Politics of Fiction

It happened again.

I woke up this morning and I wasn’t the President of the United States.

It may sound weird to some, but it used to be my dream job.  In fact, for the better part of my first three decades on the planet, it is the job I told people I would eventually pursue.  Luckily, enough of my life path changed, and a healthy dose of reality kicked in and I abandoned my goal.

Raising children and building a family are certainly contributors to the change of perspective, but I do not blame them for me not waking up in the White House this morning.  I don’t blame my marriage for pulling me away from Washington D.C. to build a political resume.  Raising my kids in the wilder west was more fun anyway.  The real reason is more simple.  I hate modern politics.

I don’t consider all of the discussions or arguments presenting my youthful political views were a waste. Neither were the handful of disagreements I’ve encountered the last ten years when an invisible, ancient political button gets pushed.

However much I would prefer to avoid future entanglements, the reality is — politics in some form or fashion, infect everything.  And now it has infected the Hugo Awards, the top awards for science fiction and fantasy stories each year.

To boil down a complex set of circumstances, some conservative writers considered their works were on the outside looking in to the Hugo Award process, so they built a voting block (just Google Sad Puppies — yes, Sad Puppies, to see more about them) and apparently their efforts have paid off.   So, while I can’t say that I would agree that the awards are ruined, it could be time to reexamine the qualifications to vote for the awards.

As a writer who is still looking to break in to the business sometime this year, I’m not writing for rookie of the year honors or for the market or for a lovable Hugo Award.  Of course, anyone who makes something from nothing appreciates a positive response to their work.  I’m just saying if I try to to write for someone else, I’m doing it wrong.

I don’t think George Orwell wrote 1984 to be popular.  I think he envisioned a political world that scared the hell out of him, so he had to write about it.  And that’s where good stories come from — not intended to be from the left or the right side of a political spectrum.  Stories are derived from our fears, hopes and dreams.

To this day, I’ll disagree that Robert Heinlein was trying to glorify war during the contentious days at the end of the Vietnam War in Starship Troopers.  I think he wrote a story about what a modern military might experience against aliens.  Yes, we can find politics in those pages and those truly looking to expose one “side” of politics over another can find something to disagree with, but it doesn’t mean the author was dutifully selling a specific perspective.  One’s perspective will certainly show up in pages we write, but readers always know when they are being hit over the head with ideology.

Science fiction and fantasy are great vehicles for exploring perspectives, taking concepts farther than non-fiction and exploring human emotion in an array of fictional landscapes faced with a myriad of known and unknown political circumstances.  How would we react to an alien race of sentient bugs?  I’d like to think we would be open minded, but there is a real good chance our reaction would be violent.

I generally try to avoid the personal politics of a writer – or musician, or actor, so that I can enjoy whatever entertainment the person is trying to offer.  Ultimately, that approach doesn’t always work either.  But I would contend that people always looking to be offended will find a way to be offended.

I tend to embrace opposing views in order to understand them.  I lean toward an understanding that the ‘middle’ holds far more truth than the far ends of our current political existence.  Unfortunately, in this platinum age of information, it has served to drive humanity farther apart than closer together.  People tend to cling to their circles of agreement.  Those circles turn into tribes and those tribes tend to generate their own news — MSNBC v. FOX as one example and we’re happier to hold onto tribal misinformation than truth or even compromise.

Am I against Sad Puppies?  Well, how can anyone be completely against puppies?

These writers felt slighted, they unified, organized and selected authors they identify with on the final ballot.  The only thing more impossible than arguing politics is arguing a feeling.  If someone ‘feels’ left out, no amount of logic is going make them suddenly ‘feel’ a part of the process.  I don’t agree with their action, but I can’t tell them how they should feel about the previous results of the awards.

I would have preferred the Hugo Awards not have pre-chosen ballots passed around for a block of voters on either side of an imaginary political fence.  And it is imaginary.  We all know how fast political sides vanish in crisis.  Turn the power off in a country for 30-days and try to find political parties in that pile of anarchy and chaos.  Attack a country and everyone unifies under a banner in mere moments. These are a couple of the concepts explored in science fiction everyday.

The genre will ultimately survive, even if the awards associated with them may be adversely altered for a few years while the ‘sides’ reorganize and take turns jabbing each other online or off.

If I were the U.S. President, I may draw up an executive order eliminating political action committees all together.  Instead, I woke up as a writer and thus I’ll have to write a story about it.  I’m off to listen to the Van Halen cover of Little Feats A Apolitical Blues.  As the song suggests I’ve got no time for Chairman Mao or John Wayne.  Not today.

So much more fun to write and then have readers try to guess where I fall on that imaginary spectrum.