All this "Rebel Flag" flap has put my literary future in an uncomfortable spot

Randall Anthony Schanze
Randall Anthony Schanze's picture

All this Rebel Flag stuff has put me in a rather awkward position as an author.

See, over the last nine years or so I've written a spate of stories that take place in a fictional timeline where space was colonized by semi-educated poor low-class rural types, mostly from the US. Rednecks, essentially. Of course about a third of the colonists are Russian and Chinese peasant-farmer types, too, and there's ones from other countries in even smaller numbers, but the bulk of the colonists were basically American hillbillies.

The reason for this is not that they were particularly desirable, but (As one character puts it in "The Cetian Sky") simply because "They wouldn't be missed." Why risk the lives of valuable people?

Most of my stories concern the planet "Gagarin," which was settled by rednecks who chose the Rebel Flag as their national/planetary flag because they were really, really homesick. One character is utterly appalled at this, but there's nothing he can do. When I wrote that particular story 7-ish years ago, it wasn't offensive, it was just amusing. Buncha hillbillies. What else would you expect? It's a background detail in most of the subsequent stories.

there was no particular metaphor being explored here. Gagarin is not a surrogate for the American South. I just thought it'd be fun to take a recognizable subculture and watch it gradually become more and more alien over time. By the time of the final batch of Gagarin-centric stories, owing to centuries of intermarriage, a limited gene pool and a lot of artificial insemination from sperm banks, everyone on Gagarin is very dark-skinned and multiracial. When a Gagariner actually sees some people from earth in "Laodicians," she says, "My God, are those Caucasians?"

The protagonist of most of my stories (Thus far) is a guy named "Bob," a big black dude initially from Florida who settles on Gagarin. He doesn't have any real opinion on the flag one way or another, he kind of doesn't notice it most of the time, though it is mentioned somewhere (I forget where) that within a few generations pretty much everyone on Gagarin has forgotten the origins of the flag, and what it once stood for. (As said with some amusement).

I even commissioned some art for the cover of my eventual (As yet uncompiled) collection of Bob stories. It's basically a big shirtless black dude with torn up clothes, holding a gun, and standing in a Teutonic manhood pose. He's got two women in torn-up clothing hanging off of him, and they're all in front of a HUGE rebel flag. It's sort of halfway between Doc Savage and a romance novel. It was deliberately chosen to be kind of funny and unexpected, however now....

You see my problem?

So what do I do? Do I take the flag out of my stories? Rewrite 'em? Hell no. One of the best ones revolves around the flag, and I haven't done *ANYTHING* racist in them (Except perhaps some white-bashing), and nobody ever reads my damn books anyway. I'm not changing it.

The "Bob" cover is more problematic. I don't know what to do about that, which is a shame as it's unquestionably the best cover of all my books. Well, it'll be years before that one's done, so it's not an immediate issue. Still: Awkward.

I'm just hoping I don't get the rep as being a racist writer, though. I'm clearly not. Facts don't really matter when people are slinging accusations around, you know? Particularly if you're a nobody like me.