Why Yes, I Should Write About Politics

Over on his site, Paolo Bacigalupi asks the question “Should Fiction Writers Write About Politics?” in the wake a of reader comment after Paolo did, indeed, write about politics. While Paolo answers the question to his own satisfaction (I encourage you to read it), let me state my own, probably unsurprising, opinion here:

Why yes, fiction writers should write about politics, if they choose to. And so should doctors and plumbers and garbage collectors and lawyers and teachers and chefs and scientists and truck drivers and stay-at-home parents and the unemployed. In fact, every single adult who has reason enough to sit down and express an opinion through words should feel free to do just that. Having a citizenry that is engaged in the actual working of democracy matters to the democracy, and writing about politics is a fine way to provide evidence that one is actually thinking about these things.

The real question here is, “is it smart for fiction writers to potentially alienate readers by airing their politics?” My response to this, again to absolutely no surprise to anyone, is another question: “why should a fiction writer be obliged to be silent on the life of the state in which he or she lives?” Do readers really think it’s wise that writers, of all people, stay quiet on the matters that affect their lives and the lives of their families, friends and nation, because some person they don’t even know might feel slightly discomfited, and doesn’t have the wit to separate a work of fiction from the largely unrelated real world concerns of the writer?

As long as we’re asking whether fiction writers should write about politics, let’s ask: should fiction writers write about sports? Because if I say, oh, that the Georgia Bulldogs suck and I hope that Tennessee well and truly kicks their ass on October 11, I’m going to alienate an entire state’s worth of people, some of whom might now never get my loathing out of their heads every time they see my name on a book. Should fiction writers write about computers? Because if I express my opinion that Apple computers are merely status bait for anxious beta males, I invite a veritable rain of hate from those same beta males, some of whom will never forgive me for not kneeling at the altar of Steve. Should fiction writers write about sexuality? Because if I admit that during my second year of college I totally went gay for a semester and don’t regret a single moment of it, I’m going to alienate the people who believe that scarfing wang is not a thing boys should do. Should fiction writers write about religion? Because if I express my belief that those who believe in consubstantiation rather than transubstantiation are taking the express elevator to Hell, then, whoops, there goes a whole swath of protestants.

Now, as it happens, I don’t hold these opinions about consubstantiation, or the Georgia Bulldogs, or Apple computers, nor did I, in fact, spend any time in college in hot, sweaty m4m action. But it doesn’t matter; the fact of the matter is that any opinion I hold and publicly discuss has the potential to alienate someone, somewhere, perhaps to the detriment of future sales of my fiction. I mean, for Christ’s sake, out there in the world is a guy who holds me in spittle-flinging contempt because I think the word “alright” is the incorrect way to say “all right.” It seems doubtful he will ever buy any of my books. Should fiction writers write about the English language? After all, lots of people seem to think “alright” is a real word. Should we content ourselves merely to pity them in private?

Of course not, just as we should not be obliged to keep to ourselves opinions about sports, sexuality, technology, religion, food, toys, war, science, music and so on. The reader who believes a fiction author should keep his or her opinions to themselves is effectively (if generally unintentionally) saying “You exist only to amuse me. You are not allowed to do anything else.” To which the only rational response is: blow me. I’m not going to hesitate to add my voice to the national dialogue on any subject just because someone somewhere might not be happy with what I have to say. And more to the point, I think it is bad and dangerous thinking for people to suggest that fiction writers should have to live in a black box of opinion. The idea that writing fiction somehow obliges or even just encourages a vow of silence on any subject, politics or otherwise, that might offend someone somewhere, is flatly odious.

Indeed: The idea that practicing any profession somehow obliges or even encourages a vow of silence on any subject, politics or otherwise, that might offend someone somewhere, is odious. Everyone should be encouraged to say what they wish to say about the important matters of the day. Everyone should feel that participation in the life of their community and their state and nation is a critical act. To do less invites ignorance and ultimately tyranny.

To go back to fiction writers and politics, there’s another reason I feel obliged to freely speak my mind: Because so many writers cannot. PEN has a handy list of writers currently imprisoned all over the world because they’ve written about the world they live in; it also has a list of writers who had been imprisoned and who, while now released, continue to face prosecution and danger should what they write offend the wrong people. Are there fiction writers on these lists? There sure are. These writers chose to speak about their world, despite the certain risk, and were punished for it by prison terms or worse — and I’m supposed to hold my tongue because someone might not buy my book? Give me a fucking break. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t dare.

And yes, it means that some people won’t buy my books. So what. I live in a place where it will never come to this, but if I had to make the choice between selling fiction and speaking my mind about politics, I would speak my mind and not once regret the choice. There are always other ways of making money; my conscience requires I participate in the political life of my country. If not selling another word of fiction were the cost of that participation, I’d be getting off cheap, particularly when you consider the alternatives.

132 Comments on “Why Yes, I Should Write About Politics”

  1. In fact, every single adult who has reason enough to sit down and express an opinion through words should feel free to do just that. Having a citizenry that is engaged in the actual working of democracy matters to the democracy, and writing about politics is a fine way to provide evidence that one is actually thinking about these things.

    Amen! I’ve got a copy of Writers Under Siege: Voices of Freedom from Around the World from PEN.

    if we have the freedom here in our lives that these writers are denied, it’s up to us to cherish and protect it, and try our best to help them obtain it.

  2. I think you should write a book on politics, so I can get angry and refuse to buy your book on politics!

  3. Now, I’m opposed to “alright” but not to a spittle-flinging intensity. For that level of loathing I reserve “alot.” “Should of” falls somewhere in between. Misuses of “to” and “too” I let fall as well-intentioned accidents unless I see a pattern. But “there/their/they’re” and “your/you’re” errors are sources of great sadness over the sad state of those folks’ minds. And don’t get me started on missing and extra apostrophes.

  4. It’s worth nothing that Orson Scott Card is a vocal commentator on social issues; many of his opinions and positions are abhorrent to me. That doesn’t stop me from reading his work and enjoying it.

  5. Zach – it does for me. Card’s anti-gay bigotry got to be too much for me to ever support his writing again. But he’s got a right to speak, and my not buying his books is a bad reason for him to stop.

  6. +++scarfing wang+++

    If the Wehrmacht didn’t have a feared flying ace, commando leader and swordsman named Von Wangscarfer in its ranks in WWII, it should have.

  7. I’ve read Whatever for a year or so now, always as a bit of a lurker, but this essay compelled me to comment. What a great post. You are absolutely right! I would also add, however, that as writers we not only can but should write about politics, as we, more than any other group, have the skills necessary to express what others sometimes cannot say. In addition, as artists we are also most often the vanguard of free thought and expression in society, and that position is one to celebrate and be proud of. Bravo!

  8. I see the Card card was already played. I’ve stopped supporting him myself. Why? Because Shadow of the Giant disgusted me. Despite my being a rather proud lesbian who will have no children, I still read Card’s works because I, as a teenager, loved Andrew Wiggin like everyone else did. His abhorrent, hideous, backwards opinions were irrelevant so long as he wrote books I liked. But then the last bit of Shadow Puppets irked me. And then I wanted to return Shadow of the Giant to the bookstore (I gave it away, I think) for sheer stupidity in writing. It takes talent to ruin a franchise *twice* (rf. Children of the Mind), you know? And I can’t get behind it anymore.

    *shrug* Despite the fact Scalzi has called me (along with many others) stupid in recent times, I was at Borders yesterday picking up the newest Dar Williams album, and I snagged the paperbacks of Last Colony and Ghost Brigades. (My Borders has apparently done away with PBs of Old Man’s War, but until I can purchase it, I still have the Tor e-book.) Why? Because I like the books. I like the writing. Scalzi deserves my money because he wrote a story I’ve enjoyed reading, despite his person opinions on things. And I feel the same about pretty much every other writer out there. Write what I like? I’ll buy.

  9. @7 zach, exactly. I buy books for the writing. I read the blogs only if I enjoy them. I enjoy this one.

    I listen to the works of composers whose political views were vile, but their music is amazing. There are actors who are totally nuts (IMHO) but I enjoy their work. It’s the same thing to me.

    If I limited my reading, music listening, and movie viewing to artists whose political opinions completely agree with mine, I would be reduced to reading my own fiction, listening to very little music and never going to movies.

  10. To have a reader’s views on a writer’s work adjusted by what the writer says in other venues is education. I applaud writers who speak forth in the public sphere as it allows me to get to know them better, to gain a deeper insight into what they choose to write about and why.

    I tend to think that readers who find they can no longer enjoy a writer because they disagree with what the real person said in real life is more disappointed that the reader’s view of the writer is not the fiction that the reader made them out to be. In short, readers are disappointed in the reality over the wish fulfillment fantasy.

    I also think that since many people flock to reading fiction as escapism, and that there may be a tendency to elevate authors whose work speaks to us to paragons of what the reader would like to be real, the disappointment of reality prompts emotional venting.

    I read Scalzi for the humor, but I read Whatever because of commentary like this. I may not always agree, but I always find it educational.

  11. As for speaking your mind about politics as a writer – the word professional come from Latin and roughly means “to swear an oath” or “declare publicly”. You wouldn’t be a good professional if you didn’t stand up for other authors.

  12. To whit, Mr. Scalzi, of all the professions that might fall under the umbra of “entertainment”, I think writers are more entitled to their opinions than just about any of the others. Or, perhaps it’s better to say I’ll take a writer’s opinion about politics far more seriously than, oh, just about any actor or actress’s.

    Writers, by the nature of their medium, have to have some decent endowment of intelligence. I’ll grant that some authors have pushed this assumption to the limit, but generally I think it still stands. To tell a writer, of all people, that they shouldn’t speak about politics (or any other matter) is not simply tyrannical, but foolish.

    The tragedy isn’t that writers write about politics, but that so comparatively few people listen.

  13. I came to make snarky comments about the Dawgs fans, i’ll stay to rant about Orson Scott Card.
    I am not a fan of college football, I live in Georgia, I read Whatever, and I’ve read most of John Scalzi’s fiction. I will say this though: most of the Georgia Bulldogs fans I know have never heard of John Scalzi, Whatever, of Old Man’s War so I think you will break even on that account.
    Also, since he was mentioned, OSC: I loved Ender’s game (who didnt’?) and even made my way through Speaker, Xenocide, and COTM twice, but his politics, as noted, are abhorent to a bleeding heart like myself, but the real reason I won’t read his books is because there was a significant decline in quality after speaker for the dead. I read Empire, even if you ignore the blatant “slant” to the right and his subsequent claims that he is a moderate(why is it the more to the right someone is politically, the more likely they are to claim to be a moderate or a libertarian?), it still sucks Donkey Balls. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever really liked anything he wrote except for Ender’s Game.

  14. “The idea that practicing any profession somehow obliges or even encourages a vow of silence on any subject, politics or otherwise, that might offend someone somewhere, is odious.”

    I do think some professions, specifically health professions, might encourage their ranks to speak privately about certain issues. For instance, if I am a physician who doesn’t believe in birth control, should I speak out about this? What if a potential patient doesn’t come to see me about their reproductive health due to my open airing of these views? There isn’t a clear answer to this

    When a belief contradicts the set of values embodied by a self-refereed (at least partially) profession and real harm could come from it, then I do think we have a fiduciary responsibility to keep it private.

    For journalists / writers, expressing opinion should be open – as long as it is clearly couched as opinion and not ‘fact’.

  15. I agree completely with the post. I also have no troubole with entertainers of all stripes who hold sincere political convictions, or with them taking advantage of their celebrity status to express those opinions. My only worry is with the mouth breathing troglodytes who will embrace a position or philosophy because Rosie O’Donnell / Alec Baldwin / George Clooney did. (I’d name a conservative celebrity if I could think of one off the top of my head.) I’m pretty liberal; I agree with Clooney, et al in most respects. Not because he’s George Clooney, but because he and I came to similar positions independently. (Rosie’s a whack job; I’m almost embarrassed when I hear we agree.)

  16. Dave:

    “I do think some professions, specifically health professions, might encourage their ranks to speak privately about certain issues.”

    Possibly. I of course understand the value of privacy in the matter of patients, although I’m not sure what the value is of doctors holding back on general issues, if they would generally choose to speak.

  17. Good post.
    Those are probably the same people that are amazed every time someone in the acting profession voices an opinion on politics.
    I never understood why that made them less credible than, say, a doctor or a lawyer on the subject.

  18. “Writers, by the nature of their medium, have to have some decent endowment of intelligence. I’ll grant that some authors have pushed this assumption to the limit, but generally I think it still stands. To tell a writer, of all people, that they shouldn’t speak about politics (or any other matter) is not simply tyrannical, but foolish.”

    Austin, many actors are educated people, and many writers are ignorant fools. To tell anyone that they shouldn’t speak about any matter at all is tyrannical. Especially in a nation that supposedly prides itself on its Constitution and Bill of Rights.

  19. Re: keeping your mouth shut about certain issues: Judges. ‘Nuff said.

    John: The part of the equation that you left out is that if a writer says something you can’t abide, not supporting them is exactly the right thing to do. People aren’t being unreasonable in not giving money to OSC – voting with your dollars is how capitalism is supposed to work.

    Telling them they shouldn’t write things you don’t like, well, that’s just dumb.

    That said: after this post, I’m not buying any more of your books, John. Until you come out with a new one. :-)

  20. I like your posts on politics and agree with your thoughts about writers or anyone posting their beliefs. I enjoy the Whatever and love your books and don’t really care what your politics are. It would take a lot for an author to write something that does not involve the actual fiction writing to make me upset and then I would just not read their blog.

    One thing I’ve noticed though is that most of your posters are firmly behind your politics or even further left. The posts about OSC are enlightening.

  21. @ 26: Chris

    Perhaps I should’ve worded myself better. I don’t encourage any class of professionals being forced to shut down their opinions or beliefs, but I do think some classes of professionals incline themselves towards validity a bit more than others.

    Nine times out of ten when I hear an actor or an actress speak out about some weighty and important matter, I wind up shaking my head and sighing – even when I agree with them. When I find a writer I disagree with – a talented and successful one mind you, one that can actually put in on their tax return that their profession is “writer” – it’s rare that the same kind of nauseating lack of intelligence shines forth. It happens, definitely, but the ratio tends to be the opposite of what I’ll hear from Hollywood.

    I like that celebrities have the freedom to speak out no matter what. I like that people who aren’t celebrities can speak out to. What does concern me at times is how celebrity status alone can wield an undue amount of influence, but this is, of course, no reason to tell an actor, a model or a writer to never air their opinions. I’m just airing my opinion that most of them don’t have opinions worth airing opinon, and I’m allowed to have that opinion, aren’t I? 0:-)

  22. I do think some professions, specifically health professions, might encourage their ranks to speak privately about certain issues. For instance, if I am a physician who doesn’t believe in birth control, should I speak out about this? What if a potential patient doesn’t come to see me about their reproductive health due to my open airing of these views? There isn’t a clear answer to this

    Personally, I would want to know the views of my physician on matters of birth control (and various other matters) I want a doctor who will do what is best for my health, and not slant that care due to her or his personal beliefs.

  23. Mr. Scalzi, the last twenty-four hours have not been the best.

    A date last night was cancelled because my partner has been seriously down and wasn’t feeling up for it.

    Then our dogs kept us up most of the night.

    This morning, at 2, some jerkwad with a small penis/big dog syndrome decided to drive his car as fast as he could down our street while revving his engine.

    I’m currently stuck at the front desk of my company with no administrative back up, no bathroom break, and no coffee.

    Because of the “snarf wang” bit you are my new favorite person because you made me smile for the first time today. Thank you.

  24. You can often see the political viewpoint of an author in the books that they write. J.R.R. Tolkien was clearly a conservative (and I Edmund Burke’s type, not George Bush’s non-conservative conservative); Cory Doctorow is clearly on the left side of the spectrum. You don’t have to know anything personal about the men to see that.

    Dave @21, John @24: I think health care professionals should speak their minds as well. If there’s a doctor who doesn’t believe in contraception / plastic surgery / the stomach ring / ADHD medication / etc., wouldn’t you rather that people know that before going to her for advice?

    Judges should be cautious about how they present their ideas in public. Too much depends on their objectivity and appearance of fairness, and their job is to interpret the law as written, not to interpret it in the light of their favored political ideology. They’d be better off avoiding political hot buttons (though often they’ve already spoken their minds as lawyers).

    Active duty military personnel should be extremely careful, too. Our military should remain firmly subordinate to our civilian political leadership, and thus “the Army” shouldn’t be seen as having an opinion in its own right.

    Both should speak their minds privately, of course, especially when called on for advice, and their speech shouldn’t be criminalized even if they decide to speak out on political issues, but I think their positions require special prudence in doing so.

  25. I do closed captioning on tv movies. And I can tell you, John, that when you’re trying to sandwich in all the text you can onto one screen’s worth of text, alright is a much handier word than all right.

    Now, I don’t jive with the people who neglect punctuation in their captioning. I even wrote a primer for the caption staff about it, using the old example of “A woman. Without her, man is nothing.”/”A woman, without her man, is nothing.” and still no commas, apostrophes, or periods from dese guys.

    I’m eagerly awaiting the first novel published entirely in net abbreviations.

    “omg” loled jodi “thats funy!1”

  26. “John Scalzi scarfed wang in college! He totally did, and I have the blog entry to prove it!”

    And thus, a new era of slashfic was born.

  27. There are a small handful of professions where non-involvement in politics is important: high-ranking members of the military and sitting judges both come to mind. But as far as writers go, as long as I’m enjoying what they’re writing in their books, I couldn’t care less what they’re writing on their blogs.

  28. @Supreme person (John): The question is more – am I doing harm to my community by scaring away patients with my public opinions that are counter to those of my assumed professional ethics? I.e., the difference between a personal opinion aired in public and a professional opinion (either in private or public). If the former subverts the latter, then I think you have an issue. If everyone understands that the former and the latter are separate, no problem.

    @Pam: You are really getting in deep to the issue there – I love it! I would argue that the professional role is to actually figure out what your preferences are, and that the physician needs to be able to separate their personal opinions from their professional role. You are right, though – if you can’t stop yourself from airing those personal opinions in a public forum, it 1) probably indicates you have difficulty with the separation; and 2) may be better for your potential patients as they may politely avoid you. I think the danger is that it could damage the profession as a whole, since it more clearly contravenes the ethical principles supposedly adopted by the practitioner.

  29. Dave @38: Separating a doctor’s personal opinions from her professional role is more difficult than it sounds. If the doctor’s role were only “do what the patient asks”, then no big deal; but the physician’s role is broader. A few examples:

    If a doctor believes that ADHD medicine is overprescribed, she may legitimately try to convince the parents to try alternate methods first.

    If a doctor believes that vaccines are critical to “herd immunity” and have no relation to autism, she may legitimately try to convince parents to accept vaccines that they would otherwise put off as long as possible.

    Finally, “first, do no harm” means something much different to an abortion provider than it does to a pro-life gynecologist.

    The doctor’s role is moral as well as technical, and thus her worldview will always play a part in how she does her job.

  30. This post made me go all swoony, and meantime I’ve got THE LAST COLONY on my nightstand, which I am thoroughly enjoying.

    I’m so glad John Scalzi is in the world.

  31. Good reasons for writers to avoid politics in their writing are the same as the reasons for avoiding politics at Thanksgiving dinner. Your readers are not here for your political opinions, brilliant as they may be. They’re here because they like your books. Introducing politics into such a mixed audience is about as risky as bringing up Bush v. Gore at a big family gathering. People care much more deeply about politics than they do about your proper use of grammer, so if you don’t want all of your work and everything you do to be colored by your politics, then keep them private. If you’re willing to take that risk, then keep in mind you are probably segmenting your market. It’s not a question of whether you should “shut up” in order to sell books. The question is whether you want to entertain a broad range of readers from different backgrounds and perspectives, and perhaps sneakily subvert them through the use of clever subliminal messages in your fiction. Or would you rather just preach to a choir of handpicked readers who already know what to expect because your politics resonate louder than your authorial voice and have already scared away everyone who might even slightly disagree with you.

  32. Matthew @ 9:

    Great. Now I’m going to be giggling all day. And people are going to ask me why I’m walking down the hall cracking up all by myself, and I’m going to have to lie like a big lying thing.

  33. And as far too much of politics falls under the umbrella description of “entertainment” these days there is always need for commentary and opinion from those whose writing skills make their opinions eminently digestible.

  34. dave @21:
    For instance, if I am a physician who doesn’t believe in birth control, should I speak out about this? What if a potential patient doesn’t come to see me about their reproductive health due to my open airing of these views?

    Heck, I’d rather know my doc had these beliefs and switch docs before he became my regular doc, so I knew he was presenting me with all the options. Would you see a doc who didn’t believe a bacteria would mutate? He’d never give you the “latest” antibiotics.

  35. Well, as one of the token conservatives who blogs here, I don’t mind the political talk, as long as it doesn’t become all politics all the time. Why? Because, honestly, it’s nice to be able to read someone on the left who:

    a) Is actually reasonably polite and open to debate from the other side.
    b) Isn’t totally batshit bonkers crazy.

    People on the left who manage both things are few and far between. Now, if you happen to be on the left, you probably don’t think the second one is as important, or your definition of nuts is different than mine. But the first one is very important.

    Having said that, John also takes the write attitude in that he doesn’t assume he deserves an audience. If something he says offends a block of people enough to not buy his works, so be it.

    As another example of an author whose politics I disagree with, but I still enjoy quite a bit, is George R.R. Martin. It’s not that nothing that he could say, politically, would possibly dissuade me from reading his books. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say he did a blog posting where he said, “all these characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are modeled on real people, x is George Bush, y is Hillary, etc.” That actually probably would kill the series for me, because it would transmogrify the series from enjoyable fiction to non-enjoyable polemics.

  36. My personal opinion is that as long as a writer doesn’t use his work to preach at me I don’t really care what his opinions are RL.I boggled when I went to John Ringo’s homepage to check for upcoming releases and saw he thought Palin was a good VP pick- doesn’t mean I won’t buy his next book when it comes out, ’cause he spins a very good yarn.OTOH I can’t stand Narnia and most of CS Lewis’ work, because he preaches me, and I really dislike that in my fiction.

  37. I thought of Orson Scott Card too. The man is a moron, but I still like his books, right-wingism and all. My solution is that I only read his books and not any of his other writing. Pretty simple.

    Similarly, Scalzi, you could have a great blog here and I could hate your books, and I’d just read the blog and skip the books. (I’ve actually only read OMW and I liked it pretty well, but it’s not particularly why I read your blog.)

  38. As a librarian, I am often in the position of having to speak to things that I do not believe in, provide people with information that I disagree with, and have to provide balanced opinions when asked for recommendations on reading. I find I have complex responses when someone I really like as a patron and customer, having become comfortable with me, blurts out the most outlandish piece of drivel in the context of moving to a deeper level of informational relationship.

    On one level, the person has just become someone I doubt I will expand my relationship with, yet, they are still funny, interesting, and have a unique view on life. It is those moments that remind me that I still have a lot to learn about people, and we are always more than our views on politics and other hot button issues.

    I think that’s always the hardest thing, to discard your own prejudices, and actually see what is there, rather than what you think should be there. I, for one, am not particularly good at it, otherwise I wouldn’t be surprised every time I became aware of it.

  39. “during my second year of college I totally went gay for a semester and don’t regret a single moment of it”

    Damnit, we took a blood oath, swearing never to speak of this again!

    But such sweet memories…

  40. I think that to counterbalance the people who won’t read a particular author because of the views expressed through their blog, there will be some people who *will* read a particular author and seek out their book because of those same views.

    So expressing your political views on your blog will tend to increase the number of your readers who generally agree with you and decrease the number of your readers who generally don’t agree with you. (Granted that some people won’t be affected one way or the other and judge strictly the writing).

    I don’t see that as a particularly bad thing (and in terms of getting a nice forum going in the comments, it is clearly a good thing).

    I’m a little surprised the noone seems to have pointed this out – although I agree that there is every other reason to not be afraid to speak your mind.

  41. #42— But what if, as is true in this case, the website precedes the (fiction) writing? Is Scalzi supposed to shut up about the things he used to write about simply because one of his new readers might be offended?

    I personally am of the opinion that you do what you want to do and accept the consequences. If Scalzi wants to talk about politics, he should, and maybe in consequence some readers will be turned off by his opinions.

    And some new readers may come as well.

    For me, a well-reasoned political opinion is not a problem, even if I disagree. It’s frothing lunacy that makes me re-evaluate whether I want to support someone. (See Rosie O’Donnell’s “Steel doesn’t melt” for a good example of frothiness.)

  42. @42: the difference is that putting up with relatives part of the polite familial veneer used to help special occasions along which benefits everyone.

    Who does a writer benefit by keeping silent? Who’s As Scalzi has pointed out, there is no opinion he could publish that is guaranteed to not piss /someone/ off. The reader-writer relationship is not (or should not be) a dysfunctional familial relationship.

    Making the argument that one might want to stay out of pointless clusterfuck arguments is one thing (and is really at the root of your statement regarding holiday détente). Suggesting that /all/ potentially charged subjects are off-limits for reasoned opinion is unworkable.

  43. The thing about “the Card card” as Julia phrased it is actually a rock solid “amen!” to what John has said here. People stopped reading Orson Scott Card because the books became tedious and contained rants that just yanked you right out of the story.

    I had to stop reading Tom Clancy for the same reason. His books went from being interesting and well-researched military/political/spy thrillers to being badly disguised Glibertarian fantasy war porn.

  44. I actually believed that Scalzi was a Tennessee fan and believed Apple users were beta males… until I read that he went gay for a semester. Impossible.

    Chicago has quarters.

  45. A writer’s job is to stimulate, entertain and provoke us mere mortals who can hardly articulate our thoughts in writing.

    A writer should not be limited to a couple of subjects. How boring would science fiction be if there were no politics as a backdrop or to provide motivation behind the scenes of some crazy situation?

    By challenging the way a person thinks you will alienate those who don’t want to think, encourage someone to be more aware of their position or re-think their position on a topic. That’s a huge net win.

    That’s why I subscribe to this blog.

  46. Say what you want. Piss off who you want. Scarf wang and tell tales. If you continue to act like it’s a free country, maybe it will help it go back that way.

    However, as unfair as it may be, to some extent fiction writing *is* a popularity contest. If you were clever, you’d create just enough controversy to raise your profile and attract readers without creating enough to make even more people swear off you forever.

    Hey, waitaminute … whatever.


  47. Sure, I might stop reading someone’s books because I find their politics abhorrent. Or, as some people I know have done, read them (borrowed from friend or bought at a used book store) but not buy them, to avoid sending money they author’s way.

    [Abhorrent is a fairly high bar for me: we’re talking about people who want me or my friends dead, or advocate torture as a part of government policy, not disagreement about what to do about the current stock market problems, mass transit, the value of testing in schools, or how best to run a health care system.]

    I don’t think that’s any different, as an act or as a risk the writer takes, than someone else deciding they won’t buy a Dixie Chicks album for political reasons, or avoding a specific chain pizzeria or gym, because they dislike the owner’s politics.

  48. I’ve increasingly come to believe that the ideathat speaking up is somehow unprofessional is one of the more toxic cultural trends floating around. It means that we hear from people who don’t mind being seen as rude – and are usually trying to push some extreme view which isn’t as widely held as they want you to believe (e.g. doctors arguing against abortion hoping that most of their colleagues won’t point out the way they’re overselling).

  49. The idea that fiction is fundamentally apolitical is also rather flawed. Salman Rushdie, George Orwell, etc. wrote fiction that was notable for its commentary on reality. This is even more common in science fiction, as anything taking place in the future is by its nature going to be a function of whatever is happening in the present to one extent or another (barring quantum occurrences). Anything happening in a universe where something is slightly different, whether it’s technology, magic, history, or political systems, is by its nature a commentary on what the effects of such a change on our world would be.

    Fiction is political, certainly any fiction worth reading. It expresses possibilities, much like a politician saying ‘if you elect me I’ll make your life better, and if you elect the other guy, you’ll go to Hell in a handbasket’ a writer describing a world in which one politician was elected instead of another which caused a totalitarian dictatorship, which caused world war three, is political. The politicians will inevitably to some degree be comparable to real world options by any worthwhile reader.

    Fiction which is totally irrelevant to the reader’s life is fiction that we are unable to identify with, in which case it is probably unreadable.

  50. Of course writers are, and should be, free to write of politics if they wish. (At least in the US of A, if not everywhere.) However, they should distinguish between writing about politics and writing fiction. Their politics will undoubtedly color their fiction but allowing politics to take over the story entirely is not a good thing. If you want to make a speech get a soap box. if you want to tell a story tell a story. A political speech thinly disguised as a story is usually a poor story and a boring speech.

    BTW, my family has tended to action in politics as opposed to making speeches. One of my grandfathers advocated shooting politicians on sight, just to keep things simple. He was not one to make many speeches.

  51. “Who does a writer benefit by keeping silent?”

    Him or herself. I’m not saying a writer couldn’t validly choose otherwise. I’m not even saying what a person *should* do. What I am saying is that nearly everyone has political beliefs. Having published fiction doesn’t make you Patrick Henry. Writers are known for being outspoken on the subject of politics, but when have you really seen a case where a writer stepped out of the world of literature or entertainment and made a positive difference in the public discourse? It’s not very common. More often, what I see is a person who has gained some degree of notoriety who then, finding him or herself the center of a great deal of attention, says, “Wow! At last I can talk about the violence inherent in the system and all of these people have to listen to me.” It can be pretty self indulgent.

    If a writer gains an audience *based* on insightful political writings, that’s another story, and a lot more valid, since the audience will have followed him from the beginning.

    Note I am not speaking at all specifically about John, here. I am speaking more with myself in mind. I have not been entirely silent on politics in my blogging, etc., but increasingly I feel that there is really nothing I can say that won’t create deep prejudices among a certain portion of audiences that would otherwise enjoy my work. For me, it’s not worth it, and I have no illusions that spouting my poorly-researched opinions, mostly based on radio news that I heard before I was fully awake would actually save the world. It takes a bigger ego than what I have.

  52. Gay Bulldogs Fans Are Total PC Users!!!

    In all seriousness, this is such a great post. Thank you. It’s up to everyone to express themselves truly and fully. Thanks. I’m gonna send this around, alright? Heh.

  53. I personally don’t mind it when politics surface in fiction. Any writer who writes long enough will inevitably inject his or her views into what they write; and it’s not fair to expect them to hide this just so that certain readers won’t get turned off. In fact, some of the best fiction can have very strong political messages, themes, etc. As long as the politics are essential to the plot, I can handle it; even if I think the political point is 100% wrongheaded.

    What annoys me is when politics surface pointlessly and serve no purpose to the advancement of the story.

    I was reading the December 2007 issue of Analog, and saw this.

    Overall, “Kulkucan” was an entertaining first contact piece with an interesting twist. I liked it quite a bit.

    But at one point Sarah Castle brought the story to a complete halt with a one-paragraph, thinly-veiled statement about the occupation of Iraq. In a story that dealt not a bit with the GWOT nor Iraq nor anything even a little bit related to either of these things.

    It was like sitting in a stage theater, having the play rolling along nicely, and all of a sudden the action stops and one of the actors says, “Hey you all, since we’re up here on stage, the playwrite wants us to rap you across the forehead with a political message! So here you go! BONK! Thanks! Okay, now, where were we?”

    Not only does this sort of thing destroy story flow, it comes off as condescending. As if the writer thinks it absolutely imperative that he or she thwap the reader between the eyes with a political message; as if somehow the reader is not capable of coming up with an opinion on their own?

    Even more annoying is when a writer does this, and couches it in text along the lines of, “And of course we all know that no sane person could possibly….”, or, “But really, anyone with a brain can see that it’s obvious that….”

    I also don’t like it when it’s clear that a writer has a blind spot for a particular pet ideology, political figure, or political movement. Bringing politics into the story is one thing. Doing it with a huge slant, protecting ‘sacred cows’, and otherwise being deliberately dishonest or fanatical is another way to zap my suspension of disbelief, and I will hurry my way to the end of the story (or book) as quickly as possible, so that I can move on to something with a little more integrity.

    Finally, I think some writers fall into the same trap that gets many celebrities: they start thinking their shit doesn’t stink, or that because a lot of people read them, that somehow makes them Special and with an Elevated Perspective above and beyond the truncated viewpoint held by us Little People in the ordinary world.

    Frankly, once a fiction author goes there, they risk turning in their Artist credentials and hanging a plywood sign around their necks that says HACK in bright, crudely painted, capital letters.

    J.A. Konrath currently has a blog piece up discussing how annoying it is when Artists become self-important Artistes. I think this happens a lot with politics, too, and when an author starts thinking they have the right, or even a ‘duty’ to lecture the unwashed masses, ala Ayn Rand, then it’s not about fiction or entertainment anymore; it’s a fucking movement.

    And I don’t plunk down cash for science fiction or fanatasy authors who think they’re actually here to Change The World.

    Just look at the mess L. Ron Hubbard started….

  54. Cassie:

    Sure, as long as they’re willing to accept the consequence of having their tax-deductible status taken away from their church. I’m not entirely convinced that a change in tax status impedes the right to free speech under the Constitution, but I think it’s worth a test case, which is what these folks are intending to provide.

  55. An excellent post! I support your right to your politics, and Orson Scott Card’s right to his politics, too.

    I don’t judge books by the politics of their writers, although in some books the politics detract from the story-telling, and that does count against it.

  56. Card is the only writer I can think of who I stopped reading explicitly because of his moral views. The reason was not only because those views are so extremely abhorrent to me, but also because they jarred so much with what kind of person I thought he was, based on his fiction. That his writing has apparently also suffered due to his deepening ideological obsessions is… interesting. Interesting, sad, and an object lesson on what happens when people: a) let their personal tics take over their work; and b) decide to slam their minds shut.

    It can and does happen on the other side of the political spectrum. I am a feminist liberal who found Carolyn Heilbron’s later books practically unreadable when her plots and characterizations became cardboard constructs for expressing views that I generally agreed with.
    There are many writers whose work I enjoy whose politics I probably wouldn’t agree with. And musicians, and actors, and directors…

    But doctors and lawyers and such are another story, because they’re responsible for upholding a code of ethics specific to their work. If their personal code conflicts with their professional code, they should jolly well find another profession.

  57. Citizen Scalzi doing his citizen thing. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. If more of us did our citizen thing – not just voting (but we should, any and every opportunity we get) but speaking our minds with civility and conviction – all our societies would be much, much healthier.

    If you have beliefs and they don’t inform your work, they’re probably not worth having. If I want to see the world as I see it, all I have to do is open my eyes. I read to see the world(s) as someone else sees it(them)

    Not listen to Wagner or read Sartre because you don’t like their politics? That way lies stagnation and rot.

  58. Writing about topics you feel strongly about was something I’ve been pondering for a while now and your post provided great clarity. Thanks.

  59. Author, Author!

    There’s always someone, somewhere telling a person why they should shut up and be meek and humble. Buggrem. Nosiness and pushy behaviour always deserves short shrift, and the wonderful thing about a free country is that you’re able to tell the busybodies to sod off and mind their own beeswax.

  60. First you lift my hopes:

    …during my second year of college I totally went gay for a semester and don’t regret a single moment of it…

    Then you dash them:

    [I didn’t really] spend any time in college in hot, sweaty m4m action…

    Then you just get really confusing:

    the only rational response is: blow me.

    I fully agree that you should write about anything you want, but don’t jerk us around like that! And I’m glad you finally came to a rational position on the matter. See you at the next con!

    Seriously (and no, none of the above was serious), bravo!

    zach 7: It’s worth nothing that Orson Scott Card is a vocal commentator on social issues; many of his opinions and positions are abhorrent to me. That doesn’t stop me from reading his work and enjoying it.

    It does me. He’s so reprehensible I don’t want any of my money to flow to him. But I guess I noticed his loathsome nature first in his fiction, and only later found out that I was correct about how his political views informed it.

    Fiona 13: Most of the composers whose music I listen to are dead, so their long-ago political views don’t bother me so much. Part of the reason for that is that they get no benefit from my purchasing recordings of their music; another part is that there’s nothing intrinsic in the music that offends me politically. OSC’s homophobia is clearly reflected in his fiction (all of it that I’ve read, but I especially noticed it in Songmaster, and so that was the last book of his I read), as is Jerry Pournelle’s racism (and Piers Anthony’s too, btw). I don’t buy or read their books. I probably won’t even when they’re dead, because the work itself offends me.

    Jemaleddin 27: Good point about the distinction between not giving money and trying to tell them what they shouldn’t write. I think what OSC writes makes him a shithead, but I believe in his right to write it. I won’t support him by buying it, but if someone tried to jail him for it…well, I know I’d oppose anyone doing so. And that wouldn’t make me OSC’s friend at all.

  61. Matthew F. @ #9:
    “If the Wehrmacht didn’t have a feared flying ace, commando leader and swordsman named Von Wangscarfer in its ranks in WWII, it should have.”

    Close enough to fiction: The Desert Peach by Donna Barr, a comic series about Erwin Rommel’s gay younger brother. The Peach’s fiance is a Luftwaffe ace.

    Also the only comic where Erwin Rommel reveals an innate talent for surfing.

    (Might be considered as alternate history. Rommel had an actual younger brother, but that brother died in infancy.)

  62. Re #39, “in fine Heinlein tradition”: What if Heinlein had had a blog? Perhaps all the overt political/moral speeches he put into the mouths of his characters (starting circa 1959 with Starship Troopers and eventually, in his own words, in Expanded Universe) would have been diverted to the blog — along with all the various Lazarus Long aphorisms that started to appear in 1973. If so, how would the post-1959 novels have differed from what was published?

  63. CaseyL @73: But doctors and lawyers and such are another story, because they’re responsible for upholding a code of ethics specific to their work. If their personal code conflicts with their professional code, they should jolly well find another profession.

    I think this oversimplifies the real situation, or perhaps assumes a conclusion. Most professionals don’t think that their personal code conflicts with their professional code. This includes the people who would behave differently than you would want them to behave: for instance, since you’re a feminist liberal I presume that you’d want doctors to provide contraceptives regardless of their personal codes, but an anti-contraception doctor probably perceives no professional requirement to provide contraception.

    To bring this back to speech: you can often only tell how someone’s personal code and professional code interact by seeing how they think. In some cases that means you’re duty-bound to speak your piece (or not), and in other cases you’re free to do as much or as little as you like.

    The soldier’s professional code (in America, anyway) tells him that the hierarchy matters more than his personal opinion, and if his conscience prohibits him from following legal orders then he should conscientiously object; his voice, however, should not stray loudly or far from the hierarchy.

    The judge’s professional code tells him that the interpretation of the law does not require his concurrence with the law; his options are greater, but to avoid the dangers of bias and of perceived bias he would do well to avoid political hot buttons.

    The writer, doctor, housemom, etc. are under no such strictures as far as I can see.

  64. gottacook @ 80: He’d have quit writing fiction because he was getting enough in ad revenue and speaking fees, thus saving me from having to read the words “nipples” and “spung” in the same sentence.

  65. I haven’t read every reply, so please forgive me if I’m repeating something someone already said (and probably better at that). I think the *cause* for people yelling “writers shouldn’t talk about politics” may come less from a place of it not being their right or place or whatever, and more from a place of… the Internet and TV and radio are SATURATED with opinions about the State of All Things Political, and people are responding to a very real overwhelmed feeling, as if they can’t get away from it even for a few minutes. Like hanging out with a friend who only ever wants to talk about Lord of the Rings. Yeah, it’s a great story/films, but can we PLEASE talk about something else for a change?

    Obviously, the answer is to go read a book or listen to your iPod or something, but I get the sense that people are just frustrated and fed up with just how MUCH of it there is now.

  66. The concept that a writer shouldn’t be able to write about political views belongs in the same dustbin as the concept that a writer’s main characters always and forever mirror their creator in all respects.

  67. John, Bravo!

    (I wish the PEN list included US prisoners like the Cuban Five, who are as deserving of being considered journalists as Raúl Rivero, but that’s another post.)

  68. John, why should endorsing a candidate at any time, even on a pulpit, result in the IRS withdrawing tax exemption?

  69. It’s only related indirectly, but it is Banned Books Week here in the US.

    In honor of this, I think we should send a great HUZZAH!! to the following – in slightly declining order of importance:

    1) Librarians everywhere (Of which I am the son and brother)

    2) Opinionated writers of both the fictional and non-fictional stripes

    3) Bloggers, irrespective of sanity or rationality.

    God, Goddess, Flying Spaghetti Monster or “whatever” you worship bless you Mr. Scalzi (and Mister Rosewater).

    Rick York

  70. Cassie:

    Because unless the definition of charity is very different in the US than it is elsewhere in the common law world, party political advocacy is not a legitimate function of a charity. To get charitable status, which is what results in tax exempt status, you have to fit within a very narrow set of charitable purposes. One of these is the promotion of religion, none of them is the promotion of a political ideology.

    So as John says – as a Minister you’re free to say whatever you want about whoever you want, politically or otherwise, but you’re not free to say it as an agent of a chartiable organisation if you want that organisation to stay charitable.

  71. Cassie:

    “John, why should endorsing a candidate at any time, even on a pulpit, result in the IRS withdrawing tax exemption?”

    Because it’s against the laws regulating 501(c) organizations, which most churches are, Cassie.

    If you’re asking why it has to be that particular way, I suppose the answer is that somewhere along the way someone making laws decided it would be a good thing not to let tax-exempt organizations openly campaign for candidates, and in it went. I can see good arguments for doing it this way (tax-exempt organizations have a number of income advantages, for example), but I can see arguments against it as well. Naturally, if people oppose it, they are free to challenge it.

    However, since I’m personally not entirely sure I buy the argument that churches should be tax-exempt entities in the first place — I’d likely exempt charitable arms of the churches, so long as they were not proselytizing in their outreach and their programs open to everyone, but not the main organization itself — I’m probably not the best person to have this argument with.

  72. Cassie @ 67 –

    There is a group of ministers who want the same right without the IRS taking their non-profit status from them. Do you think that they should be allowed to endorse a candidate from the pulpit?

    Let’s turn that around – should churches be allowed to restrict membership because of political affiliation and keep that tax exempt status? First Church Of Jesus Christ, Republican, No Democrats Allowed?

  73. @Aelf’en #83:

    The attitude of “writers shouldn’t get into politics, it’s gross,” and actually the larger attitude, “writers shouldn’t write about anything that would gross me out,” goes back way before the current political explosion on the web.

    — now generally —

    If writers want to write about politics, they should write about politics. It’s not like politics don’t show up in fiction. (It’s not always the writer’s own view on politics, but it’s necessary in anything. Politics are pretty much a part of interaction between groups of people greater than 2. And I’m not even sure about the 2.)

    And if writers don’t want to write about politics, this isn’t telling them they have to; but John is saying that they should figure out better reasons than “it might alienate some people” because that happens no matter what you do.

    Up until lately I considered myself fairly apolitical until I realized that, for instance, believing that survivors of abuse should not just shut up about their experiences to keep the world “clean” is a stupid idea, is itself political and yet it’s something I believe in personally and I believe in it strongly, probably more strongly than most. And that is among the least of the offensive things I believe in that stray into the realm of politics, and I would still alienate people if I talked about it.

    And then I realized that I might as well let the rest of the wall crumble at that point, because when you have any kind of opinion, it’s always going to be offensive to somebody else, political or not.

    You could always write a blog that expresses no opinions, of course, but that seems… a boring exercise.

  74. Josh Jasper, Cassie:

    Actually, I see this line of inquiry leading away from the theme of the main entry, so unless we can get it back on topic and away from the thicket of whether churches should be tax-exempt, I’d just as soon abandon it.

  75. John:

    I think Ron Moore — who has gotten shit from all sides of the political spectrum over the supposed political biases of Battlestar Galactica — put it nicely. While he’s politically very much on the liberal/Democratic end of the scale, and it would be disingenuous in the extreme to pretend that doesn’t inform his writing to some degree, he was intrigued at the sight of self-described right-wingers defending suicide bombers, while “liberals” were grinding their teeth that Laura Roslin didn’t just steal that damn election. I know this sounds pretentious, but it seems to me that politicians pretend they have all the answers, while artists should be challenging people to ask questions and figure it out for themselves.

    I’m not big fan of Orson Scott Card, but I know people who are — and they certainly don’t share his right-wing politics, or Mormon religious views. For that matter, I’m a huge fan of Ursula Le Guin’s “ambiguous utopia” The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness without necessarily sharing her politics. But what gets on my last nerve about Card and Le Guin is when it become painfully obvious that story-telling has come a distant second to a socio-political lecture that, in my view, would be better left for non-fiction.

    I just don’t think being a politically engaged citizen is any excuse for lazy story-telling and characterisation just because I happen to agree with your POV. Or, on the other hand, that any author has to pass an ideological sniff test before I consider their work as fiction.

  76. John, I originally raised the question on Paolo’s blog, which was, “Do you think authors blogging about their views on the election can undercut their fiction?” I believe you have answered two uninteresting questions that I did not ask (and your readers have answered a third), while avoiding the question I did ask, which I still think is rather interesting.

    I did not suggest that authors are somehow obliged to refrain from discussing politics. If anyone tried to tell Paolo that he may not express his political views, I would happily defend his First Amendment rights pro bono.

    I did not suggest that authors shouldn’t write about politics because it might anger someone and hurt their sales. Nobody gets into this game for the money anyway.

    I certainly did not make the suggestion some of your readers have discussed, that authors should avoid political issues in their fiction. I very much enjoy it when authors use fiction to create metaphors to explore current social and political issues. In fact, that’s the reason I asked my question in the first place.

    If you write fiction that touches on political issues, as Paolo does, it’s a lot more effective if you don’t hammer readers over the head with your own opinions. It is much more artful, and more likely to cause readers to question their own views, if you raise the issues in intricate and subtle ways. But you can lose that subtlety when the reader sees your blog posts on the same issues. There is a danger that those posts may compel a particular reading of the work, and thus undermine its effectiveness. It can be like Leonardo blogging about why the Mona Lisa is smiling.

    John, you say writers should not keep silent about politics any more than doctors or plumbers or lawyers should. But as a lawyer, there are times when I feel it is important for me to keep silent. If I am involved in a high-profile, politically charged case, I will not publicly express political views contrary to my client’s position, because that could undercut my effectiveness as an advocate for my client.

    Should authors of fiction that addresses social and political issues similarly worry that blogging on politics will undercut the effectiveness of their fiction? I don’t know the answer; I do not think it is an easy question.

  77. Writers just say it better… because they are writers. Thanks from a non- writer who appreciates someone who can.

  78. WRT the aforementioned GA Bulldogs hypothetical:
    “To hell with Georgia!”
    Don’t worry, most of the people in GA who actually read sf went to Tech, so you’re safe. Actually, you might get in trouble for flip-flopping later in the piece.

    As to offending anyone, as many people have observed, the primary problem most writers have is that no one _notices_ them. Offending would be a step up.

    Jack Tingle
    Ga. Tech, BME 75, MSME 77

  79. Aaron Hughes:

    “I did not suggest that authors shouldn’t write about politics because it might anger someone and hurt their sales. Nobody gets into this game for the money anyway.”

    Well, no, and I fucking hate the blithe dismissal of the economic motivation for writing, because it’s flatly wrong. I got into it for the money, among other reasons, which is perhaps one of the reasons I actually make a significant amount of money from my fiction. I know other people want to make money from their fiction and thus are deeply concerned about whether their public real life persona costs them sales.

    Beyond that, Aaron, I wasn’t answering your question, which should have been obvious in the first sentence, in which I wrote “Paolo Bacigalupi asks the question ‘Should Fiction Writers Write About Politics?'” No arrangement of the letters in “Paolo Bacigalupi” spell out the name “Aaron Hughes.” So before you get all snooty and affronted that I “avoided the question you did ask,” please make more than a token effort at reading comprehension. I didn’t avoid your question; I didn’t consider it at all. As you might say, I found it uninteresting, and addressed the question I did find interesting.

    “John, you say writers should not keep silent about politics any more than doctors or plumbers or lawyers should. But as a lawyer, there are times when I feel it is important for me to keep silent. If I am involved in a high-profile, politically charged case, I will not publicly express political views contrary to my client’s position, because that could undercut my effectiveness as an advocate for my client.”

    I’m not aware of suggesting that people (and in particular professionals) should abandon sense and ethics when proclaiming their political views. It’s axiomatic that a lawyer will not discuss politics if doing so will have an adverse impact on a case; on that path lies disbarment. This should not dissuade a lawyer from discussing politics otherwise. But more the point here, I did not say writers, plumbers, lawyers, et al are required to speak publicly about their views on any subject, only that if they want to, that they should.

  80. Politics and religion, they say we shouldn’t talk about them. Why shouldn’t we talk about the two most important issues in life? Because we might offend? THPPPT.
    The Dixie Chicks also pops to mind. I’m not a big fan but I really like “Not Ready to Play Nice” That’s a tough example because Country fans tend to be very nationalistic and conservitive.
    But what the heck, if you offend half the populace the other half will love you for it.
    There are two things that everyone should do. Pay attention to politics and study the issues and then cast their ballot.
    The other thing is serve jury duty. These things are the foundation of our democracy.

  81. Last time I served jury duty, I got docked for it at work. :grumble:


    Great post. I’ve backed away from posting potentially controversial views since I’ve been actively trying to get published, but you’ve given me cause to reconsider that decision. (Not just about politics. I’ve made a point of keeping to myself whose books I don’t like, etc.)


    Ironically enough, I just received an e-mail (not addressed personally to me, but to all teachers in my district) informing me that teachers in my district are not allowed to express their political views or to have any kind of candidate swag on display in their rooms.

  82. You are in good company, John.

    “There are no circumstances under which a state is justified in placing its welfare ahead of mine.”
    -Robert A. Heinlein

    “Good novels are not written by orthodoxy-sniffers, nor by people who are conscience-stricken about their own orthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are not frightened.”
    -George Orwell (1903-1950)

  83. I said it elsewhere and I’ll say it here.

    Does the author, any author, have anything original to say on a given topic? In my experience, especially in science fiction, whatever pet political theory/opinion/rant/message is embedded in the story, chances are very high that I have already heard it, been bored to death by it, a thousand times over.

    Now so long as story comes first and the politics are secondary then I may indulge the writer, maybe (though these days my tolerance is steadily dropping).

    On the other hand, if all I have is a book long editorial (or worse yet, a trilogy) that is essentially a political opinion piece, I will put the book back everytime.

    Why? Aside from the fact that most of what is available in SF is Left of Center (leaning far left) my feeling is that I can get a better political lecture from someone with a PhD in the given topic than someone who merely has, at best, a BA in English.

    Besides, I find the question posed rather amusing in that it assumes that the Liberals in Science Fiction would suffer some sort of penalty for writing political fiction. I’ve not seen any evidence of that being the case over the last twenty years. Yet I’ve seen plenty of evidence that someone who expresses an opinion that is Right of Center will be hammered with calls for boycotts, accusations of every form of bigotry in the book in addtion to ponderings as to how they got published in the first place.

    My take is simple.

    If you’re a Liberal and want to write political SF in America, knock yourself out. No one will stop you. Those few voices who do dissent will be dealt with (or simply banned).

    If you are Right of Center and want to write political SF, the best thing for your ailment may be a forty-five automatic and a game of roulette.

  84. Bitter much?

    Until about ten years ago, it was my experience that most SF readers and writers skewed to the right, politically. As did most scientists, in my experience. It’s only since the right decided that they hate science, what with its pesky global warming and old earth and stuff, that scientists and sf folks have “moved” to the left. (As with me, a former republican who is now a democrat, I don’t really think they actually have moved to the left. I think the right has moved to the extreme.)

  85. I was under the impression that most military sf leaned right-of-center in its politics. It seems to be doing okay, sales-wise.

  86. Pretty much agreed all ’round: and thank you Xopher for drawing a distinction between defending someone’s right to speak their mind and not letting their doing so affect how you regard their work.

    I get fairly testy when someone suggests (and there is someone over on lj who has been riding this horse since long before it began to rot) that my decision not to read any more Card because his political rantings work my last nerve suggests that I am either a literary moron or a minion of the jackbooted bookburners.

    Short of, you know, incitment to riot, he can say any damned fool thing he wants, but yes, the fact that he mostly *only* says damned fool things *has* led me to conclude that if he uses the same brain to write his books as he does to write his political essays I am just not up for paying good money to spend more time in the company of said brain.

    I mean, it’s not like I’m caught up on my to be read pile as it is.

  87. I second Joe @109.

    I lean left, but I miss having conversations with sane people over whatever the heck line is being used to determine “the real right” these days. I have no frickin’ idea anymore. It seems to have zoomed off into space.

  88. There are lots of artists that I like, whose output I will never buy. Some because money is limited, some ’cause of their politics, some because once is enough (be it a book, song, film, etc.). On what basis is Pournelle racisit? If it is because he is white male (catholic), I am just as racist. But then, many a person would consider me racist if only because I am a WASP male.
    I like our esteemed host’s books, and will most likely buy them new when I have the money. Till then, it is the excellent library here in the People’s Republic of Portland (OR). By the way, thank you for turning me on to Tobias Buckell, I have devoured all three of his books in the last month. No idea of his politics, and could care less.
    If I had only read Scalzi’s books in the OMW universe, I would have thought him to the right of center. A Godless heathen, but that describes a lot of the writers I like. Though John C Wright is now a former atheist, I like those books of his I have read while he was one (he has not to my knowledge published anything original since his conversion).
    John has the right idea, write what you want, where you want, and accept the consequences. If you write a good (or even great) story, you will get read (and the money will come rolling, hopefully).

  89. If you are Right of Center and want to write political SF, the best thing for your ailment may be a forty-five automatic and a game of roulette.

    Did you share this informed opinion with John Ringo, Tom Kratman, Travis Taylor, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Orson Scott Card and a plethora of others unashamedly right-wing authors?

  90. someone who merely has, at best, a BA in English.

    As others have dealt with your assertions about SF leaning left I would like to deal with this assumption.There are many SF writers with an M.Sc./science Ph.D. under their belt- Peter Watts and Alistair Reynolds are two modern examples.I think that the boast Asimov(I think) made some decades ago about SF being the fiction field with most Ph.D.’s as writers is holding up- probably because to be able to fake good SODable stuff you need to have some knowledge of the original- be it physics, chemistry or history.Which means SF writers have to be well educated so they won’t be laughed out of the room- doesn’t matter if it comes as a Ph.D. or as a detailed research for novels.

  91. Funny. I’m actually someone who used to vote Democrat a lot in my twenties, but haven’t been able to stomach the Democratic Party since I hit 30.

    Was it me that changed, or the Party that changed?

    Maybe it was when they invited Michael Moore to the DNC in 2004. I said to myself, “These are not serious people.”

    Maybe it’s because I joined the military after 9/11/2001, and quickly grew nauseous at how many lifer civlians spout off about war and military matters without having any fucking clue what they’re talking about.

    Now whatever you might think of Michael Moore or the military, I think it’s safe to say that both The Left (what does that mean anymore?) and The Right (again, what does that mean?) have left the rails in recent years. Whatever happened to fiscal conservatism among Republicans? Gone. Whatever happened to military interventionalism among Democrats? Gone. Now it’s Republicans who spend endlessly and care not, while Democrats think the way to solve fascism and death squads overseas, is hiding under a rock at home.

    Most disturbing to me is the idea that you must be all of one thing, or all of the other, or you’re some kind of traitor and/or don’t have a brain. There are powerful and well-funded mechanisms in our current culture which actively drive people in opposite directions.

    I try to resist that temptation. Sometimes less successfully than others.

    On the balance, I know I lean further Right than not, but it never fails that if I am in a room full of Right people, I inevitably argue the Left slant, and if I am in a room full of Left people, I inevitably argue the Right slant. This tells me I am still in the middle in many ways; and that my Rightness or Leftness largely depends on what the issue happens to be.

    Most of us are an amalgam of political views, deep down. And it sucks that our current black/white political perceptions refuse to accomodate this.

  92. Regarding Left vs. Right, and getting published in the SF field as a Righty…

    I put the question to Dean Wesley Smith not long ago, and he said that editors will many times buy something that pisses them off, presuming it is well written, because even if they disagree with the political slant, they know the book will sell well.

    This would seem to indicate that any editor worth his or her salt is concerned with quality and sales FIRST, and political flattery second.

  93. Bitter? Well, as a former Democrat turned Independent, I tend to take a very dim view of a party that consistently treats the armed forces like crap.

    Paolo, try selling a mil SF short story to the big three mags. I had an eye opening experience with one editor in particular. Novels, sure, but selling any type of novel is incredibly difficult.

    Moreover, anyone want to identify three right of center SF writers under the age of 40? I can’t think of a single example, especially in the short fiction market where I’ve been banging my head against a brickwall for seven years. The two sales I do have are neither political nor are they mil SF.

    Sub-Odeon pretty much captures the bulk of my sentiments on US politics in general.

  94. SF: Man, I’ve been trying to get *out* of short fiction, why the heck do you want to get in? :-)

    Seriously, though, I take your point. Finding editors whose taste fits your own is always a dynamic in writing. It’s why I’m probably never going to sell to Analog. My angle on science and technology is at odds with the philosophical leanings of the magazine.

  95. Sub-Odeon: Your comments at 116 are spot on, and I’m often in the same position. But I’d tweak this, from 117:
    This would seem to indicate that any editor worth his or her salt is concerned with quality and sales FIRST, and political flattery second.

    I don’t think quality has much to do with it. Quality generally takes a back seat to sales (cf Dan Brown, or any movie with “II” in the title), and I’d bet that political beliefs do as well. It’s like the people over at http://getdrunkandvote4mccain.com — the alternatives make them feel compelled to give up their values.

  96. Great post. I have to disagree with this comment, though:
    # Lynette Mejiaon 30 Sep 2008 at 10:16 am

    I’ve read Whatever for a year or so now, always as a bit of a lurker, but this essay compelled me to comment. What a great post. You are absolutely right! I would also add, however, that as writers we not only can but should write about politics, as we, more than any other group, have the skills necessary to express what others sometimes cannot say. In addition, as artists we are also most often the vanguard of free thought and expression in society, and that position is one to celebrate and be proud of. Bravo!

    The ability to spin a yarn and create compelling and believable characters does not equate to an understanding or an ability beyond that of a normal person to explain the problems with government or religion or any such thing.

    I agree with what John said, that people, be they writers or plumbers or lawyers, yes, even lawyers, should feel free to comment on any sector of their lives where they feel the need.

    Politics bores me to tears, so I won’t write about it but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t if I wanted to.

  97. Yeah, but this is the Whatever: the readers aren’t going to care about your wang-scarfing unless there was bacon affixed to the wang in question at the time.

  98. I’m a game designer and publisher and I had to face this issue. A retailer started several forum threads entitled “When Designer’s Blogs Hurt Sales.” He told the story of a group of customers who stopped buying Green Ronin’s game books because “Chris Pramas hates George Bush.” I responded by noting that Green Ronin employs many staffer and freelancers from across the political spectrum. Punishing the company doesn’t just hurt lefty ole me, but people of all political stripes. The incident did give me pause but hasn’t stopped me from posting about politics when I want to.

  99. The price might be higher someone who’s reached a certain level of fame but to a certain extent whenever anyone expresses their political views there’s a chance that it come back to bite them in the ass.

    However, even though I acknowledge the fact that it might be “safer” for an author to keep their political views to themselves, I don’t think that kind of thinking is helpful in a democracy.

    I have listened to different people in the world of literature and entertainment that have made an impact on me; added an idea or a perspective that has enriched my education.

    And even though it’s true that it takes a lot of people and a lot of time to make changes for the better, how do these movements start? Usually with a few small groups of people who believe in something: civil rights, women’s rights, etc.

    Orson Scott Card and Terry Goodkind are the two authors that popped into my mind as soon as I read this article. I find their personal politics has made me reluctant to buy their work. However, the quality of Goodkind’s work started to decline after his third book and I stopped buying his books long before I found out about his personal beliefs.

    I don’t know about Card. Sometimes I wonder if I stopped enjoying his work because the writing isn’t as good or because of his views on religion and politics. He just came out with a collection of his short fiction and even though I read and loved the first collection—I really don’t think I’ll be buying the second. I find that it really is hard for me to separate how I feel about who the author is and how I judge his work.

    I can get a better political lecture from someone with a PhD in the given topic than someone who merely has, at best, a BA in English.
    There are plenty of people who never went to college, even people who have never finished high school, who have valuable insights. I don’t think having or not having a PhD automatically makes someone’s opinion more valuable. Is it interesting to speak to someone who has had an extensive education in that area? Of course. But I don’t think that the views of the people who haven’t should be dismissed.

  100. Nike, per people with opinions, the question is very basic regardless of their level of education.

    Do they have an Original Thought?

    If they don’t, then at the end of the day, I really don’t give a flip what they think. Especially if it is just a regurge talking point or a very badly rehashed editorial they read somewhere.

    In the last twenty years, I’ve heard just about every strain of political doctrine out there from anarchism to marxism, fascism to republicanism, ecotopias (tis to laugh, as if you can create such a thing without punitive measures) to dystopias.

    Want to know what I’ve noticed?

    They repeat and recycle themselves.

    In other words, as I’ve said on my own blog, “same shit, different day.”

    Now, someone wants to articulate an original political thought (and I think the likelihood of that happening in a literary field dominated by the American Left is nil at best) I’ll come along just to see if it is worth the price of admission.

    But chances are, it isn’t and I’ve probably been bored to death with it a thousand times already.

    S. F. Murphy

  101. [deleted because it’s a long, random rant that has nothing at all to do with the subject at hand — JS]

  102. A friend of mine linked this posting on her blog today. It was of particular interest to me because just this week a reader of my novels voiced her displeasure over several anti-Sarah Palin postings on my personal blog (www.sueannjaffarian.blogspot.com).

    Thank you for putting this so much better than I ever could. In fact, I’m going to post a link on my blog later today. And I’m going to become a regular reader of this blog.

    Sue Ann

  103. Down here at the bottom of the comment string…

    –Writing freedom about politics isn’t completely universal even here in the States. I’m military, so I try very hard to discuss my political views only in an environment that is appropriate (or, frankly, legal). As a more senior guy in a group of junior guys, it’s not appropriate to opine; I try very hard not to involve the uniform wearing at the political rally. My own blog is rather boring because of that (well, not really; let’s say more boring). Some of that is due to the oath I took and laws I have to follow. I have to separate my profession from my political views because I’ll still deploy next year to where I’m going no matter who takes the oath in January, and still follow the legal orders of the President and officers appointed over me.

    –My take is that creatives tend to have one opinion of the world, with rare exceptions. (Any righties in the punk scene besides Joey Ramone? You see that many righties in *creative field* these days?) That creates an echo chamber effect. Argument, as in intending to change someone’s mind, is a lot harder than expressing viewpoint; if you look at the political book maps (Amazon and Milan Vego’s maps of who buys what book on left or right), you see some isolation and hardening of more extreme positions as groups talk to each other less.

    –Some guys think that their ability in one field means that they are then obligated to be good in another field. We’ve got a lot of loud voices out there with political opinions; not all of them are exactly thoughtful and well-informed. They forget that they’re just some guy yammering with a really big audience who would have to build a rep from a level lower than Being The Famous Guy. (Ed Begley Jr. comes to mind; he walks his talk, and gains respect politically for doing so despite being an actor dude, even from people who disagree with him.)

    –Thanks, John, for being as polite and well-thought-out as you can when you argue things. I may or may not agree at times, but it’s nice to not have to cringe alla time.

  104. “… and still follow the legal orders of the President and officers appointed over me.”

    This is one of those things that I’ve always seen as interesting. What constitutes a “legal order”?

    When I was in the service, it meant they couldn’t make you torture people, or shoot unarmed combatants, etc. All the regular stuff. But I’m sure in the fog of war that line gets moved around a bit as the situation warrants. While that may sound like one step away from fascism to those who either have never served or are unable to empathize with the plight of soldiers in combat (which is odd to me because there are only about a thousand war films that portray the choices soldiers have to make in combat under stress and fire), it is a very necessary part of war.

    My question is, and this is more philosophical than anything; If you not only do not agree with a war but are sure it is illegal, lets say, because the burden of proof has not been met, etc. Does one have the ability to conscientiously object (I’m sure they would go to jail at first) but then find a way to prove the war is unlawful (not unjust but actually illegal) would they be vindicated? Would that stop a war deemed illegal?

    Just a wondering out loud.

  105. [off topic]
    Individually determining an entire war as illegal is rather outside the conventions of what an individual soldier does. That’s what the separation of powers up at the top of the government is for; there have been lots of guys in the past who decided that they knew better and the war they were going to go to was not legal to their own liking…and wound up on the wrong side of the green table. Every one of those guys who objected directly on that basis has lost that I know of (counterexamples welcomed but note the “directly”–Ehren Watada, ferinstance, has a good lawyer and a well crafted excuse, but he still is at risk of the death penalty). If someone wants to make a lot of noise, sure…but the piper might well be paid at some point. A key issue here is that individuals at our level are not supposed to set national policy on when to go to war. Even at the four star level, civilians still control the military; if I don’t like the direction as a Chairman or such, I can resign and deal with the consequences. Lawful orders are more in the league of why Lt Calley was definitely–and convicted–as wrong than why (insert your least favorite politician) was arguably wrong in application of force in foreign policy.

    Law of War is a pretty big and interesting field. See this Air Force list for a start-but that’s not really where you want to focus when thinking what a legal order is. This Navy how-to is a basic heads-up for a junior guy figuring this stuff out.

    Orders are lawful or not, even though the stress can be very difficult. Sometimes the lawful part happens in peacetime: commanders wanting someone to wash their personal car on weekends, someone wanting something signed to create a false official statement, et cetera. Sometimes it isn’t: Law of War violations, for instance, which include treatment of enemy.

    I’m not so sure the “line gets moved around a bit” in quite the manner you mention. I think it tends to be more an inability to get or enforce perfection on a battlefield. We’ve seen officers have to deal with the real live ticking bomb scenario. It’s a loser no matter how you act and one option is to do something illegal and have people live (“rather be tried by twelve than have comrades carried by six”). I note than in at least one of those situations, the officer acted himself rather than issue an order and put the burden on the subordinate. One can make one’s own conclusions on that just as one can with, say, Mush Morton’s decision to man the machine guns in WWII.

    I also note that the enemy uses media and lawfare to restrict us based on any deviation in such perfection, and truth isn’t a defense. Every Haditha Marine has been cleared, so far; every one of them is also career toast as well as guys in the same unit two hundred miles away at the time…and the chilling effect is beneficial to the bad guys.

    But it’s perfectly lawful–and on occasion a moral obligation–to direct personnel to do something which may well kill them and others. That’s what we do, and that’s a significant difference in what makes a military culture different from a civilian’s.
    [/off topic]

  106. I think the word “alright” is the incorrect way to say “all right.”

    Preach it! I knew you were a good man when I sat beside you during your signing at ArmadilloCon. Now, if I could only convince my students about “alright” and “alot” I’d feel like I’ve accomplished something in life.

    Oh, the rest of your post is right on, too!

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