Writers are not immune to current social trends even if they spend a vast amount of their time in the worlds they are creating in their work. Fiction authors are often heralded for their original thoughts and the alternate realities they provide in their stories by readers who enjoy immersing themselves in a tale. Most of what I enjoy in writing (and reading) is due to the infinite possibilities that present themselves – from characters to themes to scenes and even to social issues. This week, I was more than disturbed by a true experience of a fellow author and how it illustrated that the publishing world is just as rife with policing ideas and thoughts – to the point of censorship – as a large number of society has become.
I can not say that I am a close friend of Nick Cole. I have read a couple of his books and found them both entertaining and thought-provoking. We’ve become Facebook friends; two authors who enjoy the Science Fiction genre and share ideas once in a while. We just recently connected, in fact. The first book by Nick that I read was Soda Pop Soldier, a sci-fi tale with a dystopian twist that showcases a world of gamers who are forced into an arena of “world global advertising-space dominance”. I love playing massive multiplayer online and RPG games. I found the book relatable and highly entertaining and intelligent.
Nick had been working on a new book, CTRL ALT REVOLT; a look into the world before Soda Pop Solider and the world dominance of WonderSoft Technologies. Artificial Intelligence has advanced and become self-aware. Sounds even more exciting when you know that a robot revolution is about to evolve into full-blown warfare between human and machine, right?
Looking forward to its release, I was shocked to read Nick’s post on his blog that said he, a conservative sci-fi writer, was being blackballed. Here is how Nick opened his post (click here to read the entire post):
I launched a book this week and I went Indie with it. Indie means I released it on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. I had to. My Publisher, HarperVoyager, refused to publish it because of some of the ideas I wrote about in it. In other words, they were attempting to effectively ban a book because they felt the ideas and concepts I was writing about were dangerous and more importantly, not in keeping with their philosophical ideals. They felt my ideas weren’t socially acceptable and were “guaranteed to lose fifty percent of my audience” as related back to me by my agent. But more importantly… they were “deeply offended.”
Essentially, HarperVoyager decided they’d rather tear up the contract they had with Nick because he created an idea that a life form – in his fictional story – might see humanity as threatening. Why? Because in the story, the AI see human beings were willing to terminate their young and believed that humans may see robots as inconvenient. In the story, a pregnancy happens to be deemed inconvenient to two television stars (one of whom is a startup millionaire) because they are on the most-watched show and do not want anything to get in the way of their dreams. This plot twist isn’t even a true twist. The reveal is minimal to the story and simply illustrates an event that the artificial intelligence see (because they are hooked to reality television and that is how they learn about humans) as a potential threat to their own existence. After all, they aren’t human.
HarperVoyager apparently does not get involved in actually reading a lot of the science fiction that is out there because this minimal detail in Nick’s book is nothing compared to mammalian genocide in “Planet of the Apes”, the idea that the Federation shouldn’t interfere with the internal development of alien civilizations (see the Prime Directive in Star Trek) or the following books: “Friday” by Robert A. Heinlein and “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell.
After Nick revealed what had happened, fellow writer Michael Bunker shared his take on what many are rallying together in saying is a clear liberal bias on the part of HarperVoyager – a policing of ideas that were offensive to one individual and thus deemed something the public should never have access to. When did publishers become the gate-keepers of society? Bunker wrote a post on his site called “Samizdat: Thoughtcrime and Traditional Publishing” at least partly in response. Bunker presents a compelling illustration of the history of information control, including the banning of books. I am not as eloquent as he is, or as learned in Soviet history, to comment about Samizdat and bigoted censorship or even Solzhenitsyn and Tolstoy.
I am learned enough to recognize and be appalled by the level of radicalization prevalent in modern society and the tendency for individuals to have a rather narcissistic approach to how they view nearly every conceivable topic. Social media has simply increased the ability to get a spark to turn into a wildfire in two keystrokes. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you did not see at least one social media post where an individual or group of individuals was attacking another individual(s) for something they thought or believed. Politics aside, have you seen people raving about morality issues, social problems, ethics? Break it down…how many of you have seen nearly non-stop bickering about the color of a certain dress (blue and black or white and gold) or a musician’s interpretation during a half-time show at a major sporting event that grabs nearly 100 million viewers once a year?
Fiction – especially science fiction – used to be a safe haven for the expression of even the most arcane ideas. In fact, science fiction was a big revolutionary. It allowed writers to explore possibilities and present them to readers as a way to say, “Hey, what do you think about THAT?” And yet, today, we see publishers like HarperVoyager joining the herd mentality that unless everything is censored, policed and sanitized just in case it may offend someone it can’t be shared. I cry bullshit (and I try not to use curse words unless I am really feeling it).
Writers don’t just own their ideas; they are a part of them. When authors share a story, there are important elements in the way those words form ideas that are unique to that individual. They share their stories with the world and those stories are like their children. For some, those stories are their lives (shout out to you writers of autobiographies and memoirs). Do publishers, or even the public, have the right to say, “Hey, your life may offend me so you can’t share it?” Do we even want a world society like that?
A lot of people thought Orwell’s 1984 and Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange were bizarre and so ‘out there’ that they could never possibly represent a true humanity on this planet. If you’ve read those books: how close have we gotten to them being more than just a story?
I can’t tell people how to react or think or feel. For me, censorship is just one tiny hair from being in a situation where tyranny rules. Sometimes the truth is painful. Sometimes truth is freeing. Above all, truth is the only way to expose to underbelly of the demise of society. Am I a revolutionary? Only if sharing the truth starts a revolution.
I encourage you to support authors who are willing to tell publishing companies that want to sanitize their work exactly what Nick Cole did, “I. Will. Not. Be. Bullied.” Support writers who are willing to share the dark truth, like Michael Bunker. Purchase books by Indie authors and publishers who put the story first instead of the money that goes into the corporate account. And feel free to tell those who don’t like your acts of independence to shove off using your favorite phraseology. Let it rip!
Note: To see the aftermath of what Nick went through after revealing what happened to him, take a look by CLICKING HERE. (And then offer him congratulations on flying to the top of book charts with CTRL ALT REVOLT in spite of it all. You can buy a copy – which I highly recommend- from his website.)