“Person attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” – Mark Twain
Thus begins The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Of course, it has a plot. It actually has a moral in that Huck realizes he is above the general attitudes and morals of the society around him. Also notable for Huck’s dad being the only literary character too racist for the soon-to-form Confederate States of America, which, given Twain’s depiction of antebellum Missouri, takes some doing.
But Twain’s disclaimer addresses a problem authors from the creator of Gilgamesh* to Anne Leckie (of Ancillary Justice fame) have had. Readers have an annoying tendency to read their own agendas into a given work. Or more importantly, they have a bad habit of assigning one to the author.
I’ve run into this because I have Mars being a nominally socialist world in my series, so therefore, I must be a leftie. Right? But in The Marilynists and Suicide Run, I have a world that’s full on libertarian. So I’m a right-wing, Trump-voting, MAGA-loving right winger. Correct? And Deseret is an ostensibly Mormon world, so there’s a book of Mormon on my shelf that I’ve probably marked up with a red pen.
The same person, in multiple instances, have told me this. I’m both a bleeding heart liberal, a bigoted conservative, and devout Mormon… Or is that Muslim? The Caliphate is depicted as a pretty cool place to hangout.
I am none of those things. It says more about the reader than the writer. Why? Mentioning it, even speculating on how a belief system might work successfully, is not the same as embracing it. One of my protags is the disowned son of the head of the largest corporation in Homo sapiens history since the Dutch East India Company, but I’m all for nationalizing Lockheed Martin and selling it off in parts to pay down the debt (plus get a handle on the obscene cost overruns defense contractors need like addicts in search of hydrocodone. You go, Jeff and Elon. Make Boeing cry. Maybe they’ll remember how to build an airplane.)
It is what it is, and I write it not to get on a soapbox but to give it a rhyme and reason to doing things. I am no more a socialist or a Mormon or a worshipper of Gordon Gecko than the next guy. These things exist now, and they have their plusses and minuses like anything else. Where a reader might make a mistake is assuming I have to take a stand.
I’ve always rejected that notion because the stands are generally handed to me, not made by me. That’s not thinking. That’s regurgitating. That’s not to say an author should not take a stand or infuse their own experiences into a story or body of work. But my cause is not necessarily your cause.
Where I get particularly annoyed is when someone accuses me of being “woke.” Why?
Suicide is a middle-aged, bisexual Asian woman. I didn’t do that to tick off boxes. I did that because, if I wrote my original instincts, she would be a he, and he would be a retread of both Han Solo and Obi-wan. Been there, read that. Move on. I threw things in out of my own comfort zone because it forced me to write a backstory. Similarly, I don’t think it’s being politically correct to have a 14-year-old black girl, Davra, be the first protagonist we see in the Amargosa novels. I wrote the characters the way I did because I am keenly aware there is a world outside of these United States, that most people do not really give a shit about our national hysteria (and the sooner we figure that out, the sooner we can avoid irrelevance in the world), and that most Homo sapiens do not look like the middle-aged software developer typing this. That’s not political. That’s realism.
I write what I write in service to the story. If you read something into that, you read it wrong. You can pull what you like out of my work or any other author’s, but no one gave you permission to decide what that author was thinking. That’s all on the reader.
*There has been a newly discovered chapter of Gilgamesh found since George RR Martin completed the last Game of Thrones novel in 2011. Whuddup with that, George?