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Saturday Book Discussion: Boycotting Authors

Orson Scott Card

This is largely just revisiting the topic of my very first SBD post, Do Author!Fails Affect Your Reading Decisions?, but that was over two years ago, and my own thinking has shifted a bit in that time. So you may freely accuse me of disinterring dead equines to take a few more whacks at their carcasses.

The trend over the past few years, at least in some circles, has been to demand greater accountability of readers and authors alike for the ethical implications of their work, whether it is because the author expresses unpalatable views or because the book contains problematic tropes. "Unpalatable" and "problematic" are, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but for the most part, the pressure tends to come from the progressive/"Social Justice" side of the fence, though I'm seeing more backlash coming from the other direction.

In other words, DON'T READ THIS BOOK BECAUSE BADTHINK! or DON'T GIVE THIS AUTHOR MONEY BECAUSE BADMAN!

I've got to be honest, I was once more sympathetic to this POV (why would I want to encourage an author who's an asshole?), but I have become far less so as the criteria for which authors are deemed "unreadable" and anyone who admits to being a fan (or even mildly approbatory) as being complicit in evilbadthink become increasingly stringent.

One of the most public examples of a widely reviled famous author is, of course, Orson Scott Card. Notoriously strident in his anti-gay views and his belief that President Obama wants to unmarry him and put Mormons in gulags, he has been the Big Name problem child of science fiction for years, a huge best-seller who causes large numbers of the predominantly-liberal genre's fans to froth, especially those who were inexplicably (if you started reading him any time after 1990) unaware of his views before becoming fans of his books. The backlash against him caused DC Comics to back down from using him as a Superman writer, and there has been an effort (with dubious impact) to boycott the Ender's Game movie.

I have written about Orson Scott Card and his less-famous Mormon SF author peer Brandon Sanderson at length here, so the purpose of this post isn't to initiate a discussion about OSC in particular.

Other authors who've fallen afoul of right-thinking people include John C. Wright, who is basically the Catholic Orson Scott Card, and hilariously, Neil Gaiman (for the crime of being married to Amanda Palmer, who apparently has pissed off a lot of social justicey people for various inappropriate performances). The latter blacklisting the point at which I started rolling my eyes and saying, "Really?"

(I mean, if you blacklist Neil Gaiman because he writes the same damn whiny boring wimp everyman protagonist in every book, that's one thing. But because he hasn't divorced his wife? Now come on.)


Death March (2nd Edition)

This book contains badthink.


V.S. Naipaul, Jonathan Franzen, and David Gilmour have all been in the crosshairs for being disparaging of women writers. Elizabeth Moon got into trouble a while ago for making some injudicious remarks about Muslims. Elizabeth Bear got flack for using the term "death march" to refer to the process of writing a book. Another point at which I shook my head and backed away slowly.

Certainly, I understand the desire not to give money to an asshole who hates you. Or who is actively campaigning against the rights of others. But I draw the line at "You should not support this author because she once said a thing that made people angry and maybe was not the best way to express whatever thought was in her head."

(I also draw the line at authors who are dead. I strongly suspect Charles Dickens would not have thought much of women's rights, and he certainly was at least a little anti-Semitic. But he can't get any money from me anyway.)

If you were privy to every thought passing through the mind of every single human being in the world (which seems to be the disturbing goal of Twitter), and you made a habit of following the thoughts of all your favorite writers, sooner or later they're all going to say something that makes you say "Waitaminute."

However, I have even reached the point where I'm willing to read authors who I find very, fundamentally objectionable just because so many people are saying YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS BADMAN.

Case in point: many of you are probably aware of the infamous "feud" that's been going for a couple of years now between John Scalzi and Theodore Beale, aka "Vox Day." John Scalzi is the bourgeois pudding of SF - nice, inoffensive, always triangulating for the "rational middle" of a political argument, writes decent if unexciting sci-fi.

Vox Day is... well, indescribable. Though there is a gulf between what he's been accused of saying and what he has actually said, he's way, way out there, and if he doesn't make your head explode, his commenters will. Orson Scott Card and John C. Wright are mild gentlemen of moderate views compared to VD.

VD has written several novels, largely self-published. (ETA: Mr. Beale corrects me. I knew he had been trade published, but I thought his newer work was all self-published. Apparently this is not correct.) I am sure the thought of contributing money to him, or even adding to his download count, fills many with reflexive horror. But I am filled with a certain perverse curiosity (and a bit of defiance after the ridiculous spectacle of the SFWA booting him from the organization), and I downloaded a few of his novellas when they were available for free on Amazon. (Reviews forthcoming. If I ever get around to them.)

Would I pay money for one of his books? Probably not. Do I think I have an obligation to not support him in any way, shape or form by reading, downloading, reviewing, or giving him publicity? That is where I get off the Right-Thinking People Train.

So, what do you think? Must your reading be ethically uncomplicated? Do you separate the writer from his work? Do you avoid learning too much about your favorite authors, for fear of discovering that they Twitter things that make Baby Jesus cry? Do you exhort or give a side-eye to others if they don't filter their own reading lists?

How do you feel about authors who offend you?

Authors who offend me get blacklisted, period.
10(9.9%)
There are a few things I can't forgive, but an offensive author won't automatically make me stop reading them.
48(47.5%)
I will avoid giving money to authors who offend me, but I will still read them.
22(21.8%)
I don't care about the person, unless it's their writing that's offensive.
12(11.9%)
I separate the author from their work, period.
5(5.0%)
I do not "blacklist" authors and I find the idea offensive.
4(4.0%)

Do you think authors with objectionable views should be blacklisted/campaigned against?

Yes - free speech has consequences, and using social and economic pressure is a valid tactic.
25(25.5%)
I don't mind being made aware of authors with offensive views, but I don't really support blacklists.
28(28.6%)
Not unless they are advocating something really terrible.
18(18.4%)
No, but it doesn't bother me if other people are upset enough to do it.
13(13.3%)
No, and I think it's a terrible thing to do.
14(14.3%)

Do you think other people should share your views about offensive books and authors?

Yes - if you like a book or author who offends me, it gives me reason to mistrust you.
4(4.0%)
It bothers me, but I understand not everyone sees things the same way.
24(23.8%)
It might suggest a gap in our worldviews, but it doesn't really bother me.
29(28.7%)
No (though I might say: "Piers Anthony? Really?")
21(20.8%)
No, and I reject the idea that anyone else should influence my reading preferences.
23(22.8%)


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  • The Black Arrow

    The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson Action and adventure during the War of the Roses. Young Dick Shelton finds himself in the middle of…

  • Strategikon

    Maurice's Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy translated by George T. Dennis This is definitely a book for a select audience.…

  • The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen Flynn

    Time Travelers go back in time to meet Jane Austen. Harper Perennial, 2017, 384 pages Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing…