Tag Archives: writing

Attributing opinions to an author

Can we ever attribute comments that a character in a story makes to be the opinions of the author who wrote them?

This question comes to me often when reading various authors like Robert Heinlein, and Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinleinrecently, to a lesser extent, Ursula Le Guin.  When an author writes about something “political”, we seem to automatically ask that question.  Should we attribute certain remarks in a book as being of the author’s true political opinion?

I would venture to say that most science fiction authors (or rather, most authors) do not state strong opinions in their writing.  They neither state them nor dwell on them, because they run the risk of becoming “political” or siding with a certain political or religious group.

Statements by certain characters, such as the “good guy”, may indicate a leaning by the author. I say “good guy” because that is a major factor.  A good guy (forgive my simplicity here regarding good vs bad) who gives an opinion should be more likely to be representative of what the author thinks, than if a “bad guy” gives it.  Simple enough.

In general I regard this as a dangerous practice, attributing an opinion to the author, but sometimes I can’t help myself.

Oftentimes good guys are of mixed morals.  (Some would say the best good guys are of mixed morals!)  They follow the good “moral” path only after certain events and perhaps emotions goad them into doing so.  So it would be dangerous to assume anything that this type of character says to be what the author believes, for that and other reasons.  But perhaps a long-time good guy or elder in a story, may give more indication of the author’s true beliefs.

Ayn RandI’ve deemed certain authors political, like John Barnes, Heinlein, and Ayn Rand, but I came to that conclusion only after a pattern emerged that led me there.  And maybe that’s what it comes down to.  There must be an overt pattern in a story or an author’s books that all of them point in one direction, toward that opinion, before you should safely make that claim.

Regardless of all of this, I think nearly all authors are trying to get a point across about humanity and if they can let you figure it out, without being explicit, but lead you to the answers piece by piece, their job has been to some extent completed.

At least that’s my take on it.

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The Politics of Stephen King

In the last couple of posts I’ve been writing about an interview that Stephen King gave Rolling Stone recently.  It’s really informative for King fans and you can read it here.

Stephen King caricature by Garrett Morlan
Stephen King caricature by Garrett Morlan

In it he talks about whether he believes in God (covered in my last post), and how he views why he’s not taken seriously as a literary author (in the post before that).  He also points out that he is a pacifist, that he thinks Obama has does a pretty good job considering, and he goes a little deeper into his political beliefs and how they impact how people know him.  And about his politics:

“[Stephen King:]  I’m going to do a TV ad for the Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows this afternoon. She’s running against Susan Collins for Senate. And I don’t know how much goodwill I have in the state, but I think it’s a fair amount, so maybe the ad will make a difference.

[Rolling Stone:]  Do you worry that being too political will turn off some of your readers?

It happens all the time. I wrote an e-book after the thing in Newtown, Connecticut, when that guy shot all those kids. I got a lot of letters, somebody saying, “Asshole! I’ll never read another one of your goddamn books.” So what? If you’re to a point where you can’t separate the entertainment from the politics, who needs you? Jesus Christ.

I never really cared for Tom Clancy’s books, but it wasn’t because he was a Republican guy. It was because I didn’t think he could write. There’s another guy that I sense is probably a fairly right-wing writer. His name is Stephen Hunter. And I love his books. I don’t think he likes mine.”

The thing is, King’s politics aren’t overt in his books, like Robert Heinlein’s are.  With Heinlein (and John Barnes for that matter, of which I will post about in the future), I feel as if it’s been forced on me sometimes, like he took pains to detour the story so he could fit some political statement in, but I can’t think of a single instance when I thought King was trying to make a political statement.

A thing, be it a book or movie or whatever, is either political or it isn’t.  And if it isn’t, it shouldn’t be.  That’s sounds redundant but I guess I’m just saying that if given the choice I will choose the mainstream nonpolitical story over the political one most times.

I actually think a lot of people are like this.  They are understandably turned off by the ugly politics of our time.  Probably why they don’t vote, as evidenced by the record low turnout just a few days ago.

More from King and Rolling Stone on the political state of affairs in America:

“Why do you think the country is so divided?

It doesn’t have anything to do with Obama. There’s a fundamental discussion going on in America right now about whether or not we’re going to continue to protect individual freedoms or whether we’re going to give some of them up. And the discussion has become extremely acrimonious.

In the wake of 9/11, we’re searched invasively at airports. There are CCTV cameras everywhere. There’s a whole bunch of people who say that America is for the individual and that we’re all the gunslingers of our own house. Basically, there’s a whole side of the country that’s fearful. They’re fearful that if same-sex marriage becomes legal, then God knows what will happen – all at once, all of our kids will be gay and America’s way of life will die out. They’re afraid that immigrants are going to swamp the economy. And on the other side, there are all of those people who say, “Maybe there’s a way to embrace these things, and maybe we need to give up our right that anybody can buy a gun.” They’re basic arguments.”

And on to a new author and book in the next post…

Roland’s Addictions

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series

Book One: The Gunslinger

(con’t from the last post)

Addiction” is a theme that runs throughout Stephen King’s works and I will talk more about it in the future. In this book, not only is our main character Roland addicted to the pursuit of the man in black, he is also addicted to tobacco just like a regular Joe.

The GunslingerAfter a long period of starvation as he follows his nemesis, Roland passes up a meaty meal of rabbit that the man in black offers him after magically shaking it loose from his robes. Roland admits readily that he is afraid of enchanted meat.

But later, when the man in black offers him tobacco, Roland is willing to risk a little enchantment. We all have a price right?

Roland’s price is probably a lot higher than most people’s and he is an honorable and complicated hero, even though he essentially killed Jake by letting him fall to his death in order to continue his pursuit of the man in black.

As I said before, King’s thoroughly developed characters are rife with faults.

As Roland runs toward the man in black instead of saving Jake he knows exactly what he is doing, and he knew he would do it beforehand as well. Furthermore, he knew it was going to haunt him for the rest of his days, even before it happened. Part of Roland’s appeal is that he knows himself so well. He’s an expert observer of other’s behavior and we now know, of his own.

Jake knew it too, sadly, and kept on traveling with Roland as there was no other realistic course of action that would save his life.  For other reasons too perhaps.

As Jake falls to his death, he yells that there are “other worlds than these.” This line, which is brought up repeatedly in later books, baffles me, even though I’ve read the whole series and The Talisman, which has many parallel worlds. Maybe I will figure it out as I continue to read (again, after 20+ years) the Dark Tower series….

 

In The Beginning There Was Sci-Fi

I’m a big science-fiction fan, beginning with Stephen King in my teens and 20s. I fell in love with Star Trek in college in the 90s and programmed my VCR (a challenge, yes) to record The Next Generation every single weekday while it was in syndication. Picard is my hero and in a sense, my ideal father figure.  🙂

In my 30s I fell in love with Ursula K. LeGuin, my absolute favorite fantasy/sci-fi writer. I ventured to other writers: Pohl, Silverberg, Bradbury, but LeGuin has a certain poignant, compassionate psychology that I revel in.  After that I went thru a years-long non-fiction phase, and now I’m reading The Dark Tower series again along with The Future History series by Robert Heinlein.  I want to get to know them as well as I can, and writing about what I read and listen to (i.e. audiobooks) will undoubtedly aide me in this endeavor.

So follow along if this at all interests you. This is essentialy a writing exercise, an experiment, a way to share my enthusiasm for sci-fi writing.