Wednesday, January 29, 2014

OPINION: On Reacting To Controversies, etc.

So, once again, Twitter brought word of yet another author opening their mouth (or, more accurately, vomiting onto their keyboard) to alert the world to just how much of a bigoted, opinionated pillock they are. Both Justin Landon and Jim C. Hines have done excellent deconstructions of this utter rubbish. This is, sadly, nothing new. It did give me an idea for a blog post, however, and one I think I've perhaps touched on in the past - reacting to controversies, boycotts and so on.

The manly men of genre fiction being manly in a manly way.
Personally, when an author such as the one in question makes statements like that, I put them onto a mental list of authors to not buy, or even read. Or engage with on social media. Or anything. It's not a particularly long list, and I don't generally keep it in mind until one of the members of it pops up in my feed, when I'm shopping and so on. It's also quite fun to note that it is generally white males on that list, of a right-wing persuasion, and they also tend to write science-fiction. Yes, indeed, Larry Correia, Michael Z. Williamson (after his comment in support of Correia), John Ringo and Orson Scott Card - four white males from America with right-wing leanings who write sci-fi. Well, only fair to describe them in the same way they talk about people of other political stances, no?

One thing I look forward to with such situations are the posts from other bloggers, who invariably do excellent deconstructions. Justin Landon, mentioned above, is one I find tends to be on the front line with these things, calling attention via Twitter to get it out there whilst a more constructive, well-rounded post is formed. And it's important other bloggers - and indeed other authors - do this. We need to call out authors on their behaviour and hold them accountable for what they say - that is basically the point of free speech. You can say what you want, but you're never divorced from being held accountable for it.

On the other side of this, I would love to see publishers distance themselves from this. This is not the first time a notable author from the Baen stable has been involved in online controversy (one author in particular being a kind of meme amongst genre fans), and I'd like to see publishers take a more pro-active stance against being linked to this behaviour. It does come with the potential of politicising publishing houses, but we already have that in a more general sense, and I do believe that publishers are responsible on some level for their authors - just as a business is responsible for its workers, or even its contractors (which is arguably a more accurate description of the author/publisher relationship). If publishers don't distance themselves from this, or even acknowledge it, it can be potentially taken as a sign that they either agree with it or at least condone these kinds of attacks, but also it affects their image - would you want your publisher to be thought of as the home of ultra- views? Or would you want your publisher to be thought of as the home of good books? The latter, obviously.

However, I think it's important to distinguish between authors who are utter voids and those who are just not to your taste. I would not list Gail Carriger and Philippa Ballentine alongside Orson Scott Card in any capacity except for "Authors I Will Not Buy Or Read", and this is for a good reason - my reasons for not buying their books are different. Both authors wrote things I didn't like and reacted strongly to, but I do not necessarily view them as bad people. OSC, however, probably hasn't written much I would react against (exempting Hamlet's Father, which alone gets him a boycott from me), but I do view him as a bad person, ergo he doesn't get my money either.

And then you get such brilliant things as Mike Shepherd's upcoming novel (he is also published as Mike Moscoe, and under both names is well-known for his military sci-fi relating to the Longknife family), Vicky Peterwald: Target, which has this lovely cover:

And an even lovelier blurb, with the most positive bits of it thoughtfully highlighted by yours truly:
BEAUTY AND THE BATTLEFIELD Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Victoria Maria Teresa Inez Smythe-Peterwald, daughter of wealth and power, was raised to do little except be attractive and marry well. Then everything changed--her brother, her father's favorite and the heir apparent, was killed in battle by Lieutenant Kris Longknife, daughter of the Peterwald's longtime enemies. Vicky vowed revenge, but her skill set was more suitable for seduction than assassination, and she failed. Angry and disappointed, her father decided she needed military training and forced her to join the Navy. Now Ensign Vicky Peterwald is part of a whole new world, where use of her ample charms will not lead to advancement. But her father is the Emperor, and what he wants he gets. What he wants is for Vicky to learn to be efficiently ruthless and deadly. Though the lessons are hard learned, Vicky masters them--with help from an unexpected source: Kris Longknife.
So, essentially, this book is Redhead With Giant Knockers In Space. Lovely. But how do you react to that? I enjoyed what little I've read of Kris Longknife so far, but the second one goes a bit strange, with Kris essentially dressing as a sex worker as a disguise, not to mention semi-frequent references to her breasts (or lack thereof), and an admittedly humorous (but pointless) inclusion of bulletproof knickers. How do you react to it? I think I've done all I can, and that's just walk away. It doesn't sound, to me, particularly respectful or even tasteful, and I can just about imagine how it's going to work out.

Of course, I'm just as guilty as consuming and buying content I sometimes find distasteful. I don't deny that I've found aspects of the Harry Potter books or the Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington novels to be problematic - even just wrong - yet I stick with them out of determination and frustration. Is that hypocrisy? I reckon so, but at the same time you cannot dig yourself into a hole and only read things that are - to you - saccharine and safe and clean. Whether that means you only read male-only military science fiction that's surprisingly free of homosexuality, or you read only the most diverse books, if you limit yourself then you do yourself a disservice. I don't boycott David Weber. I don't even avoid his works. Why? Because I think there's something to enjoy there, and just because he's a Christian, white, straight male, it doesn't mean I cannot enjoy his works (or L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s, for the sake of including an author I read a fair bit of). And whilst I might disagree with some things Modesitt says on his blog, I don't think he's said or done anything worthy of boycotting him (yet), which is arguably offset - in my opinion - by the content of his books.

And that's the crux of the matter, to me. Whilst it should mostly be about the books, you cannot deny that the author is a part of that, and why would you want to support or read an author who so freely attacks other people, or says representation is wrong or not important? There's a difference between supporting someone who you disagree with and supporting someone you find to be actively repulsive, who spreads hate and/or surrounds themselves by an unquestioning group of people. I support Modesitt because he tells us to think for ourselves, I don't support Card because he tells others that they should be locked up for their way of life. It's about taking the information that is publicly available and verifiable and drawing your conclusions. It's about taking that, looking at it, analysing it, comparing it to your own opinions, and deciding whether you feel you can support that or not.

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