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Real and Imaginary Triggers

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

So, I was exploring the internet looking for some places to sell some of my stories. When you are not at the apex of the literary ecosystem you have to do that. And this is why I come across a magazine that states that they won’t be considering any COVID-19 or pandemic stories because they had no wish to trigger recent bad memories and re-traumatize their readers.

Their editorial policy triggered a reaction in me: ambivalence. First off, in the World of June 2020, it is far too easy and simplistic to accuse people of being “snowflakes” and then show off your semi-automatic rifle as you strut to the hair stylist. And if you do that kind nasty thing, you really do deserve to get sick.

No, I think the editorial policy in question is actually coming from a good place but I just can’t agree with it. The people running that magazine definitely have a different view of how science fiction works than I do:

Science fiction is useful not because it lets us avoid triggers; SF can be worth reading because sometimes it gets us to confront what triggers us, and helps us to deal with those fears and traumas.

Did people stop reading The War of the Worlds during World War I and World War II? I suspect that people didn’t. Should we avoid reading 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale because the ideas in these books are too much like what’s happening now in our real life communities? Based on the growing sales of these works, I think many readers would say the opposite. I’m reminded of what Ray Bradbury said about why he wrote Fahrenheit 451: “I don’t try to predict the future. All I want to do is prevent it.”

I sympathize with Mr. Bradbury but don’t completely agree with him either because:

  1. The future presents us with all kinds of possibilities, not all of them are bad and maybe we should check out those options. And even when we are looking at a bad future, it’s worth considering just how it got so bad.

  2. Nobody listens to us writers that much. Even when we’re really entertaining; the best we can do is maybe try to slow down something bad (until hopefully it can be stopped) or help speed up something good that might be happening.

The kind of science fiction that gets me excited is the stuff that helps address crisis and chaos by putting them in a narrative form. You might feel less helpless by experiencing devastating events in a story because:

  1. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. You get to find your way through and out of whatever catastrophe you (through the characters) are facing. Even when things end badly, the narrative journey means that the experience had some human meaning.

  2. At the very least, you realize that things could be a whole lot worse than they are in real life. Yes, we have pandemics and murder-hornets but at least we don’t have Martians and their stupid death-rays!

So, I won’t be submitting my stories to that magazine, I just don’t think we’re compatible. However, I am interested to see what they end up publishing – and I wish them well with a project that’s really important regardless of how I (and they) see the Universe.

Right now, I want to re-watch The Andromeda Strain. Toronto has just started relaxing quarantine rules, I’m nervous and I need to build up my psychological immunity.

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