INSIDER TALK: The Disappointment of Idols

Let me preface this post with the comment that I’m not looking to answer any questions or suggest actions regarding the subject. I’m just recounting a personal experience and how it affected me.

Back in my formative college years, I was a budding science fiction & fantasy fan. I would skip studies (and, occasionally, classes) to finish a particularly compelling book. I’m sure many of you reading this have parallel experiences that you recall through the lens of nostalgia. Those were the days.

For me and my group of friends, the contemporary writer who held Top Dog status was Orson Scott Card. We loved Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide. We read his short fiction and enjoyed his essays on writing. Heck, we even liked the Alvin Maker series.

So when we found out that OSC was signing at a local bookstore, my friends and I were understandably stoked.

At the signing, OSC did a short reading, answered some questions, and generally charmed his fans. And the fans were numerous. I’d estimate nearly 100 people had shown up to the event, and that’s not counting the numerous local school buses who brought dozens upon dozens of students.

The event lasted for 3 hours and it was nearly 10pm when it ended. My friends and I were one of the last to have our books signed. Someone in our group of four suggested that we offer to take Mr. Card to dinner. Each of us would ask him with the idea being that we would wear him down so that he would say yes.

I was the second to offer the invitation. And, incredibly, he said “yes.”

After the signing, we all piled into my friend’s tiny Ford Fiesta. OSC rode shotgun while me and two of my friends were squished in the back (yes, think of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from Wayne’s World). On to a nearby Outback Steakhouse we went!

I would be the guy in the middle.

The dinner was a grand success. OSC shared stories of his days as a software developer (my friends and I were all computer science nerds). Over a bloomin’ onion he talked at length about writing Ender’s Game, the good (and bad) of its incredible success, and shared professional wisdom.

At the end of the evening, we drove him in my friend’s little Fiesta and dropped him off at the hotel. It was a fun and memorable night.

Over the years, I stayed in touch with OSC intermittently via email. In 2005, when I was launching Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest, OSC provided a great amount of advice and support. He even opened a dedicated area on his famous Hatrack site supporting the digest.

OSC was a mentor and writing idol to me. So when I encountered stuff like this and this, I was stunned. It was at odds to the kind, compassionate man I’d known for over a decade. Not only are many of his stated opinions factually incorrect, but they come across as a moral and religious dictate.

I have no problem with opposing views as long as they’re constructed in a reasonable, factual manner outside the bounds of problematic rhetoric. Coming to terms with someone you have viewed as an inspiration using hate speech has required a lot of mental calculus. I’ve been blessed to have made many gay and trans friends over the years. Reading the words of one of my idols hating on friends who I love and respect really hits hard.

Card isn’t the only author who has a history of saying very bad things. Writers have said and done things that vary from cringe (such as Dan Simmons, another writer who I’ve long admired, recently stepped in it with his insensitive remarks about sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg), to demeaning and inappropriate (Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis at the 2006 Hugo Awards), all the way to loathsome (Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter accusing her mother of sexual and physical abuse).

The internet has made access to our idols a reality. Sometimes, that access accentuates the person you like. Can LeVar Burton be anymore fantastic? Sometimes, it diminishes the person you liked. Adam Baldwin used to be the coolest scifi tough guy around…until stuff like this tweet.

Despite it all, I still like OSC and his work. Simmon’s Hyperion and The Terror are still two of my personal favorite novels. Harlan Ellison’s work is genius. MZB influenced many in a positive way and brought many, many readers into the scifi and fantasy folds. You can’t diminish the art over the actions of the creators. Nor should you.

Me and the boys with OSC

Finally, I’ll conclude with the old chestnut that people aren’t perfect. Even those authors who have written seminal works. Delilah S. Dawson (who is amazing and definitely not an asshole) has a great post why authors can be assholes that you can read here.

Following your idols on the internet is both usually fulfilling and rewarding. But be ready to make some hard choices when you discover their darker human sides.


2 responses to “INSIDER TALK: The Disappointment of Idols”

  1. K.T. Avatar

    I agree, I think you can like a work, but not a person’s worldview or even the person, depending on how deeply their belief system is at variance with your own, and also how they act. Mocking a girl who asks adults to take responsibility like the adults they are says more about the mocker than the issue at hand. I think it perfectly illustrates the fact that no one is perfect. All that being said, at some point, you may be asked to draw the line when opinions become hate speech. I can’t say I have any answers, I do, however, find it ironic that OSC’s posts do exactly what he accuses “the left” of doing. I don’t think any of this diminishes the work as a product, but it says a lot about the creators as humans.

    1. Jason Sizemore Avatar

      Yeah, the line has to be drawn at hate speech. Some of OSC’s stuff really tiptoes that line, sadly.

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