Sci-Fi Author Robert Kroese Bucks Progressive Groupthink
Interview with "wrongthinker" Robert Kroese: "Being a Wrongthinker has become not only a badge of honor, but an effective marketing strategy."
I recently discovered the work of science-fiction author Robert Kroese. What stands out most about his writing style is that it is funny. Very funny. Kroese has a brand of bait-and-switch humor woven into his storytelling: He presents a high drama, and then characters say and do absurdly mundane things about it. Or the reverse: What at first seems petty and insignificant turns out to be immensely important. An immortal angel seeks fulfillment in building snowmen. An out-of-work comedian becomes a murderous warlord to impress his crush. …
Apart from being a delightful writer, Kroese is also a pro-life Christian who believes in limited government. In a field of predominantly left-leaning sci-fi authors, he is, as he puts it, a “wrongthinker.” This week I reached out to him for a brief interview. His enlightening answers are below.
Stephen Herreid: What got you started as a science-fiction author?
Robert Kroese: I’ve been writing stories since 2nd grade. I took a bit of a detour into software development for about 15 years after college, because I didn’t think I’d be able to make a living as a writer. In 2006 I started a blog called Mattress Police on a lark, and gradually built up a small but dedicated following. I figured that if people enjoyed my musings about the Incredible Hulk and Star Wars, maybe they’d buy a novel.
So I wrote my first novel, Mercury Falls, and self-published it in 2009. Six months later, Mercury Falls was re-published by Amazon’s fledgling publishing imprint, AmazonEncore, and it went on to sell about 50,000 copies. A couple years and a couple of novels later, I left software development to write full time.
Herreid: I detect in your writing a running theme of individualism, and a prevailing sense of the untrustworthiness of arbitrary human authority. Could you say a little about your worldview and where it comes from?
Kroese: Yes, that’s definitely a theme that runs through my books. I’m honestly not sure where my libertarian inclinations come from. I guess it comes down to something that Penn Jillette once said: “Democracy without respect for individual rights sucks. It’s just ganging up against the weird kid, and I’m always the weird kid.”
I was always the weird kid growing up, and I could never understand why people seemed so determined to knock that out of me. I was doing my best not to bother anyone. Why couldn’t they just leave me alone? At school there was this bizarre, unquestioned acceptance of the fact that sometimes you just had to do things a certain way because that’s how you did them, and if you asked questions about it, you were a Bad Kid.
This was a Christian school, and that attitude struck me as exactly the opposite of what God demanded from his creatures. If God had wanted to create unquestioning robots, he could have. But he didn’t. He created unique, individual human beings who have a lot of questions about why things are the way they are. So I was going to ask questions.
Herreid: Have your beliefs caused you any professional difficulty in the sci-fi community?
I had this crazy idea when I became a novelist that writers are generally open-minded people who are comfortable with a wide variety of viewpoints.
Kroese: I had this crazy idea when I became a novelist that writers are generally open-minded people who are comfortable with a wide variety of viewpoints. But when I began to test that supposition, I found I was sorely mistaken. I’ve been blocked on Twitter and Facebook by several prominent sci-fi authors (even some I had considered friends) for the sin of challenging progressive dogma. I’ve been told by bloggers and podcasters that they’ll no longer review or promote my work because of my political views. And those are the ones who are honest about it.
I figure for every book reviewer who says that to my face, there are ten who quietly blacklist me. I’ve got a new release out in hardcover next month (The Last Iota) that got a glowing, starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and I guarantee the book will be completely ignored by several major sites that promote sci-fi books. There’s really no explanation for that other than that they’ve blacklisted me.
Herreid: Does progressive ideology hurt science fiction itself? Is progressivism foreign to good sci-fi?
What hurts the genre is this progressive groupthink mentality, where all the major sci-fi conventions, websites and awards promote a specific political agenda at the expense of good fiction.
Kroese: It depends what you mean by “hurt science fiction.” Does an author’s progressive view undermine the quality of their writing? Not necessarily. H.G. Wells was a socialist. There are lots of good sci-fi writers who lean toward the progressive end of the spectrum. In fact, I wouldn’t even say the problem is “message fiction,” per se. What hurts the genre is this progressive groupthink mentality, where all the major sci-fi conventions, websites and awards promote a specific political agenda at the expense of good fiction.
This leads to virtue signaling on a massive scale, where something like John Scalzi’s* mediocre Star Trek fan fiction Redshirts wins the Hugo Award for best novel, because Scalzi says all the right things and hangs out with the right people. It makes the genre look silly, and it makes it harder for sci-fi fans to find truly original, entertaining and thought-provoking works.
(*NOTE: Science fiction author John Scalzi donated proceeds from his work to Planned Parenthood and loudly endorsed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, in part because she was “not the GOP candidate,” and therefore free of “racism, sexism, religious intolerance, bigotry, hate,” and other evils which Scalzi casually associated with the GOP base.)
Herreid: If you had a single piece of advice that could change the future of science fiction for the better, what would it be?
Kroese: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about all this political stuff it’s that the progressives aren’t as powerful as people think they are. Yes, progressives dominate conventions and genre publications. Yes, the social justice warriors are loud and annoying online. If you’re an author who comes out as a vocal conservative, libertarian or Christian, you will be mocked and called a Nazi, racist, homophobe, etc. You will probably never win a Hugo Award.
I don’t really think these people matter that much. … Their outrage often backfires.
But in the end, I don’t really think these people matter that much. They have no real power over you. They can’t keep people from buying your books, and in fact their outrage often backfires, as it causes people to find out about your books who never would have heard of you otherwise. In fact, many sci-fi fans are so sick of these social justice smear campaigns that if you’re vocal about dissenting, they’ll buy your books just to spite the progressive busybodies.
The social justice warriors have overplayed their hand. Being a Wrongthinker has become not only a badge of honor, but an effective marketing strategy. I’m not the sort to temper my opinions for the sake of sales in any case, but fortunately progressives are generally so worried about being seen doing the right thing that they don’t seem to care much that their tactics aren’t working.
Herreid: Are there any current projects that readers should look out for?
Kroese: My most recent book is Aye, Robot, which NYT Bestselling author Hugh Howey called “a story I can’t put down with a hero I can’t bring myself to despise.” Aye, Robot is a sequel to my tongue-in-cheek space opera Starship Grifters, which I’ve been told by many people is one of the funniest sci-fi books they’ve ever read.