New Guidelines for Fiction at Zero Books

Apr 9th, 2015 | By | Category: Articles, Book News

quote-one-of-the-nice-things-about-science-fiction-is-that-it-lets-us-carry-out-thought-experiments-rudy-rucker-159635While being interviewed by the Paris Review in 1990 the novelist and Platonist philosopher Iris Murdoch was asked the following question:

Should the novelist also be a moralist and teacher?

Murdoch's answer was that a fiction writer should avoid didactic aims but should embrace the role of the moralist, if not entirely then at least in part. She said:

A novelist is bound to express values, and I think he should be conscious of the fact that he is, in a sense, a compulsory moralist[...] In answer to your question, I think a novelist should be wary of being a teacher in a didactic sense, but should be conscious of himself as a moralist.

My opposition to Murdoch's answer has helped me to determine both that Zero Books should publish fiction and helped me to define just what kind of fiction Zero Books should be publishing. That is, I think a novelist should try to teach with her work, but that the first pupil should be the author herself. The kind of fiction I'm interested in sets up philosophical problems for its characters and readers both, and in the best fictions the way not only the characters but the story itself solves these problems does teach us something, something new. While the moralist takes a position and delivers a message, the writer of philosophical fiction is more open and produces stories that are led by their ideas and the implications of their ideas rather than being either illustrations or anecdotes that confirm an author's principles. This kind of fiction is least of all merely an excuse to present "interesting" or "deep" characters for the reader to either reject or identify with.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand these more open or philosophical stories is consider them to be thought experiments. An example would be the novel Replay by Ken Grimwood. This is a novel that takes on Nietzsche's notion of eternal recurrence, takes it on as a literal problem for the protagonist, and works out just what kind of life might be possible if one were aware of carrying such an unbearable weight.
Another, less obvious, example would be Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, wherein existential anguish is given concrete substance and the reader is driven past sentiment and ready made answers in order to viscerally experience what was (and perhaps still is) a philosophical, moral and emotional impasse.

This is a call for fiction submissions to Zero Books. We would like to see novels and novellas that take ideas into themselves in order to test them. Zero Books is open to all genres, including but not limited to, science fiction and fantasy. A good example of what we'd like to see would be



We will take proposals with 5000-10000 words from works in progress but submissions of completed manuscripts are encouraged. To submit your manuscript go to the main Zero Books Author Inquiry page.

If you enjoy the Zero Books podcast consider listening to the Inside Zero books podcast on Patreon!
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5 Comments to “New Guidelines for Fiction at Zero Books”

  1. Hi,

    ZERO are publishing my first book and my second may be closer to the model you describe above. I have developed a new ‘mathematics’ for a revolutionary geisteswissenschaften and am using this as a the basis for generating fictions to test it…….

    • Douglas Lain says:

      That sounds really interesting, tell me how that would work?

      • The mathematics has strict rules for constructing skeletal structures. These skeletal structures are also peculiar forms of post-conceptual art as well as complex metaphysical-existential formations. Firstly, one builds various metaphysical-existential skeletons. Secondly, these are then fleshed into fictional worlds/characters and narratives.

        This is a bit oversimplified. There are a lot of implicit assumptions and ideas buried in this so I do apologize if (a) this sounds meaningless or (b) ridiculous!!

  2. Christine Edwards-Brown says:

    Umm.. I would like to submit – but where?

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