Saturday, November 30, 2013

PC Bookshelf?

     Kind of at a loss for topics -- I could link to Penn and Teller's replaying of Luis Walter Alvarez's experiment showing you don't need a second gunman, but history's history and no matter what you think happened, it's long over. (Thanks to Whipped Cream Difficulties for the first link.)

     Nope, I'm here to talk about Political Correctness. --Now you may cheer, thinking I'm about to rip speech codes and the kind of ninnies who get Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn thrown out of school libraries, and I suppose I am, too.

     But what about you?  I've had readers tell me none o' that John Scalzi SF has ever sullied their eyes, no ma'am, 'cos he is, you see, a Democrat and a lib'ral.  There are folks passing up the amazing, pellucid prose of Kim Stanley Robinson on account he is Green-ish and has socialist leanings -- and never you mind that his work expresses some familiar concerns about individual rights vs. the collective or that he hammered out an entire novel about an underground, quirky revolution that seizes an entire continent.  Across the aisle, nitwits are yet sweatin' over how to go see Ender's Game at the movie house without losin' their lefty street cred over supporting a man with such awful, horrible opinions on who otta be allowed to commit wedlock on whom -- and never mind that by the time the movie hits the screen, the guy who wrote the book the thing is based on has already seen about as much as he's ever gonna: Hollywood knows how to keep their money in town. There are folks who rail against Ursula K. LeGuin's fiction on account of her politics, both real-world and in print.  And so on and so forth, all across the spectrum of political thought and personal philosophy.  Is Robert A. Heinlein a staunch supporter of women's rights and/or* a dirty old man?  Depends on who you ask!

     Me, I kinda admire a writer who builds her own utopia and then pokes it full of holes (The Dispossessed) and while I think a world of Odonians would drive people insane at a far higher rate than she imagined, I'm glad someone ran the thought-experiment, especially in such an entertaining way.  Would LeGuin and I agree on who to vote for, even for dogcatcher?  Probably not.  Do I read her work?  Darned right I do.

     See, over here, we have the writer, who may be a kind of mean guy with Red sympathies -- and over there, his work, which includes such libertarian classics as And Then There Were None.  Yes, that's Eric Frank Russell, and yes, I have a shelf-full of his work.

     Sure, an author's beliefs and personality influences what they write -- but the stuff's got to sell, too.  Despite what those deconstructive critics are tryin' to tell ya, the work is not the person.  It's just a glimpse through a bent kaliedoscope at some part of who they are and what they know.  Charles Stross and H. P. Lovecraft would very likely have found themselves at odds on most issues from gay rights to the British Crown -- and yet Stross's yarns about the occult-intelligence agency "The Laundry" are just a Concorde flight (or step through an intradimensonal transatlantic portal) from Lovecraft's Innsmouth and Miskatonic University.

     Read (or don't read) authors because of what they write, and let the politics go hang.  It's not gonna pollute your head and you're not "sending a message" by not reading a talented author just 'cos you and them didn't vote for the same prospective oppressor.

     Increasingly, we live in an over-polarized world; we might as well be Blue vs. Green (vs. White vs. Red) rioters in Imperial Constantinople.  Depolarize.  Read what you like -- and read to find out what else you'd like to read more of.
* Because I forget that to most people "or" is what I mean by XOR, while in my head, "or" is OR, with a truth table that runs: A=0, B=0, Output=0; A=1, B=0, O=1; A=0, B=1, O=1; A=1, B=1, O=1.  For XOR, that last  set, A=1, B=1 has an Output = 0 and all the others are the same as before -- which is how you end up with "one or the other but not both," the causal meaning of spoken alternatives, "either A or B," an eXclusive OR.  What is it with you people?  Mr. Boole?  Mr. Boole?


greg said...

As far as Robert Heinlein, couldn't he be BOTH a supporter of women's rights AND a dirty old man?

My 11-year old daughter is a voracious reader already. We also still read to her at bed time, and a few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to move her up to the big time, and take Podkayne of Mars off the shelf for her. It took a chapter or 3, but she is getting into it.

It's certainly different looking at it with my young daughter than when I read it in my 20-30's. Strange what used to be considered appropriate for 'juveniles'. Nothing too extreme, but it is the type of book which will cause her challenge her thinking...and mine. There have been a few times already when I have had to try to explain one of Mr. Heinlein's more...mature suggestions.

Dwight Brown said...

Holy cow.

Thank you, Ms. X, for the link.

Roberta X said...

Yes, Greg, he could. He probably was.

Roberta X said...

Dwight: "Holy cow?" Wow!

Eric Wilner said...

KSR lost me somewhere in the middle of, IIRC, Blue Mars, with internal inconsistencies and implausibilities in the story line; I don't recall politics having anything to do with it.
Some of the more arrogantly political authors (e.g., Clarke) manage to screw up their writing by discomprehending the motivations of those of whom they disapprove (and with whom they have no contact)... leading to reactions on my part ranging from "Wait, that's not a plausible motive" to "Hang on, I know members of Group X, and none of them think like that" to "Aw, c'mon, I'm a member of Group X, and I sure as heck don't think like that!"

Dwight Brown said...

Ms. X:

That was an expression of surprise. I'm always surprised when I find out someone's actually reading the stuff I write.

Doubly so when it turns out to be someone vastly smarter than I am, such as yourself.

Roberta X said...

Ah, but that's an example of writing becoming implausible due, in whole or part, the politics, which is not the same as not reading the guy to begin with *because* of his politics.

KSR turned out at least one work that annoyed me for writerly reasons (A Short, Sharp Shock) and like you, I drifted away from the Mars books before they were done; Clarke largely lost me well before A Rendevous With Rama; OTOH, I still read and enjoy Pohl and we are, ahem, poles apart.

The Jack said...

I really liked the KSM's Mars Trilogy.

It was nice that the politics were actually applied to the situation on Mars itself. (Various Red (anti-terraform versus Green pro terraform) (Instead of being US contemporary politics with the labels filed off).

Now what annoyed me was the companion piece The Martians.

Sure there was an ode to gun control about how the new Martian constitution banned guns and everyone all loved it (Mind this was after their 3rd revolution, but even the radical and violent factions supported the idea and pinky swore they'd get rid of their guns).

That really didn't get me because it was too ridiculous to take seriously.

What got me was the whole "Oops Terraforming isn't working and the Mars Goddess is reclaiming her world"

Now given that the act of Terraforming Mars itself was a major point of contention among the characters, this should be a major issue.

But it was brushed off with a shrug and "Well this is how it should be and it'll be good to be more natural."

And ignoring the whole humanitarian crisis of people... not being able to breathe...

That's what got me as changing Mars to make it habitable for humans (for good or ill) was the main thing of the trilogy.

And here comes a short story in a followup book to undo it all.

Maybe KSM's politics intruded (like with the gun control bit) but... my problem is not KSM's motivation, but that KSM's execution was lazy.

I mean a story about a terraformed Mars going back to it's "natural" state? Save now there's millions of humans living on it in the open?

Wow, you could write quite the story off of that.

Drang said...

For me, it comes down to the writing as much or more than the politics of the author, although I will eschew one whose opinions are all too obvious, especially if they've sold their story for a pot of message.

Stossel pissed me off with his "reboot" of Little Fuzzy. I am boycotting him because of that; his politics may or may not be related to what he did to Pappy Jack Holloway, et. al. I did find The Old Man's War interesting, but the series lost interest for me along the way.

Eric Flint's an admitted Trotskyite; I enjoy his writing, although I became bored with the Ring of Fire series when it became a mega-franchise. (Success may not ruin Rock Hunter, but it sure has run some successful franchises into the ground...)

Roberta X said...

You underestimate yourself, Dwight -- and overestimate me.

wolfwalker said...

Most of the authors in my bookshelves, I neither know their politics nor care. Of the few whose politics I do know, they're all over the map. Most of the books I've read and not kept were because they weren't very good. There's only one author who I've cleaned out of my collection because I didn't like him, and that wasn't so much because of his politics (so far left he called Castro a benevolent dictator) as it was because I knew him online and he was such a jerk that I couldn't even look at his name anymore without getting annoyed.

No, I won't tell you his name.

As for Scalzi, I did in fact read Old Man's War and hated it. Stupid, tacky, juvenile, cartoonish. So different from what real combat is like that it did a disservice to real soldiers. It almost seemed like a mocking satire of military SF, like Haldeman's The Forever War, except that I have found nothing that suggests Old Man's War was intended as satire. Oh, and Scalzi isn't as good a writer as Haldeman.

Roberta X said...

See, "Didn't like the Writing," and "Got the details wrong" (objectively or even subjectively) are good (and not PC) reasons to stop reading a writer's work. I've avoided Scalzi's take on Fuzzies due to reviews that gave me to understand he'd done Pappy Jack Holloway dirt. IMO, "Old Man's War" was flawed but readable; later work like the "The Human Division" is a lot better and perhaps makes a bit more sense. YMMV, of course.

drjim said...

And here I thought, from the post title, that it was going to be about computer books!

Oh, well.....

Drang said...

@Wolfwalker: Plus, Scalzi was not a combat engineer attached to an infantry battalion in Viet Nam.

Roberta X said...

As for KSR, one of the problems is that he usually writes so very well that AFAIK, editors and publishers just won't say "no." Thus the occasional utter lemon makes it into print. (I didn't know "The Martians" undid all the Martian terraforming but IMO, it would be an example of the effect.)

--I'm trying to remember the name of the current SF writer whose books I read avidly for some time until he did a character particular dirt, at which point I just gave up on 'im. This is a risk any established writer runs, though odds are only a fraction of the buying public will react that way; and it's a risk a good editor seeks to minimize.

(Quirky reader reaction: I had to give up on Douglas Adams over his gratuitous cruelty to his own characters. It was the whale that really bothered me. That was just too mean. Yes, it's supposed to be funny.)

Stranger said...

Mention of a political system as background for the story is acceptable. Adoring advocacy is not. Especially in fiction, and no less so in the performing arts.

While it is a case of "Everyone to their own taste, 'ez ta gudman sed ez kist ta pig;'" very few people pay big money for concert tickets to hear a political diatribe. Nor do they pay somewhat less than that for a book that consists of little more than advocacy for a cause.

Either way, it is a case of "disrespect your audience, and you will be disrespected." And remaindered.


Anonymous said...

Kipling. Racist, imperialist, and a damn good storyteller.

Some lesser known gems: "The ship who found herself" for the engineers, and "The Maltese cat" for horse lovers. "The Jungle Books" are a must for anyone who only knows the Disney version -- there's far more about honor and duty and death than dancing bears.

LCB said...

I had to quit reading Scalzi's website. Not just because I disagreed with him, but because his arguments for his politics were just...not good.

His books, I like. But once read, I don't feel the need to go back and read them again like I do some other authors, like some of Heinlein's for example.

I enjoyed the Ender's series of books by OSC. But his Homecoming series got so bad that I never finished. And it puts me off from reading his other books. I read that a lot of people are mad at him because of his religous beliefs. I don't agree with them...but at least he has some and is willing to stand up for them. Too many would just recant their beliefs to help their books sell. So I respect him for his stand even as I disagree with it. His stand wouldn't keep me from reading his books. His lack of skill would, however.

I'm curious...has anyone here but me seen Ender's Game? I thought it was good...but it sure faded fast.

Jon said...

I'm with you. I try to ignore an author's politics unless they totally overpower the story he/she is telling. I own thousands of books by people I'd probably never want to hang out with.

Archer said...

"You had me at 'XOR'." ;)

I've read several sci-fi/fantasy authors over the years where I loved their work, and was later disappointed to learn their politics.

It doesn't stop me from loving OR (not XOR) re-reading their works. It's just disappointing that their professional writing can be so endearing while their personal writing is so off-putting.

Roberta X said...

Most people are chowderheads. Including me, from time to time.