Monday, January 18, 2021

Dangerous Ideas

     If you write in the speculative genres—fantasy, horror, and science fiction—you might be there to play with ideas. Those are places where such play is far more acceptable than in mainstream fiction. It was the lure of such ideas, and the possibilities that follow from them, that led me to concentrate on those genres.

     But some ideas are more dangerous than others. Sometimes the danger isn’t apparent to the writer until someone else—an “alpha” reader, perhaps—calls it to his attention.

     It’s more complicated than it appears. A particular idea might not be dangerous to everyone. Rather, it might threaten only those readers with specific convictions. So a story released to a general audience might be wildly applauded by some for its “daring,” while other readers condemn it as an abomination and its creator as a villain.

     Here's another complication: what we currently call “political correctness.” If a writer dares to offend the convictions of the PC enforcers, shortly thereafter he’ll know of their displeasure. Displeasure? They’ll call the wrath of the Furies down on his head. They’ll call him, in the charming idiom of an old friend, everything but white. And they’ll do whatever they can to prevent his tale from being read by others.

     Ironically—hellishly so—what’s “politically correct” changes over time. A century ago it was unacceptable to say that you approve of intermarriage between the races. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, you’re already aware of this. Today it’s the exact opposite, as are many other ironclad dogmas from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries.

     So there are many dangerous ideas floating about, depending on your target reader and his ability to tolerate departures from what he already believes or “knows.” Writers who plan to publish through a conventional publishing house must be aware of the degree of danger they’ll be allowed. Indies have a somewhat different row to hoe. Indeed, we might be indies precisely for the freedom to write dangerously...perhaps even to offend.

     Who has a dangerous idea or two percolating in his head at the moment? What kind of reader would deem it unacceptably offensive to what “everybody knows”—and what kind of reader would welcome it as a breath of fresh air in a stultifying, closed-minded intellectual environment?

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