I’ve recently learned about the slate voting problem in this year’s Hugo Awards, especially by two groups of conservative science fiction writers: the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. These two groups seem to feel feel white, heterosexual males are under attack and are being under-represented in speculative fiction awards. I’m going to table the ridiculousness of that statement, which is verifiably false, as well as some of the more offensive nonsense being spouted by certain members of this group. (Some Puppies are the also the viler #Gamergate folks, and frankly fuck that too.) But I’m setting all that aside because I’m more interested in asking a question: Should we be reading work by authors whose political and personal values contradict our own? [UPDATE: I have modified this paragraph slightly as I have learned more about the issue and gone deeper into both sides. You can see the original at the end of the blog post.]
First, it’s probably important that I make my own views clear:
- against war
- for diversity in the arts
- against laissez-faire capitalism
- for a well-regulated social safety net
- against money in politics
- for equality (regardless of gender, religion, race, or sexual identity)
- against religious fundamentalism
- for freedom of choice (including speech, religion, and lifestyle so long as it doesn’t harm anyone non-consenting in the process)
I’m aware that these beliefs put me firmly on the political and ideological left, and I self-identify as a liberal or progressive. The truth is probably more complex than that, as the truth tends to be, but I’m not going to waste too much time on hair splitting. Let’s just say I have an accumulated set of beliefs that favor compassion over competition.
So imagine my disappointment when I learned about how vocal Orson Scott Card is about being anti-gay, especially against same-sex marriage. I loved Ender’s Game, and it’s still in my top ten for science fiction novels. But I found the author’s personal views abhorrent, especially in light of the story of Ender Wiggins: a boy who is bullied, pushed around, and ultimately broken. I see a lot of echoes of the prejudice LGTBQ people suffer all the time. I’m conflicted. (He did write a non-apology in the wake of the film version of Ender’s Game being boycotted. Read it here.)
John C. Wright has held similarly anti-gay stances and has spoken up against homosexuality before. Again, surprise and disappointment. I loved The Golden Age, and in a society where even one’s humanity and fundamental mind patterns are a matter of flipping switch, I had thought that anything would go. But none of that gay stuff. I’m still conflicted. (Sadly, he has removed some of his less palatable blog posts, though he has written this response to the Hugos kerfuffle.) [UPDATE: Mr. Wright has responded to this blog post and disputes some of the content of this paragraph. I’m leaving it as originally written for now, but please feel free to follow our conversation below.]
I grew up reading Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series. Goodkind was distinctly hawkish in his writing and justified war and violence constantly. I eventually stopped reading the series not because of its ideology, but because it violated a fundamental principle of good writing — Chainfire was a novel-length introduction to the next novel. Combined with the proselytizing for the use of force, I gave up. Not so conflicted.
When it comes to Vox Day, Rabid Puppy extraordinaire, I’m not at all conflicted. On his blog, I’ve read him rail against perceived liberal conspiracies. There was also at least one article calling into question the value of giving women the vote. I’ve yet to read any of his fiction, but it was so burned in such an epic manner, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. (John Scalzi referred to his 2014 Hugo-nominated novelette as “like Gene Wolfe strained through a thick and rancid cheesecloth of stupid.”) But I’ll admit that I’ve neither read his fiction nor met him personally. He may be a great writer and a real peach of a human being, though his blog doesn’t give me that impression.
And this brings me back around to my question: Even though I find these people’s personal views objectionable, should I be reading their work?
And the answer is: Yes.
I’m a progressive, an atheist, even a scientist after a fashion, and all those things are based on one fundamental principle: facts. Facts are best gathered by a broader perspective, which helps eliminate a lot of the selection bias I see in mainstream media. (I’m looking at you, Fox News.) As progressives, as liberals, or just as educated human beings, we can’t just ignore the far-right and just hope it goes away. We need to engage, preferably by taking a good long look at the work they produce and try to find some common ground. This “us” versus “them” mentality has to stop. On both sides.
Any reader or writer calling for more diversity is obligated to read these books. In addition to being a liberal, I’m also a heterosexual white English-speaking male raised in a Western upper-middle-class environment. To say that I identify with the stories of conservative writers is putting in mildly. I enjoy a rollicking good tale and can look the other way on unrealistically weak female characters as part of that particular story or trope. I also read stories by great female writers and writers of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Sometimes, I even force myself to do so and deliberately seek out other voices and perspectives to add to my own personal experience.
Reading everything is the only authentic thing a liberal or progressive reader can do. Does that mean I’m going out to buy the latest offering by Bill O’Reilly? Hell no. There are limits to my tolerance. But will I re-read Ender’s Game or The Golden Age? Absolutely. Do I agree with the authors? Absolutely not. But a good read is about more than just the author, it’s about the story. So while I plan to judge writing for its own merits, and enter into an entirely different dialogue on the potential shortcomings of its author. Could putting an agenda ahead of a story make it a shitty story? Absolutely. But I have the same problem with far-left themes.
In that vein, I’d be happy to engage with a conservative author about the gender- and sexuality-bending future of my story Into Stillness. Or debate any of my other closely held beliefs. Just know that I’m not interested in slinging insults back and forth. I’ll walk away from that shit as quick as I walk away from a bad story.
*[DELETED FIRST PARAGRAPH: I’ve recently learned about the recent “ballot stuffing” or “bloc voting” problem in this year’s Hugo Awards, especially by two groups of conservative science fiction writers: the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies. These two groups feel white, heterosexual males are under attack and are being under-represented in speculative fiction awards. I’m going to table the ridiculousness of that statement, which is verifiably false, as well as some of the more offensive nonsense being spouted by this group of conservative artists. (Some of these writers and fans are the same asshats as those Gamergate folks, and frankly fuck them too.) But I’m setting all that aside because I’m more interested in asking a question: Should we be reading work by authors whose political and personal values contradict our own? ]