Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of this author, and not necessarily that of publisher or all of the creative team behind Space 1889.
One of the worse things about a bad review is that usually the writer has no come back, no right of reply. A review is simply a personal opinion, and while everyone is entitled to those, sometimes reviewers get it wrong. They mark a book down because they miss a vital point.To use an example, I once came across a review (and I’m not referring to my own work) stating an author should have included some point in the book, and while I was reading said review my frown grew, because the very point mentioned was there, and I could only think the reviewer missed it, was mistaken, made an error. I am sure the reader in me has at times got it wrong so I raise my hand and claim to be equally guilty, but everyone knows how it is — a poor (or good) review can make one wonder whether you’ve read the same book, watched the same film, or bought the same product.
Towards the end of last year a number of colleagues were upset over a one-star review awarded to my steampunk book, A Fistful of Dust. While writers share an understanding of how it feels to be given a poor review, and how writers really have no ‘come back’ (the best thing to do really is to remain silent), on this occasion many voices were raised in defence of the work because this criticism was not of the plot, the writing; indeed, the book at all. It was censure against everyone involved with what is a multi-authored series.
The single star — clearly given because it was the lowest the reviewer could award — initially came across as a homophobic reaction. There was an immediate outcry among those who share a more openminded view of the world. “What were you thinking?” came across like a personal attack on us all. This was backed up by a declaration that the reviewer was ‘done with the series’.
I didn’t create Space 1889. I didn’t make this particular character gay. I’m one author in a multi-authored steampunk series, and yet it’s my book that now has not one, but two one-star reviews owing to a seeming objection to there being a gay character included in ‘fiction’.
Whatever one’s personal views, people of differing sexualities exist in the world, and to refuse to read a book because it includes a gay character seems like the worst kind of bigotry. The review that’s ‘not a review’ over a gay character made me think how ridiculous it would be to have mainstream books with nothing but straight characters, or vice versa. That doesn’t mean every story should be peppered with people from all walks of life with no reason or merit, but to purposely omit any section of humanity is unrealistic writing/reading, whatever one’s personal views. In writing, I’ve always wanted to be honest to the story.
If, on the other hand, the reviewer was questioning why the series creators made this particular character gay it could be a different matter. Unfortunately, the creative team behind the series weren’t given the chance to explain. Every attempt became a rant from reviewers on the subject of perpetuating the ‘gay agenda’ and selling sin — this from reviewers claiming not to be homophobic and to have homosexual friends struck many as peculiar indeed. The truth behind why the creators of Space 1889 decided to include homosexuality is simple — they wanted to explore all avenues of problems faced in Victorian society. They wanted to explore the love of two men during a time when it was illegal, of women taking a stronger role in society, of what it meant to lose a limb during that time, to name just a few examples. Everything that happens in Space 1889 was planned from the very beginning. This character was gay from the very beginning. No one suddenly ‘made him’ gay.
I didn’t invent Space 1889, but I’ve always felt this particular character’s sexuality has a bearing because it’s part of his personal journey, and that has as much to do with the story progression as does his spiritual and his physical one even though it’s not a pivotal point. I’ve always seen this character’s sexuality as underlining everything else that’s going on with him, and as I know where the series is heading (but am not saying ), it’s all woven in that pilgrimage to the big reveal.
I’ll say that again — this character happens to be gay to explore and to underline his physical and emotional journey and other themes in the book. Saying that, it’s not the basis of the story. It’s steampunk/space/sci-fi, and non-explicit, so that anyone with an open mind, and heart, and taste for adventure could read it. That anyone would dismiss a series simply owing to the fact that they’ve suddenly realised one or more characters are gay is a sad reflection of how much still has to change and how intolerant people can be.
Particularly tiring was the claim of a ‘gay agenda’ when everyone involved has no such thing. Fiction — particularly science fiction — has always moved a subject to a new setting so that it can be more deeply explored.
‘Gay Agenda’ is now the war cry to dispute every occurrence and appearance of a gay or lesbian character, together with claims that those doing it does so for the sake of being ‘cool’. Those chanting this phrase claim to know the agenda of others when what it truly does is reveal their own underlying intentions and motives, as ugly as those intentions and motives may be. Still, this was not what any of the writers, myself included, were objecting to. A review based on personal prejudice is simply unfair to every writer in the world. As Anne Rice eloquently put it when speaking directly on the subject of this review and my book: it’s typical of some of the trash reviewing going on, on Amazon. I clicked report and gave the reason. Imagine a review like this attacking “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” because Uncle Tom is black.’
If someone chooses to say a book is well-written (or not in their opinion), but that owing to there being a gay character the series is not for them that’s one thing, but the way this was phrased attacked everyone involved with the series. Also, I don’t believe any of us were ‘defending’ a gay character because for one thing it should need no defence, but simply stating it’s part of this particular character’s journey as a whole. We were saying all reviews for all books should be based on content, and not personal beliefs.
Yet, what seems most amazing of all is that it took this reader to book ten to realise this character is gay. The writers were going for subtlety, sure, but there were a number of hints dropped into the first series and ‘imho’ in series two it’s obvious. So we come to the point of which series was this reviewer reading? I cannot and won’t speak for the creators or the writers involved, although I know at least some share my views of utter bemusement of how it took a reader until book ten to realise.
This reader seemed happy to read about death, destruction, and mayhem, murder, torture, to watch the characters question people’s actions and authority, even the authority of an almighty, and had no problem with the introduction of talking giant insects and aliens, and the writers using them to question spirituality in all its forms — even, I believe questioning what it would do to all faiths if we were to suddenly discover alien life — but found the idea there’s a gay man in the book was too much to take? Hmm…
I’ve remained silent up until now. I did the politically ‘correct’ thing of being a writer and biting my tongue. So why am I saying anything now? Because I’ve been invited to partake in another outing to the universe of Space 1889 and am at present trying to work out a plot that will continue to do justice to the series and all the characters therein. It’s not a definite — I’ve not yet seen or signed a contract — but the opportunity is there, and if I sign on then I do so having had a taste of the kind of controversy with which these characters have to do battle, and I have to speak up for my team — those both real and fictional. I dare say the creators and writers, like the intrepid band of the Space 1889 universe, will survive the storm together. I hope many delighted readers will join in.
Should you wish to read more of what occurred then writer and editor, Andy Frankham-Allen speaks quite eloquently here: http://frankhamallen.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/outing-a-fictional-character/