Saturday, January 28, 2012

Orson Scott Card: Marketing Genius?

So I finished Ender's Game, and wrote a brief review of it for Goodreads because I'm curious what books will get recommended to me once I do my 20 reviews. I gave it five stars.

Homo- or paederotic? Really?
I knew my stepson liked the book. He's the one who recommended I read it. So, thanks to the wonder of Facebook, I messaged him in his apartment at FSU asking him to rate the book and tell me what he liked best about it. Here's what I got back about thirty minutes later. I liked it. I'd give it 4 stars. It was a bit of a heady and political book, which gives it controversy, but the story is very good, and that's what it should be about. Plus he's remarkable about describing battles in 3D.

After I posted my review, I scrolled through a few of the other 11,000 reviews and 213,000 ratings. Seriously. And I quickly realized something. People are deeply polarized by this book. The majority of reviews are positive. The bulk of negative ones talk about the book's "one dimensional cardboard cut-outs," "infallible, mostly emotionless and paper thin protagonist," "side stories that didn't add to plot development," primitive writing", and "pathetic New Age garbage." One reader said, "I threw my book across the room after I finished it."

But then I stumbled on criticism that made me do a double-take. "Bizarre homoerotic subtext....It creeped me out and I'm gay." "Creepy pedophile vibe." "I believe the author's conceit and prejudice played a big part in my being unable to enjoy this book [throwing] homo or perhaps even paedo-erotic undertones into starker relief."

Huh. To me, the author's mention of boys in various stages of undress as they prepared for bed or showered, wasn't as weird as how the lone prepubescent girl in the barracks was naked right along with them. But this was a tiny part of the story and I moved on to embrace larger concepts.

The sex reference criticisms made me wonder, so I did a little checking on Orson Scott Card. He appears to be a very opinionated man. And a very religious man. He writes a critique column in his local newspaper: Uncle Orson Reviews Everything and blogs his opinions freely: The Ornery American. He wrote a rambling diatribe in 2004 proclaiming that marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman (as well as stating that men and women are inherently foreign to each other.) He spent an awful lot of time explaining how gay people can marry: all they have to do is make their marriage a sham  by marrying someone of the opposite sex. He seems to be endorsing closet homosexuality. Is outrage over this article the genesis of reading sexual overtones to what I viewed as simple scene descriptions? 

The controversial and beloved Orson Scott Card

Whatever the answer is, I figure the way he gets his name out there and the fact that he doesn't shy away from expressing himself probably attracts more readers than repels them. Even if someone's expressing outrage about him, they're saying his name. I bet people have read the book just to check out the sexual overtones themselves. I mean the guy's got 11,000 reviews written about this book just on Goodreads. And I personally don't care what anyone privately thinks if they can write a good story.

What about you? Would you ever refuse to read an author's work of fiction if you disagreed with his/her personal philosophy? Do you think your disagreement with the author's personal philosophy would color your reading of his story?

Kim Van Sickler


  1. I didn't know that about Orson Scott Card. Your question is interesting and I'm not sure of the answer. I suppose I might, especially if I wasn't dying to read the book. Though I am reading the I AM NUMBER FOUR series though I don't agree how I think James Frey treated the author who co-wrote this with him. Don't agree with it at all but I like the books and so does my daughter.

    Really interesting post here, Kim. Thanks for sharing.

  2. First, looking at Ender's Game on Amazon, it boasts some strong numbers. Around 90% of the reviewers gave it 4 or 5 stars. The number of total reviews is very telling; almost 3,000 people took the time to write reviews positive and negative.

    It is analogous to craft beer vs. Budweiser. Budweiser is brewed so that the fewest number of people will hate it. But few people love it either. For craft beers, some people love them, other hate them.

    That is also desirable for books. I don't think a good book should appeal to everyone. Good writing takes risks and you can't take risks without offending someone. It's actually a compliment if someone takes the time to hate your book. At least it's a reaction. It's better than okay or forgettable.

    As far as reading or not reading a book because of the author, there are public opinions (i.e. racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.), should I be aware of them, that would cause me to choose not to support that person by buying/reading their books. I think it is the same as not buying products from a company whose business practices you find unethical.

    Thanks for the great post Kim.

    1. Love the Budweiser analogy. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

    2. If I found the author's views distasteful, I wouldn't read the book. I agree with Jean that a book should stand on its own merit and there are many differing views among readers.

      Here's the catch - How often does the reader research the author before a book is selected? My guess would be that very few people do.

      It all boils down to great writing winning the day.

  3. What a very interesting post. I never read any reviews before I read Enders Game and like you didn't pick up on that type of thing at all. To me, Science Fiction is a different world. What may be completely homophobic in our world may not make people in a SF world blink twice. I don't know, maybe that is just me. I have read a ton of his work and love most of it (not all, but most).
    As for knowing an author before, I actually try not to read about an author before I read their books and then if I love their books I read about them. If I did learn someone was completely opposite my beliefs, I don't think it would keep me from picking up their books.
    Great food for thought!

  4. Wow! I just stumbled on to this blog from the Comment Challenge list. Had to double check where I was for a moment. Very in depth and provocative review. After reading the review, I am more inclined to read the book, although as a children's picture book author I don't typically read in this genre.

    Can't believe the number of reviews and comments about the book. I would probably think I had died and gone to heaven if I had such a reaction to my books---either pro or con. At least people would be reading them.

    My reading routine is more heavily driven by my available time than an author's particular philosophy. I read picture books because I want to see what other's are writing and what seems to be sticking on the book store shelves. Otherwise, I read books that challenge my thinking. I rarely read just for pleasure---the time thing again.

    Thanks for sharing your terrific review---I'm glad I wandered your way this morning.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I feel the same way about thinking I'd died and gone to heaven if anything I write ever garners that much attention!

  5. I'd don't like to believe that a review of fiction is tempered by the reviewers personal opinions of the author, but then I'd be naive. I'm sure it happens and it's a shame.

  6. Interesting. I'm inclined to think that I wouldn't pan a book because of the author's personal philosophy, but might be more inclined simply not to promote the author by reading their stuff in the first place if there was something major I didn't agree with - like being homophobic or racist, for instance. I really hate when people trash a book when they haven't read it, and we have had some of those issues in our library when Harry Potter came out with a parent who strongly objected.

    I will say, that some of the comments about the book need to be taken with a grain of salt, simply because everyone feels differently. One book I love was really panned by a good friend. Then, too, in our crit group, one reader didn't finish Under the Never Sky, one reader finished it, but hated the main character, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book and definitely can see it as a popular film.

    Just my penny's worth.

  7. I love Ender's Game and always have, but I do recall reading one of his other scifi books and it would definitely have qualified as "homo-erotica." Don't think I finished, just b/c it was personally offensive to me. Same as Steig Larssen, though I enjoyed the movies (fast-forwarding the graphic/offensive stuff), I couldn't get through the books. I think everyone has their "tipping point" in fiction, whether it be voodoo, homo/paedo erotic references, or dead babies. I personally am looking forward to the Ender's Game movie.

  8. I've read novels by Phillip Pullman and Orson Scott Card that were basically them trying to prove their viewpoints to me, neglecting the characters and story in the process. Very Annoying. Naturally a writer's opinions will color what we write, but if I wanted to be preached at, I'd pick up a non-fiction book. So I don't read those authors any longer. I also won't pick up I Am Number Four or see the movie. Just can't financially support what James Frey did.

    1. Interesting. Now I'm going to have to read up on what James Frey did. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I've read Ender's Game and loved it. Card's audience for Ender's Game was not for YA, but for the SciFi community, which is genre fiction and will not appeal to every reader. By several lists Ender's Game is consider a classic for the genre (, usually behind Tolkien, Asimov, and Douglas. I don't like all of his works, but would recommend Ender's Game, even with the shower scene. It's a good read and has merit.

    I agree with what everyone has said about the merit of the work should stand on the work, not the writer. I believe all writers are biased. We can't erase our memories or experiences and that's what creeps into our writing to create great conflicts and stories. So, I will read authors that I know have different opinions than my own. I think there is merit in almost any story, and there maybe something in the author's words that will clear my understanding of their viewpoint or provide a stronger argument for my ideas. Plus, I'd hate to miss out on a fantastic read, because I put a personal ban on an author's work.

  10. Such a tough question, Kim and the answers here are intriguing. I guess it depends. I don't ever want it to color my view, absolutely not (and I don't think ti's fair if it does). So, like you, I'd probably look up an author only after I'd read their novel.