"All the science fiction authors I like are either dead or dying."
Sub.Spike, our father, said this to me the other day, and I don't think he's the only fan who's in danger of dropping out the moment Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven finally leave this mortal coil. As the cold, hard numbers reveal, "literary" science fiction has been hemorrhaging readers for years. Why? In large part because, to quote the folks who've bumped into Brad Torgersen at various literary cons, "Everything written since (insert year here) has been annoying political crap!"
If you are moderate, libertarian, or conservative, perusing the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore these days is like navigating a minefield. While there are writers and publishers out there who don't go out of their way to insult what is in fact the American majority - and I will discuss those in a minute - I can't tell you the number of times I've been thrown completely out of a promising story by anti-Christian, anti-military or anti-conservative agitprop.
Which is not to say that there aren't conservative authors who lay their messages on a bit thick. There are -- but in my experience, those writers tend to be pretty upfront about their intentions. They don't have the political Tourette Syndrome that drives many leftist writers to bitch about "the theocrats on the Religious Right," "the patriarchy" or "the eeeeeeevil Republicans" in entirely unexpected - and inappropriate - contexts. A conservative author knows he's in the minority in the literary world, so his conservatism is painfully self-conscious. A leftist author, on the other hand, occupies a position of privilege -- and on that perch, it's very easy to assume that everyone thinks the same way you do.
The disaffection of "legacy" fans like our father, however, goes much deeper than mere politics. As Sarah Hoyt has noted in her recent posts, much science fiction today looks upon human nature with a decidedly cynical, pessimistic eye. There are two different strains in this school of thought - the transhumanists believe that we should use science and technology (and the force of the state) to drive the imperfections out of mankind, while the more ecologically-minded assert that technology has allowed humanity to become a blight upon the Earth and should be discarded - but the underlying belief is consistent in either case: People are stupid and irredeemably corrupt.
The problem with this perspective is that it doesn't reflect ordinary American attitudes. Most American readers, I think, believe that technology has been - and can continue to be - a boon to the human race, but they would also like that technology to be restrained by traditional ethical norms. Most Americans are also unreconstructed modern humanists (whether they are secular or religious). On the whole, they believe people are good -- not perfect, mind, but still capable of achieving greatness. Heroes still exist and there is still hope for the future -- that's the average American's worldview in a nutshell, and it's what he looks for in his fiction.
To my mind, the term "Human Waver" denotes a writer - or reader - who represents the afore-described proletariat. Human Wavers seek to bring back optimism, heroism, and simple declarative sentences -- but more importantly, they want science fiction to tell the truth about who we are. As Ms. Hoyt writes in a recent post, the point of the Human Wave is not to blithely ignore everything that is awful and ugly in the human experience. The point is to say, "Yes, we are fallen creatures, but don't despair! Redemption is not impossible." Balance is the gold standard because it is balance that mirrors our lived reality as human beings.
I am a Human Waver because of my upbringing. When I was at that magical age - twelve - Dad didn't hand me the science fiction that was published at the tail-end of the eighties. He handed me The Tripods Trilogy and Heinlein's juveniles. The books I read emphasized adventure, human striving, and/or fate-of-the-world storytelling, so that's what I learned to love. Then I discovered Star Trek. Despite its silly collectivism and fanciful utopian notions, Star Trek is still very much an embodiment of the Human Wave ideal -- especially DS9, which SABR Matt and I consider to be the greatest of all the Treks partially because it honestly portrays the darkness in human nature and yet still retains the franchise's essential optimism.
I am also a Human Waver because I'm a conservative Christian who's sick of being bopped on the nose by leftist science fiction writers who think they are smarter and more moral than I. But really, the ideological issues are secondary. The main reason I'm attracted to the Human Wave has to do with the style of storytelling the movement champions. I appreciate the promotion of genuine realism -- not the phony sort of realism that supposes all is horror, pain, iniquity, and really bad sex.
Finding literary science fiction that fits the Human Wave takes work, but I have not been completely unsuccessful. Most of the writers in the Baen stable are Human Wavers (whether they realize it or not). Even Eric Flint, Baen's token communist, pens fundamentally positive works. There's also Connie Willis; when Willis writes a story with a downer ending - like The Doomsday Book - you still walk away feeling good about the human race as a whole. And if you're looking for up-and-coming writers to support, may I suggest Brad Torgersen? Torgersen's short stories are absolutely what the Human Wave is going for, as they feature normal, flawed human beings struggling through difficult circumstances who discover that, yes, there is reason to hope for something better.
In sum: The Human Wave is relevant to my interests, and I wish to subscribe to its newsletter.