Slavery, Fantasy, Empathy

The backing and forthing I’ve been doing lately about the direction of my writing has been unexpectedly influenced by the recent trashing of my Amazon books. I had planned to publish A Perfect Slave as one last nod to my earliest work, the two novels set in a world where slavery is both acceptable and necessary to the country’s economy. I had already deleted other “slave fantasy” WIPs from my computer and backups, but was reluctant to let go of the Hand Slaves stories, if for no other reason than the tiny extra bit of income they brought in. But thanks to the loss of their good ratings, and the nasty rants and one-stars they now have, they look like books that no one in their right mind would bother to read. A Perfect Slave would suffer by association, so that project is over and done with. Eventually, all my slave fiction, including Within the Silence, will be withdrawn, but not until I have new work to put in their place.

Slavery may be an element in my future work, but done realistically in a science fiction context. There are many forms of slavery in our world today, sometimes under different names, and well-hidden from the eyes of ordinary citizens. Sex trafficking is the one that captures the headlines, but it’s possible that labor slavery is actually more extensive. And slavery is only one form of oppression. That’s really the thread that runs through my writing, the abuses of power and the oppression of groups and individuals.

It’s doubtful that novels really have much effect on how people view the world, and my original hope that putting slavery into a sort of fantasy framework would allow me to highlight oppression in a way that would both entertain and inform. It was not to be. Readers loved and pitied the suffering of the protagonists. The work engaged their emotions, but went no further than that.

There has been some discussion recently of whether reading fiction encourages empathy. I haven’t bothered to read those articles, frankly, because I don’t believe it does, in most individuals. Empathy seems to have been designed by Nature to relate only to the people we know, particularly family and close friends. A universal sort of empathy is very rare. If you weep over the hardships of a character in a book, there’s little chance that you will extend those feelings to people you don’t know, who are in the very same situation. The further from reality that story is set, the less likely it is that it will register as anything more than a fleeting emotional bath.

The task, for the writer, and one I’m not sure I’m capable of accomplishing yet, is to make the setting and the characters as realistic as possible without descending into a sort of propaganda or preaching. It’s a challenge that I hope to meet.

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5 thoughts on “Slavery, Fantasy, Empathy

  1. Yes, it’s hard to know, isn’t it? Charles Dickens is credited with having brought about great social improvements in England with his novels, but I suspect that was more a matter of disclosing information – informing the public about the existence of these ills – in a way that TV and other media sometimes do today. Did the result depend on empathy? Hard to say.

  2. If fiction is not sneakily educational, I have made my work much harder to sell by making one of my three main characters a disabled woman writer. ‘Writer’ is bad enough! I’m horribly boring to watch while I’m writing. The actors are far more beguiling. But the disabled writer is key to the whole story – and not as sidekick. The questions, What are disabled people allowed by society to want? And to get? circulates deep inside the story.

    I believe good fiction breaks the logical barriers, gets under the crime-scene tape as it were, to show how people think, believe, and act – with ‘people’ including a diversity.

    As one of my reviewers said, “…I realized that I couldn’t think of any book I’d read, recently, involving a character with a disability or chronic illness – a significant hole in terms of diversity…” I hope to fill that hole, and fill it gracefully.

    Even the negative reviews haven’t objected to the character. That’s a win already.

    1. Yes! Well said. If it isn’t *sneakily* educational, it will just turn readers off rather than get past their prejudices and assumptions. Somewhere on the internet I once saw a discussion of diversity in M/M romance fiction. There was actually a count of protags who were blind or otherwise disabled. Very few. And chronic disease? I don’t remember any at all.

      1. And yet those of us with chronic illnesses manage to live somehow, often because we know there will be no magical resolution – but we’re the same person we’ve always been, whether we’re disabled at birth or later in life.

        It changes you, having your whole life plan rearranged without your consent! But it doesn’t.

        I oscillate between being me, and being me – disabled, every day.

        In a way, it is similar to getting old. People who write about the process also have to not let it color every minute, even though it does. Because it is something we shrug off as best as we are able, for the same reasons: you can’t let it take everything ELSE in your life.

        Ask anyone who, like me, gets up every morning in pain, and has to do the various things which will loosen up the joints, get the synovial fluid moving a big, get the blood flowing through the brain.

        I’ve always been fond of Ursula LeGuin’s ‘The Day After the Revolution.’ The main character dies – but she’s seen what she’s been working for all her life, and the events are mixed with her having one last battle with her body, as the revolution swirls around her.

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