YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

Let’s start with two simple, indisputable facts:

  1. You have the right to your own opinion, and
  2. You have the right to remain silent.

I awoke this morning at 3:45 am feeling out of sorts. It wasn’t just the mysterious pain in my right elbow, radiating down my arm into my hand. It wasn’t the twinge in my back easily explained by yesterday’s uncomfortable thirty-minute stint on my uncomfortable exercise bike. This sense of nervousness has been building lately, and it’s around something that’s happening now that I think is putting science fiction and fantasy authors in mortal danger.

If you come here for career advice, please ignore everything if you only take this single bit of not just advice, but desperate request from a fellow author, a lifelong fan, and a reasonable, intellectually open fellow traveler:

Shut the fuck up.

I worked with Brad Torgersen on our ill-fated Fathomless Abyss project and found him to be creative, collaborative, funny, and a terrific writer with a broad imagination. I didn’t ask him about his personal politics because I didn’t care. He came into the project via collaborator Mike Resnick, who I knew was one of those, let’s call him “curmudgeonly” SF authors of the Old School who occasionally got “in trouble” for stuff he’d written in the SFWA Bulletin, but I don’t care because Mike is also creative, collaborative, funny, and a terrific writer with a broad imagination. Now I learn that Brad Torgersen is in the process of destroying his writing career by publically blowing up the already thoroughly marginalized and long-ago well blown-up Hugo Awards. Attacking from the political right he and Larry Correia, and some other people I don’t know intruded on the tiny little group of friends who give a statue every year to other members of their tiny little group of friends and has everybody all in an uproar—the classic tempest in a teacup that is a good thing for precisely no one.

Over the course of my very long career I’ve worked with people who are politically conservative, and people who are politically liberal. I’ve worked with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons. In none of those cases—as an editor, author, or coworker—did I ask about any of those things ahead of time, and their political or religious views not only didn’t prevent me from working with them but in fact I welcome and am infinitely fascinated with the differences in people, and prefer those differences over any sort of political, religious, or cultural bubble.

If the so-called Sad Puppies is a reaction to a perceived bloc of feminist and/or liberal voters, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen (et. al.) creating a voting bloc of anti-feminist and/or conservative voters only energizes “the other side,” and here we are, allowing something like Gamergate to penetrate into science fiction and fantasy.

And I just can’t allow that, not because I can’t handle a conservative SF author or a liberal fantasy author but because I can’t accept that we now have to separate into this side vs. that side.

In this blog and my other writings I tend to avoid politics, and as a member of a religious minority in America I’ve learned the hard way to just not talk about religion in “real life.”

But I write about both politics and religion in fiction all the time.

I have my political views, my opinion of religion, of popular culture, of other trends in world culture and so on. And as a writer of fiction I keep all that stuff there. I don’t want to be a “liberal author,” or an “atheist author.” I want to be an author, and if you read a story I’ve written and get thinking about religion in one way or another, or another story and think about politics in one way or another, fine. If you just enjoy it for the adventure, that’s perfectly fine too. And readers are going to reinterpret—from our perspective, misinterpret—that “message” as they see fit. I not only don’t mind that, I welcome that. I can’t, won’t, and don’t want to sit over your shoulder while you’re reading any of my fiction and say stuff like, “This is a fantasy retelling of The Fountainhead but I’m not a libertarian,” or “This short story is really about how Wall Street is like a cabal of devil worshipers,” or whatever. You’re going to get that or not, agree with me or not, and it’s the discourse-through-fiction that’s the thing.

So again, here’s my career advice to you:

Shut the fuck up.

If you declare yourself a “conservative author” of “conservative SF” you will not just be carving your potential audience in half—it’s the central delusion of both the left and the right that they each speak for half the people—you’re really limiting yourself to more like one or two percent of the potential audience. Pretend God help me, I’m about to agree proto-neo-conservative Richard Nixon, who invoked the Silent Majority.

Nixon was actually right about that, though maybe not quite in the way he was hoping. The Silent Majority really is a little bit conservative and a little bit liberal, a little bit religious and a little but agnostic, a little bit violent and a little bit peaceful, a little bit terrified and a little bit courageous . . . There is no rape culture in America, and there are no “feminazis.” There is no War on Christmas, nor is there a Gay Agenda. Those are “wars” being fought by two or three people at any given time, utterly ignored by effectively everyone else, which then attract a gaggle of anonymous internet trolls who are just there to stir the shit.

Wallow in that at your own peril, authors.

I flatly refuse to limit my own audience in that way. As authors we are all running our own small businesses. I’m not going to make the mistakes that other businesses, either Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby, or whatever else, have made when they said: “Attention people of conscience: don’t shop here.”

I want everybody—men and women, rich and poor, gay or straight—to buy my stuff and read it and think about it and like it or not or understand it or not . . . or understand it in a way that I don’t.

If you’ve joined the Sad Puppies you have done damage to your career. If you call out, as I’ve seen recently online to stop reading anything written by white men because women and/or people of color deserve to have the genre to themselves, you have done damage to your career.

When you make any one segment of the audience out there feel unwelcome, the Silent Majority will follow.

Leave your politics in your story, leave your spirituality in your story, leave your opinion in your story, leave everything about you in your story. The story isn’t about you.

No one gives a shit about you.

We want stories.

So, Larry Correia, George R.R. Martin, and anyone and everyone who’s ever said, “Well, your side has said and done thus and so while our side is perfect and gifted of The Truth,” please, I beg you, for the good of the genres we love, and for the good of your own careers, please just stop talking.

And start writing.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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12 Responses to YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

  1. sftheory1 says:

    Bravo! Sound and sage advice.

  2. Greg says:

    Very well said.

  3. Dee says:

    Your link to “stop reading anything written by white men” doesn’t work, but I find it hard to believe the source article says what you represent. (“Deserve to have the genre to themselves”? Really?) Moreover, personal reading challenges and suggestions that people consider whether their reading habits are unthinkingly skewed towards white men can only open up readers to more stories that they might not otherwise be considering… which I would have thought aligned with your “it’s all about the stories” approach. But maybe I’m the only one who’s bored with the same-old bad-asses-in-hoods fantasy and am enthusiastic about wider perspectives and alternative tales.

  4. FWO says:

    Wow. Way to drop the mic, Phil.

  5. I once listened to an audio book, where at the end I was treated to a politically-charged diatribe that I completely disagreed with. Now, I can’t say this influenced my opinion of the story, it was a good one, but it has influenced my choice to seek out other books by the same author, because I want to read something that’s pretend. If I wanted to read on politics, I would pick up one of those. So, I suppose I agree. We as authors should focus on our craft, and not our beliefs, it casts a pall on the whole platform when you so gratuitously take a crap on someone else’s beliefs.

  6. I completely agree. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being actively involved with being involved with politics, I do think that tying politics into the fantasy/sci-fi genres is a good way to separate all of us far more than is actually needed.

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  11. James Ross says:

    Plus if I were on one of the sides, and I wrote a story illustrating the grand Truth of My Side, who would I want to read and understand it? Not My Side, but Their Side!

    That’s right, I am writing my Grand Manifesto not for you, but for The Evil People! That they too can See.

    Um, okay, maybe not that dramatic, but perhaps you can see that the people who need to hear my message are those who are not already dedicated to it, yes? So as both a wannabe businessman (haven’t written anything for sale yet) and a Messenger of the Conscience, I need the neutrals and perhaps, even the evil people to read my book.

    Besides, as Sigrun, my paladin, is likely to one day say, “You needn’t worry about pure evil; it destroys itself. Most of the time, the worst you will see is ten, fifteen percent evil. We are the majority. That’s why my sword doesn’t see all that much use.”

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