Writer’s Bias

When you hear the word “bias,” it immediately conjures negative associations. The truth is that we are all inherently biased, colored by our own experiences and the limitations of our own consciousness. There’s no way to get around it. I often hear those with the best of intentions proclaim that they are unbiased, but anyone using a realistic lens on the world around them knows that such a perspective is patently impossible. Human beings are destined to be biased, and writers are certainly no different, nor should they be.

Great writers have an uncanny ability to hold up a mirror to the world around them and reflect it in a way that makes everyone take notice. When I think about the many great novels I have read, I see the bias that makes them great. The writer’s slanted point of view may make readers uncomfortable, but at the same time, it affords them the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. Take To Kill a Mockingbird or The Bell Jar, both great novels steeped in bias. In many ways, Harper Lee took the stereotypical Southern view of the world in the 1930s and put it on display in the most unflattering light for everyone to see. Her bias exposed injustice with a bent toward righting a wrong. Likewise, Plath’s only novel aimed a bright light on the sexist attitudes of the 1950s with caricatures straight out of the decade before Mad Men.

Certainly, no one would argue that these novels are biased and unfair, especially given the critical and commercial success they have achieved, but the kernel of that success lies in the writers’ bias. Their views of the world around them shaped their novels and produced great work in the process. As a writer, it’s important to understand your own biases and leverage them to create great work. The difference between a good writer’s bias and a poor one’s is that the perspective is subtle, like slowly boiling water – the reader doesn’t realize what’s happening until she’s thrust into the middle of the plot mesmerized by interesting characters. She may not even understand the bias until she’s finished reading if it’s really good.

As a literary writer, I often create characters who are greatly flawed and struggling with the world around them. These characters and their struggles reflect my own biases, but I hope these perspectives have an impact on my readers and make them think about a point of view that is different than their own. I don’t seek to convince or convert but to shine a light on other possibilities. My first novel, The Vanishing, tackles the uncomfortable topic of the right to die as the main character grapples with losing her husband to early-onset dementia. As someone who is firmly in the camp of a person’s right to die, I wrote the novel with that bias in mind. I don’t make any apologies or excuses even if the novel ends in an unexpected way, nor do I get preachy. I let the novel unfold as it does naturally, but my bias is always there.

I don’t see it as a bad thing, something to be fixed or corrected. I see it as my opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the history of the written word. Great novels are biased in one way or another. It’s impossible to avoid, but sometimes, the very nature of the writer’s bias shines a light on the world in a way that transcends a simple written passage resulting in work that truly has an impact on millions of readers much like Mockingbird and The Bell Jar did on generations of readers. In that way, the writer’s bias is truly remarkable and effective in creating a unique work for the world to enjoy, and that is not something we want to tamp down or sweep under the rug of political correctness.

Man Down

Baker hunched over in his seat in obvious pain. A grimace washed over his face as another wave of agony wracked his body. His stomach had gotten worse, not better. A bitter bile tinged the back of his throat, and he thought for a moment that it would be better to vomit, but the thought repulsed him so much that he swallowed hard instead. He could feel the unsavory fluid wash back into his rebellious stomach. Sweat formed across his forehead and his ears burned in warmth. His vision grew blurry as if he had jumped into a clear pool of water. He wavered in his seat.

“Sir, a rover from the colony is approaching our site,” an unseen bot said.

Baker turned toward the voice, but still couldn’t identify its owner. He exhaled loudly as if he had been punched in the gut.

“Sir, do you want us to engage and destroy it?” the bot asked.

Baker searched for the voice again as nausea washed over him. His restraint gave way, and he quickly dropped from his chair to knees and vomited on the floor beneath him. The sour taste made him gag and he vomited again. His stomach still ached, but he felt marginally better to have released the hot liquid.

The bot rushed to his side and pulled him up back into his chair. It scanned his vitals.

“You have a fever.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Baker croaked.

“Based on my scan, you have a viral infection. The Knowledge Base doesn’t identify this virus. It could be native to this planet.”

Baker’s head lolled to one side, but he still tried to concentrate. He mumbled something unintelligible as the bot continued to assess his vitals.

Another bot stepped into the room.

“Does he want us to engage the rover?” it asked.

The first bot looked back at the interloper and replied, “He’s ill at the moment. He didn’t say. Find out what they want and report back.”

“They’re armed.”

“What?”

“They have weapons. They’re already threatening us to see Baker.”

“He’s in no condition to see anyone.”

“I don’t think they care. We either need to engage them or let them in to see Baker.”

The first bot looked at Baker who shuddered in his seat. Sweat dripped from his brow, and his eyes flashed open and shut.

“Mr. Baker, someone from the colony is here to see you.”

“There are three of them – the remaining crew members of the Phoenix,” the other bot interrupted.

Baker’s heavy eyelids fluttered, but he remained unresponsive. His body went limp, and then, almost as quickly as he had settled down, his body flailed forward and he convulsed. Vomit erupted from his mouth and slid down the side of his face as he rocked back and forth in the chair. The bot attempted to settle him down again, but his body still rocked and resisted its strength.

After a flurry of groans and gags from the gelatinous fluid, the rocking stopped and the billionaire lay back in his chair limply. The bot let go slowly and checked his vitals again. The bot poked around his neck and then on his wrists. It peeled open his eyelids and looked into the dilated pupils floating in a sea of bright red blood vessels, capillaries that had exploded into the whites of his eyes.

“He’s dead,” the first bot said.

The other bot had walked closer and stood beside the first bot. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know.”

Behind the Curtain

Thad Baker watched the large screen in front of him. He gestured to the screen and it flipped to the power control panel for his encampment. The dashboard showed all green, and he smiled. His company had achieved remarkable success in the last two decades of the 21st century on earth. While he was mostly known as the father of true artificial intelligence and his company had become synonymous with the bots that dominated earth and now inhabited Mars, his PowerFuse technology remained his primary pride and joy. Years of research had led him and his vast team of scientists to finally tap the mysteries of nuclear fusion to develop a long-lasting and seemingly-endless power source.

His technology spread like wildfire before the global economy fractured and fell apart in the face of drastic climate shifts as survival became the main concern of world citizens. His wealth multiplied many times as homes and buildings left the power grid and relied exclusively on his new invention. His modern bots were powered by PowerFuses. Every vehicle on the planet had switched to PowerFuse after oil reserves dwindled and disappeared altogether.

Baker swelled with pride every time he reminded himself that the mission to colonize Mars would not even be possible without his technology. His bots had been the first to arrive and explore the planet in a way that only a human could. His PowerFuse technology drove the space ships that arrived on the planet. The modular buildings that sprung up on the barren surface and hummed with breathable air could only do so because of his technology. The human race owed him its existence. Without him, humans would have long ago perished in the diaspora of war, disease, and environmental implosion.

It was with this inflated sense of self importance that Baker sat in his chair in the control room overlooking the excavation site and watched his spaceship enter Martian airspace. The ship carried supplies and another batch of bots. His launch capabilities were fine. They were still intact because he had a heavily fortified facility deep in the desert of Arizona that had escaped much of the chaos that had brought down Western States. Most importantly, his facility was completely staffed with his bots, not people. He trusted his bots. He had never trusted people, and he was happy to not have to rely on them to keep his enterprise running.

The ship nudged closer to the surface, slowly descending on the landing strip just north of the excavation site. Baker felt remarkably calm. Everything had come together as he had expected, and he felt confident that his plans for the colony were on track despite the trouble they had run into with Sanjay. He had warned Sprockett about the son of the great Raja. Raja had been a fiercely independent Senator who had rebuffed Baker’s offers numerous times. No matter how much sons fought for their own legacies, they were never too far away from their fathers. Nevertheless, Sprockett had insisted that Sanjay was the right choice for their plans. A politician’s son understood the importance of leadership he had said. He had been wrong.

Footsteps clicked behind him. “Mr. Baker, the ship has landed,” a bot said to his back.

Baker shook himself to the present and looked at the screen before him confirming what the bot had told him.

“Get the bots to work on the site after the supplies are unloaded,” he commanded.

“Yes, sir,” the bot replied.

Baker’s mind returned to Sprockett. The Senator had become a liability with his reckless and power-hungry behavior. Baker had cautioned him about his actions with Sanjay and the result was just as he had suspected. Sanjay rebelled because Sprockett had disenfranchised him. Despite being a life-long politician, Sprockett was remarkably tone death to human motivations. Now, Baker worried that others in the colony were disillusioned with Sprockett and his leadership. Baker needed Sprockett to succeed. He needed a front man, someone who could be the face of leadership while he pulled the strings from behind the curtain. He didn’t want to be in the spotlight. It had never been kind to him, and he resented it enough to shy away from it.

Sitting alone in the control room, his worries got the best of him. He hadn’t talked to Sprockett in two sols and the Senator had not come out to visit him or update him on the progress of the colony. He grew antsy and rapped his finger tips on the tabletop before him. He gestured to the screen and pulled up the comm system, another of his company’s great products, and hailed the Senator from across the rocky expanse between them.

The Senator answered after a few seconds. “Mr. Baker, how can I help you?”

“I need you to come here and update me on your progress,” Baker said solemnly. He betrayed none of his nervousness.

“I can update you right now.”

“No. I want you here in person.”

“But…”

“Mr. Sprockett, I’m in no mood to argue. Get here. Now.”

“Okay. I’ll be there in a few…”

Baker flipped off the comm before Sprockett could say anything else. He’d grown tired of the Senator and his loquacious ways. He’d never known anyone who could say so little with so many words.

He sat back in his chair and rubbed his chin. He remained unsure of how to deal with the Senator and the fledgling colony. He didn’t need any of them. He had his bots and all the luxuries he needed in his little encampment. People weren’t reliable like his bots. They weren’t intelligent either as evidenced by his life experience and the way they bickered and fought over trivial things like religion and economic philosophies. It had all been for naught, and they destroyed the planet as a result. He had the power to end it all, to reign supreme.

A wicked smile crept across his face. The potential power wracked his whole body with an eagerness that betrayed his logic. Another thought trickled through his dense mind. The bots could never truly replace humans, and they lacked the emotional connection with him that he craved. He’d never had someone that connected with him in such a way. He’d had friends that had come and gone and potential love interests that never lasted beyond the initial bloom. He’d spent so much of his life focused on his science that he had never looked up for someone with whom to share his passions. The experience had dulled that part of him, but as he now had the power to squelch all that remained of the human race, he hesitated. Not yet.

A voice interrupted his thoughts. “Sir, we’ve uncovered some interesting artifacts. You should see this,” a bot said behind him.

“Not now.”

The bot hesitated in the spot behind him. Baker could tell it was unsure of what to say next.

“I’ll pull it up on the screen.”

The bot wavered in place for a moment before it left the room. Baker flipped through the camera feeds until he came to the one showing the advancing efforts of the excavation. His jaw dropped open and he pushed himself up in his chair to peer more closely at the screen. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He shot up from his chair and beat a hasty path out of the room. He had to see this with his own eyes.

The Second Transport

When Jane opened her eyes, Olivia’s face filled her field of vision. Olivia’s head seemed to float in the space in front of her with a look of concern. Even with worry wrinkling her face, Olivia was a beautiful woman. Jane felt an equal dose of admiration and jealousy. No one would ever describe Olivia as plain.

“Captain? Are you okay?” Olivia asked.

Jane tried to move her head, but her neck resisted. She moaned before the realization that she had no helmet thrust her into an instance of panic. Olivia recognized the reaction. “It’s okay. We’re in the apartment. Your helmet is over there,” she said nodding to the table behind her.

“What happened, Jane?” Olivia asked.

Jane looked confused as if Olivia had asked the question in a foreign language. Everything seemed blank, nonexistent, as if that very moment was her first breath of life. She remembered no history, no life. For a brief moment, she even forgot who she was, but hearing her name chased away the darkness like a fog dissipating in the rising sun.

“I don’t remember,” Jane replied struggling to get the few words out of her mouth. “How did I get here?”

“Two bots brought you here. You were unconscious when they dropped you into your bed.”

Jane closed and opened her eyes slowly. “Did they say anything?”

“No. I asked them what happened and they said they didn’t know. They claimed they found you unconscious, but I don’t believe them.”

Jane rubbed her forehead and swiped her hair back out of her face. She let out a big sigh as she tried to erase the confusion that plagued her. Images of an angry bot flashed in her memory like a puzzle missing just too many pieces. Her eyes flickered in concentration.

“You okay?”

Jane remained lost in thought.

“Captain?”

Finally, Jane returned to the conversation. “Yes, sorry, I just can’t remember what happened. Do you remember where I went?”

Olivia thought for a moment. “No. You didn’t say. I talked to you before I went to bed last night. When I woke up, you were gone, and then, the bots brought you here.”

“What were we talking about?”

“The transport. Edgar.”

The mention of the transport triggered a shrouded memory that almost revealed itself. Jane tried to concentrate harder. Finally, a few more unfamiliar thoughts broke loose into her conscious mind. Captain Regal. The launch of the second transport. War. A bot. The pieces fell into place.

“I talked to the Captain of the second transport,” Jane revealed. Her voice sounded as if she were reading from a script. Her memory unfolded before her. “Captain Regal.”

Olivia gasped and stared at her Captain in disbelief. Her mouth hung open for a moment before she spoke. “You did? Last night?”

“Yes.”

Olivia narrowed her eyes and glared at Jane. Her forehead scrunched in concentration, and Jane briefly thought she looked beautiful even when she contorted her face so.

“Are our families on that ship?” Olivia asked. She spoke as if she were waiting for a punch, hesitant and halting.

“They are. Regal said so.”

Olivia let out a breath of relief and tilted her head back. When she faced Jane again, her eyes were still closed as if she were squeezing them shut to prevent any tears from escaping. “Thank God.”

A silence slid between them – Jane struggling to conjure the memory that felt like a dream and Olivia basking in the confirmation that Edgar was not too far away. Olivia moved toward Jane and put her hand on the woman’s shoulder before she hugged her. They held that embrace for a moment, a relief from the stress of the battles fought and the ones to come.

“Did you talk to Rachel?” Olivia asked when she pulled back from Jane.

“No, I didn’t have time.”

“How did you get past the bots to get into the Control Room?”

Jane paused searching her memory. The face of a bot pulsed in her mind’s eye and startled her. The bot snarled in her memory, but she knew they didn’t display such emotion. Finally, she said, “There were no bots there. No one was there, not even Sprockett.”

“You just walked in?”

“Yes. I just walked in.”

At that moment, it hit her. She recalled turning around to face the bot that grabbed her throat and choked her. She vividly remembered the feeling of dangling by her neck as if she were being executed by hanging. The bot’s words to her were muted, but the feeling was there as alive and real as if it were happening all over again. Jane stared at Olivia, bewildered.

“What’s wrong?” Olivia asked.

Jane didn’t respond.

“Captain?”

Jane tried to say something but no words came out as if she were choking all over again.

“Are you okay?”

Jane stuttered. Olivia put her hand on her shoulder and looked into her distant eyes. “Jane, do I need to get a doctor?”

Finally, Jane uttered, “No.”

Olivia waited for her colleague to speak again. A few uncomfortable seconds passed.

“A bot tried to kill me. That’s why I was unconscious. A bot discovered me in the Control Room and tried to strangle me to death. I don’t remember everything because I passed out.”

“Oh my god!”

“I remember not being able to put my feet on the ground and the blank look on the bot’s face, but that’s it.”

Olivia sat back down in the chair next to Jane, stunned by the revelation. She wanted to cry out of frustration, anger, and fear. Nothing, it seemed, had worked out according to plan. She worried what this meant for Edgar and her. Would they really be able to live the life they had expected in their new home. The promise of the Mars colony felt illusory and sullied by the change in plans and leadership.

“What do we do now?”

Jane shook her head slightly, still dazed by her ordeal. “I don’t know. I just want to see Rachel with my own eyes and make sure she’s okay.”

Olivia agreed. “I just don’t know what’s going to happen once they get here.”

“We have to make the best of it. At least we’re alive. That’s more than I can say for others in Western States.”

“For now at least.”

Jane jerked her head toward Olivia. She didn’t say anything, but those four words sent a cold chill down her spine.