What do China Mieville, Orson Scott Card and Frank Miller have in common?
They are all amazing writers whose work has fundamentally changed my life. The Scar, Ender’s Game, and The Dark Knight Returns are some of the most important books in my memory. They’ve shaped me as an artist and a person. They are always at the back of my mind whenever I sit down to write.
But Mieville, Card and Miller are also vocal about their politics and religious views. They aren’t shy about stepping out in public and taking a hard line, conscious of the feathers it will ruffle and not caring (at least on the surface).
In a perfect world, art would be judged strictly on its artistic merits. I firmly believe that’s how it *should* be. But that isn’t how it *is*. The fact remains that the personal views of these three writers have colored my impression of their work. I cannot pick up a work by any of these artists without remembering who they are *as people* and what they believe. This taints my experience, interferes with it. It makes me wish I’d never gotten to know them.
There are so many momentous changes in this country right now. I want to talk about them. Hell, I want to shout about them. The words are burning a hole in my palette.
But I won’t.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I won’t *here*. You can bet your ass my friends will get their ears chewed. And should you catch up to me at a con hotel bar and share a drink with me, I promise you’ll get an earful. But I’m not going to take to social media to express myself on this issue.
It’s tempting. I’ve said many times in the past that I’m no Emily Dickenson. I got into writing because I’m an extrovert. I want to communicate. I want to influence. I want to have impact.
But I keep coming back to an old thought. I’ve said this before in interviews: when you go on a job interview, you generally wear a suit and tie. Why? Not everybody looks their best in that outfit. You do it because, in our cultural mileu, that clothing is invisible. The interviewer sees it, makes a mental note that you are dressed appropriately, and then focuses on what’s important: your qualifications. I want the same for my writing. I don’t ever want people to read me (or not read me) because I am liberal, or conservative, or champion a particular cause.
I want them to read my work because it’s *good* and for no other reason. I want my stories to be judged on their merit, and not based on the personal positions of the man who wrote them. I try really, REALLY hard to do this with Mieville, Card and Miller, with limited success. I don’t want to risk doing that to others who read my own work.
I have a further complication: I am a uniformed representative of the United States government. That means that *everyone,* no matter what their political views, has to feel like they can trust me to represent their interests. I can’t have a conservative feeling I’m not going to dive into the water to save him because of something I said on my blog. I can’t have a liberal be afraid to comply with me when I try to enforce maritime law because of a political tweet. My subordinates and superiors alike have to have full confidence that I will fulfill my duties without prejudice of any kind, at risk of my own life, if necessary. I can still vote (and by god I WILL), but I am subject to limits on free speech imposed by the UCMJ. There’s article 88. There’s the Hatch Act.
I read the blogs of John Scalzi, Chuck Wendig, Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow pretty regularly. Those folks have never been shy about expressing their political views, and almost always come across as real reasoned, even when they’re snarky. They’re brilliant. I admire the hell out of them. I pretty much always agree with them.
But I doubt I could do it as well. I think I’d come across cack-handed, sowing more discord than I resolved.
Part of me wonders, am I a coward? Am I abrogating my responsibility to speak out against injustice, to use my one ability (writing, communicating) to improve the world? Maybe I am. I wrestle with that question all the time.
But in the end, the primary purpose of my bully pulpit is to tell stories. Fiction. I don’t want to dilute that experience, especially when I see the John Scalzis of the world doing it far better than I ever could. I am trained as a lifesaver and a warfighter, and I have stood in the gap twice since I first donned the uniform, dropping my life and heading off to handle a major oil spill and a major hurricane. I understand that’s a very *different* way to help people than wading into a public debate, but it’s still a way, and I comfort myself with the thought of doing that much.
Wanting to be a writer isn’t enough. I have to know the type of writer I want to be. Paul Krugman is a writer. So is Mark Steyn.
But political punditry wasn’t what got me through childhood and adolescence. Religious polemics didn’t show me the person I want to be.
Science fiction and fantasy did that.