On Being A Non-Leftist SF Writer

An interview with Sarah Hoyt:

…like all the arts, writing is a liberal’s game. Science fiction, too, I think encourages extreme ideologies, which almost inevitably default left. It’s part of creating a world. You start thinking you could create “logical” rules for “this” world. (I tell you, if Lenin had written SF instead, we’d all be happier.) The climate in the field can best be judged by the fact that I could stand up tomorrow in the middle of a conference room full of my peers and announce I was a communist and they’d all applaud. However, if I announced I’m anti-communist, they would laugh. Some of them might laugh nervously and sympathetically but they would laugh.

Anyone clinging to Marxist theory is immediately believed to be very smart, and someone who goes against it is considered a lightweight.

Do they intentionally discriminate against Libertarians and conservatives? I don’t think so. Not the vast majority of them. The vast majority of my colleagues are decent people. They are also, like the vast majority of the human race, conformists. Most of them attended good schools and grew up in upper middle class neighborhoods (at least most of them who came into the field in the last fifteen years. Yes, there are reasons for that, which I’ll mention rapidly later, if I have time.) Their parents were taught in college about class struggle and that money was evil. They got it at home. They got it from schools. They got it from magazine articles and newspapers. The books they read growing up were infused with unconscious Marxism. OF COURSE they assume anyone who doesn’t agree with them is either stupid or evil. And would you give a leg up to the career of someone who is evil? Would you help them?

The funny thing that always startles me a little is hearing myself addressed as a “conservative.” I’m full of wild-eyed radical ideas not proposed out loud since Thomas Jefferson talked in his sleep, and I’m a “conservative” because I am, ultimately, anti-communist. This is a through-the-looking-glass world, since the establishment is as close to soft — (and sometimes hard) — communism as someone can go without sewing hammers and sickles into all their undies.

And that’s part of the problem there too — I don’t think any of them means to discriminate against me. Some of them even like me, in a slightly bewildered way, but they don’t know what to do with me. I was born in a Latin country, I am female, and yet I don’t consider myself a victim and you truly don’t want to get me going on a-historical theories of great mother goddesses. They don’t know what to make of me, or what to do with me. I make them uncomfortable, and it’s easier to ignore me or not to have me around too much.

It’s always been a little weird, being into both folk music and science fiction, because the prevailing political attitude in both has been leftist, at least for most of my life. One does have to be a little careful of what one says in such groups. And of course, it’s always amusing to see the confoundment on some peoples’ faces in the space activist community, who read my blog and fantasize that I’m a conservative or Republican (or worse, like RAH, a “fascist”), and see me defend Barack Obama’s space policy.

[Update a few minutes later]

For those who haven’t read Darkship Thieves, for which she just won the Prometheus Award, please give me a cut if you decide to buy it (it doesn’t seem to be available in hardcover any more).

25 thoughts on “On Being A Non-Leftist SF Writer”

  1. Some of them even like me, in a slightly bewildered way, but they don’t know what to do with me. I was born in a Latin country, I am female, and yet I don’t consider myself a victim and you truly don’t want to get me going on a-historical theories of great mother goddesses. They don’t know what to make of me, or what to do with me. I make them uncomfortable, and it’s easier to ignore me or not to have me around too much.

    Yep, you don’t fit into any easy schema, so the fearful little-brains will treat you like Frankenstein’s monster.

  2. I think Peter F. Hamilton gives a pretty wide-ranging and fair treatment of various ideologies… from the essentially communist “Edenists” to the various capitalist-friendly planets in his books. But overall, I agree, science fiction is a genre dominated by either socialist wet dreams or “capitalist dystopias.”

  3. Marxism is sewn into the fabric of our lives so that it isn’t recognized as such. I always liked star trek as a kid and never really thought about the social world it was (other than a few cool aliens other than the lumpy head guys.)

    “We don’t have money in the xxx century” Which means they really aren’t playing poker either. If you don’t sweat the call, it isn’t poker.

  4. Jeez, I must do a lot of self-censorship in my reading.

    I read RAH, Niven, Moon, Pournelle, Weber. None of them go on about victims or collectivism.

  5. Where, edh? For God’s sake, where???

    <ahem> Sorry. If you could see the interior of my house you’d realize that bringing more hard-0copy books into it is not something I’m willing to do anymore, unless it’s a valuable collector’s item I can auction of for enough to buy another house.

  6. Darkship Thieves is available electronically in various formats at the publisher’s site. It is well-worth the read, and was on my Hugo nomination ballot.

    Having said that, and having met Sarah, I wish she’d loose the chip on her shoulder about being “picked on” by “communists” in Science Fiction. There are people of all and no political persuasion in SF. Her publisher, Toni Weisskopf, is as conservative as they come, and runs Baen, one of the top five SF publishing houses in the US.

    Perhaps ironically, that same publishing house employs Eric Flint, card-carrying socialist. (I mean that literally – he is a dues-paying member of the Socialist Party of America and carries his membership card with him,)

  7. Kevin, you might find the latest Derb Straggler entertaining.

    Dr Malthus: “I buy books at a geometric rate, but read only arithmetically.”

  8. Hamilton is one of the better examples of taking a judicious approach to SF writing. I always consider it a bonus when I’m not able to tell what the author believes by reading the books–it’s in those times that I feel like I’m free of the burden of being preached to (regardless of whether I’m in the choir).

    On the other hand, you have people like China Mieville (who writes fantasy, mostly, yes, but it’s the same idea) who is such an explicit anti-American radical Marxist in his novels that I can’t stomach what would otherwise be a fascinating story in a compelling world, for all the anvils being dropped on me.

  9. I have to weigh in here – the very existence of Baen suggests a more nominally conservative approach to SF than Ms. Hoyt suggests. You look at who sells books, and it’s Weber, Williamson, Ringo — people like that. Actually this annoys me somewhat. As a liberal myself, I’d love to read great stories set in societies I’d actually want to live in. There are remarkably few of those in SF.

    I think it’s all my father’s fault. He introduced me to SF in the first place and had a great collection of paperbacks I went through in the mid 80’s. The first taste is free, right? But even though I have zero sales resistance to a good story with adventure and conflict and stuff, I wouldn’t picture myself living in many of those worlds. They just don’t make sense to me.

    I miss Beam Piper. I liked LIttle Fuzzy with a passion. Scalzi’s recent reboot really disappointed me. .

  10. Aaaand now I have it, in Kindle format, imported to the Kindle apps on both my bugbox and my phone.

    If only I had a magic wand and could do this with all the other books in this house…

  11. McGehee,
    glad to see Chris was able to point you in the right direction, I was out rebuilding a retaining wall and didn’t have the Droid with me.
    Like you I’m awash in books, the Kindle is a godsend.
    Kind of hard on Rand’s bottom line though.

  12. I didn’t think Allen Steele’s Coyote trilogy to be especially socialist.

  13. I partially disagree with Sarah Hoyt here, and with Rand. I don’t see sf as having been particularly left-wing for most of its history. It’s only in the past 15 years or so that the Communists have taken over. Most of the old masters were pretty far to the right; those that weren’t, like Asimov, tended to play it down. Yes, I know Pohl was an exception.

    I’d have to conclude that there were two factors that led to the left-wing takeover. One is the isolation between publishers and customers that Sarah talks about in the interview.

    The other, though, is the fact that sf and fantasy have been united in the SFFWA and the Hugos, which means you’ve got a lot of people influencing the sales numbers (and the Hugo votes) who have no connection to sf and often are fans of some really weird, unpalatable shit. I realize why even good sf writers like tying the two together; fantasy currently sells better than sf and many of them have to sell the occasional fantasy novel to keep afloat financially. But we honest-to-God sf readers get shafted.

    I have nothing against fantasy if it’s good (although anyone who reads that New Weird crap needs to be drawn and quartered). But keep it separate.

  14. Ever wonder where people get the idea that torture never works, killing leaders makes them immortal, or insurgencies can never lose.

  15. Rand, there maybe another effect that explains some of the leftism you see. You live in lefty areas. Both Classical Music and Opera also attract the left, especially the artist themselves. Here in “fly-over” country, however, most patrons/donors to these arts are not bleeding libs, but moderate to conservative. The limited number of lefts here do not earn as much money.

  16. On the subject of Peter F. Hamilton: The Edenists aren’t communist IMHO at all. At least within their own habitats, they live in a post-scarcity society; that has nothing to do with communism at all.

    If all the basics of life really are provided for free, what price communism then? Another thing that one might think would greatly affect Edenist society is that they have what amounts to physical immortality.

  17. I recall a few years ago on Usenet, a leftist criticizing “uniform” right-wing libertarianism among the SF fans in a discussion of “Capitalist Famine.” (I was planning to give a link but WordPress objected.)

  18. “However, if I announced I’m anti-communist, they would laugh.”

    Heh, heh. Yeah, I bet they WOULD laugh, but not for the reason she thinks. She sounds like a complete loon. What, is she channeling Joe McCarthy or something?

    Who IS a communist these days? Really, her whole rant is just hilarious, don’t you think?

    Personally, I find a surprising number of SF authors to be libertarians. But that doesn’t bother me, as long as the author doesn’t preach to me instead of telling a good story (and I object to that even when I agree with their philosophy). Why do I have to agree with an author about everything?

    It sounds like Sarah Hoyt enjoys playing the victim, huh? That’s why people criticize her wonderful writing, just because they’re all communists? Heh, heh. Yeah, she seems to be half a sandwich short of a picnic.

  19. “Who IS a communist these days? Really, her whole rant is just hilarious, don’t you think?”

    Many communists seem confused about whether they should be out protesting the free market and chanting about revolution or laughing at all those loons who think there is such a thing as “communism”

    Here is a handy guide to tell if you might be one:

    You might be a communist if you think the evil capitalist corporation dude offering you a job (that bastard!) that you can voluntarily accept or reject is a bigger threat to your life or liberty than genocidal foreign dictators who talk about (and act on – something that you never quite get around to depicting in all your songs about revolution) liquidating the Bourgeoisie.

    You might be a communist if your favorite example of a lovable anti-authoritarian rogue (the guy adorning your T-shirts and flags) happened to run a death camp for educators and political dissidents and also acted as an imperial commando on behalf of a hostile foreign power to overthrow a nascent liberal democracy in Africa.

    You might be a communist if you think that the main problem with the western world today is that there aren’t enough experts in Washington telling other people what to do and how to live their lives.

    I could go on.

  20. I think the whole wankfest of “RaceFail” showed pretty conclusively that the left is well in control of SF. Had it not been, that nonsense would have been slapped senseless, instead it took over Cons.

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