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THE DEATH OF FICTION - December 1, 2023

In moments of déjà vu recently, I recalled the Mao Tse-tung era of authoritarianism which required citizens to gather in a meeting and engage in self-criticism, admitting to being guilty of various offenses to the Leader. However, it was as true then as it is now that a mea culpa that is extracted by force and public shaming is not a genuine act of repentance and serves only to repress those who might otherwise also dare to fail to tow the party line.

The moments that have triggered those memories have been coming with increasing frequency as writers and publishers continue to fall on their swords, turning themselves inside out in apologizing for their past, present and prospective sins. Their alleged transgressions center around the temerity of a writer to create a work of fiction that doesn’t reflect their own direct experience. Some books have been pulled before even being published. The chilling effect is causing an escalation in self-censorship that is the opposite of what literature is meant to provide. Freedom of written speech is being removed from what is left of our democracy.

This is not to say that discrimination hasn’t dominated the publishing world or that white men haven’t run the show for a very long time. The pendulum is long overdue for a swing. However, that swing has gone too far. What would the world of literature look like if all the books written by men with female protagonists throughout history were banned? Any publication with minority characters but without a member of that minority as the writer are now in danger of being pulled, removed or not published at all. Should we ban Isaac Asimov’s sci fi books because a robot is the only one who would have the right to create them?

Fiction is a product of the imagination. Writers have a responsibility to do their research and get it right. Readers are entitled to point out any errors, or just not read the book at all. Publishers would still have the right to reject a work, not because the writer doesn’t fit the demographic of the characters, but only because they got it wrong.

If we continue down this path, the only fiction that will survive will be that created by AI, an AI that isn’t programmed for self-flagellation.

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