Jim Hill at Through the Tollbooth posted an article a couple days back discussing the Orson Scott Card problem. For those that don’t know, Mr. Card is sort of, well…crazy. And that’s probably being really nice about it. No matter where your politics lie, he’s probably an extreme for you. Yet he writes some great fiction (or so I’ve been told, YA sci-fi has never been my bag). I wanted to put this in the Sharing the Wealth for this Friday, but the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized I had more to say that just the short blurb.
Mr. Card is a hallmark of science fiction, inspiring thousands and directly influencing the next generation of sci-fi authors. Ender’s Game is one of those books I’ve always been told I had to read and is currently being made into a bland looking, flashy movie that will probably make a ton of cash.
But we live in a world where you do not support people who make a foghorn of their bad habits (or ideals). When the book first came out, less was known about Card and frankly, I don’t think anyone would have cared. Product of the time and all.
I’m going to go back to Card on this, because I don’t want anyone to misunderstand as we go into this article. I’m not defending his behavior or his ideals. At the very lowest level, no matter what you think, it is rude and hateful. I can’t remember who (I thought it was Chuck Wendig, but apparently not) wrote a piece about Card and his evaluation of things. Because every person has something you won’t agree about (and they are entitled to those opinions), and if you boycott everyone you don’t agree with, you will quickly run out of things to do. Their point, and I thought it was a good one, was that Card does’t just have opinions, he forces them on others. He is trying to pick a fight. He’s not quietly thinking his own thoughts, contently enjoying his freedom of speech, he’s in your face. Hell, he’s in everyone’s face. He forces the issue, to the point you can’t ignore it because he’s almost willing to disown a reader if they don’t agree with his opinions.
So how do you handle that? Do you cauterize his work? Or do you give it the respect it’s earned for being quality fiction?
I really don’t know. And let me tell you why.
One of my favorite authors is H.P. Lovecraft. No one writes like Mr. Lovecraft, and though he wasn’t appreciated in his day, he went on to inspire many speculative fiction authors. Lovecraftian is a genre unto itself, with its own universe and storytelling method.
But have you ever read about him, personally? He was a raging bigot who not only spoke out against integration of race (he didn’t even want different cultures of white people mixing) but included it in his fiction. There are several instances where it is implied that this or that horror is a devolved person (or just how that immigrant really is), often times associated with Africans or other ethnicities. There’s one about a backwoods cannibal whose sole motivation for being a cannibal seems to be that he’s a hick from some lesser part of Europe and well, that’s just what they do over there. It’s a pretty bad implication (but a pretty good story).
Then again, he also felt that, as a whole, the human race was insignificant and the universe would be a better place for our extinction. He hated religion, seeing it as superstition. That’s really in these days, so you may not see it as a negative but many do, and they certainly did for his time period.
This wasn’t just him being a product of his time either, he had a particular nastiness for immigrants of all colors, supposedly stemming from his time in New York.
So he wasn’t a great person, but I love his work. So do many others. How many other authors had problems we might not support? One might say Orson Scott Card is louder, but then we live in a louder world with better mouthpieces. I shudder at the thought of what some of our favorite author’s Twitter feeds would have looked like and apparently Charles Dickens was, in fact, the Devil. I’ll bet we would have seem him in a few embarrassing headlines.
I’m not defending anyone. Just wondering at what point do we excuse behavior. Is it after the author dies? When Card dies does it make it alright to like his books because he’s no longer around to spend the money he earned from your buying them? Or is it just the natural way of things that the person’s most well known attributes are the ones that survive?
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be the only time this comes up. It used to be that authors were private people, you may not even know the real person behind that pen name. Now, in our digital world as authors become more public (which is a good thing, I think), we may continue to find things we don’t like about our favorite authors.
It always makes me cautious, because I have strong opinions about a lot of things. Some of them people may not care about, others they might, you never know. I’d say I’m pretty rational and not a hateful person (I embrace a hate geared more toward stupidity than color) but I don’t ever want to force a reader to make that decision. Mr. Hill discusses feeling betrayed by Card and that’s a feeling I can appreciate. I don’t ever want people to have to abandon Virgil McDane (assuming of course ya’ll keep enjoying the journey with him) because I have a big mouth about something (whether it be politics or whether or not the Xbox One is, in fact, the spawn of Lucifer).
If you feel guilty about my books, I want it to be because of something Virgil did, not me.