Self Censorship and E-mobs

By now the story of Amelie Zhou and the YA Twitter storm are fairly well known. Other commentators have posted their thoughts on the matter, some safe for work, others rather blunter. Zhou has asked her publisher to pull the book, and as of Sunday evening, it is no longer available at Amazon, B&N, or Powells. The author has confessed to her ‘crimes,” which seem to be daring to write about slavery that does not take place in North America. There have been two accusations of plagiarism, both referring to scenes and tropes that are found in lots and lots of other books, going back to Tolkien and before.

Guess what? There were a whole lot of places that practiced—and still practice—slavery, sometimes in ways that resemble North America, other times rather differently. The practice was supported by law in some cases, custom in others, but pretty much every culture has had some sort of slavery-like system of unfree labor at some point in its history. However, that’s not my point. My point is the power of the e-mob, especially in the Young Adult category.

Some of my books could be considered YA. I do not market them as such, in part because of the lower sales rates, in part because of what I have read about the YA market in general. Those active on YA related social-media incline toward political correctness, woke-ness, and being oh-so-careful not to offend, at least until the definition of offensive shifts and they get caught. This is twice now in a year that a YA book has been attacked for not sticking with the proper narrative about slavery only happened to people of African descent.

Last year, the book had been published and had gotten very good initial reviews before someone began screaming about how incorrect, insensitive, hurtful, and horrible the book was. The e-mob stormed up with pitchforks, and the reviews changed to condemnations. But the book had been released, and was for sale.

This time, the author and publisher pulled it before it could be read by more than a few pre-release reviewers.

One of the things that made England so odd compared to Europe in the early 1700s was that censorship only began after printing. Someone could publish a work, a few copies got out, and only then did His Majesty’s government decry the work and order it removed or censored. On the mainland, pre-approval was the rule. We seem to be returning to the bad-old-days, where the king’s censors must give their imprimatur for a book to be released, and even then the author has to be wary. The goalposts move quickly and often, and today’s approved work might be offensive tomorrow.

This is one of the best reasons not to participate in social media to date. Orwell’s Two Minute Hate is alive and well. Struggle Sessions right out of Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR have been resuscitated and are staged in 140 characters or less, as well as on other sites. It doesn’t matter that a young woman’s dream is destroyed, that a young man’s reputation is ruined and his life possibly endangered. That someone dared to express wrong-think and failed to remain in line is all that matters. Everyone must pile on to show their right-think and ideological purity. Over, and over, and over.

Next, people will not dare write anything that varies the least bit from the current Truth. And will wonder why young adults no longer want Young Adult books.

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30 thoughts on “Self Censorship and E-mobs

  1. This is how we get back to the bad old days of the 90’s, when the shelves were nearly barren of anything worth reading.

    Isn’t it odd how right-think is always left?

  2. Crowdfunding takes us back to the 1790s. Friends, family, and associates subscribed to the new book in person, not by electronic campaign. We’re still on uncertain terms with printer or publisher. Maybe it’s time for a smaller, independent publisher who contracts to set and sell the work as provided.

  3. I’d almost be tempted to write a YA adventure – with a white/European protagonist captured by Muslim corsairs and sold into slavery in the middle east/north Africa. Just for the fun of watching all the prog heads explode. It would be … spectacular.

        • Yes.

          Pointing out that approximately the same number of Europeans were taken into slavery by Muslim pirates as Africans taken into slavery by Europeans does tend to explode heads.

          As does pointing out that the US actually wasn’t the primary destination – British North America and the US got less than 10% of the total, while Brazil got ~40% and the Spanish Colonies an additional 15-20%. With British Caribbean possessions getting nearly the same number as the Spanish Colonies.

          Yet, somehow, the US (and not the British Empire) takes all the blame.

          • St. Vincent de Paul was just one of many Frenchmen who.were kidnapped and enslaved by Muslim pirates. The big difference is that he got back to France. (His last owner was super-cruel, because he was an ex-Christian Frenchman who had gone apostate to get free. The apostate’s conscience got the better of him, and he escaped back to France with his slave.)

            Needless to say, a lot of modern historians and biographers shoved this part of St. Vincent’s life under the rug, but it happened!

            Anyway, the Blood Heir thing was obviously referencing Russian serfs, with a side order of the Roman slavery of people with special skills and good educations. Tironian shorthand was invented by Cicero’s slave, Tyro.

    • That’s sort of what inspired Shikari: what if a colonized people did not want the colonizers to leave? What if they want the colonizers to take on the Big Bad for them? And then what?

      I keep waiting for someone to twig onto that, but it may be too subtle.

      • I once worked with a couple of Indian engineers. One was adamant that the worst thing that happened to India was the departure of the the British and independence in 1948. He made compelling arguments that British civilization was the best thing that happened to India. The other gentleman had a somewhat different opinion. As a neutral observer, it was interesting to watch them discuss the pros and cons of the British Raj.

        • I expressed opinions similar to those of the first engineer when I was teaching at UCLA and weathered a storm of shocked denial from colleagues and students. Everybody was civil, though, and the ensuing argument involved facts.

          Sometimes the past really is golden compared to the present. These days I’d simply be burned at the stake.

        • I took a History of South Asia class in college and had a guest-prof from India for part of it. She hated, loathed, dreadfully disliked the British… except for the abolition of sutee. Apparently her in-laws had tried to force her to commit sutee. Reading between the lines, they’d also tried to enforce it later, and she’d managed to escape. She allowed as how she was grateful to the Brits for that, and for India’s common language.

      • I had not wanted to raise the point, to avoid attracting Thags. Some people benefit from a benevolent overlord. Some of the First Stamm appear to resent this, now that human overlords can help decipher the remaining records, and pay lower Stamme workers for service.

        That brings in another question: how are the Stare paid, and with what, credit blanche or specie of some kind?

        I also see another subtle setup with off-world do-gooders attempting to wreck Stamme. An equivalent to the Sepoy Mutiny might occur in another 20 or so years; the triggering event might be the “efficient” replacement of all those water fountains or taps.

    • I wonder if there is any way for the timing to work out for captured by corsairs, and then trafficked around to the point of being sold onto a ship to be carried to Georgia or something.

      • Argh. This supersonic plot computer is junk. Bunnies say that the first volume is a kidnapped Irish princess, who raises her son to become a kin-slayer and outlaw, who runs away to Ireland. Possibly usurping the throne originally held by his grandfather. From an incumbent who had betrayed the hall to the vikings when spurned by his mother.

        Second volume is an young irish boy captured by Corsairs in the last raid that reached Ireland. Wacky adventures ensue, till he is finally trafficked to the new world in his fifties.

        Volume three is a green beret fighting communists.

        Junk. Complete junk. No real plot, shreds of character, and more research than I am up for right now.

        • There were a fair number of white slaves in the Caribbean sugar islands, because you could get enslaved for crimes like treason. Lots of Scots, lots of people from Southern England. The latter case provided the plot for Sabatini’s Captain Blood — the white slaves escape and become pirates.

      • I’m thinking – maybe a character in a Lone Star Glory/Lone Star Blood … have to think about a way that I could work such a character in…Spin off as a separate book…

  4. This whole situation makes my blood boil. I’ll write what I,…uh, darn…yeah, “darn”, that’s the word…what I darn well want. And read what I darn well want, too. If anyone is offended by that, they can take a long walk off a short pier.

  5. Yet another reason I’m indie. This is so sad in so many ways. She was a voice that we really needed! And her story was loosely based on the REALITY that exists in CHINA, not here. To assign ‘PC’ cultural norms to an immigrant’s writing is absurd, but that is the mode the perpetually offended snowflakes are in. Funny how the teens that read my book like it, including teen females both here and overseas.

    • I’ve “heard” that her “problem” was that she ignored the “PC Theme” that Only Blacks Were Slaves and Only Whites Were Slave Owners.

      She had plenty of the “diversity points” but failed in two areas.

      One, she ignored (or didn’t know) the “PC Theme” mentioned above.

      Two, she lacked the thick skin (and strength of will) needed in the publishing business.

      Of Course, I blame both the Bullies and the Liberals who should have stood up for her. 😡

  6. I’m still cynical enough to be waiting for the big “but demand was so yuuge we brought it back!” announcement.

    I’ve only sold two books to tradpub, but the contracts I had, I was committed to deliver by a certain date or forfeit my advances, and there was no “take my ball and go home” clause. Once I delivered, it was going into print whether I wanted it or not; that sort of thing is what a contract is *for*. And even if the publisher decided to cancel publication, they’re out expenses, plus having their schedule and announcements hosed; that’s the sort of thing their lawyers are supposed to write their contracts to prevent.

    Also, given that the entire tradpub industry is far-left and “woke”, I have a hard time with the idea none of the editors or staff involved managed to handle the text without sniffing evil non-correct thinking.

    It’s entirely possible everything is on the up-and-up, but we have an unknown person and some flacks from an industry not particularly known for its honesty; without some kind of independent verification, I’m not able to gin up much outrage.

  7. Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle does the history right. Stephenson has European characters being galley-slaves to Muslims in the Mediterranean and indentured servant/slaves to other Europeans in the American Colonies. Highly recommended– if you have time for 3 volumes of ~1000 pages each.

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