The Power of Fiction.

by 3:28 PM 0 comments

In a rare daytime post (day off, woot!) I've decided to touch on something that sometimes gets overlooked when writing entertaining fiction-taking a stand on something.

There are plenty of novels out there that were written merely as entertainment, and that's fine. Fiction is, at it's core, entertainment. But a novel is also an author's platform, their soapbox to speak out on things that they feel are important. If they wrap that message in a compelling story, they stand a good chance of having that message taken seriously. If they lose touch with the reality of why readers choose to read fiction to begin with (for entertainment), then they run the risk of losing them.

My novel pre://d.o.mai.n, currently out on query, was written for multiple reasons (already covered elsewhere), the most important being that there are topics in this world that I think needed reinforcement in the minds of readers. PRISM, the NSA surveillance program uncovered by Edward Snowden, became public knowledge after I wrote pre://d.o.mai.n, but I did foresee something along those lines. Agent Maldovan accesses a characters own hardware, hijacking it in order to spy on someone. That's not so different from PRISM, though the technology has progressed over the intervening years.

Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and Aaron Swartz all risked (Swartz losing his by his own hand, unfortunately) their lives in the belief that information should be free. Anonymous, the hacker collective that I credit in my novel for the creation of DJINN (minor
spoiler alert, lol) has fought relentlessly to police the internet. Some may disagree with their tactics, but I believe they do more harm than good, astounding when basically anyone can pick up the mantle and use it for whatever cause they themselves deem worth.

I believe there is an inherent nobility in Anonymous, with most of the members simply wanting to reshape the world, to correct injustice and get everyone to stop taking life so seriously (lulz!). It's really not all that different than the protesters of any equal rights movement. There are those within each of these movements that employ different tactics, because each person involved is different. To judge an entire group as large as Anonymous by taking the worst of it's actions is the same as ignoring the work of Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement that eventually gained African Americans equal rights. Time magazine seems to agree, giving Anonymous their award for "Most influential person or group" in 2012.

Hackers are fighting a bloodless battle against disinformation, and that is partially why I wrote this book, to champion the idea that a few motivated individuals can use the technology of our time to right wrongs. In any large scale change, there are people that get trampled (physically and metaphorically) in the push for change, just as with any movement. I've tried to show that sacrifice.

I've tried to show that as technology increases our accessibility to one another, other gaps will arise in our lives to limit our social interactions. Sure, we have social media, but when was the last time you went to a dinner party? When was the last time you went to a ball or party that didn't consist of a group of people drinking around a bonfire or a pool? These things, back when they were in fashion, used to be the equivalent of social media. It was how we connected, how we met new people, but now they have been replaced by status updates and Instagrams. Is this an improvement over the way it was done in the past? Yes and no, at least in my mind. We may not share physical proximity as we have in the past,but I would argue that we share more of our thoughts, our hopes and dreams. In effect, we share more information about ourselves, even if we aren't sharing our presence.

Here's where it gets a little deep, but stick with me. Everyone is in such a rush to be judged by, to borrow the immortal words of Dr. King, "by the content of our character." Sure, some of that rubs off in the form of what we say and the way we act in physical interaction, but I've seen that most people are much more willing to share their innermost thoughts if there is a psychological buffer at work, and social media often serves as that. Some people, and we all have at least a few on our friends list, come off as neurotic in the way their emotions change from hour to hour. They go from happy, "I love my life, I am so blessed" to "Some people are so awful, I think I'm just going to go grab a bottle and sit down and watch angry movies for  while."

There was obviously something that happened between those two posts to change that persons attitude, but the simple fact is that they are emotionally capable of such personality changes. It suggests emotional instability, otherwise known as being a "drama queen", and social media is full of it. Some people don't have a filter, and those people appear to be breeding because they grow in number every day. We share more of our thoughts than ever before, and less of our physical presence. Which gives us a better sense of who a person is? Greater minds than mine are already working on it, so I will move on.

Our economy and political climate is a matter of contention for most in this country. The political machine has cultivated a "us versus them" attitude that has done a remarkable job from obscuring the fact that neither side is accomplishing much to benefit the average person. People like to win. People like to be right. People like to consider themselves special. Political parties play to that need to be a part of the winning side, turning our electoral process into a grand reality TV experiment. The issues are secondary for most of the population, and still others, if you ask them why they are voting for a particular candidate, will express a preference for their political party over a preference for the individual candidate. If one candidate gets too far out ahead at any point, polls are shown showing that it really isn't that lopsided in an attempt to convince the public to keep up the debate. Why? Because the news organizations in this country have a bottom line too, and a runaway win kills ratings. I'm not suggesting they fabricate research, I'm jsut suggesting they are selective in what research they show to the public.

Everything is a business in this country, from the megachurches in the south to the political parties of the north, from the technology firms in the west, to the design firms of the east. Everyone has fat in the fire, and these battles aren't fought on the battlefield, they are fought in margins of consciousness. With more data freely available about the emotions and desires of everyone, companies are pushing harder and harder to corner the market on this information. It's not something you can see on the street corner or your local gas station, it's happening online, and having the most excessive/expansive military in the world can't help us there. The NSA is blurring the line between enemies and friends, effectively treating both the same. At this point, I personally believe that Anonymous, and groups like it, have more of my best interests at heart than the US government, because that is the evidence I have seen. I can respect that they take a stand on moral grounds, where the government just seems to be another big business obsessed with aggregating power and wealth.

The stories need to be told of people struggling against the injustice of being unhelpful to the corpocratic bottom line. Miles Torvalds, the protagonist in my upcoming novel pre://d.o.mai.n, is one of these people. That he is fictional doesn't diminish the fact that there are millions of other people out there equally unhelpful as profit or power centers to those in power. There are people out there suffering with medical ailments that insurance companies refuse to cover, there are people out there dying because the insurance companies refuse to share their wealth with the equally corrupt pharmaceutical and healthcare sector.

It's a gigantic penis-measuring match, and the ones coming out on the short end of the stick (hehe) are those of us that play by the rules. The ones that try to play by the rules are marginalized, because we are predictable. We will pay our taxes, because that is what respectable people have told us they do. We will work 40 hours a week, knowing that at the end of that week all we will really be ahead is the Friday night pizza we buy our children to keep a little bit of fun in the world. We will buy insurance, because the government tells us that we have to now, propping up multiple industries with an incomplete circle of wealth that runs from our wallets, to the insurance companies, to the pharmaceutical and healthcare companies (who  come back after us after the insurance companies cut them off), and ending in the back pockets of politicians in the form of kickbacks and lobbying efforts.

It's incomplete because there really isn't anybody looking out for us, the source of all of that wealth, the common folk. It's like the water cycle, and the lakes (us) are starting to dry up, so the rivers(companies) are digging in deeper, trying to get below the water table in order to get more out of us, not understanding that the lower they get, the quicker it kills off their own reason for existence. It can't go on like this, and that is why I include this plotline in my novel.

That is the power of fiction. The showing, not in the telling. We are told what to think all the time. From the news, to our politicians, to influential members of society with a vested interest. Fiction doesn't try to do that, at least not if it's well done. What it does best is show you what is going on, or what could go on in the future, and offer you the respect to draw your own conclusions. It gives you food for thought, then prompts you to take a second look at the world around you, and see if there are any connections.

It brings me back to a conversation I had at my day job yesterday (yes, I'm a regular full time worker, just like you) with a coworker. We were joking about the best ways to get people to do things you want them to, such as choosing which movie to watch or what activity to do over a weekend. She said that she often just gave in with her husband, that she had been taught that was her role, and then the next time it might be her turn to choose, in an effort to be fair. Basically, not all that different from the way most people approach life in our country. They do the right thing, they sacrifice, all in the hope that eventually those in power will hold up their end of the bargain and be fair to them.

I disagreed. I said what I've found to be the best way to persuade someone is to make your idea sound as good as possible, without letting the other person know it's what you want to do. You're just relaying an experience. Then, you walk away and give them time to think, and more often than not that person will suggest that you do exactly what you wanted, and will approach it with a positive outlook because they believe they made the conscious choice to do so, instead of being manipulated out of guilt. This is what great fiction does. It makes an idea so interesting, that you can't help but consider it. You feel for the characters, and you are allowed to draw your own conclusions. The better the fiction, the more convincing the concepts become, and the more influential the story becomes in your life moving forward.

So write good fiction, or as Neil Gaiman would say, "Create good Art." There are more people listening to you than you might think. Don't be afraid to put as much of yourself as possible into your work, because the only way people are going to understand where you are coming from is to hoist those problems on a fictional character, and to convince the reader to care about them. That's how the story sinks in, and that's how your story becomes larger than the pages it's printed on.

Chris Godsoe

Developer

Christopher Godsoe is a science fiction author in Central Maine. A single father, he spends his time enjoying video games with his son, cooking, and is an unrepentant film buff.