Politics in fiction
An email I received today concerning my Hugo Award-winning novel Hominids:
Mr. Sawyer.First, let's look at the passages in question:
I picked this book up at the library because I was intrigued by the premise of the storyline. I'm still intrigued by the concept, however, I found myself rolling my eyes at the insertion of your personal political views in and around the story.
I know it's your book and you can write what you wish, but you might find a broader fan base if you limited your story telling to ... well ... story telling.
Not all Canadians find capital punishment repugnant as you infer in this story. Not all Canadians subscribe to the assertion that Mike Harris decimated the health care system in Ontario. Personally, I believe it was the health care union workers who decimated health care in Ontario, but that happened decades before anyone ever heard of Mike Harris.
You definitely have a gift for writing and story telling. I enjoyed the fictional aspects of your book.
"You know I'm delighted that he is well," said Singh, "but, really, I would like to discharge him. We don't have enough hospital beds as it is, thanks to Mike Harris." [31 words out of 100,000]And:
Mary's back stiffened. Like most Canadians, she was against capital punishment -- precisely because it was possible to execute the wrong person. All Canadians lived with the shame of the wrongful imprisonment of Guy Paul Morin, who had spent ten years rotting in jail for a murder he didn't commit; of Donald Marshall, Jr., who spent eleven years incarcerated for a murder he, too, didn't commit; of David Milgaard, who spent twenty-three years jailed for a rape-murder he also was innocent of. Castration was the least of the punishments Mary would like to see her own rapist subjected to -- but if, in her quest for vengeance, she had it done to the wrong person, how could she live with herself? And what about the Marshall case? No, it wasn't all Canadians who lived with the shame of that; it was white Canadians. Marshall was a Mi'kmaq Indian whose protestations of innocence in a white court, it seemed, weren't believed simply because he was an Indian. [165 words out of 100,000]Singh, the character making the comment in the first excerpt, is a medical doctor; thousands of doctors in Ontario (where Mike Harris was premier) would say exactly what Singh said. Under Mike Harris's administration 5,200 acute-care hospital beds were eliminated in Ontario.
Mary, the character thinking the thoughts in the second excerpt, is a liberal Canadian academic, living in Toronto. Her views are exactly the sort of thing many liberal Canadian academics living in Toronto hold (and the majority of Canadians are against capital punishment; see here and here).
In other words, I did my job precisely correctly: I accurately captured the thoughts of these characters; they said or felt things that their real-life counterparts would have said or felt.
That said, as to my correspondent's apparent criterion for acceptable fiction -- that authors should keep their politics or beliefs to themselves -- one wonders if anyone would remember Starship Troopers or Farnham's Freehold today if Heinlein had done that, or The Forever War if Joe Haldeman had purged any parallels with Vietnam, or Catch-22 if Joseph Heller had taken out the political commentary, or To Kill a Mockingbird if Harper Lee had politely left out the whole racism-is-bad thing, or The Da Vinci Code if Dan Brown had decided, hey, let's not make any value judgments here about the way the Roman Catholic Church has treated women, or ...
Also, my correspondent's assumption is that authors write with one goal in mind: to have the largest possible number of readers. I most certainly don't do that. I don't want to be blandly acceptable to a large number of people; I want to be one of the favourite authors of a narrow segment of the population.
From time to time, my editor at Tor used to say, "This will cost you some readers," to which I always replied, "Yes, I know," and we both moved on, leaving the material intact. My editor knew, and my correspondent should learn, that authors write to say things.
My correspondent's point is ridiculous on the face of it. He's either saying I should only state opinions that all Canadians (or whatever group I'm talking about) hold (such as, oh, I don't know, it's generally colder in Canada in winter than in summer) or I should give equal weight to minority opinions (because otherwise I'm saying something that not every single person agrees with).
Me, I'd rather challenge preconceptions. If it really bothers you to read things that you don't agree with, then read somebody else; I'm not writing for you.