A question of theme

I know it’s dangerous to think about at this stage, but I can’t stop thinking about some of the themes in my novel. They’re not issues I’d shy away from, except–the outcomes at the end of the story are not messages I necessarily agree with. And I worry that people might think they are. In one case, I worry that the message I send might be one that makes some readers mad, or dislike the novel.

More beyond the jump; please note there will be spoilers!!

Some background:
The colony where the story takes place is run by, well, basically a military junta. The government tells everyone what to do and assigns jobs and living spaces and etc. This is largely because the colony, quite small and isolated to begin with, is in a cold war with and has been embargoed by the Allied Federation of Planets–basically everyone else within trading vicinity. They are functionally in a state of war with everyone part of the war machine.

Again because of the very limited population pool and lack of immigration, anyone who doesn’t do what they are supposed to and is caught is basically recycled, brainwashed until they are a working part of the greater machine again.

Like with any severely restrictive society, there’s a thriving underground, a gigantic streak of corruption and a heavy dependency on bribery to get things really done. There’s also a small protest movement, which is allowed to continue as long as it is harmless, in the name of keeping people believing they are not oppressed.

Over the course of the story, the main character comes into a position where he could deeply wound the military power. He has plenty of reason to: he is a former member of the criminal underground, and suffered greatly in and after prison when his brainwashing was botched. He currently plays Good Dog for the government in the name of not being sent back to prison to be properly brainwashed.

In the end, he chooses not to use this position and leaves things to continue in the status quo. Not just because this is the world he knows, but also because he believes more harm than good would come of disrupting the current colony order.

It’s this that worries me, especially with American audiences. The main character basically allows the military dictatorship to go on in the name of keeping the peace. He goes back to being a good cog in the wheel, after glimpsing the chance to break beyond that. Sure there’s the caveat that doing so will break everything. But there’s plenty of fiction and movies and etc where the brave choice is to bring the world down, believing that what will come after the chaos will be better. Is it always? Maybe, maybe not. But as Americans we believe people must be given the chance to find out for themselves.

My story however sends the opposite message. In a way, it reminds me a little of some of the propaganda-type messages I’ve seen sneaking into Chinese movies lately. Unity is best, we must provide a united front. The empire-builders are ruthless, but it is for a greater good. In the end even the freedom fighters give up their lives recognizing this. (See, “Hero”)

Honestly that message doesn’t sit well with me. And it won’t sit easy with my main character. But will that be enough? Or will I be spreading a message I don’t believe in?

I always want to follow the story, even if it disagrees with my beliefs. But I feel in this day and age, the preference is to spread the messages you believe in in your fiction. Will people remember to question? If you give them the “wrong” message, can you trust they will understand that you are not saying “do this?”

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1 Comment

  1. Mac

     /  February 17, 2011

    Actually, I think the piece you’re working on is plenty complex enough to stand a little ambiguity, a little grey in the black and white. It’s not just a question of capitulating to a corrupt status quo — a very important other aspect to it all is, is the alternative worse? (And is there reason to have hope, however faint, that the “status quo” will not last always?)

    Even Americans tend to recognize that what goes peacetime will not suffice in war. (More than I’m comfortable with, actually, considering the Patriot Act only just now being CONSIDERED for scaling back.)

    Is the situation where your characters are plausibly worse than it would be under the control of their enemies? If your character is having a lesser of two evils situation going on, for him to choose the greater of two evils for the sake of the principle, as opposed to the practical, could actually make him a despicable person, depending on what you emphasize and expand on.

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