This book holds such a weird and conflicted place in my heart.
I read it when I was really, really young. Probably too young, but I watched Silence of the Lambs when I was like nine and read A Game of Thrones when I was around eleven, so that ship had pretty much sailed (and just as a by the by, nothing to do with my parents. I was a particularly determined and underhanded kid, and though they were pretty liberal with the art they allowed me to consume, there were a few things I never gave them the opportunity to object to).
This novel (and the series that followed) had a bunch of firsts for me. It was the first hard scifi book I’d ever read. The first to treat intelligent children not just like they matter, but like they’re useful, dangerous even (which seems a little strange to frame as a positive, I know, but treating somebody like a threat is, in a weird way, an acknowledgement of their capability. I was a clever kid who was tired of being treated like a child, and something about this really got to me). It was also the first genre book series I’d encountered with themes of pacifism and anti-warmongering at its core, along with some pretty strong messages about the dangers of othering people you don’t understand, how much fear that can generate, and how easily that fear can turn to hate. This series helped to shape not only my taste in fiction and art, but also my idea of the adult that I wanted to grow up to be.
One of the perks of getting at this so young was that I was able to read it and love it, the whole series, without having much of a chance to encounter or care about the author’s personal politics. At that point I didn’t even know what my own were, and if you’d asked me I wouldn’t have really understood what you meant. Besides, I’d never been the type who worships the maker of the art. It’s the art itself that I’d always been interested in. That’s where all the swords and laser beams and forbidden, sweaty love is. Author’s names weren’t much more than a helpful reference tool for me to find more books that I wanted to read.
It was only years later (like a decade and a half actually), after several rereads of the series and numerous recommendations to people, that I heard anything about it. It was just an offhand comment on a podcast of some kind, and I didn’t really think anything of it. Then I heard something else. Then again. And eventually I was compelled to do something that, up until that point, I hadn’t really ever done. I turned to Lord Google (All Hail its Knowledge and Supreme Benevolence) for some info on a guy I had kind of assumed was a collection of monkeys and typewriters. And it broke my heart.
How could somebody that wrote about peace and compassion, about overcoming prejudice by trying to understand the things you fear, support such hateful, awful garbage? He was one of the first people to teach me that love and life is complicated, but that compassion and community, relationships, are the things that make life worth living, and we should take them where we can. Unless you’re gay and you want to get married, I guess. A man can love a female voiced A.I. (which…it’s a computer program. You can name it Jane and give it a lady’s voice and that still doesn’t mean it’s a woman), but he can’t love another man, another human being? I don’t get it.
At first learning this didn’t really change the way I interacted with the series itself. Death of the author, right?* No matter what he espoused in his personal life, it didn’t change the message that I got from his book, the lessons it taught me, the positive impact it had. And most of the people I know who read it got a lot of the same things from it that I did, so the book itself is a net good, right? Even if the man isn’t.
But…it’s not that simple. It would be great if we could interact with the art we love without having to worry about the person who made it, but we can’t. By purchasing the book (I’ve repurchased it at least three or four times), and reading it, raving about it, telling people in my life to do the same, I’m contributing to something. Yes, the book itself has a positive message, but the money that I, and all the people I convinced to buy it, spent isn’t getting thrown down a well. That money, or a portion of it anyways, is going to Orson Scott Card, and he’s using it to fight against people like me being able to get married. That’s super fucked up.
When you buy art you’re not just supporting the creation of more art like it (although you are doing that), you’re providing power and a platform to the person who’s creating it. I know you can’t be checking every single thing that you consume (is every actor in every television show I watch a good person? Is the CEO of the company that makes the plastic that houses the grape tomatoes I like a SJW?), but I think it’s well past the time where we acknowledge that who we give our money to matters. So let’s try our best not to give it to dick bags like this, okay?
Recommended for sexually confused, politcally oblivious pre-teens with low self-esteem, and…um…people who didn’t read the review I just wrote, I guess?
Ps. Honestly, if you decide to just keep ignoring authors (or musicians or directors or whatever) and reading books, I really don’t blame you. I still don’t look into every author that I read (I would never get ANYTHING done. I mean…I don’t really get that much done now. But even less. I would get EVEN LESS STUFF DONE), and anybody that says that they do is either lying or doesn’t read as much as we do. Just know that if you’re not careful, you might one day realize you’ve been contributing to something that really doesn’t sit well with you and that’s (trust me) a really ooky feeling.
*For those of you who haven’t heard this saying before, this isn’t me threatening to kill Orson Scott Card. It’s just a saying among readers which means that what the author thinks about his work, what he was trying to convey, isn’t as important as the message that you pulled out of it while reading it. Once they put their art out into the world, their opinion about what it means becomes irrelevant.