“Dear whomever: Kiss my ass,” author John Scalzi tells a room full of fans. The crowd laughs and applauds.
Scalzi, who is a Hugo award-winning science fiction author of novels like Old Man’s War and Redshirts, was at Book Con — an annual convention of authors and booksellers at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. Along with fellow science fiction authors Charlie Jane Anders, Annalee Newitz, and Cory Doctorow, Scalzi appeared on a panel on Saturday to discuss resistance in science fiction.
“People will visit my website or Twitter feed where apparently I have political opinions,” said Scalzi. “Then I get the sorrowful email that says, ‘I thought I was coming to you for entertainment, but you’re telling me how to think and regretfully I must not read your books anymore.’ They’re expecting me to say something like, ‘No, don’t leave.’ They’re not expecting the email I actually send, which is ‘Dear whomever: kiss my ass.”
Annalee Newitz, who co-founded io9 and has a debut sci-fi novel Autonomous coming out in September, chimed in to add, “If you’re setting [a story] on earth with humans, you can’t have a world without politics.”
All four authors lingered on the inherent absurdity of the notion that science fiction is entertainment and therefore shouldn’t be political.
Charlie Jane Anders, who co-founded io9 and wrote the Nebula Award winning novel All the Birds In The Sky, said that the questions and conundrums that are staples of the sci-fi genre are tied together with politics. “You can’t ask the big weighty questions about what’s a fair society and how do we allocate resources without getting political.” Drawing in a recent real-world example, she said that if American withdraws from the Paris agreement, “that is an act of world building.”
“There’s never a place where the politics end,” said Doctorow, who a Locus Award winning novelist of novels including Pirate Cinema and Walkaway.
“We forget that Utopia was a satirical novel,” he said. “No matter how much you agree, you end up disagreeing. There’s never a place where the politics end.”
Newitz added that human society has never been a monolithic entity that agrees to march in one unified direction.
“It’s a genre that thrives in periods of crackdowns,” she said. “By setting books in alternate realities, we’re able to tell stories we can’t tell if we’re doing nonfiction.”
Newitz and Doctorow both used the example of people who break the law or circumvent authority figures when the authority is unjust. “I can’t tell stories about [these people] in real life because I want them to stay safe and keep doing their work,” she said. In the world of science fiction, however, they make for dynamic main characters.
So the next time you think a science fiction writer should just be an entertainer — don’t be surprised to get a “kiss my ass” back.