The Offensiveness Grenade

In 2008, the Science Fiction Book Club Tor Books published an anthology called The Ghost Quartet, edited by Marvin Kaye, which contained a novella by Orson Scott Card called “Hamlet’s Father”. Tor Books reprinted the anthology. (See comments for discussions of the struck-through text.) No one appeared to notice that the novella rather painfully rewrote Hamlet to postulate that Hamlet’s father was an evil gay child molester who preyed upon the youth of Denmark.

Among those who missed the memo were the folks at Subterranean Press, who published the novella in a stand-alone edition in April of this year. Yes, this is the same Subterranean Press that publishes books by authors like Caitlín R. Kiernan and Poppy Z. Brite–hardly a bastion of homophobia. They kept the print run to 1000 copies, perhaps realizing the book would hold little appeal for anyone other than Card’s die-hard fans. PW‘s review was less than complimentary, and explicitly called out “the focus… on linking homosexuality with the life-destroying horrors of pedophilia”. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s Father almost entirely escaped the notice of the SF/F field’s queer activists.

On September 5th, William Alexander reviewed the book in Rain Taxi‘s online summer 2011 edition, calling it “as horrifying as it is ridiculous” and “a failure of narrative craft on every level”, and after three years of sitting there with the pin pulled out, the offensiveness grenade went off. Outraged blog posts, comments, and tweets sprang up. Felix Gilman suggested that the book could be followed by Unambiguously Antisemitic Merchant of Venice, while Arthur Hlavaty said he was waiting for “the one where that Muslim sumbitch Othello deserved to die.” Scott Lynch posted a “so much less gay and not written with gay big words” version of Henry V. Even @HAMLET_HULK weighed in. Outraged letters began arriving at SubPress; publisher Bill Schafer posted an official response bravely asking for more comments and promising to share them with senior staff and take them into consideration when making future acquisitions. Perhaps this request will redirect the ire from blogs and Twitter to the SubPress inbox; perhaps not.

Schafer professed surprise at the sudden and vitriolic response, given that the novella has been in circulation for years and was originally put out by much bigger publishers in much bigger print runs with much lower price tags. Not mentioned but relevant is Card’s long-established reputation for homophobic writing. Most queer readers are avoiding his work already, so why would anyone kick up a fuss over one little novella with a 1000-copy print run from a boutique press? But this is the thing about offensiveness grenades: they may look entirely inert for so long that you forget they’re dangerous, but sooner or later, they explode.

I expect a lot of people will be vexed that Schafer doesn’t explicitly disavow or apologize for the book. (I don’t expect Tor, the SFBC,  Marvin Kaye, or Card to disavow or apologize for it either.) It is worth keeping in mind, though, that SubPress has a pretty good track record of publishing queer and queer-friendly work. I know Bill Schafer well enough to believe him when he says they’ll read and respect the comments that come in. So disavowal or no, I’m hoping for the response that matters most: publishing better, smarter, kinder books. And I hope lots of people write not only to SubPress but to all their favorite publishers and ask for more representation and more respect.

EDIT: There’s some good discussion of the book and OSC’s work on Metafilter, and MegWrites is compiling a list of queer books mentioned with the #buyabiggaynovelforscottcardday hashtag on Twitter.

EDIT 2: All comments are now being moderated. I will err on the side of encouraging discussion, but I will be redacting personal attacks, trolling, and other off-topic material.

73 thoughts on “The Offensiveness Grenade

  1. Farah

    I think there are two factors: first the speed of the internet response and the increased linkedness of many writers and fans, but more importantly Card is right: gay marriage normalises homosexuality. The debate is over and the homophobes lost. The sudden reaction to the book is about its shift from being “part of the debate” to being an attack on friends and family.

    1. D.Wood

      What pray tell is wrong with gay marriage? I am stright but Im all for people haveing the same rights.Homosexuality is already normal it happens in the animal kingdom all the time and people are animals.Look it up this is a fact.

      Now as to the book that sparked this.I dont like books that bash people so i dont read it or the person who writes it.I send the message to them via my cash.Like one of my fav writers says Love as thou will.

      1. James Davis Nicoll

        Well, we did run into one problem with it up here: turns out divorce law is for historical reasons not actually automatically affected by changes to who can marry and divorce was explicitly defined as involving one man and one woman. This became clear right after one same sex couple discovered that for them, the final straw was having married (note for people shacking up with each other who are considering marriage; this is not that uncommon but also not universal). It’s since been addressed.

        Another issue is that we were promised by social conservatives, just as we were promised by the same people when partial nudity for women was legalized (on the grounds that men can go topless whenever they like), wall to wall orgies and licentiousness if only we’d make same sex marriages legal. Did we get said wall to wall orgies and licentiousness when we did legalize same sex marriage? We did not.

      2. Tim Lieder

        Farah is not endorsing Card’s homophobia, only the assertion that gay marriage normalizes homosexuality – Card is the one that thinks that’s a terrible idea. Farah seems to endorse it.

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  3. Ken Houghton

    “why would anyone kick up a fuss over one little novella with a 1000-copy print run from a boutique press”

    I dunno. Why would PW assign a reviewer to the book publication if their editor knows that it’s been published twice before?

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      I consider reprints for review if the book hasn’t been reviewed before, or if it’s a story that was in an anthology but has never been published as a stand-alone. Same criteria as any other review: Will booksellers and librarians find a review of this book useful?

  4. Eliz Lear

    Thanks for the thoughtful overview and interesting perspective! I have zero interest in reading it, but I’m interested in the reaction and fallout.

  5. Kosmo

    It boggles my mind that the same publishing community that advocates adamantly for banned books – down to the very fundamental principles of free speech – direct an outrage of equal intensity at published works that conflict with their own personal views, on the basis that they are “offensive.” Is this not run-of-the-mill hypocrisy at its finest?

    It may be offensive to a certain community, but a publisher deemed the work fit to print and thus it met an audience. Don’t like it? Don’t read it, and get over it. And demanding an apology is ridiculous. Please someone inform me of the rules of storytelling, because I was once under the impression that fiction was at the whims of only boundless creativity and imagination. If so, then it is only to be expected that one will inevitably come across something that offends them.

    I don’t see how you can honestly prevent these works from being published without restricting the art of storytelling itself.

    1. Farah

      I haven;t heard anyone ask to ban it. I believe in the right to publish what one will, but one then has to take any heat generated.

    2. Josh Jasper

      Wait, so instead of not actually *censoring* books, but just *criticizing* them, you want these critics to self-censor in order to make your life easier?

      1. Kosmo

        Criticism would mean having an intelligent conversation about the contents of the novella. For example, “The novella is uncomfortably homophobic in nature. Sensitive readers will be averse to its controversial themes. I, for one, was offended.” That is criticism.

        This is the outrage I have been witness to here in a nice, reality-based package: “I am offended by this homophobic trash. The publisher should never have printed this, it is awful. I am not only offended, but deeply angry and now I must assault the publisher and other book lovers with over-dramatic expressions of my displeasure. Also, everyone agrees with me so I know I’m right.”

        I am seeing a clear distinction, and yes I would prefer critics stick towards the former – as it does make my life a little easier. I’m going back to reading “Headless” now by Benjamin Weissman, which will surely serve to lay the final stones of disapproval upon the judgment of my character.

        1. Josh Jasper

          This is the outrage I have been witness to here in a nice, reality-based package: “I am offended by this homophobic trash. The publisher should never have printed this, it is awful. I am not only offended, but deeply angry and now I must assault the publisher and other book lovers with over-dramatic expressions of my displeasure. Also, everyone agrees with me so I know I’m right.”

          If you have any criticism of actual comments, I’d love to hear it, but no one said that.

    3. Matte

      “It may be offensive to a certain community, but a publisher deemed the work fit to print and thus it met an audience. Don’t like it? Don’t read it, and get over it.”

      I think one point of this article is that the publisher does publish for “a certain community”: gay readers.

      That would be like Scientific American publishing an article defending intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. People would get pissed off and rightly so because they would be insulting their readers.

        1. James Davis Nicoll

          Here’s a real world example of what can happen when news outlet supposedly devoted to science news veers too far into embracing nonsense.

  6. Kat

    That’s the kewl thing about free speech. There are a lot of people out there saying a lot of things. I can listen to them all, and choose to believe what I believe. I won’t read a homophobic storyline. I wouldn’t write one myself. But I sure will support his right to have one out there, if that’s what he wants.

    1. S.M. Stirling

      This is basically a fight over ideological hegemony — the “right” to rule something outside the bounds of the permissible.

      I find -that- mindset offensive, in the extreme.

      Card does dislike “gayness”; this is obvious from his record. I disagree and find it sort of sad.

      But Card has a perfect right to write whatever he damned well pleases, and if you’re offended don’t read it.

      Trying to sanction a publisher so they won’t publish what you consider offensive is offensive; it’s soft-fascist and a claim to be the Discourse Police.

      Newsflash: there are no Discourse Police and the very concept is evil.

      And no, it doesn’t matter that Card would undoubtedly like to be in a position to do the same right back.

      1. S.O.

        Who’s trying to sanction the publisher? I can count a half dozen books from Subterranean press on my shelves right now, and i am sure there will be more.

        At the same time I can still say that I wouldn’t touch this particular book with a ten foot pole. And i can tell the publisher that. They have every right in the world to ignore my opinion. or, possibly, they might take a second look and agree with me– possibly decide that they won’t publish homophobic– and mediocre– garbage just because there’s a famous name attached to it

  7. Jim C. Hines

    Only four comments to get to “You’re trying to ban/censor the books!”

    Which is weird, because I’ve been following this pretty closely, and haven’t come across a single person calling for Card’s book to be banned or censored.

    Rose ends her post by saying, “I’m hoping for the response that matters most: publishing better, smarter, kinder books. And I hope lots of people write not only to SubPress but to all their favorite publishers and ask for more representation and more respect.”

    Seems like a reasonable thing to ask for.

    Freedom of speech is funny stuff. It means Card has every right to write homophobic crap. It also means others have the right to state publicly that this is homophobic crap, and that they’re disappointed a publisher paid money to print it.

    1. Kosmo

      It is really the culmination of outrage that gets to me – as if the entire fabric of the internet is ripping at the seams because Orson Scott Card wrote a homophobic novella. If only the reactions could be as honest and reasonable as yours. It is much more than disappointment.

      Also, there is an audience for this kind of stuff: Bigotry, smut, gratuitous violence on all levels – perhaps the issue is with this specific publisher. I have no idea. But if you are not a Card fan, taking issue with a book solely on the basis that it offends you, and aggressively hounding the publisher to prevent any further offending publications, is this not in fact restricting the voice of the author? I suppose it’s up to the publisher; I just fear the styles and themes of books I enjoy getting nixed because of complaints. Sometimes I like being offended.

      But there are other publishers more fit to cater to these tastes. As well as self-publishing. I do agree with your viewpoints, however, when it comes to rights and reason.

      1. Josh Jasper

        I expect if a large group of people called you a child molester on a regular basis, on national TV, on the radio, in newspapers, and in fiction, you’d be plenty touchy about the subject too.

        Or perhaps not. But don’t be surprised that you’re a rarity, if that’s the case. LGBT people get angry at that the same way that Jews get angry at being celled Christ killers.

        1. James Davis Nicoll

          In Card’s defense, what personal familiarity with mass prejudice based on lies and misapprehensions aimed blindly at the group one belongs to is a devout Mormon going to have?

          1. Kosmo

            It is truly enlightening reading all of these comments. Especially in regards to a book that none of us is going to read!

    2. S.M. Stirling

      “Which is weird, because I’ve been following this pretty closely, and haven’t come across a single person calling for Card’s book to be banned or censored.”

      – trying to embarrass the publisher into not buying stories you find offensive is a form of censorship.

      It’s equivalent to boycotting a business, or in the same general ballpark.

      By all means, denounce Card’s story to the skies if it pleases you to do so; but trying to impose an economic (or other) -cost- on him for his opinions is Not Good.

      1. Gary Farber

        “– trying to embarrass the publisher into not buying stories you find offensive is a form of censorship.

        It’s equivalent to boycotting a business, or in the same general ballpark.”

        Steve, do you oppose all boycotts on principle? Do you believe that the anti-Jim Crow boycotts were morally wrong and the same as censorship?

        Aren’t boycotts also simply free speech? If not, how so?

        We’re not talking about threats of violence: we’re talking about people using words.

      2. Chris

        If I understand you correctly, you think boycotting a business isn’t a form of free speech? I’m pretty sure it’s one of the most tried-and-true methods of expressing one’s opinion we have. And an important one. Having the right to say and think what one wants does not protect one from having other people disagree and, when appropriate, spend their money and time supporting other, more agreeable businesses or persons. Calling a boycott a form of censorship is pretty far afield.

      3. braak

        I’m not sure this follows. Publishers censor their stories all the time — the censor them based on how much they think those stories will sell. As much as it might be painful to admit, no serious publisher actually has a commitment to free speech or the broad-minded inclusion of multiple perspectives; their interest is primarily, if not solely, in the potential market value of the texts that they buy.

        Saying, “I’m not going to buy this book from you, because I find Orson Scott Card’s work to be often grotesque” isn’t a *boycott*, it’s just customer feedback. There’s no reason that Subterranean or Tor or anyone else should have to guess what sorts of things audiences are going to be interested in buying; they can just ask, and those audiences will be happy to tell them, and there is nothing morally reprehensible about saying that you’re not going to buy something because you think a work is vitriolic homophobia.

        Moreover, the mechanisms are firmly in place for Card to publish his work, completely free of censorship or editorial dictate, in a form that anyone, anywhere can have access to. It’s called the Internet, and the fact that he could publish the book and give it away for free if he were so committed to his ideology only goes to show what looks like a bit of a hole in the argument: protecting Card’s being published by an publisher isn’t safeguarding his freedom of speech; it’s safeguarding his freedom to profit from his speech, with is neither guaranteed nor morally necessitated.

      4. btmom

        I strongly disagree with your position. A boycott, or similar economic action, is an entirely fair and reasonable way for a consumer to express its disapproval of the actions of any kind of business concern. Or, to put it another way, why would I wish to financially support a business which engages in conducts I consider offensive? My disposable income is limited. There are far more things I want which cost money than I can afford. How I spend my money is, in many respects, an expression of my values. And that is one reason why I will no longer purchase Card’s work.

      5. ellid

        Uh, sorry, but requesting that a publisher not publish a bigoted book is not censorship. If the GOVERNMENT required Subterranean Press to withdraw Card’s book, that would be censorship. Two different things, I’m afraid.

  8. Theresa M. Moore

    Given that the original play was about revenge wreaked by Hamlet on his murderous uncle. the idea of Hamlet’s father as a pedophile stretches credulity. Where in the play is there any mention or idea that he could have been a pedophile, since his entire story is told in a single scene? I would say that the outrage over a badly written story where the characters were stolen is a tempest in a teapot. It would have been better to simply ignore it and move on. A print run of 1,000 would not jar my interest any more than a print run of 1. There are plenty of other books of that ilk faring much better, without the same disgust and hyperbole being expressed. It would be better if those who made such a stink would concentrate on examining the real offense of political autobiographical tripe masquerading as memoir.

  9. Trillium

    I would like to point out that the link to Card’s “long-established reputation for homophobic writing” actually discusses the complexity of the male-male relationships in his stories–that he is paradoxical in at times depicting sympathetic and nuanced homoerotic or homoaffectional relationships and sometimes making outright statements against homosexuality.

    Even my beloved Ursula le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness dismissed homosexuality as a hormone imbalance in the mother that was corrected. Of course, she has since come around to a different way of thinking, but I think our larger culture still wrestles with our notions of gender and sexuality and Card represents a really obvious version of this grappling. And, of course, he is HEAVILY informed by his religious beliefs. I think the advice to encourage the writing of inclusive and broad-minded authors (who I hope will still challenge us) is the most sensible.

    1. btmom

      I’ve read The Left Hand of Darkness more times than I can count, and do not remember that statement. I guess I’ll have to read it again. A shame. ;)

      1. EJ

        I’ve never noticed it either. Such a statement could well have gone over my head when I was a teenager, but I’m surprised I didn’t catch it when I re-read the book more recently, since I’m much more sensitive to that kind of thing now.

        If it is in there, it will really sour my feelings about the book — which is a shame, because The Left Hand of Darkness was something of a revelation to me as a genderqueer thirteen-year-old.

    2. fourteenlines

      Hardly an apt comparison. Darkness was published in 1969, which means it was written before the Stonewall Riots. Yes, I imagine in the last 40+ years of the gay rights movement, LeGuin’s view did change.

    3. Lila

      The Left Hand of Darkness doesn’t say that, but I think I found the passage that you might be misremembering:

      “Goss used the pronoun that designates a male animal, not the pronoun for a human being in the masculine role of kemmer. He looked a little embarrassed. Karhiders discuss sexual matters freely, and talk about kemmer with both reverence and gusto, but they are reticent about discussing perversions—at least, they were with me. Excessive prolongation of the kemmer period, with permanent hormonal imbalance toward the male or the female, causes what they call perversion; it is not rare; three or four percent of adults may be physiological perverts or abnormals-normals, by our standard. They are not excluded from society, but they are tolerated with some disdain, as homosexuals are in many bisexual societies. The Karhidish slang for them is halfdeads. They are sterile.”

      Notes:
      -”Karhide” is a country on the planet Gethen.
      -”Perversion” here means a person who is always male, or always female. Most Gethenians aren’t.
      -”Bisexual societies” here means societies where the people are divided into two sexes. In Gethenian societies they aren’t.

    4. S.O.

      You might be thinking of Anne McCaffrey there. She has some pretty off-base ideas about LGBT causes.

      I cannot remember anything like that in anything of Le Guin’s writing.

  10. btmom

    I had been one of Card’s die hard fans for many years, brushing off his political views as being irrelevant to the question of whether or not he is a good writer. Then came the 2008 election.

    I read some of the completely insane rantings he posted online, including violent rhetoric and babbling idiocy, and THEN read the transcript of an online forum he had with Washington Post readers who asked him about his extremist views. He completely misrepresented his own views because he realized that the readers to whom he was speaking might be put off.

    This was when I realized he was not only a right wing crackpot, but a phony, and vowed not another nickel of my money would reach his pocket. If I want to read something of his, I’ll buy it used, if at all. A shame, really – he is talented, but apparently lacking both a moral compass and a political clue.

    And no, this is not in any way urging that he be censored. I have a perfect right to decide how to spend my money for whatever reasons I wish. If he wishes to shoot off his mouth, he must live with the consequences that it might both attract and repel book buyers.

    1. ellid

      Agreed. He current has up a post on his website defending Hamlet’s Father as NOT being anti-gay, just anti-pedophile…even though in the past he’s at least tacitly expressed agreement with the long-discredited theory that gay men “recruit” teenage boys by molesting them. He’s also a member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, a hate group that has sponsored blatantly untrue TV commercials and radio spots that, you guessed it, decried gay marriage and hinted that gay men molest teenage boys.

      As for this proposed boycott – no one is censoring his book, unless the government has swooped down and confiscated the whole Subterranean Press print run, or unless someone has demanded that a town library remove Hamlet’s Father from the library.

      1. Josh Jasper

        For that matter, as a quote below, there’s the absurd and insulting theory that being molested can turn one gay

        .The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.

        O. S. Card’s essay “Homosexual “Marriage” and Civilization”

        The thing is, Card does not see himself as “anti-gay” because he sees the goal as ridding the world of queerness as a positive thing for all those who’re queer. Anything done to stop us is for our own good.

        1. Eric Tolle

          Which feeds back into the ideological subtext expressed in Enders Game that it’s intent that matters, not the actual action. As long as your doing it for the right reasons, any action is justified.

  11. James Davis Nicoll

    What’s your source for SFBC having done The Ghost Quartet? ISFDB, wikipedia and Kaye’s own site credit to it to Tor. Kaye has done anthologies for SFBC (including one in 2006 and one earlier in 2008 than The Ghost Quartet) and I’ll admit the format looks like the ones he did for SFBC but as far as I can tell, this did not see an SFBC edition that I am aware of.

    A source tells me Bookscan thinks the Tor edition sold around a hundred copies; that right there could be why there was no fuss at the time. Nobody read it.

      1. James Davis Nicoll

        My sources [1] say the introduction says Tor Books made the final choice for this quartet: they wanted Orson Scott Card, which suited me fine, as I’d bought two superb stories from him in the past. I hadn’t realized that, like yours truly, Scott is a Shakespeare
        teacher and scholar. A new twist on Hamlet distinguishes his highly
        original peek beyond the scenes of Elsinore.

        It’s also not listed as being from SFBC on Card’s bibliography, only from Tor.

        1: Ant talk for “I can’t make google books go for reasons that escape me when I am this low blood sugar.”

        1. James Davis Nicoll

          Given that there’s no proof SFBC did this and a fair amount of evidence suggesting they didn’t maybe their name should not feature so prominently in that first line.

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      It’s possible, certainly. Rich Horton noted it as a Tor release in 2008 and wondered whether it was originally pitched to the SFBC. Maybe Schafer was thinking of The Dragon Quartet?

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  13. Ildrinn

    “Most queer readers are avoiding his work already, so why would anyone kick up a fuss over one little novella with a 1000-copy print run from a boutique press?”

    Can I just make the rather obvious point that it’s not just LGBT folk who find homophobia offensive? It’s the job of all of us to speak out against discrimination, not just the victims.

    1. S.M. Stirling

      “Can I just make the rather obvious point that it’s not just LGBT folk who find homophobia offensive? It’s the job of all of us to speak out against discrimination, not just the victims.”

      – homophobia is an -opinion-. Granted, it’s a dumb opinion, in my opinion… but opinions are like the posterior orifice; everybody’s got one, few bear close examination.

      If Card had fired someone because they were gay, that would be discrimination. If he’d thrown people in jail because they were gay, that would be discrimination. These are -actions-. Therefore it’s appropriate to respond with actions; a lawsuit, say, or a demonstration.

      Saying something that can be construed (even very plausibly) as homophobic(*) is -speech-. Freedom of speech not only means that you’re technically free to speak; respecting it means you reply to words only with words.

      Hence it would be unsuitable to try and get Card fired from his job for saying something, for example.

      (*) a term I dislike; it’s an attempted framing attack.

      1. Josh Jasper

        If he’d thrown people in jail because they were gay, that would be discrimination.

        Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society. The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity’s ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

        Scott Card, Sunstone, 1990 “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality”

        1. s.m. stirling

          >Scott Card, Sunstone, 1990 “The Hypocrites of Homosexuality”

          – yeah, but that’s Card expressing his political -opinion-. Those are -words-.

          That’s a political statement, precisely the sort of thing the 1st Ammendment and its penumbras are designed to protect.

          Popular opinions which the -bien pensant- think are morally good, socially positive and life-affirming require no protection.

          Freedom of speech is there to protect the offensive; it’s there to protect the speech that piles coals of fire on your head and makes your brain want to explooooode and fills you with fear and rage and contempt for the obvious dangerous crapiness of the lousy hatemongering bigot who uttered them.

          There’s a good litmus test here; switch the value signs.

          Imagine that you’re advocating positions you value (legalizing gay marriage, for example) and you put something that supports that position (or could be construed to do so) in a story and there’s an explosion of indignation at you getting that story in an anthology because of those opinions/positions.

          People demand that the magazines not buy stories from “people like you” and the editors promise to “listen to and respect” these complaints and demands.

          Now, would you feel that this was legitimate? No, of course not. Would you consider it attempted silencing and intimidation/delegitimization? Of course you would. And you’d be right.

          Ah, but it feels so different when the spear’s pointed the other way…

          It’s perfectly legitimate for Card (and you) to be called names and denounced. You just can’t legitimately do anything to shut him up, and that is -not- limited to forceable action by the State. Neither can he legitimately do anything to shut -you- up.

          Of course, it’s obvious that Card would -like- to shut you up, using everything up to and including the police… but that affects the present issue not at all.

          Civil liberties types spent a long, long time and a lot of sweat freeing us from the tyranny not only of official censors but of public opinion — and I don’t propose to go back to the situation where it was necessary to curb your tongue to avoid offending the neighbors. Screw the neighbors.

          That’s as bad as living in fear of the secret police; worse, in some respects, because there are more of them.

          And I apply this standard regardless of how I feel about the specific ideological content of what someone’s saying. This requires some gritting of teeth occasionally, of course.

          1. Josh Jasper

            That’s neither here nor there. I’m not arguing in favor of, or against a boycott.

            I’m saying that you’re wrong in claiming Card is not actively working to discriminate. Card discriminates wherever he can manage, and encourages others to do so on a very visible national stage.

          2. Eric Tolle

            So basically, Card has the right to express his opinions, no matter how vile, and yet if people regard Card’s writing as venomous hatred-inducing propaganda, and decide to use the power of persuasion and their pocketbooks to argue against publishing Card’s work, this is somehow oppression?

            Free speech entails more than simply politely saying “yes I like this/no I don’t”. As recent court cases have shown, it includes lobbying and the spending of money. So if people choose to publicize an author’s views widely, actively lobby the publisher, and spend their money elsewhere, then that is protected speech too. That is the wild world of free speech that the conservative political climate has created, so I suggest people learn to deal with it.

            The moral of this is that in the world of new media, authors really can’t hide their beliefs, and everything they write and say is now subject to examination by the general public, not merely an isolated group of fellows. So if an author espouses violent Islamophobia or radical political views, he really should be prepared to deal with a general public knowledge of his views. If that public reaction includes letters to publishers threatening a boycott, well, that’s free speech for you- readers have a right to take action on their views.

          3. Carlos

            I recall an incident where you contacted the superior of a serving U.S. Army officer in an attempt to punish him for his disagreement with your political views, Steve.

            I don’t expect you to be consistent in your hypocrisy, of course. I simply would like other people here to know exactly how principled your view is.

            Editor’s note: I am allowing this comment through because it does still pertain to the conversation, but it just barely makes the cut. I encourage all participants in this thread to discuss the topic, not the other commenters.

          4. ellid

            I’m not going to tell Subterranean Press what to publish. But I *am* going to buy a couple of Diane Duane’s books in Card’s honor. She gets the royalties, he gets a message, and no harm done….

      2. J. E. St.Lawrence

        Except that Card isn’t just pushing homophobia in some abstract way, he’s peddling the blood libel against gays: that they are really just child sexual predators. It’s one thing to hold the opinion that homosexuality is immoral or unnatural (and it’s funny when people try to frame rational arguments to support those positions), but quite another to say, repeatedly, and in public, “those people are coming for your children,” or words to that effect.

        If someone were to peddle the blood libel against Jews, i.e., that Jews kill Christian children as part of some religious ritual, I think the public danger would be more obvious.

        Editor’s note: Portions of this comment went over the line into personal accusations and have been redacted.

        1. ellid

          He’s also a board member for the National Organization for Marriage, representing the Mormon Church. Wasn’t NOM recently listed as hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center?

      3. Lila

        Would you prefer if the commenter had said “It’s the job of all of us to speak out against *bigotry*, not just the victims,” instead?

        To say that we have a moral obligation to speak out against X is not to deny that we also have a right to X. I think we have a right to be bigots. I also think we have a moral obligation to eschew bigotry, and to speak out against it.

  14. Marvin Kaye

    For the record, when I put together “The Ghost Quartet” for Tor Books, Scott Card was not my choice to be one of the four contributors. Not because I do not respect his work; in the past I have bought an original dragon novella from him, and reprinted his horror classic, “Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory.” However, Tor insisted that Scott be one of the contributors to “The Ghost Quartet.” When approached, he tried to beg off because he was under such deadline pressure that he warned it would take him a very long time to write something new for the book.

    However, Tor Books insisted that he MUST be one of the quartet. Tor made it clear they would not publish “The Ghost Quartet” unless Scott was part of the mix. As a result, he was over a year late delivering his manuscript, by which time one of the other authors was very angry at me.
    MK

    1. Rose Fox Post author

      Thank you very much for giving your perspective!

      When Card delivered the manuscript, did you have any opportunity to evaluate it before the book was published? Would it have been possible for you to say “Not this novella, another one” even if it meant another year’s delay?

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  16. Caliban

    Orson Scott Card is on the Board of Directors for the “National Organization for Marriage” (NOM), an organization whose entire focus is defeating gay marriage. In light of that and Card’s rather bizarre fixation on homosexuality, which he has editorialized about extensively, it’s hard to see “Hamlet’s Father” as anything except religiously/politically based propaganda, where Hamlet’s father basically rapes every male youth in sight and intends to do the same to his son. It’s on a par with anti-Semitic works published in Germany during the 1920s and 30s.

    It’s unfortunate that Subterranean Press didn’t factor that into their decision to publish the book because I don’t believe they are a homophobic organization. Small genre presses like Subterranean (Cemetery Dance, Borderlands, etc.) eke out a living in the current post-reading book market by publishing limited editions by “name” authors to the collectors market (they’d happily publish a signed limited edition Stephen King’s Grocery Lists). Card IS a “name,” even though he’s been coasting on ONE book, “Ender’s Game,” for decades. I don’t think Subterranean took the larger issues into consideration, particularly Card’s involvement with NOM.

    Certainly they can publish anything they choose, but Subterranean is mostly a small sci-fi/horror genre press, not an ideological one, and I don’t believe it was their intent to get involved in this fight. It’s a shame they’ve been implicated in Card’s obsessive vendetta against gay rights.

  17. Caliban

    I would add that Orson Scott Card can write anything he likes, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. But Free Speech is a 2-way street. Freedom of Speech is by no means Freedom From Criticism Of What You Say. Just as he has the right to pen a “novel” whose only purpose is to demonize all gay people as child molesters, others have the right to call him on it and urge a boycott of the work, just as groups like NOM will probably urge people to buy it for the opposite reason.

    So don’t give me that “poor Orson Scott Card is the victim here!” business. He wrote what he wanted, it was published, and he was no doubt paid for it. Now it’s time for others to have their say in reaction to it, which is THEIR First Amendment right.

    I’m just sorry that Subterranean Press got mixed up in this because, again, I don’t think that was their intent.

    1. Eric Tolle

      I’ve found it interesting that the “Censorship!” argument is mostly used these days in an attempt to shut down legitimate criticism of a work, and as a derailment from actual discussion of the work in question. Notice that the discussion has moved from discussing “Hamlet’s Father”, to a defense of the ability to criticize.

      It also may be my limited perspective, but the acceptance and defense of extreme attitudes may be more common around the SF&F genre, something which I tend to attribute to persistent reactionary themes, such as the “great man” idea, romanticizing monarchy and authoritarianism, etc.. But that may just be a limited perspective- do fans of other genres, such as mystery and historical romance notice similar defenses of reactionary attitudes?

      1. Caliban

        I’ve never really thought about it but you may have something there regarding the sci-fi and fantasy genres and their authoritarian and monarchist tendencies.

        I have a better perspective on the mystery genre since I read a lot of books in that genre and worked in a mystery bookstore during college. As a general rule I think mystery novels have a deep concern with psychology because in order for the criminal characters to ring ‘true,” their crimes have to fit an overall psychological pattern so they don’t come across as two dimensional pieces in a puzzle. The secret inner lives of characters also come into play either as motivation for crime or as red herrings to mislead. A frequent theme is is the accused innocent (who often becomes the ‘detective’ character) so there’s no assumption that authority is always right. Even in police (or FBI, etc) procedurals the hero is often a ‘rogue’ who refuses to accept what others believe to be the obvious suspect, so even the police characters are often anti-authoritarian, “mavericks.” The righting of past wrongs is another frequent theme and often those wrongs were caused by past prejudices, whether they were racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, or homophobic in nature.

        So I’d say that despite their focus on good and evil, right and wrong, mysteries are not reactionary at all and frequently deal in shades of gray, sympathetic “bad guys” (Dexter the “good” serial killer for instance) and very dislikable authorities. Really mysteries are more concerned with truth vs lies and proof IS required so “that’s just how those people are” doesn’t cut it except as motivation to look beneath that assumption for the truth.

        Of course up through the 70s the evil gay killer was a genre standard but bad homos were standard in all genres. At best they were silly and useless. And the problem there wasn’t so much that the bad guy or girl was gay. There are bad gay people. The problem was, as it is in “Hamlet’s Father,” is their badness was portrayed as a function of their BEING gay, as if an equation existed where homosexuality = evil. An act of murder or sexual abuse by other character were portrayed as personal failings, not a stain on heterosexuality, but the bad deeds of gay characters were attributed to gayness itself as if one were the natural consequence of the other. The problem was also that gay characters didn’t show up except as villains so even if the portrayal was balanced the genre as a whole wasn’t. It was no different or better than books where Jews were always greedy or blacks were, de facto, lazy and criminal because in all those cases (again as in Card’s book) it denies those characters’ humanity and individuality, even responsibility since their evil acts are not really a personal choice, just the way “those people” are.

        So no, generally mystery readers aren’t authoritarian despite the many authority figures in the genre. Mystery readers are more truth-seekers and, as Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

  18. Nick Mamatas

    It’s an extremely peculiar usage of the word “censorship” to apply it to a story that’s been published, reprinted, and that is still in print in multiple formats.

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