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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Catch-22 of Outspoken Authors

I’ve been on a bit of an intellectual rollercoaster this week. It all started when I saw that a digital ARC for Larry Correia’s upcoming dark/epic fantasy, Son of the Black Sword, was available for review on Edelweiss. It sounded like an interesting book, and I’ve had my eye on his Monster Hunter International series, so I wanted to request it . . . but I hesitated.

Yes, I saw a book that I wanted to read, but I hesitated. I wasn’t sure I should read it.

That, right there, is the greatest tragedy of this year’s Hugo Awards Controversy. It’s forced me to put authors before books, and to worry more about what they believe in than what they’ve written. I hate it. Knowing what people have said about politics, sexuality, gender, religion, etc. has forced me to reconsider whether or not I want to read them. Instead of allowing myself to be tempted by a flashy cover and a great blurb, I’ve allowed public personalities and opinions to tarnish those covers.

Ironically, that seems to be the exact opposite of what Larry Correia intended when he launched the first Sad Puppies campaign 3 years ago. From what I understand, all he originally wanted to do was get some more fun/pulp titles on the ballot (including his own, of course), and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are days where I want to read something that’s full of progressive ideas and daring diversity, but there are also days where I crave the literary equivalent of a popcorn blockbuster. Ideally, I’d love to see a balanced awards ballot that caters to both of those moods, but there's no doubt that progressive work is often seen as being more award-worthy than fun fiction.

So, noble idea, it’s just a shame that so many ‘neglected’ authors had to step up and share their opinions about those other titles.

That’s where the catch-22 comes in. There are authors on my shelves I deliberately sought out because of their beliefs or because of a theme they've discussed in their work. I’m talking about authors who might not have caught my eye had I not come across something they’d said, or some interesting detail about what inspires their work. I’m talking about authors like Fiona Patton, Jim C. Hines, and Kameron Hurley (to name a few). There are also authors who were already on my shelves, but who I bumped up to the top of the TBR pile based on something they said or did with their work that earned my respect. I’m talking about authors like Elizabeth Bear, Mark Charan Newton, and Amanda Downum (to name a few).

Unfortunately, as a result of the controversy, there are now authors I’ve felt compelled to remove from my shelves because of what I’ve read about their beliefs and their behavior. I’m talking about authors like Orson Scott Card, John C. Wright, and Theodore Beale (to name a few). It's sad, because 6 months ago I would have entered into such books blindly, knowing only what was written in the back-page bio. Depending on how much of their beliefs permeated the text, I might even have enjoyed some of those reads. In fact, I'm sure there are multiple 5-star reads on my shelves that I'd feel very different about if I knew more about the authors behind them. I'm not one to automatically assume that a character’s racist epithets are a reflection of an author I know nothing about, but I do have trouble not seeing the significance of limb-wristed, lisping, flamboyant villains if I know that the author is vulgarly homophobic.

How much is too much, and where do you draw the line?

For much of this week, I was concerned with what I saw as a double standard. I knew that there would be readers out there who would toss the books I sought out, and then buy extra copies of those that I banished from my shelves. How can I celebrate one group of authors for their beliefs, while condemning another? Ultimately, I've realized it's less about those beliefs, and more about how those opinions are expressed. We might both agree that black lesbian transsexual atheists in wheelchairs should be allowed to get married in a bouncy castle at the Vatican, but if you declare that any straight white Amish man in suspenders who disagrees is an ignorant savage, and go on to suggest that he should be beaten with a wooden leg . . . well, we're going to have to part ways, even if we started on the same page.

Take, for example, Brandon Sanderson. Here is an author whose work I have enjoyed immensely, but I discovered that he’s made some troubling comments about gay marriage. I absolutely cannot reconcile myself with his faith (which promises “pain and suffering to all involved”), but I can appreciate the way he's expressed his dilemma regarding that faith. He's talked at length about it, and done so very respectfully and very politely. What's more, I can respect his personal thoughts on 'acceptance' versus 'endorsement'. Admittedly, I’ll likely be more aware of the potential for prejudice in his future works (whether I like it or not), but so long as it doesn’t become an issue in the text, and so long as he doesn’t abandon all restraint and start talking about abhorrent perversity, I think we can safely agree to disagree.

So, what was the point of all this anyway?

Anyway, to get back to where we started, I did end up requesting Son of the Black Sword, I was approved for the ARC, and I will give it a read. Despite how the Sad/Rabid Puppy mess has evolved, and regardless of the company that surrounds him, I can respect what I believe to be Larry Correia’s original intention, and that is to celebrate pure pulp. Nothing I’ve read – and I’ve read a lot over the last few days! – suggests he’s anything but a guy who sincerely loves his guns and girls, and his monsters and mayhem. For all I know, he and I might very well believe very different things, and that's fine. He's not out there calling people names and insulting their beliefs, and that's what matters.

So, give me that popcorn blockbuster, don’t skimp on the butter (even if it is fake), and let's get back to enjoying books for what they are, not who they come from.

16 comments:

  1. Good on you for requesting it anyway. This is a very tough subject for me and I understand your dilemma and thought process. Politics is politics, art is art. I like to separate those. Of course there are authors' whose views I disagree with on both sides of the divide, but honestly if I stopped consuming content from creators based on this, I wouldn't be reading, watching, enjoying anything at all. That's just the reality of it. That's why I don't typically follow authors in social media on my personal account if I know they are outspoken about political beliefs. Sometimes, I just don't want to know. I'm a big believer of experiencing a book based on its own merits. Blocking out all the hoopla makes it easier.

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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    1. And for the record, Larry Correia's books are fun. I liked the couple of Monster Hunter books I've read and enjoyed his Grimnoire series. I don't care for some of his views and he can be a bit an asshole (he admits this anyway), but I can definitely get behind celebrating pure pulp. I hope you enjoy this book, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about it.

      I was also at a convention where I got the rare opportunity to hear Sanderson speak about the topic of separating art from the creator's beliefs when he received a question about it. Like you said, he was very polite and respectful. While I don't agree with his stance, I don't revile him for his religious faith.

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    2. Normally I'd agree with you, Mogsy, and stay far away from the social media accounts of authors I know to be socially/politically active. The whole Hugo mess kind of thrust it into our faces, however, and ever so conveniently highlighted their worst statements for us to read.

      It made the issue hard to ignore, and it really bothers me that I let it get to me. You're right in that we'd have nothing left to read or watch if we cannot separate politics from art, I just had to kind of figure out where to draw that line.

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    3. Well, I didn't say it was easy to do! :) I'm afraid you're right, this year's Hugo drama leaked everywhere and try as I might to hide from it, I was not successful. As reviewers, it's definitely hard to figure out where to draw the line - to be completely objective, you would have erase any knowledge of the author or even who they are before you put on your reviewer's hat, and that's just not possible. I think the best we can do is to be honest with ourselves and honest with our opinions, which is why I think this was a great post.

      ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

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  2. I think I like Sanderson's approach. I'm enjoying one of his books now and I feel good about it.
    Some of it is like separating the actor's personal life and the characters he plays on the screen. (Like Tom Cruise.)

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    1. Tom Cruise is a great example, as is Mel Gibson. Maybe it's because they're playing characters, and aren't content creators, but I can more easily separate their roles from their beliefs.

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  3. "'acceptance' versus 'endorsement'" is better than "'acceptance' versus 'unacceptance'" And I think being respectful is one of the most important things, and that goes both ways for the author and the reader. But, yes. It is interesting (and sometimes sad) when you are faced with a dilemma between books and politics. When our book club selected Enders Game, there was a strong recommendation to buy used copies of the book or borrow from a library as a compromise.

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    1. I'm not sure I could read Enders Game for myself, but if it was part of an assignment, I like your idea of accepting him by purchasing a used copy, but not endorsing him financially.

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  4. I look forward to your review of the book. The whole Sad Puppies drama and the flame wars attending it have tainted a few writers for me as well, and that makes me unhappy. I'm not sure if I'm unhappy with myself for being angry about it all, or unhappy with the whole lot for making my playground less friendly. In any event, I love pulp. I love progressive work. I just plain love fantasy and science fiction. Unfortunately, things authors say can influence readers just as much, or more than, cool cover art or a kickass blurb.

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    1. I think we can be unhappy about both . . . which (admittedly) sucks.

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  5. Great post. You're a more open-minded and kind sort than I am, Bob. Funny thing is, for me it's more about the odiousness of certain folks' personalities than it is about their views. I dislike the arrogance, the total lack of self-awareness about themselves. They've allowed their perceived marginalization to inform every aspect of themselves.

    But, y'know, hell -- there are authors on "my" side that I won't read, simply because my exposure to their personalities makes me not want to read their work. There is an equally annoying self-righteousness among the progressives.

    Of course, views like those held by Correia and other conservative sff authors make bad personalities even worse.

    (In case it isn't clear, I'm not one to separate authors from their beliefs. I think it's nice when people can do that, but it's not something I even attempt to do. Because I'm a slow reader, I'll never run out of reading material as a result -- unlike Mogsy!)

    (Hi, Mogsy!)

    The thing about holding my viewpoint is that I can't be a hypocrite about the effect my own personality has. I have, many times, taken myself too seriously since becoming a published writer and turned off a lot of people -- myself included. Then I went the opposite direction and tried to be nicer and not burn bridges, and that annoyed me so I stopped.

    Now that I've reached a nice middle ground for myself, I've also come to embrace the fact that my personality impacts my ability to sustain a career. As do my views.

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    1. Heh, looking at the mountain that is my TBR pile, I'm thinking maybe some way to curb its growth might not be such a bad idea. I'm a fast reader - but I'm still no match for my to-read list :) And hi!!!

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    2. Maybe it's being a Canadian, but I can easily overlook the political issues, and working with egotistical sales execs all day has given me a thick skin when it comes to personalities.

      Like Mogsy, though, I could do with knocking a few chips off Mt TBR.

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  6. I tried to read Monster Hunter. Thought it was pretty bad. Another outspoken puppy, Hoyt, I did enjoy when I read years ago. I could maybe even read her again, even if she did call me a duck.

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    1. Well, I guess there are worst things you could be called. :)

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  7. People don't seem to understand what Libertarians actually believe... as evidenced by the fact that they always seem to lump them together with Conservatives. Especially the opposition to Sap Puppies.

    Libertarians are not politically against gay-marriage. Read their party platform: http://www.lp.org/platform

    "1.4 Personal Relationships
    "Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government's treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships."

    Yet the opposition to the Sad Puppies repeatedly refer to libertarians as homophobic and sexist. "Liberals" and "leftists" are not the only political groups that believe in diversity.

    Now, I am not saying there is anything wrong with conservatives or their beliefs. They are being true to the teachings of their respective faith, and that's okay. I am simply trying to reiterate to people on the political left that LIBERTARIANS AND CONSERVATIVES ARE NOT THE SAME.

    Now that that is out of the way, I respect you Bob for respecting Larry's right to have a differing opinion than you.

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