I was asked in e-mail if I had any thoughts about Orson Scott Card’s latest book Empire, in which OSC posits a civil war between the lefties and the righties here in the US. Well, I haven’t read the book other than a quick glance at portions of it posted online, so I don’t have any opinion on it or its literary merits, and I have have to confess that I’m not actually in an all-fired rush to read it. OSC is one of my favorite authors, but at this point I’m working my way through a big, heaping helping of political fatigue; this last election pretty much damn near wore me out, and frankly the last thing I want to do at this moment is read a book about the left and the right collapsing themselves into a civil war.
Without having read the book, I would offer the observation that were I marketing this particular book, I would have done my best to get it out before the election. I would note that when I first caught wind of this book, well before election day, I had at least some interest in picking it up; on the other side of the vote, however, it just seems like one wafer-thin mint too many after an obscenely large, grease-filled meal. Maybe that’s just me; if the book’s Amazon ranking is any indication, other people don’t share my queasiness. But for myself, I’ll be taking some time before getting around to it. This has little to do with OSC and/or the book; honestly, it could be the best book ever and I’d still not be in a rush to pick it up, because I’m feeling burned out on thinking about the left/right thing.
Now, I expect that one of the reasons I was asked for my opinion about the book was because the book is being roundly slagged in various corners of teh IntarWeebs as OSC’s John Galt Maneuver — i.e., the book in which his characters mouth OSC’s own political views, which are not notably progressive — and any one who knows OSC’s politics and mine knows that they’re not exactly congruent at any number of points.
Again, as I haven’t read the book to any significant extent, I can’t say how Galty OSC gets. I can say I tend not to be a fan of Galtiness in general, regardless of who is doing it, since on average nothing does more to bring a story to a screeching, juddering halt than a bunch of characters who stop what they’re doing to barf page after page of brain-hazing polemics. I would imagine that given the subject of Empire’s story, this sort of thing would be a hazard of the landscape. It might be worth asking if any writer could pull off a story with this plot without a certain level of Galtiness, or without being accused of using it as a vehicle for his or her own politics.
Having said that, I should also note that if I had read Empire and thought it sucked, I probably wouldn’t tell you, at least not here on the Whatever. This is a good a time as any to note that in the field of written science fiction and fantasy, my public focus is on promotion rather than critical observation, which is a fancy way of saying I’m more likely to tell you about stuff I think is cool than spend any amount of time telling you what to avoid and why.
The reason for this? Well, allow me an ego moment to note that this site and my AOL site get more daily visitors than all but a handful of SF-related properties, either online or in print, and my audience online is not all science fiction reading geeks; it may not even be primarily SF-reading geeks. To the extent that I have an opportunity to comment on written science fiction and introduce the field to non-natives, I’d prefer to spend that time promoting the work and writers I think should be read. Science fiction has been good to me; basically, I’d like to return the favor and pay it forward.
Mind you, this personal sense of mission truly is personal. I don’t think other SF writers should limit their critical commentary in the field to only positive things, and even if I did, I don’t think it’s any of my business to get in the way of their karma. I also don’t expect that my personal decision on this topic will keep other SF writers from commenting critically about me or my work; it hasn’t to date, and if someone ever did stop themselves from making a critical comment about my work simply because they thought I was a nice guy for promoting other SF writers, my response to them would be “are you high?” Really, I can take it. This isn’t about anything other than me; I don’t expect what I do here to make a difference to anyone else in how they address the field of written science fiction.
But it does mean that if you’re coming to the Whatever in the hope of seeing me snark on SF writers or their recent books, you’re likely to be unsatisfied. I’ll certainly talk about general themes in written SF and make observations on the field; look, I’m doing it now. But chances are if I’m talking about a specific book or writer here, it’s because I think you should read them or the work. And anyway, God knows I’m snarky enough about everything else in the world. Your need for snark will be sated in other ways, I assure you.