Racist Orcs?

This week I ran into something weird. People proclaiming that orcs (creatures in fantasy stories and games) are racist. My initial response was “Of course orcs are racist! They’re orcs!” Being racist is a known feature of orc culture in every fantasy game and world I’ve ever encountered.

But… It turns out the writers in question aren’t saying that the orcs are racists… They’re saying that the idea of orcs is racist. Somehow, they’re saying that “orcs” are really representations of blacks, Latinos, and native peoples.

Ok… We found the problematic and possibly racist concept here…

If you see a description of a big, fat, stinking, often porcine, rage monster and say, “yep, that’s a black person,” that’s racist. If you are a member of any group and see that description and say, “They’re describing me,” you have some definite problems. Whatever the writer’s intention, if you are seeing the descriptions of orcs I’ve seen and saying “that’s me”, 99 out of 100 times you have problems regardless of what the writer intended!

Tolkien, who lived through WW1 and WW2 and is one creator of the modern orc, said that orcs were emblematic of rage and mindless destruction. He said that there were orcs on both sides of the world wars. Keep in mind he’s talking about Europe. So, he’s talking about Englishmen and Germans, not blacks and Latinos.

Could someone describe a black person as an orc? Yes. I’ve also heard someone describe a woman as a “pigmy hippo”. In neither case does someone saying it make it true (especially when that someone is a third party trying to thrust his/her opinion onto your understanding of a writer’s work).

It also doesn’t mean that orcs are black people or that pigmy hippos are women. There have to be male pigmy hippos out there and there are at least as many “orcs” taking part in KKK rallies as there are anywhere else.

There is the writer’s intent, and there is what the reader sees in the writing. They are not necessarily the same thing. You can see what you want to in a piece of writing, but you can’t choose what the writer meant to say (unless you’re the writer).

So, when you read my stuff (I’m telling you right now so we don’t need any misunderstandings….), are my orcs racists?  Yes, they are! They are racist bastards (their parents aren’t married either); however, my depiction of orcs is not racist. I am depicting a race of big, fat, stinking, often porcine, rage monsters. They are not human. They are not a depiction of Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans (that would be the Raven Clan…), Whites, Jews, Gypsies, Pakistanis, podiatrists or politicians; they are a race of non-human big, fat, stinking, often porcine, rage monsters. (in fact, the politicians made up excuses, and the podiatrists noped out, but the rest of those folks are fighting against the orcs somewhere…).

It’s a question of interpretation. If you see orcs and think (insert group here), that’s on you. It takes more than that to prove racism is the writer’s intention.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I have a Raven Clan kid and a red-headed girl with human problems to deal with. See you next post.

“Pure science” the biggest lie in science fiction

On the one hand, there’s an upswing in reported health issues associated with vaping, and news reporters feigning shock.

On the other hand, my wife asked me to read and discuss a book: Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future with Science Fiction by David Johnson.

Somewhere between the two I hit upon a realization: “pure science” is the greatest fiction in science fiction.

Just for clarity and understanding (you can argue in the comments if you want to…), I define science fiction as fiction that examines the effects of science and technology on people’s lives.

Enders Game is science fiction; it looks at the lives of people fighting a high-tech war against aliens, that doesn’t happen without the tech. It’s a significant factor in the story. The Empire Strikes Back isn’t science fiction; you could do the same thing with horses, boats and pre-gunpowder weapons and have the same story. (Face it… The AT-ATs are discount elephants…)

Wargames can’t happen without the computers. The Terminator (the original one) can, you could omit the ‘sci fi’ trappings and tell the same main story with a couple stoners from Newark.

Note: I still like The Empire Strikes Back and The Terminator… They just don’t depend on the science and tech the way the others do… (And, like I said… If I’m wrong, leave a constructive comment)

Within science fiction (the kind where science matters to the story) we occasionally find a huge flaw called “pure science”. Somewhere, someone (I blame Star Trek) came up with the idea that scientists will “do” science for the pure and sacred sake of science, without all those silly little human traits, factors, and motives. It’s a great Utopian idea. But, like the rest of Utopia is doesn’t exist.

How could “pure science” exist? In some ways it would be nice. We could have unbiased information to work from. But, science doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There has to be some living being to “do” the science. And, since we don’t have super intelligent aliens to do it for us, that means humans are involved.

Coming from a psychology background and writing character driven fiction, in my world the characters have reasons for what they do. The “pure science” scientist is hiding from something. The scientist wanting to cure cancer “for the good of mankind” has seen a loved one die from cancer and never wants to see it again (so he/she sees it over and over while trying to cure cancer…)

Science takes time, effort, and money. People don’t invest any of those if there’s no return on investment. Companies (and companies pay for a lot of the research in real life…) don’t pay for science for science’ sake, they want something out of it.

People seek after scientific advances for a purpose.

If you argue they’re doing it for curiosity… I say, great but where’d they get the money and equipment?

If you say they’re doing it for a purpose (to win a war, cure a disease, rescue their beloved)… I’ll buy that.

If you suggest they’re doing it to see someone naked… Yeah… I’ve got to buy that one too (you’re reading this on the internet… click on enough links and you’ll find your way to porn whether you want to or not…)

The one argument I won’t buy is that scientist are conducting research and making discoveries for no benefit to themselves or someone they care about. The benefits may only be psychological/spiritual but the exist; that’s just basic human nature.

Humans and human desires are the driving forces behind human science and technology. Anyone claiming their science is ‘pure’ and untainted by human desires and motives is hiding his/her motives, or unaware of them (making her/him kind of clueless…). Understanding the human drives behind the science makes our science fiction better and more accurate (even if the underlying reasons never make it onto the finished page or into the final cut of our movie…)

It might be interesting to see ‘pure’ science, but I doubt I ever will. In reality the humans keep getting in the way.

Well, those are my thoughts dear reader. What do you think?

Think on it. Leave a comment if you’re so inclined. And, I’ll see you next post.