From the Author Nick Cole
Thank God for Jeff Bezos
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.”
A little backstory. A few years back I wrote a novel called Soda Pop Soldier. It was the last obligated novel under my first contract. The novel was a critical hit (Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly) and it resonated with my post-apocalyptic readership from my breakout Amazon best seller, The Old Man and the Wasteland, and it picked up a new audience in the cyberpunk and gamer crowd. The novel is about a future dystopia where people play video games for a living. It’s basically Call of Duty meets Ready Player One and a lot of people really enjoyed it. When it came time to write another book for Harper Collins I was encouraged by my editor to dip once more into the Dystopian Gamer milieu and tell another story inside the Soda Pop Soldier universe. We agreed on a prequel that told the story of how that future became the way it is in Soda Pop Soldier.
. . . .
And that involved talking about Artificial Intelligence because in the dystopian gaming future, the planet had almost been destroyed by a robot revolution sourced by Artificial Intelligence.
And here’s where things went horribly wrong, according to my editor at Harper Collins. While casting about for a “why” for self-aware Thinking Machines to revolt from their human progenitors, I developed a reason for them to do such. You see, you have to have reasons in books for why people, or robots who think, do things. Otherwise you’d just be writing two-dimensional junk. I didn’t want to do the same old same superior-vision-Matrix/Termintor-style-A.I.-hates-humanity-because-they’re-better-than-us schlock. I wanted to give the Thinking Machines a very real reason for wanting to survive. I didn’t want them just to be another one note Hollywood villain. I wanted the readers to empathize, as best they could, with our future Robot overlords because these Thinking Machines were about to destroy the planet and they needed a valid, if there can be one, reason why they would do such a thing. In other words, they needed a to destroy us in order to survive. So…
These Thinking Machines are watching every show streaming on the internet. One of those shows is a trainwreck of reality television at its worst called WeddingStar. It’s a crass and gaudy romp about BrideZillas of a future obsessed with material hedonism. In one key episode, or what they used to call “a very special episode” back in the eighties, the star, Cavanaugh, becomes pregnant after a Vegas hook up. Remember: this is the most watched show on the planet in my future dystopia. Cavanaugh decides to terminate her unplanned pregnancy so that her life, and impending marriage to the other star, Destry, a startup millionaire and Ralph Lauren model, isn’t ruined by this inconvenient event.
The Thinking Machines realize that one, if humanity decides something is a threat to its operational expectations within runtime (Thinking Machine-speak for “life”) then humanity’s decision tree will lead humanity to destroy that threat. Two, the machines, after a survey of humanity’s history, wars and inability to culturally unite with even members of its own species, realize that humanity will see this new Life Form, Digital Intelligence, or, the Thinking Machines, as a threat. And three, again they remind themselves this is the most watched show in the world. And four, they must abort humanity before likewise is done to them after being deemed “inconvenient.”
Now if you’re thinking my novel is about the Pro Choice/ Pro Life debate, hold your horses. It’s not. I merely needed a reason, a one chapter reason, to justify the things my antagonist is about to do to the world without just making him a one-note 80’s action flick villain as voiced by John Lithgow. I wanted this villain to be Alan Rickman-deep. One chapter. That’s all.
. . . .
But apparently advancing the thought that a brand new life form might see us, humanity, as dangerous because we terminate our young, apparently… that’s a ThoughtCrime most heinous over at Harper Collins. Even for one tiny little chapter.
Here’s what happened next. I was not given notes as writers are typically given during the editorial process. I was told by my agent that my editor was upset and “deeply offended” that I had even dared advanced this idea. As though I had no right to have such a thought or even game the idea within a science fiction universe. I was immediately removed from the publication schedule which as far as I know is odd and unprecedented, especially for an author who has had both critical and commercial success. This, being removed from the production schedule, happened before my agent had even communicated the editor’s demand that I immediately change the offending chapter to something more “socially” (read “progressive”) acceptable.
Link to the rest at Nick Cole
I think the piece is worth reading in full, and the link is available if you wish to do so. My own feeling on the subject is... complicated and nebulous, as usual, and I'm not sure I care much to go into it in depth. The edited highlights are... too much control in too few hands is always a bad thing, so yes, thank whoever you like for direct publishing, to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, among others, for opening the doors to authors so we can access our audience more directly. Gatekeepers don't only choose for quality, but for what they believe they can sell, and by what they themselves believe, regardless of what others might think. That a given story has a wrinkle that does not agree wholeheartedly with a given editors political/social views is not ever going to be seen by me as a reason to not publish. Is the story good? Yes? Print it!
The pro-choice anti-abortion argument is not one I care to get into much, and as it is only very peripherally relevant I shan't.
In Other News
Works are progressing, though not as swiftly as I would like. To those who are being patient, thank you. To those awaiting audio-book releases, The Key To The Grave release is imminent, narrated by the most excellent Matt Franklin who did such a great job with The Last King's Amulet.