"The Fifth Heart"
August 12, 2010 4:44 AM   Subscribe

A message from Dan Simmons. Dan Simmons SFF author shares some thoughts in his most recent blog post on publishing, writing, and the latest ideas for an upcoming novel: "The Five of Hearts" - In December of 1880, Henry Adams and his wife Clover moved into a rented house at 1607 H Street on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.. That was also the year they became lifelong friends with two men who had previously been mere acquaintances -- assistant secretary of state John Hay and the hazel-eyed bachelor, explorer, surveyor, mining expert, and general man-of-action in the West, Clarence King. The two, along with Hay's wife Clara, became constant callers at the Adamses small but wonderfully select 1607 H Street salon. In the words of one biographer, the five "delighted in their delight of one another" and began calling their little daily tea-time group "the Five of Hearts." Henry James and Sherlock Holmes will also make appearances.
posted by Fizz (75 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, a bit of the old afternoon delight, what? Splendid! Carry on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:14 AM on August 12, 2010


Shrike Blue
posted by felix at 5:19 AM on August 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


The past few books by Dan have been a wonderful blend of history and mystery. I love how well researched and meticulous he is with his story.
posted by Fizz at 5:23 AM on August 12, 2010


Dan Simmons in 2006, predicting a "100 year" war with Islam and rise of a global caliphate in the next 15 years. Or maybe predicting the rise of Gingrich and Palin?

I want to like Simmons, he's an honorary Hoosier. I read Hyperion and Illium and am pretty sure it was operating on levels that I wasn't fully comprehending (I always have a hard time keeping track of lots of characters in fiction).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:35 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I forgot to include my 'but', which was 'but I get the feeling he doesn't want freedom of religion to extend to Muslims, and has a problem with homosexuality.'
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:43 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I read Hyperion and Illium and am pretty sure it was operating on levels that I wasn't fully comprehending (I always have a hard time keeping track of lots of characters in fiction).

Those are the same two by Simmons that I myself have read and they're wonderful places to start. Hyperion in particular is a space-opera Canterbury Tales. Ilium is the Iliad except with robots, cyborgs, aliens, and a future dystopia that frightens me to this day.
posted by Fizz at 5:44 AM on August 12, 2010


Hyperion is more or less a classic, and Ilium was decent enough, but Olympos...Christ. I read 750 pages of Ilium and 850 of Olympos, and I put it down 50 pages from the end and never went back. That's right, I read 1,600 pages, and decided that 50 pages more of that dreck was too much to sit through. Odysseus Shrugged.
posted by adamdschneider at 5:57 AM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Interesting to see him elaborate the topic of homosexuality in his POV character there.
Although I love his SciFi novels, Simmons books always tasted a bit homophobic to me. There was this scene in Olympos where he let his fictional Shakespeare threaten the life of someone asking him if he had a homoerotic affair on grounds of the "young man" in his sonnets; or the gay villain in Terror (which I thought was rather dull).
I agree to China Mieville here:
You don't believe these embedded politics were part of the historical research?

No, because I'm not talking about the politics of the characters, but about the politics of the text, as I read it.

At least he was honest. In that sense.

Specifically, the obsessive locus of the evil character's evil in the fact that he was an engager in anal sex. I know lots of people point to the fact that there's a "sympathetic" gay character too (who reads, incidentally, to me, very like someone invented because an editor said, "we really need a counterbalance to the evil gay") but that character is explicitly defined as a goody because he doesn't have sex on the ship. That's nothing to do with historical research or attitudes (and parenthetically, the idea that in a crew that size only two men would be fucking is ludicrous) but to do with the text's pathological Terror of anal penetration which is (spoiler!--hello The Sparrow) the usual way culture gets to have a deep-seated pathologising of gay sexuality alongide putatively liberal attitudes to desexualised gay men.
Here now we have Henry James, and Simmons writes:
That Henry James fell in love with men (especially young men as James got older and older) is indisputable. Does that make him the most famous of "America's gay writers"? That's doubtful.
True: in that the social construct of homosexuality wasn't fully established by that time. (see Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality or Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality )

But it reads to me like for Simmons this character againis only writeable if he is somehow desexualized ("any such dealings with Henry James's sexuality in The Fifth Heart would be subtle and infused with memory and ambiguities").
And if describes the late, sexual Henry James as an "effeminate old donkey desperate to be loved", his seductive love letters to young men "distasteful"... I think that even though Simmons writes that this has nothing to do with homosexuality itself, he may have indeed a problem with this topic.
posted by ts;dr at 6:01 AM on August 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


(or indeed have a problem, like I have one with this language)
posted by ts;dr at 6:05 AM on August 12, 2010


I did get the vibe that he's got a bee in his bonnet about the ongoing Israel/Islam issue, but I didn't read anti-muslim, at least that Hyperion's story involves the great (heroic) warrior being an incidental observant muslim. He is, however against radical islam and a little too big on messiahs for my taste.

SPOILER!

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I also took the islamic roots of the great evil in Illium being more a comment on the influence of the passions of the past on the future, and a cautionary tale about taking the now so seriously you'd destroy everything.
posted by Phalene at 6:07 AM on August 12, 2010


Since the topic has naturally evolved into this issue (specifically homosexuality). I have to ask the following question then.

Do you find it difficult to separate the author from the text? Knowing that he might have some rather conservative views when it comes to how he views Islam and homosexuality, will that detract from your enjoyment of his novels or prevent you from supporting him by purchasing these novels?

I often struggle with this issue because to purchase a book is to support the artist, the author. And yet finding out that an author might be homophobic or ultra-conservative will inevitably change how I perceive the text. It shouldn't, but it somehow does.
posted by Fizz at 6:07 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, I had never heard of this guy, but that's a pretty fascinating story he's putting together. I was waiting to see if Simmons would get to Clarence King's secret life passing as a black man, and he did, but only at the very end. It's one of the craziest stories from Gilded Age America (and American history period) that I know of:
King spent his last thirteen years leading a double life. In 1887 or 1888, he met and became enamored with Ada Copeland, an African-American nursemaid (and former slave) from Georgia who had moved to New York City in the mid-1880s. As miscegenation was strongly discouraged in the nineteenth century (and even illegal in many places), King hid his identity from Copeland. Despite his blue eyes and fair complexion, King convinced Copeland that he was an African-American Pullman porter named James Todd. The two fell in love and entered into a common law marriage in 1888. Throughout the marriage, King never revealed his true identity to Ada, pretending to be Todd, a black railroad worker, when at home, and continuing to work as King, a white geologist, when in the field. The union produced five children. King finally revealed his true identity to Copeland in a letter he wrote to her while on his deathbed in Arizona.
Paradoxically, King's rationalization of his fair skin and blue eyes may have been especially convincing because, as King's recent biographer Martha Sandweiss puts it, "why would anyone that light skinned claim to be a Negro unless he or she truly was?"

Those late Victorian Americans were an amazingly weird and haunted bunch. It's wonderful ground to romp around in, for a fiction writer.
posted by cirripede at 6:24 AM on August 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Fizz: for me it depends on the scale. For example, I would never touch anything by Orson Scott Card again, although I loved Enders Game as a teen.
If it is only a mild distaste, as with Simmons, I'm able to blend it out. If the book is good enough. With "Terror" it was reason enough for me to quit reading, an excuse if you will, for I was very much bored by the slow pace by then.

As a gay reader of genre literature (I mean SciFi, fantasy or horror) you are used to blend out the exclusion of lgbt characters, and the occasional evil gay villain trope, but if I read about an author making bigoted statements, like denying gay people basic rights, (another example: Brandon Sanderson, also a mormon) it's enough reason for me to drop a triology I would otherwise have finished.
May he write what he wants, but why should I send my hard earned money to someone who thinks what I do is sinful?
posted by ts;dr at 6:33 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Put me into the "fallen off the Simmons bandwagon" column.

Leaving aside the homophobia and rather startling "Islam is the root of all evil" stuff, his work is just plain dull after a while. Ilium was ok, but Olympos ugh. He fell into the trap of believing that he must explain everything. Not just every little mystery in his fictional universe, but EVERYTHING, the totality of all human understanding, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, the purpose of humankind in the universe, the true nature of God, etc.

Its bad enough when writers aren't content to leave a few fictional stones unturned, but when they branch into giant author tracts about the ultimate meaning of everything in real life the books just become unbearable.

Unlike adamdschneider I did finish Olympos and honestly I rather wish I hadn't.
posted by sotonohito at 6:39 AM on August 12, 2010


I tried to read Hyperion but couldn't get more than fifty pages into it.

ts;dr, OSC has disappointed me like no author ever has before.
posted by zzazazz at 6:40 AM on August 12, 2010


See also: "Empire" by Gore Vidal for same group 20 years on. Henry Adams? Check. John Hay? Check. Henry James? Check. No Sherlock Holmes, but William Randolph Hearst figures prominently.
posted by hwestiii at 6:41 AM on August 12, 2010


At this point, I don't think you can really condemn a white male science fiction writer for being reactionary or a crypto-bigot. As products of a sub-culture infused with Objectivist and "Clash of Cultures" attitudes, they really can't help themselves, any more than a person with Autism or Tourett's. We should just pity the white male SFF writer, and understand that the reason their "Big Ideas" sound like something out of Analog or a New Frontier anthology is probably due to the fact that they came from that source.

Eventually they will disappear along with their genre, so we should do our best to tolerate them.
posted by happyroach at 6:41 AM on August 12, 2010


I think you have to remember that peoples' views often change significantly over time. Robert A. Heinlein started off as a liberal but ended up a libertarian conservative. Orson Scott Card only seems to have become so homophobic after a religious recoversion.

So I'm going to go with the view that while he was writing Hyperion, Dan Simmons was not yet an Islamophobic fruitloop droning on about the menace of "Eurabia" (as in These Premises Are Alarmed's link).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:46 AM on August 12, 2010


GAH! I wish I had not read that particular link on OSC. Now I'll think of that every time I pick up one of his novels. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to art and writing.
posted by Fizz at 6:47 AM on August 12, 2010


So, who are the active white male SF writers who aren't reactionaries or crypto-bigots?

As far as I can tell, Reynolds, Stross, Stephenson, Banks, Doctorow, would all pass our Mefi Purity Test.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:47 AM on August 12, 2010


I think you have to remember that peoples' views often change significantly over time. Robert A. Heinlein started off as a liberal but ended up a libertarian conservative. Orson Scott Card only seems to have become so homophobic after a religious recoversion.

Very well said TheophileEscargot. But still it is difficult for me to separate the art and the artist when often the artist is so blatantly absurd and/or hateful in their commentary.
posted by Fizz at 6:52 AM on August 12, 2010


Definitely Ken MacLeod and Richard Morgan.

Ian McDonald?
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:52 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jeff Vandermeer?
posted by axon at 6:54 AM on August 12, 2010


China Mieville "is a member of the British Socialist Workers Party... and stood unsuccessfully for the British House of Commons in the 2001 General Election as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:05 AM on August 12, 2010


Do you find it difficult to separate the author from the text?

It depends a lot on the quality of the text. I think it is the racism rather than the homophobia which is most problematic about The Terror but, as ts;dr says, the fact it is immensely turgid is an even bigger problem.

And people, you are probably better off ignoring happyroach's trolling.
posted by ninebelow at 7:05 AM on August 12, 2010


You can take your big broad brush stick it in your terrifying anus, in other words.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:06 AM on August 12, 2010


'and'
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:06 AM on August 12, 2010


So, who are the active white male SF writers who aren't reactionaries or crypto-bigots?

Perhaps you would be interested in the "fifty fantasy & science fiction works that socialists should read"-list by china miéville
posted by ts;dr at 7:09 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Carrion Comfort remains among my favorite novels. I don't much like horror, but a friend dragged me, kicking and screaming, into reading it, and I'm glad I did. He packs more genuine surprises into that long book than most authors manage in a career.

I don't want to say too much about it, because it's easily spoiled, but I will say that he took just about every expectation I had at the time (early 20s) about how stories were plotted, and turned them on their collective ear. I remember thinking about halfway through that I had no freaking idea what was going to happen, and it gave the book a level of intensity that the written word doesn't usually reach.

Say what you like about his politics and/or morality, that was a great read.
posted by Malor at 7:14 AM on August 12, 2010


A lot of people complaining about author's bias putting them off their work but for me the sticking issue isn't Simmon's prejudices, it's the fact he puts so much of his own biases into his work, and in such a didactic way.

In the end I threw Illium away in disgust. Most of the story is an (at best) distracting science fiction yarn, but the rest is this bizarre screed against gay studies in literature and history. It's not written as a debate, or dialogue, with a balancing opinion: it's a monologue basically telling you what Dan Simmon's thinks and you either put up or, as I did, file it with my junk mail.
posted by axon at 7:17 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do you find it difficult to separate the author from the text?

When I saw this, I thought of Card too. I don't think it's hard to separate the author from the text, as long as the author is being honest inside his fiction. When I read one of Card's characters, who I guess is ex-gay-now-heteromarried, reflecting on how he'll protect his kid from Evil Touchy Feely Gays, I put the book down because, come on, you haven't been honest. The character would not think that. You've made a character believe that a stereotype is true--believe it unquestioningly. What's the point of reading that?

Simmons is a better writer than Card, but I haven't read Terror or anything after that...I just haven't been able to approach his stuff the same way after reading his take on Islam. Which is a shame, because I loved his books so much, the endless detail, the *authority* he wrote with.

(Do we give a free pass to authors whose politics we agree with?)
posted by mittens at 7:26 AM on August 12, 2010


(Do we give a free pass to authors whose politics we agree with?)


I don't like China Mieville strictly on the fact that his writing doesn't do it for me. [Not-socialist-ist]
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:33 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Do we give a free pass to authors whose politics we agree with?)

Absolutely, hehe. People tend to enjoy when their own belief systems are re-affirmed.
posted by Fizz at 7:36 AM on August 12, 2010


A lot of people complaining about author's bias putting them off their work but for me the sticking issue isn't Simmon's prejudices, it's the fact he puts so much of his own biases into his work, and in such a didactic way.

In the end I threw Illium away in disgust. Most of the story is an (at best) distracting science fiction yarn, but the rest is this bizarre screed against gay studies in literature and history. It's not written as a debate, or dialogue, with a balancing opinion: it's a monologue basically telling you what Dan Simmon's thinks and you either put up or, as I did, file it with my junk mail.


Yes, exactly!
I read that whole screed with increasing anger, but filed it away as an argument that his character made, and not Simmons. Especially when he made such a strong point on this topic when writing about the "young man" in Shakespeares sonnets and those horrible liberal scholars assuming too much about the writer when reading a text.
Until that scene with his fictional Shakespeare himself vehemently denying such filthy innuendoes, and even pulling a knife if I remember correctly.
Which is a rather cheap trick and big blunder when making such an argument.
posted by ts;dr at 7:42 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Do we give a free pass to authors whose politics we agree with?)

I like Iain Banks a lot and agree with his politics but I still really wish he would keep them out of his fiction because it is ruining his work.
posted by ninebelow at 7:47 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


What bothers me most often about Simmons is that he tries to have his rhetorical cake and eat it too - "But I voted for Kerry!" is supposed to be the Voice of the Author, while "The Islamic One World Government Killed All Your Grandkids Because Of Your Brave and Insightful Essay" is, you know, the story.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:49 AM on August 12, 2010


While we're on the subject, I simply couldn't get to the end of OLYMPOS. Can someone point me at a good synopsis without spoiling it for anyone in the thread? I'm mildly curious as to how it all turned out, and who Caliban was, but not to the point of wanting to try and read the book again...
posted by alasdair at 7:51 AM on August 12, 2010


Until that scene with his fictional Shakespeare himself vehemently denying such filthy innuendoes, and even pulling a knife if I remember correctly.
I didn't get that far, but it doesn't suprise me.

Authors like Mieville and Banks may write from a socialist perspective, but I think you can enjoy their works without being too bothered by the political sub-text. Possibly because they aren't filled with unavoidable screeds about the problems with capitalism. Their works do address political issues, but I like to think they do so as part of the story, showing rather than telling/forcing down your throat.
posted by axon at 7:51 AM on August 12, 2010


I'm a big fan of Simmons writing, so I just try to pretend the AIs wrote it.
posted by JaredSeth at 7:53 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just finished Mieville's KRAKEN and there is a particular character who is apart of a unionist uprising and strike. I never once felt that this was done so that Mieville could force his political ideology down the reader's throat. It was just a part of the story.
posted by Fizz at 7:56 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I also recognize that it is annoying when an author becomes preachy in their text. A sure fire way to have me put the book down and walk away in disgust. This was my own personal experience with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Ugh.
posted by Fizz at 7:57 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you can enjoy their works without being too bothered by the political sub-text.

Except for Iron Council. I mean, I'm almost as much of a socialist as Mieville, and even I thought that book was bleeeeeuuurg.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:13 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess it also depends on how well crafted a character is. Sometimes it's apparent that characters are simply created as vehicles for the author's ideology or political perspective.
posted by Fizz at 8:21 AM on August 12, 2010


So, who are the active white male SF writers who aren't reactionaries or crypto-bigots?

As far as I can tell, Reynolds, Stross, Stephenson, Banks, Doctorow, would all pass our Mefi Purity Test.


Vernor Vinge?
Richard Morgan?
John Varley?

Does anyone even have a sexuality in Karl Schroeder's stuff?

I like Iain Banks a lot and agree with his politics but I still really wish he would keep them out of his fiction because it is ruining his work.

...and has been since Consider Phlebas! Say what you want about the new stuff, it's still mostly better than Canal Dreams or Complicity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:26 AM on August 12, 2010


Maybe I'm just not seeing the subtext (I'm a simple guy) - but how thickly is Banks's politics informing his recent SF? I guess, by recent, I mean the Algabraist, Matter, and Transitions.

The closest to annoyed I got with his politics was when I felt his Vogons (err, Idirans) were getting to Islamic. I guess, to me, he says "Here's my anarchist collective, and it works" and leaves it at that. He doesn't try to justify himself, other than making occasional snarks at wealth equaling poverty.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:33 AM on August 12, 2010


Do you find it difficult to separate the author from the text? Knowing that he might have some rather conservative views when it comes to how he views Islam and homosexuality, will that detract from your enjoyment of his novels or prevent you from supporting him by purchasing these novels?

It's what I now internally refer to as The Polanski Problem (formerly The Allen Issue) -- artists whose work I enjoy immensely, but elements of whose personal lives I find odious.
Essentially, I now approach it as an eyes-open thing when I'm engaging a work by the person in question. It’s less about cutting the creator slack than having some sort of filter in place: I know that Simmons is an Islamophobe and definitely displays some strong homophobic tendencies in his work, and I strive to be neither Islamophobic or homophobic, so I read The Terror and enjoyed it but noticed the "anal sex = evil nature" theme and kind of inoculated myself against it.

Knowing that Simmons is Islamophobic also added an interesting element to the book while I was reading it; the fact that it's a bunch of white dudes, trapped in a harsh environment they don't understand, who can only interact with the "exotic" other culture by fetishizing it or shooting at it and are powerless in the face of a "pure" faith is actually more interesting when you know it's being written by a guy who has expressed no shortage of petticoat-lifting terror at the thought of Muslims having the temerity to breed on our soil. How's our war in Afghanistan working out for you, Dan?

At the end of the day, I can take Simmons' baggage on board and apply it to how I read his work; it's good stuff informed a bit by frothmouthed panic, but not to the point where the frothing outweighs the good stuff.

The Polanski Problem applies to a lot of other creators as well -- hell, even in comics, I got a million of 'em. I still like John Byrne's art a lot, but find his online persona pretty rancorous. I love Sin City, and knowing that Frank Miller is a bit of a right-wing blood-and-thunder loon actually makes Sin City work a bit more for me -- I know it's black and white work from somebody who believes in black-and-white morality. Mark Millar's the opposite, in that he seems like a really pleasant guy, but produces gay panic torture porn to the point that I don't like him despite his work instead of the other way around.

But in comics, the exemplar of all of this is what you get if you take the "mons" out of Simmons. Simmons is a middling good author, but he's not a genius who reshaped how people think of an entire aspect of his medium.

Dave Sim is (arguably) a genius. He changed how an entire industry looked at lettering, at background/foreground art, and independent publishing.

And even only on MetaFilter, the "odious artist vs. brilliant work" equation has been discussed often. Quite often. Impressively often. No, really.

If Simmons ties you in knots over whether you can find his opinions objectionable and still enjoy Illium, Dave Sim makes him look like a high-school poet who wears a Nazi uniform to the Hallowe'en dance to shock the squares.
posted by Shepherd at 8:47 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


My heart sank at the news he wants to do another historical novel set in the nineteenth century, because I felt that The Terror and Drood both verged on the unreadable. In both cases, Simmons took a genuinely interesting historical plot (the Franklin expedition, the prickly relationship between Dickens and Collins) and submerged it beneath a just-as-genuinely ludicrous horror plot (that silly ice monster, the Drood figure). Strip out the horror, and the novel would actually work a lot better. And Drood, in particular, suggested that Simmons hasn't yet mastered how to write a historical novel: too many extraneous details that supposedly create historical atmosphere, but instead clog up the narrative like bric-a-brac in a stereotypically overstuffed Victorian parlor.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:03 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do you find it difficult to separate the author from the text?

I abhor Orson Scott Card because he is a talentless hack who's spun one single good idea from a short story into a relentless, eternal string of novels, NONE of them worth reading, and scififanbois worship his shit (apparently unbothered by the fact they are paying to read the same book over... and over... and over...) The fact that he's a fundamentalist Mormon ( my favorite you'll-laugh-until-you-cry evangelicals) and a flaming homophobe are really just extra credit reasons to avoid him.

Simmons, on the other hand, was not a bad writer in the Hyperion days - interesting concepts, plausible dialogue - but that Illiad thing... Oy gevalt! Has the man no EDITOR? To tell the truth, I don't even REMEMBER the parts of those books that are giving people such agita here... I'm pretty sure i forced myself to finish it (I was on a long trip and had prepurchased both paperbacks...), but I really couldn't tell you how it ends. Is he a homophobe? Beats me, this is the first I've heard about it. Would it prevent me from reading his next book? Based on Hyperion, probably not.

And, at least in my case, it cuts the other way. Samuel R. Delaney is an astonishly good writer, with a long list of science fiction and fantasy works to his credit. I discovered him BECAUSE he has sexual relationships with men, but have read all his works because he's actually a great WRITER.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:06 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Olympos, Achillies was patently, absolutely, without a doubt gay, and then goes on to search for his one true love, a man, at the end of the book. What's more, his relationship with Penthesilia, a marriage to a woman literally forced on him by the gods, is miserable and unhappy.

That's homophobia? Really?

Simmons is center-left on many things, center right on a few others. Your typical American, in other words. If you have a dog in the Israel/Palestine fight, some of his opinions on the matter might drive you up a wall, but even then, it's not a frothing-at-the-mouth right-wing perspective, as much as it is a point of view that may differ from your own.

Plus, the Caliphate was a pretty obvious stand-in for the Cold-War era USA. "We had to destroy the village to save it", fighting against the implacable and growing influence of Imhotep-Khan, the stand-in for Stalin. Yes, he has America allegorically represented by Radical Islam, and Russia by the Golden Horde, and that has to make you grin, just a little.

He is not in the same "Super Crunchy Nutbar Wingnut" category as Heinlein, or Card, who's a full-bore xenophobe and religious Dominionist.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:24 AM on August 12, 2010


I'll agree with the general consensus that it isn't so much the politics/whatever as how they're presented and how much the book turns into an Author Tract.

I like military Sci-Fi, huge battle fleets, exploding starships, gratuitous space battles, etc (can't really call it SF), it's hardly deep or significant but its fun in the same sort of way that mindless TV is fun. Its also a genre that is almost exclusively produced by right wing people. John Ringo, David Webber, et al are all to the right of Rush Limbaugh. And mostly, for those two, for what I like to read of their work, the politics are there, but not to the point that the book devolves into an Author Tract. Or at least not from my POV, the boundary between book with author views and Author Tract differs for different people.

And, yes, I do think that applies to politics I agree with as well, Author Tracts are generally boring to read even when you agree with them. I do think that when a person agrees with the politics they're willing to put up with more before they declare a book to be an Author Tract, but regardless there comes a point where, even if you agree 100% with the author's POV, you wish he'd just STFU all ready about the politics and get on with the story.

As for the Polanski Problem, let's go straight to the platonic ideal example: Adolph Hitler's art. It isn't really perfect, because really Hitler was only a so-so artist, but it exists and if you were to look at it without knowing it was produced by a genocidal madman it would mostly be vaguely appealing. Some of his flower still lifves are actually quite nice from my POV as a non-art expert, and I'll admit that some of his dog sketches are pretty darn cute.

But does the evil of the man render the art unappreciatable? I don't think there's a universal answer to that. Nor in lesser cases.

Take Card. He not only is a raving anti-homosexual bigot, but he's relatively wealthy and donates quite a bit of money to the cause of harming gay people by limiting their rights. I think I could deal with the first, if it weren't for the second. But I certainly won't say that a person who continues to read Card's works is a bad person.

For me, I think, the line is the line between thought and action. I don't really care if a creative type is a generally unpleasant and nasty person, as long as they aren't actually hurting other people. Take Harlan Ellision, he's not only a jackass, he's famous for being a jackass. But so far the only person his jackassery has harmed is himself, so I feel no qualms reading and loving his books.

Card contributed in a direct and real way to harming gay people by supporting Prop 8, for me that crosses a line of harm by action that makes it difficult for me to appreciate his creations.

Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year old girl, for me that makes it pretty much impossible to appreciate his art.

Hitler is responsible for the death of 10 million people in concentration camps, and more in the wars he started. Even if his art was breathtakingly fantastic I couldn't really love it.

Other people may draw the line at other places, and I don't think there are any actual moral or ethical considerations involved for dead, monstrous, creators. For living creators, especially those who use their money to cause harm, I do think there are a few moral considerations. A faction of the money you pay for a Card book will go to fund anti-gay agitation, and presumably a fraction of the ticket price for a Polanski movie goes to fuel his ongoing pedophilic rape (assuming that he has continued to be a rapist). But, since economic purity is impossible, that makes it awfully difficult for me to condemn a person for supporting an artist who directly contributes to evil. A fraction of the money we spend on anything is quite likely to go to bad causes.
posted by sotonohito at 9:32 AM on August 12, 2010


I often struggle with this issue because to purchase a book is to support the artist, the author. And yet finding out that an author might be homophobic or ultra-conservative will inevitably change how I perceive the text. It shouldn't, but it somehow does.

These are two questions here, both of which fascinate me and have for many years:

1) Should we support artists who are immoral in their lifestyles?

2) Is it wrong to associate they artist's lifestyle and political/social views with his works?

I am not going to take a definitive stance on either of these issues (because I don't think there is one), but I will speak to how I maneuver through them.

First of all, I DO think I am potentially culpable if I knowingly give money to someone who uses that money for evil. In some cases, this is pretty obvious. If I give you money so that you can buy a gun, knowing that you intend to shoot someone with it, I am partly responsible for the subsequent murder. But the further removed my payment is from clear-and-present danger, the more (I believe) I'm morally absolved.

For instance, let's say you're a non-prejudiced writer who has a son that is a KKK member. I know that you disapprove of your son's views, but I also know that you love him and maintain a relationship with him. I feel okay about buying your book, even knowing there's a possibility that you MIGHT give some of that money to your son, and that he MIGHT give some of that money to the KKK. Someone else might not think my decision is okay, and I can't really justify it, except to say that when there are more and more "mights," I feel less and less responsible. My decision to give you money didn't directly contribute to the KKK. Two other people had to make decisions in order for some of my money to reach the bad guys. (And then the KKK would have to spend that money on something evil -- not just on getting sandwiches for lunch -- in order for my money to fund anything evil.)

I also have a deeply held belief in freedom of expression. Which means that though I don't support Nazi actions (KKK actions, homophobic actions, etc.), I do support someone's right to have Nazi thoughts and even to speak out about them. More generally, I want to live in a world in which any and all ideas get expressed, and in a world in which we make a distinction between ideas and actions. I want ideas to be expressed -- even heinous ones -- because, once they are on the table, we can discuss them (and in some cases denounce them). If they are secret, we can't engage them in any way.

So I'll go further than my above writer-and-son ethic and say that I totally support your right to express homophobic ideas. If you're beating up gay people, I don't support that. But if you're saying "Homosexuality is a sin," I do. I don't believe it's a sin. In fact, I find that idea loathsome. But I want you to express it if it is your idea. I want that idea on the table if it exists. Let's confront it rather than hide from it. So I'm fine with buying Mr. Homophobe's book -- as long as I have no evidence that he's directly contributing to gay bashing or denying gay people jobs.

I'm not naive. I realize that ideas can lead to actions. But I think it's VERY important, in a culture that values free expression, to not let that fact lead us towards censorship. I know that not-buying-a-book is not the same as censorship, but I think it's generally important to take a stance of all-ideas-are-allowed-though-some-actions-aren't. That's my value. You don't have to share it. But it does allow me to buy books by, say, a misogynist without feeling guilty, without feeling that I've betrayed my Feminist values.

After all, how am I going to really understand the mindset of a misogynist if I don't listen to him? And if I don't understand him, I am ill-equipped to fight him.

Okay, second question: Is it wrong to associate they artist's lifestyle with his works?

No, it's not wrong. It's natural. We evolved to think of stories as tales told to us by people we know. Tales around a campfire, etc. Most of us grew up first hearing stories from our parents, our teachers and our friends. It's a somewhat strange experience to "hear" a story from someone you've never met and will never meet. So your brain creates a storyteller. Your brain naturally wants to view as story as a piece of communication -- something told from a specific person to you. And, naturally, if you learn biographical details about the author, it's likely you'll imagine the person connected with those details is the person telling you the story.

So how would you feel if someone beat up your best friend and then told you a story? Would you be able to just listen to that story in a neutral way? I doubt it. A similar (though perhaps muted) effect happens when you learn that say, Roman Polanski raped a young girl. The guy at the campfire who telling you a story is a RAPIST!

That said, I think it's possible to learn to avoid (or at least dampen) this kind of thinking. And I think it's worth doing. Why? For reasons I went into above. Because it's useful to confront ideas that come from all different sources. Ideas ARE neutral, even if the people telling them to you aren't. I am devoted to creating a world in which all ideas (regardless of their sources) have free play -- even if that world is just in my own head. Again, I'm just reporting my values -- I'm not expecting you to share them.

How do you learn to disregard the artist when viewing his art? I'm not completely sure, even though I've done it. If you tell me the author of the book I just read (and loved) hates Asians, I will just shrug -- which doesn't mean that I am a fan of bigotry. I just don't care whether the author likes or dislikes anyone. I'm not interested in him. I'm interested in his book.

I think I got that way from decades of reading "The Classics." Shakespeare wrote some bigoted stuff. So did most classic authors in most eras. If you read tons and tons of stuff by the dead white males, you get pretty used to admiring the art while not admiring (sometimes loathing) the artist.

It also helps to not deify artists. I've devoted years of my life to studying Shakespeare's works. But I'm sure the guy farted and picked his nose like the rest of us. And maybe he beat his wife. Maybe he supported slavery.

This doesn't shock me, maybe because I'm a cynic. I don't expect people to be on their best behavior until proven otherwise. And I don't expect artists to be special people. They are normal people who happen to write books, paint paintings or make movies. They are, in my mind, as "evolved" as auto-mechanics and sewer workers. They just have different job descriptions. Most people in all walks of life has some good points and some really ugly bad points. I don't expect artists to be different. If you do, that's fine, but I think you're living in a fantasy world.
posted by grumblebee at 9:34 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shakespeare wrote some bigoted stuff.

Shylock being pretty much the archetype of how to do it right, a caricature who is just too full of human detail to remain a cartoon. Puppy-headed Caliban, maybe a little more relevantly to the thread, whose island-native monstrosity seems as much an effect of Prospero's tender abuses as of his witchy birth. If you're going to express your bigotry, why not push it so far that you're creating the most interesting monsters in literature?
posted by mittens at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2010


Yeah, Shakespeare did that. But he also threw in plenty of casual bigotry, sometimes from minor characters. Which is to say he was unable to rise above many of the common prejudices of his time. Which is to say Welcome To Club Human Race, Mr. Shakespeare!
posted by grumblebee at 10:14 AM on August 12, 2010


(An ethos of "The Tempest" -- which I just got done directing -- is that slave owners should treat their slaves well, especially if they give good service. Prospero grows as a character by realizing that he owes his slave, Ariel, a reward for years of servitude. He also is "a good man" because he forgives his bad slave, Caliban. There may be other ways of interpreting what's going on in the play, but my interpretation is pretty common and natural.)
posted by grumblebee at 10:17 AM on August 12, 2010


Hmm. I liked Ilium, didn't get thrown out by perceptions of ugly auctorial moralizing, and regretted having forgotten so much of it by the time Olympos came out that I never continued (but not enough to seriously consider rereading Ilium.)

But Simmons is on my don't-want-to-give-financial-support-to list and the copy of Ilium was from the library.

Speaking of hoping not to have forgotten the start of massive duologies by the time the conclusion comes out, the library has finally ordered All Clear so I can put my hold on it. Yay! (Connie Willis is totally on my would-happily-give-financial-support-to list; this time I'm just saving money.)
posted by Zed at 10:18 AM on August 12, 2010


(Do we give a free pass to authors whose politics we agree with?)

While I don't necessarily agree with them, I have more sympathy toward Mieville, Brust and Banks than your average Great White Hope writer (maybe because I consider Marx a science fiction writer). But every time they've put their politics into their writing its either been painful, or embarrassing to read, like watching a favorite uncle get drunk and start ranting about his favorite topic at a Christmas dinner. Still, Mievelle and the other Britts get a pass to a certain extent, simply because the other SF writers look at the more multicultural society of England and start
muttering fearfully about "Eurabia" and socialist death panels.

One has to remember that the general themes of Science Fiction were set in the 1950s-70s. So you get themes of the bold brave individualist (usually either military or mercantile), government as a problem, sexual and racial ideas that seemed progressive for the 50s, and a general contempt for humanity at large- at least those who aren't part of the SF community. Combine that with the notion that SciFi is about "Big Ideas" and not writing quality, and you have the perfect storm for SF writers grabbing stupid reactionary ideas and running with them.

The bottom line is that after the Racefail of last year, I've given up on SF writers as a general class. No matter how progressive they may claim to be, or even think they are, as an overall group they are isolated from the complexities of a modern interracial society, in a comfortable white-dominated fan culture. They tend to believe in equality as an abstract notion (mostly in an "as long as I don't hear or see you" sense), but tend to get very defensive when dealing with practical concerns about racial matters, especially in their own writing. After a short debate their pretensions of progressivism break down and they take on the role of "vigorously alive" individualists standing up to political correctness. At this point I'm no longer willing to give SF writers the benefit of the doubt as far as their politics go. Odds are if you assume they're a bigot based on their writing, you'll be proven right when you look at their blog.
posted by happyroach at 10:28 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know who else is pretty good? Chip Delany.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:41 AM on August 12, 2010


The bottom line is that after the Racefail of last year, I've given up on SF writers as a general class.

Dumb question from someone who doesn't follow sci-fi: would you be able to elaborate on what happened last year? I apologize if it was mentioned upthread and I missed it.

Fascinating points, by the way.
posted by cirripede at 10:50 AM on August 12, 2010


Previous Racefail discussion on Metatalk.
posted by Zed at 11:11 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've not read any of Simmons' books, and after that time-travel rant, I don't believe that I shall:
“Galveston,” interrupted the Time Traveler. “The Space Needle. Bank of America Plaza in Dallas. Renaissance Tower in Dallas. Bank One Center in Dallas. The Indianapolis 500 – one hour and twenty-three minutes into the race. The Bell South Building in Atlanta. The TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco . . .”
Why didn't they go for NASCAR instead? Oh, and Sirhan Sirhan's assassination of RFK was the beginning of the Islamofascist Jihad. Good to know!

Sheesh.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:50 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


He went for the 500 instead of NASCAR because he likes to be like Vonnegut and throw a bit of Indiana in his stories. (Granted, it coulda been the Brickyard). But, does he really not know that Sirhan Sirhan is Christian?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:53 AM on August 12, 2010


simply because the other SF writers look at the more multicultural society of England and start muttering fearfully about "Eurabia" and socialist death panels.

Not to argue with your general points, but the UK is significantly less multi-cultural than the USA. Get outside of London and it's pretty damn white here. (Which makes the whole 'oh noes! Islamicazoid terrorists are taking over the UK!' argument kinda funny).

By the way, should it be obvious what the three words at the end of Simmons' article were?
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:05 PM on August 12, 2010


should it be obvious what the three words at the end of Simmons' article were?

Nah, I'm pretty sure it's just a tease, an unspecified reference to a some horrible future event everyone will have heard of. It's the horror writer in him coming out -- instead of specifying his own terrible thing, which might not grab a given reader, get the reader's own imagination working on it.
posted by Zed at 12:28 PM on August 12, 2010


By the way, should it be obvious what the three words at the end of Simmons' article were?


D-R-I-N-K
Y-O-U-R
O-V-A-L-T-I-N-E
posted by Shepherd at 12:38 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you kidding? Ever been to Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Manchester etc etc?
posted by longbaugh at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2010


I know absolutely nothing about Dan Simmons except that Summer of Night made me afraid of the dark for a few weeks.
posted by Roman Graves at 2:20 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


longbaugh: yeah, OK I should have said, get outside of London and a few other cities and towns. But:

UK demographics: white 92.1%, black 2%, Indian 1.8%, Pakistani 1.3%, mixed 1.2%, other 1.6% [2001 census, sourced from CIA World Factbook, so a little out of date, but still]

US demographics: white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% [2007, again sourced from CIA World Factbook]

Shepherd: I was wondering something like "Don't taze me!". I did like the implausibility of his story (there's some kinda world war against Islam going on, and Europe has been totally lost to Islam - but this guy's grandchildren can just fly into London to hang out on business? With the Islamic enemy? And apparently Canada's been taken over too?)
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2010


Well, the USA is more multi-racial, but that's largely down to the 1-in-8 black population, mostly people that have been there as long as the US state has existed, right? They're as American as Georges Washington or Bush. Whereas, for example, lots (about 5% of the 90%) of the white people in the UK are Polish/Spanish/French etc., which while largely being European aren't the same culture as white indigenous English (or Welsh or Scots or Irish or Cornish....)

Immigration, from all sorts of places, has been running at high levels in the UK for the last ten/twenty/fifty/hundred years (as has emigration). I don't think it's accurate to describe the UK as a whole as 'less multicultural' than the USA any more. It's a more complex story than that (and one I'm not equipped to handle).

Note that this doesn't mean that I think that we'll all be living under Sharia here in fifty years. Can't see Hindu Britons going along with that for a start...
posted by alasdair at 2:46 PM on August 12, 2010


Continuing with the Card derail, but the other thing I find baffling about his homophobia is that many of his books are absolutely bristling - bristling! - with homoerotic undertones. The man is clearly fascinated by men, male to male love etc. It's so weird. As a teen, when I was first reading him, I actually assumed he was gay for several years because his books are focussed on masculinity, male relations and male bodies, whilst his female characters tend to be much more one dimensional and, hmmm, "ideal" I guess you could say.

You can imagine my surprise when I found out how disgusting his opinion were!
posted by smoke at 7:18 PM on August 12, 2010


Surprise?

It's not just possible to be completely and utterly homosexual while at the same time being a massively bigoted homophobe. It's downright common.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:44 PM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Indeed, ROU, but the books are so naked about it. That kind of closeted phobia usually attempts to cover the tracks somewhat, in my experience.
posted by smoke at 7:57 PM on August 12, 2010


Card is the poster child for repressed homosexuality leading to homophobia. I always imagine his voice sounding like the creepy internal affairs inspector in Barney Miller; the guy who goes on about the menace of "homos", and then gets a wistful tone in his voice when he describes the group showers during his army days.
posted by happyroach at 9:23 PM on August 12, 2010


Maybe I'm just not seeing the subtext (I'm a simple guy) - but how thickly is Banks's politics informing his recent SF? I guess, by recent, I mean the Algabraist, Matter, and Transitions.

His recent SF? Not much. However, on the non-M side, Dead Air, The Steep Approach To Garbadale and Transition have all been uncomfortably stuffed with it. I'm surprised you missed it in Transition: one of the viewpoint characters (Adrian Cubbish) exists solely to provide a mouthpiece to the worst excesses of capitalism.
posted by ninebelow at 2:23 AM on August 13, 2010


Like I said before, I have a pretty poor memory for fiction, even when it's a writer I love like Banks. I guess I felt Adrian was a pretty ambivalent character. Drug-dealer-turned-investment-banker is a bit of a lazy trope, to be sure. I guess the difference from Simmons is that I don't feel like Banks is making his characters Evil and Unlikable just because the represent qualities he doesn't like. Adrian would have to cackle maniacally, rub his hands together, and run off with Madame O (after a long monologue) to really be as bad as Simmons or Card.

Or maybe I'm just giving Banks a pass because his politics are less reprehensible.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:31 AM on August 13, 2010


I know absolutely nothing about Dan Simmons except that Summer of Night made me afraid of the dark for a few weeks.

I came back to say that I started reading this book based on this comment alone, and I absolutely cannot put it down. I am about 3/4 of the way through and cannot believe it's never been made into a movie.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2010


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