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My Big Question for the month of October is about Orson Scott Card, partly

October 6, 2011

I want to ask a question; but first, an explanation.

There are two reasons that I keep this blog. One is that maintaining it every day forces me to almost constantly think about writing. You might think that expressly “wanting to be a writer” would be enough to keep me thinking about writing quite often, but you’d be wrong. It doesn’t always work that way for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The other reason for doing this; and the one that most concerns me today, is that expressing my opinions regularly allows me to better analyze what I really believe about whatever particular topic it is that I’m writing about. Many people think that they know exactly what they actually believe about the world; but once they’re pressed to explain why, they often have real trouble doing so. This is, of course, because most people really don’t know what they actually believe about everything; and that most of us don’t generally bother to try and learn is one of our greatest intellectual deficiencies as human beings.

Thus, today I begin what will be a monthly experiment in which I pose one question that I’ve been pondering myself and ask you all to answer it. Fear not, I’ll answer it as well; but not until I’ve seen what many of you have to offer first. The questions I’ll be asking each month will be questions that I don’t yet have fully formed answers to myself. They’ll be designed to make all of us think a little, hopefully about topics none of us think about all that often. Which is of course the point of all this. I want us to do some brain work here, and I genuinely hope you’ll be interested.

My question for month stems from a dilemma I’m having. Orson Scott Card is an award winning Science Fiction and Fantasy writer. You may have heard of him, and many of you have likely even read his novel Ender’s Game. I, however, have never read anything by the man; and until recently have had no intention of doing so. This is not because I don’t believe his books to be well written, but rather because I find myself in direct opposition to his often very conservative views on topics ranging from global warming to gay marriage.

In short, I have refused to read Card because I don’t like what he believes. One part of me thinks that I can rigorously defend this course of action based on rational argument, but another part of me thinks that I may just be allowing my bias to instead rationalize my own sense of moral superiority. So the question I ask is this:

When choosing what fiction to read, should we be guided solely by the perceived or recognized quality of the work itself or should we also take into account the personal belief systems of the author of the work as well?

You’ll not that I’ve specifically posed this question regarding works of fiction, as I do believe an author can more easily separate his or her personal beliefs from their writing in fiction than in non-fiction. For instance, the entire genre of Sci-fi/Fantasy is based on authors writing about things we know not to exist. However, in most non-fiction we generally want to know what the author thinks is actually true.

So there you have it, my first Big Question (which is what I’m calling this for now, but is subject to change should I, or you, think of something better). I’m going to keep a link to this post in a prominent place on this site all month long, and near the end of the month I’ll post me own rather lengthy answer to the question itself. I’ll also be sharing this rather frequently on my Facebook page, on Twitter, and on Google +. So keep an eye out in all those places, and help me out be sharing it yourself if you can think of a person or community that might be interested in it.

There are no rules for answers here. Be as short or as detailed as you like. You can post your answer here in the comments, or write a post for your own blog and just link to it in the comments instead. You can also answer it through any of the sites on which I share it, though to be honest the best way to stimulate conversation is to do so here on this blog. It can handle long comments in a way that Facebook and Twitter simply can’t. And don’t be afraid to take your time either, because I’ll be revisiting this all month long.

Off you go then. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2011 7:34 pm

    It sounds like you’re asking, to say it shorter: should we choose based on the author’s brand? or just the author’s published work?

    Second, in the world of politics, OSC is considered to be fairly left of center…which makes you….?

    Last, older OSC is far superior to newer OSC. And I would never have known his political inclinations from reading Ender’s Game, Xenocide or Speaker for the Dead. Maybe after reading Empire, but even then, it sounds like he’s leaving it up to interpretation…

    That said, I have no idea what he thinks about gay marriage or global warming. I do know he considers himself to be a Democrat.

    And maybe that’s the point–I’m a generally right of the aisle kind of guy (which you know), but I stopped reading his stuff when it started getting crappy, not when I found out he was more liberal than I am. There are just too many books and too little time…

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    • October 7, 2011 1:17 am

      Knowing his views on gay-marriage (he is very much opposed) and global warming (he’s not convinced) certainly puts him farther into what we would consider the “conservative” category than I could ever be. And while he may consider himself a democrat (I don’t know if he even still does), I think that may be more a function of where he lives. I know MANY New York Republicans farther to the left than he appears to be (except, I just found out, on the subject of immigration reform – on which he and I likely have similar views).

      That said, I suppose what I’m wondering for myself is this – could I read his work, knowing what I know, and not read into it the particular political opinions I don’t agree with? Would that change my perception of the work? Should it? Is that my problem, or his? These are all questions I think about.

      Quotes such as this don’t help his cause for me. “So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage.” Really, dude?

      But this is not just a question about Card, mind you, he was just the example I used because of my reading of this recent essay and his response to it. Similar issues are raised there. Am I doing the same thing that the reviewer was doing? Does it even matter?

      Anyway, thanks once again for a great response; and I like your new site too by the way.

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      • October 7, 2011 10:48 am

        With that consideration, I wonder if maybe OSC was the wrong author to start with. Again, speaking only from my own experience, I’ve never noticed his politics in his writing, and politics is something I’m acutely attentive to seeing. I’ve not really read, or cared, much about how he believes, other than to vaguely have heard that he is somewhere to the left of me politically.

        This doesn’t apply to every author. For example, a couple years ago I read Allen Steele’s “Coyote,” about a band of intrepid explorers on the first journey out from Earth. The premise contains HEAVY political overtones and extremely condemnatory statements about an entire side of the political spectrum, with, in my view, very little fairness or relationship to reality.

        But the sci-fi was great! Once the politics was out of the way, I really enjoyed the story. And just as I was finishing and considering picking up the sequel, the politics came back…yeah. And with heavy handed morality.

        I’ve not picked up another Steele since. The reason is not because of his politics, but because he is so heavy handed with the politics. I believe, if evidenced just by the fact that I read your blog 😉 in exposing myself to political ideas and writing different from my own. I don’t think healthy civil discourse is possible without some level of understanding of where others are coming from. (I’m finding more and more that putting a person on one side of the political spectrum or another is superficial and, as you pointed out, ignores issue specific nuances). However, that doesn’t extend to force feeding myself with stories where heavy handed morals overshadow the story and the experience of escaping in a good book.

        So, as a general principle, I think it depends on the author. As a more specific principle, I don’t think you need to worry about that with OSC.

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  2. Emily permalink
    October 7, 2011 8:33 am

    I read a lot of OSC’s work when I was younger, and when I worked at the bookstore his was a shelf I found myself going to time and time again when I needed a recommendation for a customer. Reading Ender’s Game for the first time in middle school and again just a few years ago (and MANY times in between) I never picked up on any political undertones or pushing of a certain belief or anything like that. Although reading it for the first time so young, before I was able to pick up on anything so subtle or even knowledgeable enough to know someone would or could do that I wouldn’t have noticed. And most of my subsequent readings of Ender’s Game and one of his other series, Alvin Maker (excellent, I highly recommend it) have been for pleasure and nostalgia as reading has mostly been an escape for me and less of an intellectual exercise. I would be very interested to go back and read it again looking out for little clues knowing what I know about him.

    Of course in this case, you picked one of my favorites, which is what caught my eye and ultimately got me to comment in the first place. I think if would be interesting for you to take a look at his website,www.hatrack.com and read some of his “Uncle Orson Review Everything”. Literally everything- bird feeders, food, online merchants, and of course books and movies. In this case, he allows his personal beliefs to come right out in the open and on several occasions I have almost stopped reading in disgust, but maybe it’s my own sense of moral superiority- I can appreciate the author for his amazing works of fiction and am a big enough human being to read what he writes as a real live person and even though I completely disagree with almost everything he says in a social/political context (not everything, surprisingly) I still listen to what he says and take what I can from it. I think the only reason I keep reading, though, is because he was my absolute most favorite author for so long. If it was just anyone I would have stopped reading a long time ago.

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