Readers seem to surrender themselves to the idea of politics within fiction on a regular basis. They are open to worlds of hugely varying political structures and concepts, and many genre authors are willing to explore new ways of thinking. But when it comes to actual, real-life ideologies, authors and readers start staring at their feet. Everyone feels a tad uncomfortable. We talk about, uh, the weather. Look at this piece of artwork instead!
Why is this?
Authors: we’ve had a general election in the UK. Why have so few of us commented on the results? Are we afraid of getting up on a soapbox and and entering into time-consuming debates? Are we afraid of losing sales from readers who might not agree with our stance? (Readers: is this the case?) Or maybe we just don’t care what goes on in the world around us.
Granted, there are cases across the internet where authors have made rather unsuccessful attempts at social commentary in the past, but should such examples put us off from expressing an opinion? Authors have an audience and have opinions and are in the ideas business. To me, this sounds like fertile land in which to engage in rational debates.
SF and Fantasy possesses a long history of authors with open political leanings (on the left: Miéville, Morgan, Banks, MacLeod, Le Guin and so on). There’s just no so much of it around today.
Or perhaps we should not encourage such discussions outside of the fiction?
Hey, I buy Gene Wolfe’s books don’t I? 😀
Are writers shying away from the UK election? Just among the small number of UK writers I follow online, I’ve seen you, Adam Roberts, Nick Harkaway and Charles Stross express opinions.
Good point, Paul.
Ben – interesting, thanks. I’ve just noticed Harkaway’s blog. Was Roberts mainly doing this on Twitter? His site hasn’t got anything currently of a political nature.
I think it’s because political discussions between people other than politicians is the very definition of a lose-lose discussion. Neither of you are likely to change the mind of the other and will only serve to create bad feeling.
There’s a reason for the social contract that states, talk about anything except politics and religion. It’s because these issues are very deeply felt and the opinions strongly held, therefore, any discussion is likely to become acrimonious fast with no perceivable benefit.
Your tweets made very clear that you think David Cameron is the devil and that he will usher in an age of hell on earth 🙂
I disagree. Are we done?
Would your political leanings turn me away from your books, I would certainly hope not. However, when strong emotions are in play, as they will inevitably be in political discussion, rational thinking generally takes a back seat.
I’m still looking forward to the Kindle release of Nights of Villjamur, even though you’re clearly a lefty 🙂
A lot of people our age (mid-20s) get put off politics because it doesn’t seem to be about or addressed to us, and when people write from a political slant in fiction, it still struggles to connect – it doesn’t seem to concern us. (The only authors I’ve really connected with have been Orwell and Robert Harris; personally I think Mieville’s overrated.) From what I’ve seen this has only changed since the financial meltdown – there are so many people who’ve graduated with good degrees who spent months last year unemployed, and are now either still unemployed and made to feel like scum for signing on or in shit jobs because its all they could get. And what’s worse is that once we do start paying attention to what the politicians are saying, they don’t seem to be talking to our generation – it’s all aimed at middle aged, middle class, middle england; basically our parents. Now that Torgeddon is finally here, I doubt that’s going to change. Any discussion outside of fiction that get’s people engaged has to be a good thing, but I wonder if authors are put off because they’re not interested themselves, or they’re worried their audience isn’t interested. Why haven’t you commented more on the election? Are you interested in it? Did you vote?
Phillip – you see, I disagree that you can’t change someone’s mind. I think that’s the entire point of a debate, and I’d feel disappointed if we couldn’t point out facts to others which might make them think twice. There are a heck of a lot of undecided folk out there, of people who might not have seen atrocities caused by one government. In the age of the internet, it’s easier to connect and ever more important to have these discussions.
Anonymous – thanks for the points, which I think are very valid (apart from the Miéville one!). I think there are engaging resources out there, but you’re right, middle-England is indeed the focal point, and with Murdoch in charge of most of the UK media, it’s difficult pick things apart.
And I did talk about the election on the blog, but you can see what happened. Personally, I’d talk about politics more, but I will openly say I’m cautious, and don’t want to bore people. So I stuck to making bon-mots on Twitter instead. 🙂
In all seriousness, I don’t let an authors political or religious leanings get in the way as long as they aren’t a dick about it. For example, I have no problem reading Wolfe despite the fact he is pretty much the opposite of me in moderate poles (as the actual opposite would be a facist not a republican I guess). I won’t read militant sci-fi for most of the reasons Moorcock identifies in “Starship Stormtroopers”, and if the writer is a homophobic moron like Card, I’ll give that a pass as well.
Yes, Adam Roberts’ comments were on Twitter.
I do, however, think that the underlying questions that you seem to be asking are worth exploring. Should fiction writers talk about their politics? How much weight should readers give a writer’s politics, both in deciding whether to read the writer’s work and in terms of influencing their own political ideas? My answers:
Writers should talk about their politics whenever they’d like to do so. But then, with a very few exceptions, I think everyone should talk about politics.
I have never skipped a book that looked interesting because of the writer’s politics, and I cannot foresee a circumstance under which I would. I may, however, decide to buy it used or take it out from the library.
I give writers’ political opinions as much weight as their arguments merit. The source of an opinion should never outweigh the strength of the argument upon which it is framed.
I am of the opinion, that despite my many fiercely held opinions, and my willingness to bore others to tears with them -that discussion is ultimately pointless.
I think this sad, but I have yet to be convinced that I’m wrong in this er, fiercely held opinion.
At least, this is the case with politics. How can there be any rational discussion about what is such a groaningly corrupt and undemocratic system? I believe above all else, that money, and the interests who view all money, – yours, mine, theirs, and every last pence and resource existent in the universe to mint it, as their fundamental right to steal if they don’t already own it, to be a major hurtle to anyone making a difference outside of armed, in the streets, bloody insurrection.
Britain in this aspect, I feel is no different. Short of killing off all the politicans and their handlers, what chance do any amount of mere words have? The pen being mightier than the sword was penned in the days when people still fought with swords. Try stopping weapons grade enriched plutonium warheads with a sharpie if you think I’m not in earnest.
As for writers, we live in a society that either does not read at all and hence do not value the opinions of mere scribblers, or read as a form of escapism and pleasure -rarely for the radical transformation of their set views regarding the universe, themselves, or least of all, the political systems they apathetically take part in (if they can manage to smuggle their votes past the rampant electoral fraud that is status quo in most regions of the globe).
While I applaud Mark for his commitment, I question whether anyone other than a fellow writer, in our current age, could think their opinion can change things. This is not to diminish what Mark or anyone else has to say, or to throw sand on their laudable instincts. I just don’t think that it can do anything, other than provide a lively topic to fill up the comments section of one’s blog.
I read blogs, so at least it is good for me. But change things? Go on, challenge me with your Parker special limited gold edition – so long as I can bring an M40 to the discussion.
We’ll change the world eventually, right after we destroy it.
Well, all that verbiage and I managed to completely leave the primary question unanswered.
Should writers share their political leanings and ideas, or bottle it up for fear of damaging potential sales and alienating writers?
I say &*^%$ ’em. Write what you want. If a reader doesn’t like you because of your politics, and not because of your second rate prose, well, they’re not the reader we all have wet dreams over anyway. Either you’re yourself, with all your human foibles, or else you’re a politician. I pick human, every time.
But then I’m a person who says what I feel and often suffers the consequences. It makes me a lousy drunk, a fierce friend, and in the parlance of our time, an argumentative sonofabitch in nearly everything else. I don’t say that this is some noble character flaw on my part, or even that being true to yourself matters in the end. It’s just easier, that’s all, and on top of all the above I’m a lazy, lazy man.
That said, I don’t see that past examples (outside of those actually blacklisted by the authorities for their political views, which is a slightly different subject than what’s in play here) show that one needs to worry too much. Look at Terry Goodkind, or don’t if you’re like me and both his shitty fiction and his dubious Ayn Rand hero worship makes you break out in a double set of hives and boils. I hate him because his writing is rubbish, full stop. However, the last time I checked, none of it seemed to ever hurt his sales.
So, you can play it safe and never twitt a word in anger or set a blogged foot wrong, and if that’s you, well, good, but if it’s just a sham it seems like the dam will break eventually (or you’ll pop a vein in your head and drop dead at thirty) and you’ll spew out the sort of toxic rants at an award ceremony that causes people to cross the street at the mere sight of you for the rest of your career.
Your choice really, you liberal commie right wing centrist fox hunting off shore drilling, socialized medicine skunk smoking speed chasing, wank. Life is short and they’ll only remember you for your politics first, if your writing isn’t worth the print.
GRRM does quite a bit of political soapboxing on his blog, and to be honest, he’s a bit more liberal than I am.
But, because I have such respect for him as an author, our differences in political views don’t stop me from being a fan.
I’d go so far as to suggest, likewise, that having strong political opinions won’t sway those who are engaged by your work.
Then again, it’s relative. If your political beliefs involve sacrificing puppies and newborn babes in a blood ritual to increase your book sales – some may be less than tolerant.
Discussions inside fiction yes. Definitely. Use every tool in your toolbox to persuade me and illustrate the points you’re making.
As for using your ‘weight’ as an author to campaign for your own beliefs outside those ‘walls’ then I’d be really wary.
I’ve already got very annoyed at one author for their comments today as it showed total ignorance on their part of the issues.
There are authors I’ll refuse to read because of their views and using the fact that they are writers as a platform to campaign from.
Most times it’s not what readers are paying for from their authors. They are paying for a story. They aren’t paying to hear about what brand of washing powder you’re being sponsored by or what political leanings you have. Though if you’re a clever author you can have a character that uses a particular brand and be a hard core conservative/liberal/loonie etc.
So if you want to go down that road then you are ‘out’ there and will have to come up with opinions and views and bang that drum. People will also not always agree with you.
So if you want to start a campaign outside you’re writing carry on but I’d suggest not going down that road…
Everyone seems to be avoiding talking about it. I hear nothing in coffee bars. Nothing from relatives (my probably Tory voting Dad did not call me to crow). I think most people feel a bit subdued. Over on LJ there is also a dampening effect because the US folks aren’t very interested so conversations are being held by about a third of our friends lists.
I’ve heard plenty of political comment online from authors over the past couple of weeks and I welcome it wholeheartedly. It’s fantastic to see such strong opinions being aired.
Having a public profile as an author really shouldn’t preclude someone from expressing those opinions. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook profiles are making authors more accessible to their readers than ever before and I would much rather read an engaging, perhaps politically charged blog post, than post after post of “buy my book”, “erm, buy my book” and “pretty please, buy my book”.
I honestly couldn’t care less if I read blog posts/tweets/status updates which run contrary to my own political leanings; I’m just happy to see authors, and book bloggers for that mattter, airing their views on the election.
It’s interesting to note, where fantasy authors are concerned, the direction their real-life political views take. Trad fantasy authors, with all their world-building, can’t help but add a little of their own take on politics into their work. At least that’s how it looks to me.
Hmm, rambling comment. Too tired to say what I mean to say any more coherently than this.
I tend to mouth off about politics (and religion) on a fairly regular basis, wrote my latest monthly BSC Review column on Brown’s “bigoted woman” comment versus Duffy’s “flocking” (and posted it on election day), and spent the election Twittering bile at the BNP votes. So, yeah, not about to give a fuck if people don’t read my books cause I’m a mouthy bastard. But in terms of talking about the results of this election? Man, I’m too scunnered by it to say much more than, “Theresa fucking May? For fuck’s sake, kill me now. Please.”
Thanks for all the comments, guys.
Eric – I would like to think that, in the age of the internet, radical political groups are more connected. What’s more, it’s significantly easier to highlight some of the dangerous elements of the current regimes. So I’m optimistic.
Bill – good call on GRRM. Did he blog about healthcare recently?
Farah – that may well be true, yes. And it’s very unfortunate.
Sharon – perhaps I’ve been reading the wrong blogs over the last couple of weeks! Nice to know you’re open minded about these things, though. It’s reassuring.
Hal – I’ve not seen that post – I shall head over to BSC now.
Yes, Theresa May now in charge of Promoting Inequality: given her record on voting against nearly every gay rights bill, I can imagine saying that you’re not best pleased is a bit of an understatement… It does seem like a bit of a sick Tory joke doesn’t it?
Aren’t authors just people? If you prick them, do they not bleed?
I think it rather strange to ask whether authors should openly discuss politics, as if there is some moral code to the profession that forbids having a political opinion. (There isn’t, is there? Else I’ll need to retract some queries and quick…)
Speaking from the position of living in the politically most fucked up country of Europe(*): people hide their opinions in the closet like confused homosexual youngsters. Like Farah said, there simply isn’t enough discussion in public. Not the good party/bad party kind, not election time fever debate in the coffee room at work. But the simple everyday talk about what matters in life and how and why this or no party at all fits that set of values. The kind of talk that furthers your own thinking about these values when confronted with someone else’s ideas. Why not make a haphazard comment linking the sad state of the photocopier to some recent political incident? I think the state of politics would improve immensely if there would be more open talk (not discussion, not debate, just talk) about where you yourself stand as a person.
Perhaps people (still) fear getting physically or verbally punched on the nose. Discussions can run deep and hot, true enough, but real voter militancy is of the past. A voter looks in the parties for the best fit, and doesn’t look to be converted for life. All political programs have gaps, compromise is the active verb of a democracy. All talk about some politician or party should be instilled with a critical mass of sarcasm, even if it’s them getting your vote, just because the compromise starts with the voter himself.
(*) We’ve had three years of true non-government, and half of the legislative work done in that period was stopped short of signing by the government’s fall and will have to be redone under the new government. I’m just hoping June 13th won’t be Groundhog Day, because we’ve had enough of groundhogs lately.
100% agree with Gav. And to Phillip’s point, it feels like a lose-lose.
Just because an author has an audience doesn’t mean they have a moral obligation to speak to it.
To tell you the truth, sometimes I sort of miss the days before the internet (or at least before the internet boomed in a big way during the previous decade) where you couldn’t just find out the intricacies of an author’s political beliefs and what they had for breakfast via a quick Google of Twitter, blogs, and interviews – they had more of a mystique. To paraphrase Burial an author then was more “untrackable, unreadable, just a distant light”. I suppose it’s an odd thing for an English Lit student to say, given that we’re taught to seek context and biographical info…
Sounds a bit churlish really, as if I’m suggesting that fiction writers should just stay in that one particular box and function as fiction-creating machines. Not sure what I am trying to say really (if anything), just that for all the good, healthy debate and so on that we have, I still miss the mystique a little. It’s partly why, although I’m well aware of his well-documented Socialist beliefs, I like Miéville’s style of blogging and relatively reserved online presence. Less really can sometimes be more.
It’s one of those things where it’s fine if their opinions align with your own but it can potentially ruin your enjoyment of the author’s books. Sometimes ignorance can be bliss as I’d find it hard to put money in the pocket of someone with what I’d consider an outrageous political view.
If I were an author it would be something I’d consider avoiding as it seems like it could only cost you readers. Then again if you are established your writing reflects your opinions you should have weeded out your fanbase already, in which case you can get away with it.
I just wish there were more Liberation Theologist bloggers out there. Anybody know of any? 😛