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 Eventually, all my slave fiction, including Within the Silence, will be withdrawn, but not until I have new work to put in their place.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.