get resistance going, when most of the settlers would rather continue to appease and deify the creature, and finally to kill the creature. (yes, I don’t think it could be published today). For me, the kraken was interesting, but the real fascination was how Vance had his characters do a Robinson Crusoe/Swiss Family Robinson with the materials on hand.
Yes, I could write something like that. But we’re a species in conflict with our own nature and origins and although I do think it may come around, a great deal of baggage has been attached to the whole concept ‘colonist’.
Which is really really really bizarre.
Because that is what we are, what our species is evolved to do best.
Denying it is like being an anteater that refuses to eat ants. Never healthy, and not destined for success…
Of all the species on the planet – and there some very tough, very adaptable ones, we’re the vertebrate species (that remain one species) probably native to some valley (or swamp) in Africa, that has spread widest. We’re not native to America, or Australia, or Europe, and probably not Asia either, unless by ‘native’ you’re meaning born there. The best claim any human can have to almost place is ‘we colonised this place before you’ and the truth there tends to be one of invasions and takeovers by different nations, tribes, clans, families – pick a name/group. Sometimes it was more-or-less assimilation, more-or-less peaceful. Mostly it wasn’t. Some group ended up on top. The genetic record is un-arguable on this – few male lines, many female. Before very recent times, that means this happened by the same method as most simian troops address power change/territory capture – by killing the males, and taking the females, by force if they dared resist. We know from wife-stealing cultures and their history that where this was a cultural norm, they may not have. (yes, those gains of women’s liberation which all are destroyed because some poor fellow called someone a lady. Shock horror. That’s what ‘backward’ really means.) Slavery – where the conquered foe was not killed outright – was a step up, horrific though this may be to us now. Allowing that slave to live, ungelded, and breed… that was liberlism, once. Times and standards and mores change. I am biased, I think for the better, most of the time, but there are ups and downs. But we are what we are, and it is so much part of evolutionary make up that if humans stop colonising – stop changing hostile environments to suit themselves (most urban planning is ‘colonial’ behavior. So is planting flowers or mowing your lawn.) we will rapidly die out.
And actually I think that would be a bad thing.
Yes I know. Very un-PC! Humans bad, male humans badder, male heterosexuals worserer, and if they’re white and old unspeakable scum due to pay for their sins. If we can leave the idiocy for a moment, the difference – as I got at in Dragon’s Ring, humans can destroy… They are also unique (at least on this planet) in that they can think plan and save, not just themselves but many other species. Sooner or later we will have another VEI 8 event. Sooner or later there will be a major asteroid impact. Sooner or later – whether humans are here or no, climate will change catastrophically. Unless you’re a brain dead parrot, with the channel stuck on PC, you can’t conclude major extinctions are GOOD if caused by ‘natural’ causes, and BAD if caused by human intervention. And realistically, short of direct divine intervention, or benevelonet aliens, we’re it for an amelioration force.
Which kind of means the world has to put up with us colonists and messes we make.
The trouble is, if you’re a rent-seeking PC guilt farmer, and not merely wanting everyone to have the same fair shake as the next feller… and you admit that everyone is descended from a bunch of colonialists who plundered and wrecked… merely thinking they were trying to survive, and by-in-large behaving according to the mores of their time and place, you’re toast. In other words admiting that wicked colonialist was as much a decent an individual as Ms. J Average is today, and there goes your claim for special treatment, privilege, getting onto that TOC, onto the top of the slush pile, getting that arts grant, getting that promotion, getting that…
And the defenders of that priviledge and their coiterie of camp-followers (the same ‘fashion’ followers who denounced their good neighbours to the STASI as traitors, who in an earlier age said so-and-so was actually a Jew, who found reds in foreign names, and now join the PC witch-hunts) are shrill, nasty, and quite capable of destroying jobs and lives. They’re quite capable of poisoning the internet, and will slam publisher doors if you give them a soft target like ‘Colony’, because that has become code for all that is evil.
The evidence is out there – not in rewritten history books, but in the letters and even newspapers, and written in harder to re-write facts like genes — most of those who colonise – whether it is Abdul leaving near starvation in Niger today in the hopes a better life in France, or whether it was Fritz leaving near starvation in Dusseldorf for America in 1840… or the clan of Australians moving across the Bass strait land-bridge 15000 years ago, they were just human. Good, bad, indifferent, mostly by their standards not intrisically nasty. And the things they face/d took courage, endurance, and were often their personal idea of utterly awful.
They’re colonists. Great stories to be told. People worth remembering and respecting, people who did their best and were often very brave and generous – sometimes to strangers who they thought terrifying, who did and would kill them. And sometimes they killed them instead. They knew hunger, despair, sadness — to scales that are hard for the urban camp-follower of PC to ever fathom. They carved out a life in a place that might seem a beautiful pristine habitat that they destroyed in the process… if you are sitting warm, comfortable and safe in your modern city – the legacy those brave folk left you, so that you could spit on their effort and sacrifice from it.
And Mike wants me to write about it.
Yes. Well. Maybe. It ought to be done.
But why me, Lord?