Somewhere on Facebook, I saw an image of a familiar book cover, the cover to James P. Hogan’s 1977 science fiction novel Inherit the Stars. I remember reading it while my wife and I were on vacation in Europe in 1985, traveling with a Catholic choir group (long story).
As with a lot of books I read decades ago, I remember liking it, but I can recall almost nothing of the plot. Yes, it all starts with the mystery of a dead human being found on the Moon, a person 50,000 years old. Intriguing.
I thought about adding it to my list of books to re-read, even though a day ago, I dedicated myself to reading science fiction and fantasy of a more recent vintage.
I was surprised to discover that “Inherit” was the first book in a five-part series. I was also surprised to discover that it was the first book Hogan ever wrote, and that he did so on a dare.
I decided to look up Hogan on the internet. He died in 2010 at the age of 69, just a few years older than I am now.
I also found out he wasn’t a nice man.
For one thing, he insisted that AIDS was caused by drug use rather than the HIV virus, and for another, he was an antisemitic Holocaust denier.
And thereby hangs a tale.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz in news and social media this past week about highly acclaimed poet Alice Walker’s support of an antisemitic author. It all started because she was featured in The New York Times “By the Book” column and was asked what books she had on her nightstand. One of the books was David Icke’s “And the Truth Shall Set You Free.”
I was stunned to find out this highly antisemitic rag has a total of 81% 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon. I guess 81% of the 110 reviewers of this 2004 publication are heavily into anti-Jewish conspiracy theories.
Anyway, Walker, after being heavily criticized in the news and social media, explained her possession of Icke’s book as wanting to keep informed. She mentioned she also tried to read Hitler’s “Mein Kampt,” “but found it too steeped in German history.”
Of course, she’s Icke’s personal friend, defended his viewpoints, and says the criticism of her is based solely on her support of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction) against Israel. Okay, so I’m not going to be a big fan of her politics.
However, her point of reading material that you disagree with (not that she disagrees with Icke) is a good one, and sometimes I partake of books and other information sources I know I probably won’t agree with just to see the other side of the coin.
A couple of days ago, I read a File 770 article called Four Winners Refuse Parsec Awards. Apparently the Parsec Awards are conferred upon outstanding podcasts involving speculative fiction, and it seems that this year, four winners refused their awards because the people over at Parsec stood by their decision to present an award to a person named Edward Champion. According to this twitter conversation, Champion has harassed, bullied, and abused a number of people. The details of his specific behaviors seem thin, though I’m sure if I spent a lot of time at it, I’d dig something up.
However, the problem really reared its ugly head when the Parsec folks wouldn’t remove Champion’s award, stating (according to File 770):
…It is the goal of The Parsecs to judge solely on the merit of the content and not on gender, heritage, religious belief, sexual orientation, politics, or other factors not in the podcast as presented to the audience. To do more would be to fail at our core purpose.
Also, from a different File 770 missive, they once again quote:
Our process is necessarily blind. We vet nominations for accuracy and submissions for relation to category and duration. Judging is done solely on the basis of the audio file presented. That is to say we are presenting awards to the podcast solely on the basis of the content and production value.
So, under these conditions, should Champion get to keep his award, and, more to my point, should people continue to listen to Champion’s podcasts (assuming their quality is worthwhile) in spite of his reputation?
Now, back to me and Hogan. I have no love for antisemites, and I certainly didn’t know this about the author back in 1985. Now that I do know, should I read his book again to see if I still like it?
Since it’s not available from my public library system, I’d have to shell out about six bucks plus shipping for a used paperback copy. Not sure if it’s worth it, but interestingly enough, now that I know his background, I don’t feel that it prevents me from reading and even enjoying his stuff (assuming I still do enjoy it).
I don’t vet the author(s) of every book I read and only consume material created by people who share my social, political, and moral convictions. If I did, I probably wouldn’t read much, since a lot of SF/F writers lean pretty far to the left.
However, what I’m also saying, is that in the name of sheer fairness (yes, I know, life isn’t always fair), we shouldn’t be afraid to read, listen to, or watch creative efforts just because the creator might not always agree with us, or may even not be a particularly nice person (relative to what we consider “nice”).
Now there are limits to all that. I’m sure I will never read a copy of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” or any Nazi-created propaganda because of my views. I won’t read Icke’s book, and I’ve never had the urge to sample any of Alice Walker’s publications (although I did once watch the 1985 film “The Color Purple” which was based on Walker’s novel of the same name).
Everyone has the right to boycott people, groups, and products as they see fit, so no objection there. I don’t buy Starbucks products, both because I think they’re terribly overpriced and pretentious, and because their CEO is a supporter of BDS against Israel. I don’t listen to Pink Floyd anymore (not because I wouldn’t enjoy their music) because one of their founders Roger Waters is a terrible antisemite and a bully.
But I would read at least one of Hogan’s books, even knowing what I know about him. I also read and reviewed Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” knowing that I probably wasn’t going to agree with her conclusions about Christianity and a number of other topics (it actually wasn’t a bad book, but the ending was disappointing).
It’s easy to drift toward only those people and ideas with which we agree, but in doing so, we isolate ourselves in an echo chamber where the only voice we listen to is our own. That has the advantage of never becoming upset and always feeling supported and empowered. It has the distinct disadvantage of cocooning ourselves in our own little fantasy world, believing it is how reality actually works. Further, it could delude us into believing that we should
force and coerce convince others that our perception of reality is actually an objective observation, and that all other points of views must be suppressed or crushed.
More’s the pity.