Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Independent Publishing: Utopia or dystopia?

(Hieronymus Bosch.)

As a science fiction writer, I have to ask the question, is the rise of independent digital publishing dystopian? Or is it Utopian to have the freedom to publish a book?

It depends who you ask, doesn’t it? There are those who see the democratization of publishing in dystopian terms. It is the end of the world, and a cloud descends over humanity. Others, including myself, see it as a vast and wonderful opportunity to transcend hierarchical structures and establish our own meritocracy of abilities.

Not everyone has the ability to write, so there is inequity here as well, although this is true for traditional as well as self-publishing.

What makes dystopia or Utopia is interest. It depends which side you are on. One man’s Utopia might be authoritarian. He would finally have the power and control to rectify the world’s wrongs, and confine or reform those who did not meet social standards. Sounds good, eh? Unless you don’t live up to expectations. His personal Utopia includes tyranny over you.

And yet the opposite, a state where there was no authority, and the needs of all (or the greatest number,) were still somehow met, might seem very dystopian to those who believe that there is nothing good which does not stem from some higher power or authority somewhere—they might be Utopian in that they seek a benevolent world government. They might have all kinds of logical justification. They would be up on a pulpit and no one would listen. That might be very frustrating.

What if all they want to do is to organize things constructively? You can’t get anything done, in an anarchic dystopia. That’s for sure.

What if they want to tell you what you can and cannot read? Surely there is some of this behind all the angst from authority figures in this industry. They're just not giong to come out and say it on record; what you can and cannot read. That would reveal them in all of their splendour, wouldn't it?

A woman’s Utopia, or dystopia, often looks far different than that of males.

So many issues of social control or progress, or reform, revolve around our bodies, from what we can eat, or what we can do on a given day of the week, fish on Friday or whatever, and of course all the reproductive and moral guidelines. Then there is the battle for our loyalties, our hearts and our minds. It’s all over the place. Surely someone has an interest there. Society has an interest—if an ‘inanimate idea’ can be said to have an interest. Society is a necessary fiction. Society is a generally agreed-upon thing. It is the thin veneer that covers barbarism.

To throw all that away could be seen as dystopian or Utopian. It depends on your point of view.

People’s arguments don’t always make sense. Yet they can be very sincere.

Here is the Utopian disconnect: one man’s Utopia involves getting rid of every law. Every law. He drives as fast as he wants on the highway, drinking beer, setting fire to the homes of people he doesn’t like and having sex with farm animals. He’s in paradise. The rest of the world is endangered or even just offended. So many social sanctions depend on public opinion. What else is there to judge by?

Another person’s Utopia is one where everyone behaves rationally and with perfect decorum. How could it be achieved, without massive social intervention, or even a eugenics program?

Another person’s Utopia would involve perfect social control through the use of legal sanctions. There would be a law for every eventuality, and laws for scenarios as yet unimaginable. They would cover all the bases. Who pays for the court system? Who wants to be taxed to support the masses of humanity serving time and paying their debt to society in a jailhouse?

One person’s Utopia might be to impose a belief on another. Not to be able to impose social control, or morality, could be considered dystopian. Perfect personal freedom might lead to dystopia. Surely efforts to band together to avoid anarchy, to provide social services, would tend to promote one group of interests ahead of others. How does that play out over the long run? Wouldn’t that lead to another elite? We admire elites. We look up to them for all kinds of reasons. Or would we all sit around doing nothing? Where none may rule, who is to say otherwise? What right do they have to enforce it?

Public opinion has never stopped evil from doing what it will or good from doing what it must.

What sounds like Utopia, a world where everyone just accepted everyone else, and then went ahead and did what they had to do, what was right for them, probably isn’t an achievable dream anytime soon. That’s because it looks too much like dystopia to the average bear in the street. And you can’t legislate or impose enlightenment on those who will not have it.

I’ve got that much figured out.

Is the new world of digital publishing Utopian or dystopian?

It is both. It represents change. One person’s disaster is another person’s opportunity. There are two schools of thought on the industry today, divided along almost partisan lines. It is that tension that prevents either Utopia or dystopia from actually happening.


So what qualifies me to be a writer?

Nothing, really. And everything.

I say that because after some thought, I realized that I’ve had nineteen cars in my lifetime. I’ve lived in five different places, including big cities and remote locations. I’ve had at least thirteen addresses that I can remember. This includes houses, apartments, boarding houses, and even a motel room with a kitchenette.

I’ve had easily fifty jobs, some of which were service or construction jobs, where we went to all the different plants and businesses in the tri-county area. I’ve worked in a hundred cities, towns and villages, and on farms as well.

I attended five different schools, took something on the order of forty different classes, (including bluegrass guitar,) and I’ve had five decades to sort of figure things out. I’ve been around the block once or twice.

I’ve read a lot of books, seen a lot of films, and listened to a lot of music. I’ve looked at a lot of art, listened to a lot of people and lived my life. I’ve had a few girlfriends, drank a lot of beer and had a lot of fun.

I’ve known a lot of people, and heard quite a bit about people I don’t really know all that well. Some of them, I don’t care to meet.

I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been to two other countries and a couple of different states, although as far as Canada goes, I’ve never been anywhere else but Ontario. Mind you, Ontario is a pretty big place.

I’m fairly intelligent, a good worker, and exhibit some imagination. I’m logical, and reasonable, and just a joy to watch in operation. I also have the ability to write. I have plenty of free time, a good dose of patience and rarely lose my sense of proportion. I’m a pretty good guy, all things considered.

I take things day by day and I like to laugh a lot.

If we’re not having fun, then it’s just not worth doing anymore.


  1. Louis,
    The dictionary defines dystopia as follows: An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.But nor is it perfect either, as in being Utopian.

    While some may consider the current world of writing as a bad place,I don't.To me it is merely in a state of flux.

    What annoys me is when the publishing establishment label anyone operating independently, and therefore beyond their control as nothing more than amateurs.

  2. The publishing establishment is careful not to comment too disparagingly, but there are observers, columnists, and what could be construed as sympathizers who feel there is something to be gained by disparagement. I can only encourage people to write, to condemen them for what I am doing seems hypocritical.


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