So I’ve been kind of AWOL on the blog for a while. Apologies – I had to spend a trying week in Las Vegas for an academic conference (when I could have been in Reno for Worldcon, goddammit), the beginning of the semester hit me like something truck-like, and basically it’s taken me a while to catch up to myself and reestablish some kind of a routine. I’m still working on that, actually. But letting things like blogging lapse has happened too much in the past, even if it makes sense to periodically triage it out when everything starts piling itself on, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to leap back into things now.
I need to finish up my blog series on storytelling and games, and I’m going to start posting Muse Mondays and WIP Wednesdays again, and in fact today would be a WIP Wednesday, except a thing happened yesterday that still has me sort of reeling a bit. It probably shouldn’t, given who’s involved, but then again… part of why it has me reeling is also who’s involved. So.
Let me explain.
I’m a member of a really nifty group, the Outer Alliance, which stands dedicated to the promotion and celebration of queer writers and queer works of specfic. Yesterday afternoon, a missive shot out through the Google group which called attention to this really excellent review of a really horrifying novella by Orson Scott Card, wherein Hamlet is rewritten (yeah, because that so needed to happen) to be a) incredibly sucktastic, and b) incredibly incredibly homophobic. Like, “gay people molest kids and are also gay because they were molested by gay people when they were kids” levels of homophobic. You guys, that literally happens.
I just don’t even.
Okay, so yeah, so this is horrifying, right? But this is also Orson Scott Card, so I really don’t think anyone is all that surprised. What people were surprised about, though, was that this novella was released by Subterranean Press, who, as Rose Fox points out in her post on the whole Thing (which: read it, by the way, because it’s really great and also quite informative), is “hardly a bastion of homophobia”. Like basically, what? How did this even happen? And how did no one notice this thing until now?
Subterranean has officially responded. I guess… I mean, I’d personally love them to disavow the thing, but I get why they haven’t and why they won’t, and all in all I think it’s a good response. At the very least, it happened in a timely manner and it doesn’t read like a complete brushoff, which are two things that tend to be issues in situations like this.
For my part, I’m hesitant to even make a post about this, because everything I could say either has been or will be said better elsewhere by people with a much wider audience than me. But I still feel like I should, because honestly, I feel like when things like this happen, it’s the obligation of everyone who has a horse in the race – which is to say all lovers of SFnal stuff, readers and writers alike – to stand up and point out very loudly that this is not okay. Not ever.
Up there, I ask how this could have happened. Rose Fox and Bill Schafer (publisher of Subterranean) have also noted that Hamlet’s Father was not published yesterday, and that it was not even published first by Subterranean. It’s been out there for a while, and the “offensiveness grenade”, to use Rose’s term, just happened to explode just now because the right people saw it and got outraged.
An analysis of this situation could get very long and involved and I frankly don’t feel like I could do a particularly good job of it, but I do want to throw a couple of things out there that pertain to why this took so long to blow up and why it’s really important that it eventually did.
- Orson Scott Card is well known for being a homophobic jerk. Like I said above, I don’t think that aspect of this was surprising to anyone. He’s a homophobe and a bigot, and he seems incapable of keeping these rather reprehensible aspects of his personal ideology out of his fiction. Everyone knows this.
- Orson Scott Card is a really big name in SF.
That last is clearly why Subterranean published him, and why he was able to publish something that, by all accounts, is really really bad in addition to being horribly bigoted (seriously, read the excerpt in the Rain Taxi review wherein Hamlet hears about Ophelia’s death. I just. Oh my God why). When you’re a Big Name, you sometimes get away with stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise. People tend to give you more of the benefit of the doubt. Or people make excuses for you. Or people just overlook really unlovely things about you by virtue of the apparent strength of your history, especially when those unlovely things about you are already well-known. I get the feeling that it’s kind of like that member of your family who’s so great and generous and everyone loves them but they also occasionally say things about those gays and their agenda? And everyone just sort of laughs a little nervously and rolls their eyes and moves the conversation on to something more pleasant, because oh that’s just Orson and that’s just how he gets sometimes and he’s such a great guy, he’s just a little set in his ways and anyway you know he doesn’t mean anything by it.
And we can’t – and we shouldn’t – do that.
I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how big a name you are. When you do things like this, when you say things that are gross and ugly and wrong and have been demonstrated to have the potential to incite hatred and violence against people, you don’t get a pass. You don’t get excuses made for you. You have failed at being a decent human being and your ass needs to be called on it.
This is the responsibility of the SF community. We all need make it clear that this isn’t okay.
I’m not talking about censorship or shunning or any of those things, because I don’t happen to feel that those things are conducive to having a conversation – which is what I am talking about. We need to talk about this, about why this isn’t acceptable from anyone no matter who they are, about why it’s hurtful and emotionally violent to members of the SF community, and about why SF has a history of doing this kind of thing and how we can both acknowledge that history and grow beyond it.
This is one of the reasons why the Outer Alliance is so great: it’s here to promote that process of growth, to enrich the field, to encourage and celebrate people who are using SFnal stories to expand the boundaries of who’s included and recognized as valuable and important and real.
So that’s what we should be doing in response to Hamlet’s Father. Getting pissed is appropriate, but it’s only good if it also leads to something constructive. We shouldn’t just be pissed because the book is hurtful and offensive; we should be pissed because as writers and readers we deserve better than this crap.
So demand better. Loudly. Repeatedly. Demand more stories that feature strong LGBTQ characters, and strong PoC, and strong disabled people, and strong women, and everyone who’s been marginalized or overlooked or silenced. Demand better stories. Constantly. Forever.
I want to finish by going back to a point I’ve made a couple of times now, that I think shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle: by all accounts, Hamlet’s Father is bad. It’s really bad. Homophobia aside, it’s a bad book. To quote the Rain Taxi review, it’s “a failure of narrative craft on every level.”
This is important.
One of my favorite blogs is The Slacktivist, which mostly deals with religion and politics and almost always does so very well. One thing that the author of that blog has said repeatedly is that believing stupid, hateful things makes you stupid and hateful. It stunts and cripples you in every important way, because in order to continue to believe things that are so self-evidently both horrible and not true, you have to stunt and cripple yourself.
I want to take this a step further: I think that it’s important to recognize that art can be really offensive and still have a huge amount of value. But I also think that believing stupid, hateful things – more often than not – makes you a bad artist. As it cripples and stunts your mind and heart and spirit, it cripples and stunts the things that your mind and heart and spirit produce.
We know you by your fruit, Orson, and your fruit is rotten.
So let’s move on to better things.
Edited to add: There is a wonderfully huge list of awesome LGBTQ book recommendations being compiled here, in OSC’s honor, as it were. Check it out. Spread the word.