Standards in F&SF and Politics

Over Memorial Day weekend, I went to CONduit, the science fiction and fantasy convention held in Salt Lake City, and the convention that qualifies as my “local” convention, because it’s the closest — if anything some 260 miles away is ever exactly local. One of the panels I was on dealt with the topic of “foreshadowing” in fiction, the idea that an author needs to set up events occurring farther along in a book so that the reader doesn’t get to that later event and throw the book across the room — or worse — vow never to read another of the author’s books.

Another panel was on political commentary in science fiction and fantasy, and one of the points brought up was that authors should generally refrain from pontification and empty rhetoric and that we should use the events and actions in the story to demonstrate and illustrate how political acts influence society and people and what those effects will be. As an author, I very much agree with that point, and although I must confess to an occasional lapse, generally perpetrated by my alter-ego Exton Land, I do make a deliberate and conscious effort to show my readers what will happen as a result of political decisions and acts.

But…as I was driving home, I began to think about the confluence of those panels — and there is more than enough time to think on a 260 mile drive through the sparsely populated mid-section of Utah. It struck me that those of us who are authors are being held to a far higher standard by our readers and the public than our politicians are. Politicians can mislead their constituents day after day, year after year, by promising a happy ending through higher federal benefits, greater environmental protection, lower taxes, or laws that conform to the religious beliefs of their constituents… if not all of the above. What’s more, over ninety percent of them get re-elected.

If I, or any other author, tried to foist that kind of a happy ending on my readers, especially if I did so following 300 pages of the kind of obfuscation and misdirection practiced by the vast majority of politicians, after one book I would have almost no readers left. And again, I must confess to past errors, because for all too many years I was one of those political staffers who created speeches, letters, policy papers, and speeches all designed to suggest a political happy ending through blind faith in a given politician.

As an author, I don’t have that luxury. I have to produce an honest ending, and if I don’t, I won’t be able to make a living from writing fiction because my readers expect that degree of professionalism from me. Neither will most of the other authors I know. Yet we’re authors, just people who try to sell stories for entertainment.

We haven’t been elected to make or change laws that have national and world-wide consequences. People pay far less for our books and stories than they do in the taxes that support government and their elected politicians. But as authors,we’re still held accountable for what we produce and do.

So why don’t people expect and demand the same degree of professionalism from their elected representatives?