The Orson Scott Card Problem
Through the Tollbooth welcomes new crew member, Jim Hill. Enjoy this post, and return for more thoughts on writing from Jim following his graduation from VCFA in January!
The Orson Scott Card Problem is a thing that breaks my heart. I’m sure you know what I mean. A Google search for OSC turns up headline after headline hammering him for his political and social views. For example:
Yikes. His views on homosexuality, gay marriage, and other polarizing issues are well documented. Like many of his long time fans, I have a difficult time connecting the author of Seventh Son and Ender’s Game to these beliefs. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
I read Ender’s Game during a road trip from Massachusetts to California in 1986. I read it twice. The first time I’d ever finished a book and started it again immediately. I was captivated. Brilliant concept, engaging characters, action, world building. And above all, humanity.
Sure the scenes at Battle School are thrilling and dangerous, but the scene that sticks with me the most takes place on Earth. Ender and Valentine floating on a raft and talking around the real issue. It’s a scene dripping with symbolism and theme and cracking good writing.
In anticipation of the movie (the one I’ve been longing after for twenty plus years), I decided to read it again. Only now I’m viewing it with my VCFA eyes. You know the ones that get implanted somewhere around packet four of your first semester and forever change how you read? They’re x-rays specs that can see the levers and gears of craft while reading between the lines. I know you have them too. Admit it.
Not surprising, the book holds up. In fact, my precious VCFA eyes are revealing why the things I loved twenty-five years ago worked. But–and this is a big but–I’ve discovered a new, unwelcome character in the book. The author. Or should I say the author’s public persona.
Get out my book, despicable man!
I have to fight the urge to hear the characters without underlining anything that could be even remotely interpreted as sexist, homophobic or outside of my own social positions.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. There have always been authors with personalities that poison their work, but the internet’s ferocious appetite for outrage has amplified the effect.
I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for enjoying any book. By any author. Heck, we just wrapped up Banned Book Week. Am I allowing social expectations to apply an unspoken ban, just because the author has made himself the tool-of-the-week?
I guess this is me coming out as a proud Orson Scott Card reader. Now there’s a twist I bet he didn’t expect. OSC is one of the reasons I write. His stories take place on an epic scale in inventive settings told through the eyes of fully fleshed out characters. He writes across genres–science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the infinite gray areas in between–with equal skill. His books have made me cringe in fear, gasp in awe, laugh out loud and sob uncontrollably. The man can write.
But can I ever buy another one of his books in good conscience? I don’t think so. Because, as a long time fan, I actually feel a bit betrayed by Card. Maybe I’m naïve, or maybe the author-reader relationship is complex. What do authors owe readers? What loyalty do readers owe authors?
For me, OSC is the guy who literally wrote the book on writing. Two actually. I’ve owned Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy for as long as they’ve been in print. Not counting the Elements of Style, they were my first craft books. Orson Scott Card definitely shaped my writing (now you know who to blame), and that’s a gift that I can never repay, except by writing to the best of my ability.
So what am I left with? Hate the sin, but the love the sinner? Awkward.
I’m going to do what I can to build a wall between every author and their work. Let them rise and fall on their own. Let the books speak for the books. And do my best to not get burned again.
Books don’t lie.
“The enemy’s gate is down.”
Flaming Snot Rockets! Mild mannered designer by day. Children’s book creator by night. Jim writes middle-grade and YA stories with humor and heart. He graduates from VCFA in January 2014. You can find him online at his oft neglected website and on Twitter as @heyjimhill.