Force Awakens Trailer and Lightsaber Crossguards: I am Dissappoint

2014-11-28 Useless Lightsaber Crossguard

I am not a fan of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser. It was so bad that I didn’t believe it was the real trailer at first. Alas, it is. Of all the things that annoyed me, however, there is one that stuck out the most: the absolutely useless and silly design of the crossguard for the lightsaber.

The purpose of a crossguard is simple: to protect the hand of the person using the sword (or, in this case, lightsaber).

2014-11-28 Sword_parts_no_scabbard

In order to be effective, the crossguard therefore has to be tough enough to stop an opponent’s blade. In an ordinary sword (made of metal), you just accomplish this by also making the crossguard out of metal. Simple. But the entire point of a lightsaber is that the blade cuts through just about anything. So the only thing that you could possibly make a crossguard out of would be the actual light blade. Anything else is just going to get lopped off instantly, offering absolutely zero protection. This can actually be done. If you look at the entry for crossguard light sabers in the Wookieepediayou can see how it’s been pulled off in the past.

2014-11-28 Useful Crossguard Lightsaber

Notice how the crossguard in that image is recessed so that a strike of an opponent’s blade that slid along the user’s blade would be intercepted by the blade of the crossguard. Not by the vulnerable housing for the crossguard blade. But in the crossguard lightsaber from the trailer, the blades of the crossguards are offset from the grip.This makes the crossguards about as useful as if a Viking went into battle with a crossguard make out of tissue paper.

2014-11-28 Crossguard Comparisons

The whole idea of a lightsaber crossguard is a little dumb to begin with because what makes lightsabers awesome is their elegant simplicity. Double blades, intricate handles, all these additions detract from that simplicity and elegance. But if you’re going to put on a crossguard, at least think about it for 5 seconds and don’t make something that looks like a 7-year old glued the pieces together.

2014-11-28 Useless Lightsaber Crossguard - ZOOMED

Look, I get that Star Wars isn’t exactly supremely realistic, not even when it comes to lightsabers and their practical utility.

The Ewoks were always kind of dumb, even when I was a kid, and the idea of individual pilots zooming around in space fighters exactly as if it were a World War 2 era dogfight was outdated by the technology of the Korean War (jet engines and guided missiles), let along by the time we’ve got FTL spaceships. The originals had flaws, but they were still great. The prequels were so egregiously horrible as to be nigh unwatcheable.

We’ve all got to draw our own lines for what fits the spirit of the films, and what doesn’t. For which unrealistic detail is just part of the show, and for which is a violation of artistic integrity. The dumb crossguards cross a line of basic common sense for me. Even if my wife thinks I’m crazy and obsessive. But I’m not ruling out the new movie based on just a teaser. In the final product the good could very well outweigh the bad, and like I said, the originals had some pretty glaring flaws of their own.  But between the dumb crossguard and all the other issues with the trailer, my hopes for the franchise’s attempted resurrection are not getting any higher.

My Top 10 Most Influential Books

2014-09-08 Influential Books COVER
Yeah, it’s from the movie. Get over it. :-)

A friend of mine (in real life and on Facebook) issued me one of those Facebook challenges, in this case to list the top 10 books that had been most influential on me. I usually ignore those kinds of things, but I knew this one would be a ton of fun, so I decided to do it and to make a blog post out of it.

First, I have to say that as a writer there’s just no way I can limit my selection to only 10. To play within the rules, however, I picked the top 10 and then put the rest in an “honorable mention” category. Secondly, I thought it was fun to divide the books into three categories: childhood (up through the end of middle school), high school, and adulthood. I’m going to list the books in the order I read them to the best of my memory.

And yeah, I get that it’s a little unusual to claim that books I’ve read in the last few years are among the most influential in my life. How can I really be sure? Of course I can’t. There’s some guess-work involved, but the idea that I’m going to be significantly changing as a person no matter how old I am is important to me. Maybe it’s more of an aspiration than a fact, but I’d like to think I’ll never know what the most influential books will be, ’cause it could be the one I’m reading today, or even one that I’m going to read 10 or 20 or more years in the future. So, with those notes, let’s get started.

Childhood

The Old Testament (1986)

2014-09-08 HeadphonesNo, I wasn’t reading the Old Testament in 1986, which was before I started school. I couldn’t even read. But I was listening to them on audiobook. My family was very poor back in those days, and a hand-me down collection of Old Testament audio cassettes was one of the few things with which I could entertain myself. We had a pair of headphones with a really, really long extension cord so even before I could read I would just sit quietly playing with my toy cars and listening to stories about God telling Abraham to sacrifice his soon Isaac. Take that, Baby Einstein.

Truth be told, I’m sure it was probably a sanitized version of the Old Testament. I can’t remember any details. It did make enough of an impression that, one day at dinner, I solemnly told my dad not to marry any Canaanite women. Sure, I knew he wasn’t exactly in the marriage market, but it seemed really important so I thought it was better to be safe than sorry.

I can’t rightly say exactly what influence all this fire-and-brimstone had on a young and impressionable Nathaniel. I think most of the violence went right over my head. What stuck with me, more than anything else, was just this overriding sense that words matter. That the things written down in books could be a big deal. Because I had picture books and learn-to-read books and all that kind of stuff, but I also had the Old Testament. I didn’t really understand it, but I could tell this was a weighty text. So I knew, right at the start, that books could be more than cute and frivolous.

Tom Swift in the Caves of Nuclear Fire by Victor Appleton (1989)

2014-09-08 Tom Swift in the Caves of Nuclear FireMost of the books I read as a young kid were mysteries. I read dozens and dozens of Hardy Boys and several British series like the Fabulous Five. But the books that stand out the most in my memory are from the Tom Swift, Jr. series.  The first influence is obvious: Tom Swift, Jr. launched my life-long love of science fiction. After thousands of pages of contemporary mystery, the breathtaking scope of these novels filled me with wonder. They also had a really, really strange prose style, however, like “Tom Swifties.” This refers to the way the authors (writing under the name Victor Appleton) went to great lengths to avoid using the plain word “said” in dialogue. Either other phrases were used, or “said” was dressed up in some way: “We must hurry,” said Tom Swiftly. Get it? ‘Cause his name is “Swift”? I could get that, even when I was 8 years old. So in addition to introducing me to sci-fi, the books also taught me that writing wasn’t just a method of conveying meaning. It was itself something you could play with.

The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher – 1992

These books blew my young mind. Post-apocalyptic, alien-resistance, teenage freedom fighters? Yes, please. Think the orignial Red Dawn meets The War of the Worlds and you’ve got a good notion of the plot and tone of these stories.

2014-09-08 The TripodsThere are still so many scenes from these books that I can vividly recall today. Here’s just one: a city that would give criminals sentenced to death a horse and set them free. If they managed to outrun the tripods (giant, three-legged robots controlled by the aliens) then good for them. But, as the young protagonists watched in horror, even the bravest and most skilled horsemen were going to be caught–impaled on one of the metal tentacles of the towering tripods–and left to die in the fields in front of the town. There were so many awesome themes in this book, and such great sci-fi world-building, but what hit hardest of all was the final sacrifice of one of the main characters in the closing pages of the last book. It was the first time I cried reading a book, and so I learned something new. I learned how deeply a book could make you feel.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – 1993

2014-09-08 The ArgonathI can still remember exactly where I was when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time: in my family’s pop-up camper in a campground in north-eastern Tennessee called Warrior’s Path. And, as I’ve recently written about, the scene that stood out the most to me at the time was the relatively inconsequential passage where Frodo and The Fellowship sail past the Argonath, only scant pages before Boromir’s betrayal and the breaking of the Fellowship. I don’t know why my memory of The Two Towers is so much stronger than my memories of The Fellowship of the Ring or The Return of the King, but it is. There was the Argonath, and then of course there was the sound of Boromir’s horn, defiant to the end, as he died a hero despite his faults. I read The Lord of the Rings several more times over the years, and my dad even read the entire trilogy out loud to me when I was a teenager just because it was something fun for us to do together. So LotR influenced me in a lot of ways but, already an aspiring writer by that time, Tolkien mostly taught me about the sacred art of world-building. When a writer really pours himself into creating his world, he creates something real. I know I haven’t lived up to that in my own writing, but it’s always been my guiding star, and I still hope to be a worthy disciple of sub-creation.

Honorable Mention

I read a lot of books as a kid. Here are some others that I can’t bear to not mention at all:

  • Redwall by Brian Jacques (1991)
    I really loved this children’s classic, and I even met Brian Jacques when he came to a public library for a book signing. I still have my signed copy, even though it’s a falling-apart paperback at this point. Meeting an author in the flesh was a big moment for me, even though I failed to prevent two bullies from butting in front of my sister in the book signing line. Mr. Jacques scolded them and sent them to the back of the line and then gave me a look to let me know I’d failed as a big brother.
  • The Deptford Mice Trilogy by Robin Jarvis (1991)
    These were the darkest books I’d read to that date, but also incredibly engrossing. I’ve thought about the limits of darkness in fiction ever since then.
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams (1992)
    It’s impossible to tell someone who hasn’t read Watership Down how good a book about rabbits can be, and–I was surprised to learn–if you tell them that there’s a Simon and Garfunkel song based on the book it doesn’t help.
  • The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (1993)
    Definitely one of the most immersive and defining series of my childhood. Also kicked off a Celtic-fantasy binge that lasted for a couple of years.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1994)
    I”m only fully appreciating L’Engle’s gifts as an adult. The older I get, the more I think it is female authors–L’Engle, Bujold, Cherryh, and Le Guin–who are the truest masters of sci-fi.

High School

 Dune by Frank Herbert (1995)

2014-09-08 dune__atreides-smallI have never, ever forgotten the lesson of the Gom Jabbar: we human beings are not rational creatures. Our rational minds contend with our animal natures and, more often than not, it is the animal that wins. In recent years this has become well-known with all kind of research on cognitive biases and with Jonathan Haidt’s example of the elephant and the rider, but the truth of it hit me hardest when I read the test that young Paul Atreides faced: one hand in a box that created the sensation of unbearable pain while a needle was poised at his neck, ready to deliver a fatal toxin if he withdrew his hand from the box. Frank Herbert’s masterpiece was also the defining example of the lesson that there is a place for religion-as a personal motivation, as a social force, as a part of the setting–in fiction.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (1996)

2014-09-08 John HarrisI’ve seen Ender’s Game make the list for a lot of people, and there is no doubt that I liked Ender’s Game more as a kid. I reread it several times, and I didn’t reread Speaker for the Dead until after I was 30. But it has always been Orson Scott Card’s horrific inversion of the crucifixion that has haunted me, delving into the most painful and the most tender aspects of Christianity in general and of Mormonism in particular. Speaker for the Dead is not a fun book, but it is a masterpiece, and it showed me another way in which religion can have a place in fiction: as spiritual meditation, as an exercise of strained faith, as worship.

The Book of Mormon (1997)

I sort of roll my eyes when people put works of scripture on these lists. Yes, we get it, you’re religious. And here I am with two. That’s ’cause I decided my reaction was just me being too cool for my own God. Which isn’t cool. And the reality is that the Book of Mormon has probably been the single most influential book of my life. I certainly hope it has, in any case. I may have read the Book of Mormon before 1997, but this is the first read-through that I can remember. It’s the read through when I actually decided that I had to know, for myself, if it was true. If I was going to be a Mormon. So I did the Mormon thing: I read the Book of Mormon and then I prayed to know if it was true. I didn’t get an immediate answer or an obvious answer. But I got something, and it was enough to keep my going. My faith has changed a lot over the years, and other things have become more important to my faith than the Book of Mormon, but that was the summer where I set off on my own faith journey, trying to find spiritual independence from my parents for the first time. I’m lucky and grateful that the independence didn’t entail a separation. We don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue, but I’m proud of the work they both do, and deeply grateful that we share a common faith. It’s a faith we couldn’t share if it weren’t for the fact that each of us is willing to abandon it if we don’t believe it to be true.

Honorable Mention

  • The Kestrel by Lloyd  Alexander (1995)
    The second in Lloyd Alexander’s series that started with The Beggar Queen, this book was a stark departure from his usual light-hearted fare. The anti-hero has become trend to the point of cliche in entertainment these days, but this was my first experience with anything like it, and it made me think. It was my introduction to ethics and political philosophy in fiction, I suppose.
  • The Damned Trilogy by Alan Dean Foster (1996)
    If Tom Swift was my first experience with sci-fi, this trilogy has become my personal paragon of sci-fi. It’s fun, exciting space opera that tries to ask big questions and tell a real story about real people. I’ve read more sophisticated and better-written fiction since then, but this will always have a special place in my heart as my re-introduction to the genre and perhaps my first introduction to space opera.
  • Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (1997)
    Douglas Adams’ Hithchiker’s Guide series is funny, but the kind of hilarious writing will always be Terry Pratchett for me. Small Gods was the first book I read by him, and is still the funniest. I laughed so hard that I physically couldn’t hold the book several times. Not all of his works are that funny, and I’m not sure how the humor will hold up now that I’m older, but I’ll also mention two other greats from this time period: Soul Music and Reaper Man. I need to give them a fresh look soon.
  • Nobody’s Son by Sean Stewart (1999)
    I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this book or seen it in any list, but of all the honorable mentions, this one is the closest to making the cut. I’ve seen lots of “subverting the fairy tale” stories since, but none that impressed me the way this one did. It’s a story about what happens after the plucky farm boy slays the evil what’s-it and wins the princess’ hand. How dreams that come true stop being dreams, and what we can do in the after math. I need to re-read this one, too.

Adulthood

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (2007)

2014-09-08 Harry PotterDoes this one really need an explanation? My mum started reading the books to the family when I was still in high school. Then I went on a mission, came home, got married, and the last book came out. Harry Potter spans the end of my childhood and the beginning of my life as an adult. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to Jim Dale’s rendition of the books on audio, but it’s a lot. I’ve learned an incredible amount about writing and about world-building, but more than anything else, J. K. Rowling reminded me of the visceral emotional reality of reading in a way that I hadn’t felt since I was a young child. These books are truly magical.

Changes by Jim Butcher (2010)

2014-09-08 Harry DresdenThis book represents the entire Dresden Files series. As anyone who follows me on Facebook knows, I love this series with a passion that might not be entirely healthy. I don’t think they are the best-written books. The obsession with sex and with over-explaining both grate, but despite this the books speak to me on a deep, visceral level about the things that matter most. “He died doing the right thing,” is the inscription an evil vampire puts on the protagonists tombstone, and it sort of defines the entire series. That and little old cliches like loyalty, and friendship, and forgiveness, and trust, and family. This book has, without doubt, the best battle scene I’ve ever read. It also has, without doubt, the most tragic death scene I’ve ever read. One is fun, the other left me in tears.

On Killing by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman (2013)

2014-09-08 On KillingThis is the first non-literary book to make it on my list. In reality, however, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction in the last few years. From various Great Courses to really great non-fiction books that you’ll see in my Honorable Mention section, I have come to enjoy great non-fiction almost as much as I love great fiction. But, of all the non-fiction I’ve read, this has been the one that’s had the greatest impact on me for it’s presentation of some deep and important elements of human psychology. You can see the kinds of thoughts it inspired me in a Times And Seasons post I wrote called: Mormonism and Embodiment: Learning from Killing.

Honorable Mention

  • By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl Givens (2002)
    I read my father’s study of the Book of Mormon and its role in Mormon theology and culture while I was still on my mission. I was in the office, so I was able to set aside my real duties for a day and finish the entire book in basically one setting. My dad is my hero, and this book is one reason why.
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene (2003)
    I read Graham Greene’s incredible novel as required reading in an undergrad class at the University of Richmond. It had a profound impact on the way I think about theology and the Mormon Church which, in many ways, bears close resemblance to the Roman Catholic Church.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (2009)
    The ending of this book really made me think about my role as a believer and as an artist (hopefully).
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2011)
    This was a great example of the fusion of sci-fi and literature.
  • Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (2014)
    I got around to Philip K. Dick a little late in life, considering how much sci-fi I read, and it blew my mind. If there was just one writer I could be like, he would be very high on the list of potential paragons.
  • The Upside of Down by Megan McArdle (in progress)
    I’ve only been listening to the audio version of Megan McArdle’s book for the last few days, but I like it that much. Seriously. It’s giving me hope after a long, long series of failures in my life that–whether or not I find success-the failures themselves don’t mean I’m a failure. And might be worth something to me in and of themselves.

So there you’ve got it: the most influential books on me thus far in my life, as best I can reckon. Feel free to share you own list in the comments!

Book Recommendation: Spin (Robert Charles Wilson)

2014-05-21 The ChronolithsIt could just be me, but I don’t hear folks talk about Robert Charles Wilson enough. The first book of his I read was Spin, which won the Hugo in 2006. I thought the sequel (Axis (Spin)) was good, but not great. I’m listening to The Chronoliths now, which was nominated for a Hugo in 2002. Turns out he’s been nominated a few more times, too (1999 and 2010), but–like I said–he’s just not a name that I hear come up often enough in discussions of great sci-fi.

The reason I like Robert Charles Wilson is that he’s one of the best there is at combining truly human-centered, character-driven stories with real, honest, sci-fi concepts. The drama in his books is emphatically character-driven, but it simply couldn’t exist without the sci-fi elements. To me: that’s what all sci-fi should strive to be.

He also has some prose chops. Look, I realize that sci fi (along with all genre fiction) tends to be less about the art and craft of prose than literary fiction, but there were some parts of “Spin” that rose to the level of good art by any standard.

He’s one of those guys who, when I’m reading their story, I think to myself: “I’ll really be doing alright if I ever get this good.”

James F. McGrath on Science Fiction and Religion

What does science fiction have in common with the Bible? More than we might expect. Both grapple with profundities. Both ask, among other key questions: How did we come to be? Where are we headed? How should we conduct ourselves? Where do we put our faith? The answers are not necessarily agreed upon…Thus, science-fiction fandom, with its canons, debates, and conundrums, has intriguing and instructive overlaps with the domain of religion.

So says biblical scholar James F. McGrath in an interesting article in the Spring 2014 issue of Phi Kappa Phi Forum. I’d actually considered writing a post on this topic given my more recent choice of entertainment, including The Dresden Files and Doctor Who.McGrath discusses TV shows like Lost, Star Trek, and Doctor Who, making for a fun read. In the end, he concludes, “Bottom line, science fiction is less about the future or past and more about our reflections on them. This type of speculation can be fascinating and meaningful, not merely diverting or academic…[S]cience fiction is a wonderful window into how humans perceive religion in the present.”

Check it out.

 

The Barbarians at the Gate of Sci-Fi

You might not have heard, but the sci-fi community is currently embroiled in a civil war. Then again, you might actually have heard. Things have gotten so bad that the story hit both USA Today and then the Washington Post this week. I want to share the story, and my perspective on it, for two reasons. First: I love sci-fi. But second, and more relevant to a broader audience, the way that political partisanship has torn the sci-fi community apart is pretty good case study of how partisanship damages the fabric of larger communities.

The Literature of Ideas

2014-04-30 Tom Swift Jr

I love science fiction because it is, as Pamela Sargent called it, “the literature of ideas.” For me the animating spirit of sci-fi is the spirit of inquiry. The genre has less to do with with outer trappings of spaceships or robots and more to do with the simple question: “What if?” This has been true since some of the earliest science fiction works, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein’s futuristic technology for reanimating corpses is central to the plot and intrinsically interesting, but it’s there in order to support moral questions about the duty of the creator to the created. That setup, envisioning alternate technology in order to frame questions that couldn’t be examined so clearly without the imaginary technology, is the essence of science fiction. That is the sense in which it is truly the literature of ideas.

I understand that Frankenstein isn’t necessarily the first book that people think of when they think of science fiction and that my definition isn’t universal. But it’s not just my random personal opinion, either. In addition to Sargent, sci-fi legend Ursula K. Le Guin recently told the Smithsonian Magazine (speaking about the impact of science fiction on real-world society), “The future is a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas in, a means of thinking about reality, a method.” That method is exactly what I fell in love with.

The first science fiction that I ever read was 1950’s era series Tom Swift, Jr. Even though it was mostly ghost-written fluff for little kids, it couldn’t help but convey a sense of the importance of ideas. Ideas matter. Ideas change how see the world, and can therefore change what we make of the world. Science fiction isn’t about predicting the future. It is, in a small but real way, about shaping the future.

Politics in Sci-Fi

2014-04-30 John Harris

Of course you can’t get all poetic about the literature of ideas without expecting to find a good deal of politics along for the ride. The Tom Swift, Jr. novels all conveyed a surplus of good ole American patriotism in the best tradition of 1950s Cold War sentiment. Meanwhile, Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is an inquiry into the social role of gender by examining a hermaphroditic alien race while The Dispossessed explores the tension between human nature and left-wing, Utopian political ideals.

Part of what I love about the genre is that it explicitly talks about all that stuff that you’re not supposed to bring up in polite company: politics, religion, and morality. Sci-fi has always been full of wildly divergent ideas for better and for worse. Mostly for better, in my experience. When writers care more about their craft–about engaging the audience and telling a good story–this usually forces them to be at least a little nuanced and careful in their politics. Most of us don’t like preachy characters or message fiction, even when we might largely agree with them. That’s why I’ve always viewed Heinlein’s writings with a mixture of admiration and tolerant patience, sort of like a crazy uncle who can be forgiven his occasional political ranting because he otherwise tells a good story. A lot of my favorite authors (Le Guin, but also C. J. Cherryh and Lois McMaster Bujold) are folks who, I’m pretty sure, have politics that are far, far away from mine. I love their stuff anyway. And for writers who are closer to my world view, like Larry Correia, there’s no guarantee that I will like what they write just because I agree with some of their political views.

I have no idea how right-wing and left-wing authors got along in decades past, but as far as I can tell they managed just fine. I’m basing this on the fact that some of the old guard have reacted with annoyance and disdain to the politicizing of the current crop of sci-fi authors, but we’ll get back to that in a bit. Meanwhile, the audience had no trouble picking and choosing from a variety of authors. If you wanted to find authors who agreed with your politics, you probably could. Traditional, conservative folks like me might have to work a little harder to find a common voice, but they were out there. And, most importantly, you probably had no real strong desire for political conformity. The audience was perfectly happy to go along with a wide-range of political, religious, and ethical viewpoints. It was part of the experience, and usually a beneficial one all around.

The Political Polarization of Sci-Fi

2014-05-01 Stranger-in-a-Strange-Land

In recent years, this happy little equilibrium has collapsed. It’s impossible for me to know if the reason is technological or political, but it’s probably both. The technological changes include social media and self-publishing. Social media makes it easier for sci-fi authors to interact directly with their fans and also to interact with each other in impersonal and public ways. Self-publishing forces more and more authors to do just that. It’s called platform building, and the idea is that authors have an obligation to get out there and build a brand name. This is especially true for self-published authors, but even traditionally published authors feel the pressure to get out there and be as visible as possible to boost their sales.

It is absolutely not a coincidence that two of the central figures in the current civil war–John Scalzi and Larry Correia–are both relative newcomers to the genre and both at the forefront of those respective technologies. For his part, John Scalzi runs the incredibly popular blog The Whatever, which he’s maintained since 1998 (before “blogging” was even a thing). The most prominent recurring feature on The Whatever is a segment called “The Big Idea” in which Scalzi turns over the mic to authors with a book coming out to discuss and promote their work. Scalzi’s blog promotes his own stuff, too, of course. He mentions his Hugo-eligible books and stories whenever nomination time comes around and announces new projects, too, but he also uses his platform to help out others. It is a very big platform by now. Scalzi also self-published his first sci-fi novel, Old Man’s War before it was bought by Tor. Scalzi is an outspoken liberal who penned the incredibly famous article about white-male privilege: Straight White Male: The Easiest Difficulty Setting There Is.

On the other side we’ve got Larry Correia. Whereas Scalzi has been a professional writer throughout his entire career (he did film reviews, non-fiction, and corporate writing before he broke into sci-fi in 2005), Correia is an even more recent entrant to the field of professional writing. His breakout hit, Monster Hunter International, was self-published in 2007 before it was picked up by Baen and republished in 2009. He currently has 9 sci-fi books in print (which is about the same as Scalzi, I think) and runs his own blog incredibly popular blog called Monster Hunter Nation. Where Scalzi is an outspoken liberal, Correia is a Mormon and proud gun-nut with generally conservative views.

Both of these gentleman have a lot of readers and fans, both of their books and also of their blogs. As you can imagine, this is a recipe for trouble. In the old days, neither Correia nor Scalzi would have been so well known for their political views because for the most part the sci-fi audience had to guess at politics from what the fiction that author published. If they even thought about it at all. Which, unless the book appeared to take an overt stance, they probably didn’t. Now there is more awareness but, unfortunately, there are also sides. The blogs are not just a source of information, but also a virtual space for like-minded fans to congregate. It’s no surprise that Scalzi’s blog is stuffed to the gills with commenters who generally agree with his views and applaud his willingness to write about them publicly, and the same goes for Correia, although perhaps less-so since Correia takes a more hands-off approach to comment moderation. It’s hard to imagine that this homogeneity doesn’t radicalize the views of Scalzi and Correia at least a little bit simply because human nature is what it is, and it definitely radicalizes the communities themselves. When contrarians come around to pick a fight,they are seen not just as someone who disagrees, but as representative of the other tribe. And then, last but not least, there’s the fact that these politicized leaders of politicized tribes can shout at each other in public. Thanks to social media, authors not only interact with their fans more (and in public) but also with each other more (and in public).

None of this is anybody’s fault, really. There are no villains thus far. It’s just the way things are. Technology has consequences for society, and one of the consequences of social media in all its many forms is to make it easier for people to sort themselves into like-minded groups, whether that’s their intent or not. This is why the civil war in sci-fi is perhaps just a smaller example of the larger trends taking place across our society as a whole.

Of course, it’s also possible that Scalzi, Correia, or both are just more politicized than the Old Guard. (I’ve noticed, for example, that a much more experienced writer like C. J. Cherryh definitely has her opinions, but has so far kept completely out of internecine combat, even when it touches on issues that she personally cares about.) I’m not as interested in the theory that newer writers are just more political for two reasons. First: I just don’t think there’s any way to judge. Second: even if they are, you might still wonder if there’s some reason for that fact. In other words: it might still come back to a consequence of coming into your own as a professional writer in an era of social networking and platform building. In any case, I’m sticking with a technology-based explanation of political radicalization in the sci-fi community for this post.

What Hath Partisanship Wrought?

2014-05-01 Fahrenheit 451

So what is actually going on? Well, if you ask the liberals, they are just trying to make the sci-fi community safe for minorities by chasing out hatemongers and bigots. If you ask the conservatives, they are trying to keep the sci-fi community safe for free-thinkers by resisting political correctness. The sad irony is that a central strategy of the conservatives is to say intentionally provocative things (you can’t keep a right if you don’t exercise it) and a chief strategy of the liberals is to interpret whatever conservatives say in the worst possible light (to validate their claim that the racists, sexists, etc. have got to go). It looks almost as though the two sides just decided to have the biggest, nastiest, most convoluted fight they could possible have, and came up with the perfect strategy to escalate and perpetuate it. Call it cooperation or call it co-dependency; it’s ugly by any name. The saddest part? Both sides contain a mix of decent people who really think they are trying to do the right thing, people who seem to have some serious issues unrelated to politics, and plain old trolls. Good luck sorting that out.

In practical terms, there’s an ongoing feud at the SFWA (that’s the professional organization for sci-fi writers, artists, and editors) that culminated in a particularly controversial conservative named Theodore Beale (who writes under Vox Day) being formally ejected from the organization. You can read a self-declared liberal-slanted recap of that mess here. Lest that make you think that the conservatives were being unreasonable, the liberals worked hard to show they could be just as insane when they went bananas over the announcement that Jonathan Ross was going to host the 2014 Hugo awards. Jonathan Ross, a British comedian who is married to Hugo-winner Jane Goldman, had no idea that he was walking into a minefield because (like most of humanity) he didn’t know about the ongoing SFWA feuds. So when a couple of liberals protested (based on no evidence at all that I can see) that he would make fat-jokes and this would make the ceremony hostile for overweight people, he didn’t handle their concerns with kid gloves. The spat blew up on Twitter with sci-fi author Seanan McGuire getting into a fight with Ross’s daughter who tried to defend her dad by saying: “I’m Jonathan’s overweight daughter and I assure you that there are few men more kind & sensitive towards women’s body issues.” Yeah, it was that ugly. Understandably, Ross said “the Hell with this” and backed out. Liberals, as a general rule, celebrated their victory although there were exceptions. Neil Gaiman, for example, said that he was:

seriously disappointed in the people, some of whom I know and respect, who stirred other people up to send invective, obscenities and hatred Jonathan’s way over Twitter (and the moment you put someone’s @name into a tweet, you are sending it to that person), much of it the kind of stuff that they seemed to be worried that he might possibly say at the Hugos, unaware of the ironies involved.

But things really blew up when the Hugo nominations were announced on April 19. It didn’t take long for folks to notice that there were a lot of unexpected names on the list, and that those names corresponded to a slate of nominations from conservative-leaning authors Larry Correia had promoted on his own site starting back on March 25. Worst of all? The list included a novellete by none other than Vox Day / Theodore Beale. Scalzi responded immediately, although in stark contrast to his polemics during the controversy so far he took a moderate, calming approach, headlining his piece: No, The Hugo Nominations Were Not Rigged. Other than throwing a bone to his political allies, dog-whistle style, Scalzi has essentially gone radio dark on politics since then. My theory is that Scalzi is smart enough to realize that the fight is now getting to a point where it’s going to start threatening the genre as a whole. Or, he might just be biding time to unleash after the Hugos, which is what others have explicitly stated that they are doing. Meanwhile others, like Tor author John C. Wright (who is friends with Correia and other conservatives) isn’t waiting. He publicly resigned from SFWA in an open letter.

So now the sci-fi community has officially lost its mind. What bothers me the most, however, is to see that even the publishers are starting to get involved. John Scalzi’s editor and friend Patrick Nielsen Hayden has been a loud voice criticizing the conservative side (you have to go into the comments to find it, try #501 or #502). He is also senior editor at Tor, which recently published a controversial article arguing that sci-fi writers should stop using binary gender in their books. Tor is also where Scalzi publishes. Meanwhile Baen, where Correia lives, is cultivating it’s reputation as the place where conservatives can flee oppressive liberal Manhattan editors. This sentiment is reflected by Baen author Brad Torgersen along with Larry Correia himself. Meanwhile Baen editor Toni Weisskopf (guest-posting at Baen author and conservative Sarah Hoyt’s website) gives the impression that Baen as a corporate entity is at least marginally OK with their status as political refuge.

Let’s recap: back in the day authors put their politics in the books. Fans, editors, and publishing houses, as far as I can tell, didn’t have any stark partisan divides. Today, authors put their politics out there in blog posts and tweets, which become rallying cries for groups of like-minded fans. Then the fans and the authors get into fights with each other over politics. And, because the community is so small, these fights get personal and nasty very quickly.

Where Does It End?

2014-05-01 Bradbury Cover

I don’t want politics out of sci-fi books, but I do wish we could get politics out of the sci-fi publishing world. I’m not really sure if we can just roll the clock back to where things were before. I suspect not, and that makes me sad. On the other hand, this is one of those situations where markets and profit-seeking tend to make people behave more decently rather than less. I suspect money, consciously or unconsciously, has a lot to do with Scalzi’s sudden moderation. And that it had to do with Wright quitting the SFWA but not Tor. Baen publishes Lois McMaster Bujold (who I suspect is not conservative) and Tor publishes David Weber (who most definitely is), and these refugees give hope that we can stop things from sliding into full-on, open warfare with the publishers as intentional ideological mouthpieces.

My perspective is one of both fan and hopeful author. I hope that when I’m ready to start submitting my stories, probably in a couple of years, sci-fi will still boast the free-wheeling intellectual, religious, and political diversity that I’ve always loved. Look, I know that as a conservative I will always be viewed with faint suspicion and find myself the odd-man-out, but part of being a conservative is being willing to deal with bad luck (like finding yourself in a minority position) without complaining. I’m willing to accommodate myself to that reality. All I want is a chance to participate in one, big, giant conversation. I don’t want it to be my turn to try writing and find that instead of this chaotic tapestry of audience and texts I’ve got a regimented set of ideologically homogeneous boxes, and that I’ve got to pick just one.

Sci fi, as the literature of ideas, cannot survive under those conditions.

Disclaimer (added as an update)

I mentioned a lot of individuals by name in this post. I do not know any of them personally, nor do I have any inside information. When it comes to my guesses as to the motivations of named individuals, I’ve tried to be generous and conservative (not in the political sense) but I might still get it wrong. In any case: talking about people individually is not the point. It’s just there to provide the story, as best I understand it. The overall trend of political polarization is unmistakable and is based, as I suggest, primarily on general technological trends rather than the actions of any particular author or editor. I really do think there are good and decent people on both sides of the political divide here. And I really think there are people who have behaved very poorly, but I have not focused on that in this post.

 

Game of Thrones, The Matrix, and Constructed Realities

I want to write a post about that controversial rape scene from last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, about why I don’t watch Game of Thrones, and about the ethics of creating and consuming entertainment and art, but first I need to explain the structure of reality.

Naïve Realism

Realism is the idea that the external world is objectively there, whether we observe it or not. There are lots of different kinds of realism, but the default view (especially among folks who don’t go out of their way to study this) is naïve realism. That’s the idea that the world is out there and that we perceive it directly (and more or less reliably) through our senses. According to this view, objective reality exists, and we all live in it.

Subjectivism

The alternative to realism is idealism. These days, and throughout much of history, idealism has been a minority view but an important one. Descartes kicked off modern Western philosophy with his Meditations, the most famous line of which is cogito ergo sum, or “I think, therefore I am.” That’s a fundamentally idealist perspective, because it starts with the mind first, independent of any observation about the external, physical world.

The best way to think about the relationship between idealism and realism is this. According to realism we can all be sure of the fact that we have brains, but the question of whether or not we have minds is an open one. According to idealism, we can all be sure of the fact that we have minds, but the question of whether or not we have brains is an open one.

Subjectivism is a particularly extreme form of idealism that, as far as I can tell, is the most popular alternative to naïve realism among non-philosophers. Subjectivism is the idea that all truth depends on our perception. In that view, there is no objective reality. We all live in our own little subjective realities where things are true for us that might not be true for anyone else.

Problems with Naïve Realism and Subjectivism

The simplest argument for realism is stubbing your toe. No matter how much you didn’t perceive that the doorframe was going to hit your foot right there, it did. And then it hurts. Clearly objective, physical reality doesn’t really wait around for you to perceive it before it imposes consequences on your perception.

So there is strong argument for objectivity, but naïve realism is more than just objectivity. It also asserts that we directly perceive the world around us through our senses.

The counterexample to that is the existence of optical illusions. It’s not the simple fact that our senses can be mistaken that causes the problem for naïve realism, however, it’s the way that optical illusions hijack the unconscious processes that we use to construct an internal reality from raw sense data. This proves that there isn’t a simple, direct correspondence between what’s out there, what we perceive as sense data, and what we then perceive as being out there.

Grey Square Illusion
Believe it or not, the squares labeled A and B are the exact same shade of gray.

The situation is worse when it comes to subjectivism because the concept is obviously incoherent. For a full treatment, I recommend Thomas Nagel’s The Last Word, but here’s one quick example of why subjectivism makes no sense. Subjectivism says that no claims about reality can be objectively true or false, but subjectivism itself is an objective claim about reality. That doesn’t prove it’s false. It just proves that it’s incoherent. No sane person can rationally believe subjectivism.

So why is it popular? Well some things (like taste) really are subjective. More importantly, however, subjectivism is what some people run to because it seems like the only alternative that captures the idea that perspective really matters. You and I may look at the same situation and come to different conclusions, and we might both be right. This doesn’t actually require subjectivism (you can have different viewpoints and conditional / provisional truth claims within an objective framework), but it’s close enough to confuse lots of folks.

Enactivism

Every now and then I come up with some theory or other, and I tinker with it more and more over the months and years and when I know that it’s a really good, solid theory that’s when I can be confident that it already exists on Wikipedia. Enactivism is one of those concepts. From the entry:

Enactivism argues that cognition depends on a dynamic interaction between the cognitive agent and its environment: “Organisms do not passively receive information from their environments, which they then translate into internal representations. Natural cognitive systems…participate in the generation of meaning …engaging in transformational and not merely informational interactions: they enact a world.”

In this sense, enactivism is a fusion of naïve realism and subjectivism. It starts with the idea that objective reality is really out there. But we don’t perceive it directly. Instead, we take the sense data that is there as raw material, and we use that raw material to build our own private, internal models of the world. Because we’re all starting with the same objective reality, our individual constructed realities have lots of points of contact. This is one reason why communication is possible: because we’re often talking about the same basic reality.

Reality Comparisons

Welcome to Your Matrix

Part of our constructed reality is a model of objective reality. Here, I’m thinking about everything relating to physics. We use our senses to identify objects, how far away they are, how big they are, what direction they’re moving in, etc. Part of our constructed reality appears to consist of patterns of organization that just are. Like math. 2+2 =4 for everyone, even though the number two is not a physical thing. In this sense our constructed realities are less than objective reality, which is the real thing. We only see some of what is out there, we sometimes misidentify what we do see, and we imperfectly apply rules of logic and math.

But part of our constructed reality is more than objective reality. The most essential concept here is narrative. Objective reality is just stuff that happens. There isn’t, outside of the rules of physics, a why. There isn’t meaning or purpose. That stuff exists in our constructed reality. Now, maybe it also exists in objective reality (because God says so, or for some other reason), but we can’t really be sure of that.

Shared Reality

There’s one last twist that I’ll put on enactivism before I get back to Game of Thrones (no, I hadn’t forgotten). That’s the idea of shared constructed realities.

Reality Comparisons - Individual vs Social

Because we’re constantly interacting with each other, our individual realities are permeable. We have our own narratives, in which we are always the hero of our own story, but we share these narratives with other folks who agree or disagree with them. In addition, when we create things we are always cooperating in the creation of a shared, constructed reality. This is true even for individuals who do their creative work alone. Think about J. K. Rowling, writing her stories before anybody else had read them. At that point, they were strictly within her own reality. But once the world read them, then we became participants with J. K. Rowling in creating this shared reality.

Did the deaths of Sirius, or of Dumbledore, or of Dobby affect you? They affected me. Dobby’s, in particular, brought me to tears. That doesn’t mean that I was confused and thought that Dobby was out there in objective reality or that magic was real, but it does mean that there was as a sense in which at a deep, subconscious level, J. K. Rowling’s creation had become real to me.

For me it’s an open question if some narratives are objectively true. It may be possible that the shared, constructed reality is just our attempt to recreate objective reality, and that we can be right or wrong about narratives in the same way that we can be right or wrong about guessing size or distance or speed. But, practically speaking, there is a difference between objective reality (which can be quantified and objectively evaluated) and our shared, constructed realities (which cannot).

The Ethics of Sub-Creation

According to what I’ve read about J. R. R. Tolkien, he referred to world-building as “sub-creation.”

‘Sub-creation’ was also used by J.R.R. Tolkien to refer the to process of world-building and creating myths. In this context, a human author is a ‘little maker’ creating his own world as a sub-set within God’s primary creation. Like the beings of Middle-earth, Tolkien saw his works as mere emulation of the true creation performed by God.(Tolkien Gateway)

This is an extremely powerful for me, because I’ve always believed in a kind of grand universal theory of everything (only for metaphysics, rather than physics) that would somehow unify the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. On a more practical level, it provides a window into the ethics of sub-creation, which is the ethics of artistic creativity.

I know I’m going to lose a ton of people who bridle at the idea of imposing laws or commands on artistic expression (on the one hand) and who are horrified by the history of attempts to subvert artistic expression to propaganda for someone’s idea of right and wrong (on the other). These are serious concerns, but I do not think they apply to what I have in mind.

First, when it comes to rules and laws, I think we can all appreciate that a greater understanding of physical laws allows us to be more creative rather than less. This applies not only to what our engineers can build, but also to what our scientists and philosophers can imagine. I am not by any means suggesting that I could come up with the “right” rules for how to do art, or some objective metric for deciding what piece of art has more merit than another. It is not only foolish but vulgar to attempt to rank the Beauty of Mozart’s Requiem vs. that of Allegri’s Miserere, in my mind. But it isn’t vulgar or futile to wonder if there aren’t common principles—like symmetry and transcendence and struggle—which might animate both and help make each great.

Second, the grand unifying theory of everything is outside our grasp so, if we are appropriately humble, the danger of propagandizing is low. Propaganda is for people who already know what they want others to think, but someone who is searching for truth out there has no such agenda to sate and no pretext of certainty with which to sate it.

What I have in mind, by contrast, is a kind of unification of three activities that people might not ordinarily see as connected: faith, artistic creation, and artistic consumption.

Let me start out by illustrating that, because we have a wide range of freedom in constructing our realities, there is room for this to be a meaningfully moral activity. We cannot choose facts, obviously, but we still have great freedom. We can choose to look for light or to wallow in darkness. We can choose to find meaning or we can choose to see none.  We can choose to be motivated towards a thing by love, or repelled away from something else by fear. What we desire is reflected in the world we create to live in, not in the banal sense of wish-fulfillment, but in a deep reflection of our truest desires.

Now let me make one simple comment: if our constructed reality determines our course of action, then it is in the truest and most accurate sense of the world what we believe. After all, beliefs are not about what we think is true, or even what we think we think is true (it’s possible to get that wrong), but rather about the things that must be true based on our actions. Therefore, another expression for constructing our reality is simply “having faith”. This need not be faith in a religious sense, secular humanists have ideals in which they have faith as firm and unwavering as any of the devout followers of religion, but it is absolutely faith.

Let me go farther and say that creating art is essentially the same thing as creating our own reality. There is a kind of symmetry between sub-creation as the creation of art and sub-creation as the creation of meaning in our day-to-day lives. I don’t think there is such a vast difference between Tolkien’s work creating Elven dialects vs. a parent’s work in feeding their child. To me: creation of meaning is creation of meaning. Faith, therefore, is not only about the construction of our beliefs, but also about the construction of art.

Lastly, let me bring back the concept of shared, constructed reality like the world of Harry Potter. When we read a book, watch a movie, listen to a poem, or hear a song we are not passively receiving information (like the failed theory of naïve realism), but are actively participating with the creator in constructing a shared reality. The audience, the performers, and the authors are all playing different parts, but in the very same activity.

In the end: The rules for what we should believe are related to the rules for what art we should create which are related to the rules for what art we should choose to participate in as the audience. And they amount, I think, to simply this: always strive for something truer, better, and more beautiful.

Living in a Nightmare

Which brings me back to Game of Thrones. The first pebble that started the avalanche that has become this article was a post from The Vulture called Seitz on Game of Thrones Season 4: TV’s Most Exhilarating Nightmare. The piece begins:

Game of Thrones is not the deepest, most subtle, or most innovative drama on TV. It is an example of what used to be called “meat-and-potatoes” storytelling: an R-rated yet classically styled epic. It’s mainly concerned with riveting the viewer from moment to moment, often through sex, violence, or intrigue, while keeping a vast fictional world, a complex plot, and a preposterously overpopulated cast straight in the viewer’s mind.

Does this sound like the kind of constructed reality in which you would like to exist? Not me. It’s not even the sex or violence per se that are the problem, but the fact that they are used as short-term goads to keep us interested. To the extent that these goads are linked directly into our “reptilian brains” (see next quote) they are essentially nihilistic. The next paragraph goes on:

Along with Hannibal, this is the most joyous, at times exhilarating nightmare on TV. Considering how unrelentingly bleak this world is — a State of Nature in which most characters are ruled by their reptilian brains, and those who show kindness or mercy tend to suffer for it — there’s no reason why it should be anything but off-putting.

But of course, there is a reason why it’s not off-putting: spectacle. Which brings me to a more recent piece on Game of Thrones called Rape of Thrones. The article ponders why it is that the HBO show has felt the need to deviate from the text of the books in the particular way that it does. Obviously it has to make changes (for length if nothing else), but why has the show chosen not once but twice to render a consensual sexual encounter (in the books) into rape (in the show)?

It seems more likely that Game Of Thrones is falling into the same trap that so much television does—exploitation for shock value. And, in particular, the exploitation of women’s bodies. This is a show that inspired the term “sexposition,” and a show that may have created a character who is a prostitute so as to set as many scenes as possible in brothels.

So you have to ask yourself, what kind of a person voluntarily inhabits a world where women are being degraded purely to sate his animal interest? Who willingly goes along with that? Who wants to help create that world?

That’s not the only problem, however, and Game of Thrones is not my only target. I was also struck by an article(again, from Vulture) called Why Captain America Is Only Interesting If He’s a Prick. The article just elaborates on the headline: Captain America is devoid of artistic merit when he’s a good guy.

In 2014, of what artistic good is a flawlessly nice soldier? Can’t we get at least a little rough and dirty with this 75-year-old warhorse?

On one level, this (and the popularity of anti-heroes in general) is just a furtherance of “a silly idea” C. S. Lewis had already noted in his lifetime:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

So I just don’t buy this argument that only if we have characters who revel in immoral behavior can we have a meaningful conversation about morality.

This topic is more than I can handle conclusively in a single post, but here’s where I’d like to wrap things up for now.

Moral art does not have to be saccharine, optimistic, or “nice” any more than the actual creation made by God Himself is saccharine, optimistic, or “nice”. The two greatest arguments against God, in my mind, are the Problem of Evil and the hidden god. Why, if God is so good, is there so much suffering? And why, if God wants us to know Him, does he not make Himself obviously present? If the greatest creation of all can cause such incredible pain and confusion, then obviously we have absolutely no reason to suspect that our sub-creations ought to be relentlessly, oppressively cheerful.

Bearing that in mind, however, art is creation, and it is therefore morally significant in ways that are complex and open to interpretation and exploration. My point is not so much “no one should watch Game of Thrones“ as it is that we should all realize that what we watch literally contributes to the creation of the world we inhabit. That’s a big deal. It’s something to think about seriously.

I don’t think that the answer is to try and wall ourselves off from anything that challenges us or makes us sad, but I do think that we ought to avoid deliberate exploitation of sex and violence to hook viewers (because it is nihilistic) and also that we ought to seek out art that reaffirms the validity of moral striving. This will mean different things to different people. I’m not suggesting any kind of top-down censorship. I’m talking about bottom-up self-control in what we choose to participate in.

I don’t know all the answers. I just think, based on my theories of constructed reality, that the problem is more important than most folks realize. I believe there is deep significance to what we choose to consume as mere entertainment, and that it is worth thinking about.

Understanding the Missing Empathy of Ender’s Author

2013-11-12 Formic Tower

Ender’s Game is, more than any thing else, a book about empathy. From the very first line of the book (“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears…”) and on to the end the theme of empathy dominates everything the characters do and think about. It is the key to all of young Ender’s victories and the source of his greatest strength. It is the source of his deepest pain.

2013-11-12 JazayerliWhy, then, is the author of Ender’s Game an unrepentant homophobe and conspiracy theorist best described alternatively as either “intolerant” or “kooky”? That is the question Rany Jazayerli asks in his moving and thoughtful piece for Grantland. Jazayerli is clearly a sympathetic reader (sympathetic of Card, I mean). As a devout Muslim he shares Card’s Mormon view that homosexual sex is a sin. He is not only a fan of science fiction in general and Card’s works in particular, he writes movingly of how Card’s sympathetic depiction of a Muslim character in Ender’s Game (written in the 1980s) profoundly touched Jazayerli. He says:

Others may hate him, but I’m still struggling to understand him. That’s the least I owe him for gifting me with an ethical compass when I needed one.

I’d like to help Jazayerli understand Card.

Read moreUnderstanding the Missing Empathy of Ender’s Author

What Orson Scott Card Actually Thinks

I’ve enjoyed reading Mahonri’s pieces on Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, and homosexuality. I’ve actually been hard at work for the past few months working on an article about Ender’s Game to coincide with the release of the movie. Although my article doesn’t address the topic of homosexuality itself (it’s a more general look at how Mormon themes are exhibited in Ender’s Game), I’ve recently re-read several of of Card’s works. I’ve also observed for years that he, like Robert Heinlein, has gradually been adding more and more overt politics to his works as he gets older. On the one hand it’s easy to mock the tendency of older, successful men rambling on about their pet politics, but on the other hand I think the world generally needs more straight talk and not less. And, as I pointed out with Heinlein, this is sort of a tradition for the sci fi genre.

In any case, the first comment on Mahonri’s most recent post finally provoked a response from me on the topic of Card and homosexuality. I started to write it out in the comment section, but when I realized I was closing in on 500 words and still not finished, I decided to just write an independent post. Here’s the part about Danny’s comment that I’m responding to:

Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’rielly etc., all started off as main stream conservatives, as soon as they allowed their hate/prejudism to take control of their programs their Rhetoric has become a hateful propaganda that only hurts political dialogue in the US! Sadly, OSC has allowed his prejudism of “gays” to effect his beliefs on racism and sexism. OSC has put himself on the same path as the previously mentioned conservative talk show hosts.

2013-09-02 Janis IanThis analysis is deeply flawed in OSC’s case in particular, and I suspect that it’s deeply flawed in relation to Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly as well. But let’s start with OSC. Although he was a friend of my grandfather’s, I’ve only exchanged a single email with him and we didn’t talk about any of these issues. Instead, I’m relying on the testimony of American songwriter, singer, musician, columnist and science fiction author Janis Ian who A – does know OSC personally and B – is openly a lesbian and has been since 1993. Here is what she has to say about OSC in her own words and on her own website. Here’s a selection: 

Read moreWhat Orson Scott Card Actually Thinks

Malice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part One

“But mostly he got to power on words, the right words at the right time.”
Ender’s Game

With the upcoming release of the Ender’s Game film, adapted from Orson Scott Card’s novel (which is rightly considered a sci-fi classic), a flurry of controversy is building up around the release, especially since Geeks OUT called for a boycott of the film due to Orson Scott’s Card vocal views on homosexuality and gay marriage (some of Card’s views on the subjects can be found a little more rationally in his early work here, and a lot less rationally in his later work here). This is not the first time this issue has come back to haunt Card recently, as DC Comics had to temporarily shelve a Superman story Card had written for them due to some backlash the company had received about Card’s views (even to the point of the artist leaving the project). And, frankly, I can totally understand why the gay community wants to color Card as a boogeyman when he issues incendiary, inflaming, alienating statements like this:

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die (Deseret News, July 24, 2008).

Now, whoa there, pardner! This style of “vive la revolution” diatribe is seriously extreme, no matter one’s belief system or worldview. And it’s also pretty impractical. This sort of rhetoric did much more to paint Card as a fanatic, than it did to rally the troops around Captain Moroni’s flag (I don’t actually think Card’s crazy, he’s actually really brilliant, but this particular article certainly made him LOOK crazy).

Card can hardly play the victim, nor be particularly surprised that the gay community has organized so thoroughly against him, when he says that he would prefer to see the government destroyed than let gay marriage stand in America. Statements like that are like holding a lightning rod in a thunderstorm. Card put too many of his RISK armies on one part of the board, and the opposition took advantage of his tactical error.

“I will remember this, when I am defeated. To keep dignity, to give honor where it is due, so that defeat is not a disgrace. And I hope I don’t have to do it often.”
Ender’s Game

“Since when do you have to tell the enemy he has won?”
Ender’s Game

Yet such brash words were obviously spoken in the heat of the moment since Card has now given up the fight, stepping down from his position on National Organization for Marriage, and has called the gay marriage debate “moot” (technically not correct, since there are still 37 states who still outlaw gay marriage, but I do think Card is prescient to see the writing on the wall). No revolution, no overthrowing the government, no going down with the ship… Card has presented the “enemy” with his sword and conceded defeat with this statement, “With the recent supreme court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The full faith and credit clause of the constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.”

Read moreMalice Towards None: Orson Scott Card, Gay Marriage, and the “Ender’s Game” Film Controversy, Part One

My John Scalzi Envy Deepens…

Art from Morning Star Alpha, which John Scalzi is writing.
Art from Morning Star Alpha, which John Scalzi is writing.

I’ve been following sci-fi author John Scalzi since his first novel (Old Man’s War) debuted back in 2005. He got a lot of favorable and well-earned comparisons to Heinlein (not to mention a Hugo nomination) for that book , which does a lot of things that I like: 

Read moreMy John Scalzi Envy Deepens…