Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Have you Kipled lately?

Papapete asks:
Why is it that sci-fi authors who write military/heroic fiction are almost always Kipling fans? I like his stuff a lot, but he's fallen out of favor with the "literary" crowd. However, you can't pick up a military or heroic sci-fi novel without seeing his influence all over it.
I have no idea what you're talking about. As proof, here's an unretouched photo of the bookshelf over my desk.

Oh, wait...

I suppose part of it is growing up on The Jungle Book and Just-So Stories. I still remember asking my mom to explain what a 'Stute Fish is, and wishing I could find a wild mongoose so I could befriend my own Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. And what little boy hasn't dreamed of living like a savage in the wild and being raised by wolves? After all, that's why the Boy Scouts call 'em Wolf Cubs; because Baden-Powell was deliberately and with Kipling's consent lifting memes and riffs from The Jungle Book and Kim. (Why do you think the name "Akela" keeps cropping up all over the place in Cub Scouting?)

A definite part of it is that Kipling lived a long life, had a prolific career, and a century ago was writing and publishing stories that were unequivocally hard sci-fi. Both John Campbell and Robert Heinlein idolized Kipling -- Campbell apparently knew him -- and if you're doing military/heroic hard sci-fi, who are you to argue with Campbell and Heinlein? As well, Kipling (along with Stevenson) practically invented the narrative arc of the bildungsroman as told through the story of a young boy thrown into an alien environment and forced to mature and survive (e.g., Captains Courageous), which apparently was a recapitulation of his own life story, and heck, even I used that one, without intending to, in Cyberpunk.

Kipling is also credited with having invented the technique of indirect exposition: of revealing an alien landscape or culture through the eyes and words of characters living in it, rather than through an omniscient narrator's exposition, which Campbell shortened to "show, not tell," and we're all living with that one on a daily basis.

But as for why Kipling has fallen out of favor with the "literary" crowd; well personally, I think it was because he insisted on writing poems with meter and rhyme...

But what do you think? And what's your favorite Kipling story, book, or poem?