I just finished reading Sixth Column by Robert Heinlein. I’ve been a fan of Heinlein’s for ages, but this one slipped through the cracks. It’s pretty good, not his best, nor his worst. I rated it three stars on Goodreads, where I noticed a ton of one-star review. Being the curious sort, I clicked on some of them to see what their issue with the book was.
The universal complaint among the one-star set was that the book (and/or Heinlein) was racist. In the story, an amalgamation of Asian countries overtakes the United States by force and subjugates the American people, using all the usual dictatorial tricks: Genocide, cultural assimilation, enslavement, etc. Unsurprisingly, the American populace does not use very nice terminology for their enslavers (nor do the rulers use nice words when referring to the slaves). The characters in the story, it is very clear, use racist terms. Does this mean the book or the author is racist?
A book being racist is asinine. It’s made of paper. It has no opinion. The real question is whether or not Heinlein is promoting racism through the story. At no point did I read anything in the book that would support racism in the abstract. A minor character is an American with Asian ancestry, who is (spoiler alert) treated fairly and represented heroically (even saving the main characters’ lives).
If racist, how do you explain the minority lead in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? Or in Starship Troopers? Or in Tunnel in the Sky? Heinlein’s work in general would allow you to believe he is anything and everything, from a warmonger (Starship Troopers), a peacenik (Stranger in a Strange Land), an anarchist (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), or a fascist (again, Starship Troopers).
In general, I think inferring anything about an author from their fiction is simply fiction. I don’t have any idea what people might assume about me from my novel. Unless they assume I love Swedish Fish, they are likely to be wrong. Let’s all agree that throwing around accusations of racism, sexism, or any other -ism based on fiction is tenuous at best. There are more than enough racists, sexists, and any other -ists in the world that are more than happy to declare it without writing a novel around it. Let’s start with them. I’m looking at you, Orson Scott Card.