You have probably heard by now about Amelie Wen Zhao, the Chinese immigrant who pulled her YA fantasy nove, Blood Heir, after being set upon by Twitter piranha.
Zhao based the invented world in her novel on her own experience growing up on mainland China. In China today, slavery is a concern, especially for young women, who are in danger of being kidnapped and sold to men who cannot otherwise find wives, due to China’s one-child policy. So Zhao included indentured servants and human trafficking as a plot issue in her novel.
Only, in her fantasy world, it was magic powers, rather than skin color, that fueled the discrimination that decided who ended up as a slave.
It was this that—of all things—that upset her attackers.
Nearly every fantasy or science fiction book I read as a child had basically this same theme—that prejudice would be different in an alien culture, and by viewing it from afar, we can learn to overcome it in ourselves. And yet, this very premise is what Zhao’s attackers denied. They condemned her for allowing slavery to be about anything but skin color.
They actually said this.
Zhao is not the only author to be so attacked recently. Laurie Forrest and Keira Drake both suffered similarly before the release of their books. The publicity from the media reaction catapulted Forrest’s book, The Black Witch, to greater success, but Drake was not so lucky. She delayed her book, The Continent, rewriting sections, but she did not benefit from the publicity and her series is struggling.
All three of these authors were attacked for writing the very kind of books that were most praised only a few years ago.
Speculative fiction without speculation?
Speculative fiction is the art of speculating about the world through fiction. How can such an art exist, if no one is allowed to write about anything except exactly what they know from their every day experience?
Science fiction’s grand master, Gene Wolfe, addressed this subject when he wrote:
Science fiction’s fictional people are hard to make believable because they are likely to be remote from the writer’s experience. Who has known a Martian? A starship captain? A woman who has published scientific articles intended to prove that she is not a human being? If the writer cannot empathize with people who do not yet exist—and may never exist—he must stay out of science fiction.
His comments remain true today. Without empathy for others—the ability to imagine the life and experience of someone unlike ourselves—we cannot enjoy speculative fiction.
Hitting close to home
As an author, who is also the mother of a Chinese girl, this story hit me particularly hard. I immediately ordered Blood Heir on Amazon, hoping that a show of support from the public might convince Zhao to change her mind about canceling the book. Alas, I have since received word from Amazon that the book has been pulled.
Zhao’s story is doubly painful, because I, too, spent decades pursuing my dream before I was finally published by Tor in 2009. So Zhao’s comments on the topic from her blog broke my heart.
On a recent Skype session with my parents, my mother told me in tears that, when I was around 8 years old, I said to her one day: “Mama, I want to be an author!” And she gently sat me down and told me the reality. That so few authors make it — and fewer, still, make it big. That many still struggle on in pursuit of their dream. That I have to decide whether I want a life of comfort — one that my parents have gifted me — or a life of uncertainty, potential financial duress, and, very possibly, never having my books see the day of light.
I chose. For my entire life, I’ve prepared myself for a career in finance, telling myself it was the more realistic choice, that success stories for authors came true once in a blue moon and that dreams were something only Cinderella’s fairy godmother could grant with a wave of her wand.
This young woman’s life dream has been robbed by bullies.
These modern bullies form mobs that exhibit as much moral outrage as the Victorians or Puritans of old, but they lack the one thing that redeemed the older groups: virtue.
The Victorians and the Puritans may be known for moralizing, but many of their members legitimately tried to live up to the high moral standards they proposed. One might say that they had the virtues of their vices. This new movement has all of their arrogance but none of their morality.
Because of this, some have started referring to these frothing, outrage mobs as Impuritans. Where the Puritans used peer pressure in an attempt to enforce morality, these modern Impuritans attempt to bully people into accepting sinful behaviors.
A Christian’s duty
As a writer and a mother, this story appalls me, but as a Christian, our duty must go beyond merely being appalled.
As Christians, we have a duty to stand up to bullies, especially if they are urging us to commit sins and accept false, non-Christian moral codes. In the Bible, the penalty for yielding to bullies was surprisingly severe. Upon leaving Egypt, the Israelites had been told that they would be led to a Promised Land, running with milk and honey. Moses sent a few ahead to spy out what lay ahead. What they discovered was a land running with milk and honey, but the people living there looked menacing. The spies feared the locals much as we might fear standing up to a bully.
The spies returned and told the Hebrews that the land was full of unbeatable giants. Only one told the truth about what he had seen, a man named Caleb, but the people did not listen to Caleb. They quailed in fear and begged not to have to face these giants.
God’s response? He condemned the entire tribe to wander in the desert for forty years, until the current generation of adults had died. Those who had given into their fear were denied entrance to the Promised Land. When they finally were allowed to enter, Caleb, the one who told the truth, was still as strong, at 85, as he had been—the gift God gave him for his truthfulness.
If we modern Christians give way to this mob mentality of immorality and outrage, rather than standing up to those who abuse the truth, we could lose our promised land. America has been a promised land in many ways—a place of freedom and human dignity. These benefits have been vanishing in recent years, not because some tyrant has taken them from us with bayonets, but because we are ceding the willingly, due to the insistence of the Impuritans.
Amelie Wen Zhao has had her promised land, the happy future she had envisioned since she was eight years old, snatched from her. If we continue to allow this to happen, we, too, may find that we have lost ours.
We must take a stand against immoral mob mentality if we want to be able to continue to practice Christianity, much less enjoy speculative fiction, in the years to come.