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Will civilization collapse in a day? some science fiction reflections on that - Part 1

Most dystopian science fiction places the reader on a world past the catastrophe, or event that led to the current state of affairs, but a fringe genre, mix fiction and science fiction, is the survivalist novel, in which we are privy to some of the events that lead to a dystopia, and the downfall tends to be depicted as being rather fast, but at the same time gradual. Such is the case of two novels I have read recently, in which for two very different events civilization as we know it changes dramatically, leading to a harsh world in which the fears and insecurities of people lead to a violent and more often than not brutal change in the world around us. In this post I'll address the sudden loss of all electronic equipment, which is the plot-line for "Lights Out" by David Crawford, and the other will be reserved for a later post.

This is one scenario that is not really explained as to how it happened or why, but the story centers around something much more meaningful to…

The Fears of a Given Time Are Put Into Science Fiction?

One recurring issue I have found over the course of many books is that the time on which a given book is written has a great influence on the kind of book it is. I'm talking not only about the narrative techniques, I'm talking about the issues that are dealt with within the story; the fears, hopes and desires the author chooses to give the characters.

In the mid 1950's the fears were nuclear war and communism (in western democracies), while in the mid 1960's new concerns entered the science fiction landscape, and others left. Look at 1984, and you will find the deep rooted fear of a British author of succumbing to a worldwide communist system based on a perpetual state of war, with the resulting absolute control over the individual that we all know now as "Big Brother".

The 1958 Space Merchants tackles new concerns, ones that in the 1960's hippie culture would play an important role, to be forgotten in the 1980's and 90's only to return in the fir…

A one nation planet equals peace?

What if all governments were forcefully subsumed into one? all national borders abolished? a single planetary government ruled over all the people on earth? this is a very common motif in Science Fiction, especially in near and relatively near future stories, but mostly al of them skip over to the part where this kind of government has already been instated, skipping over the not so friendly transition period. Think about it, you have been a national of whichever country you live in for your entire life, some more fervently than others, but we have all at some point proudly said "I am a... (insert national appellative here)", and at some other (maybe even right after the other) have said "...(insert name of bothersome neighboring country here)... sure are (insert demeaning and/or negative adjective here)".

Then imagine that one day along comes a new world government and says: "You are no longer a ..." you are now a citizen of the world. This would probabl…

Religious Zealotry - the lesser of all evils in Science Fiction?

After all other evils have been covered, religious zealotry rears its ugly head above the landscape of Dystopia. We all know that zealots tend to gather in isolated groups, to form their own minority, after all the kind of people who have the one sided mindedness necessary to become a zealot is not something frequent. So then what would happen if all of a sudden you gave the zealots power enough to become the ruling group? or even worse, what if they turn political ideas into a sort of religion?

Take for example the Ford religion seen in Huxley's Brave New World, where the economic and political ideas of Henry Ford are taken to the level of religious doctrine, and anyone deviating from the established way of life, and the accepted social principles, they are faced with a sort of inquisition that ends in exile and ostracism. Another very clear example is the entire society portrayed in, once again, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale, with an enforcement of some of the …

Science Fiction can Show Us the Ultimate Bigot

This post has been in the making for longer than usual, but there is a reason for that: given that I left First Contact and Space Opera out of my list of preselected sub-genres for this study, the issue of bigotry and racial difference seems to have lost the prominent place it takes on those other stories.

In the sub-genres I have labelled as politically relevant, bigotry can certainly be found, and it does play an important role, just not as clearly defined as you could find it for example in C. J. Cherryh's Faded Suns Trilogy, where mistrust and fear for the other is the driving force behind the entire plot of the series, and the inevitable search for understanding upon which one human being embarks.

It must also be taken into account that when dealing with science fiction race has entirely different meaning, it no longer is about skin color or national origins, it can perfectly be of an entirely different animal family; while we evolved from mammals it is absolutely possible t…

Can Governments be Openly Controlled by Corporations? Science Fiction Thinks it's Possible

We have all said it at one point or another, or at the least heard it, Government is controlled by big money. But if this really is the situation, it is done so behind closed doors and always with a public facade of not doing so; then what would happen if one day government decided it no longer cared about its image of independence from the corporate world?

Then most likely we would have a government openly controlled and run by corporations and other enterprises, for the benefit of the few. This has been illustrated most clearly in Space Merchants written by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth back in 1958.

The world in which the story takes place is one that we can be scared of as easily (maybe even easier), than they were back in the late fifties when the book was first published. Big companies have taken over the American government, so much o that Congress is no longer composed of state elected officials, but instead it's comprised of the representative of big companies, such a…

The Fear of Totalitarianism in Science Fiction

Hand in hand with personal freedom comes another of Science Fiction's great concerns: the emergence of totalitarian states. Once more this is a western fear, or more exactly, a fear of democratic regimes; the greater the freedom of the society from which the author is writing, the greater the repression of the totalitarian regime created is.

This takes us to a new question, mainly what exactly is a totalitarian regime (and is it really so bad?). First off it involves an absolute control from the state on everything, and I mean everything, including most of the times the way the people living under said regimes think. Probably the best known totalitarian regime is that of George Orwell's 1984, at least it's the one most easily identifiable as totalitarian, but there are many others, and not all so easy to spot, like for example the "democratic" government found in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

This is one interesting issue, where a supposedly free regime, li…

Science Fiction's Fascination with Personal Freedom

Probably the most recurrent issue in the whole of Science Fiction is the ways in which technology and scientific advance affects personal freedom. The ones that have feel good quality, such as Startrek are generally those that see a positive influence arising from technology, a "civilizing" influence, and that is translated into a greater personal freedom.

On the other end are the harshest dystopias, where societal control over the individual is absolute (such as The Handmaiden's Tale and 1984), in which even thoughts are controlled. And all manner of stories in between, and in all kinds of sub-genres; but the question remains as to where does this fascination come from?

One hypothesis is that this fascination comes from the British and American origin of most Science Fiction (specially in the early days of the genre), and the fact that both their democratic systems are based on personal freedom, and that is probably the defining element of their socio-political regimes.…

Recurrent socio-political issues in Science Fiction

Having narrowed down the list of SF sub-genres in which Political issues are relevant, the next logical step is to look at the socio-political issues that have been recurrent in SF in the past 60 or 70 years (after world war II). One would think that in all these years the socio-political concerns of SF authors, and readers, would be strikingly different, but oddly enough they are quite similar (if not identical), and in a sense that validates them.

So far I've determined the importance of a given issue by the number of stories dealing with a specific issue, as well as the time span covered by the publication of said stories. The higher the number of stories, coupled with a longer lifespan of the issue (not the popularity of the story); this lifespan is measured in terms of a given issue being treated on several stories published in different years.

The following is the list I work with, but if you have other issues that should be included in it be sure to let me know about them…

Politically Relevant Sub-Genres of Science Fiction - Part 2

After the unscheduled break to write about Dystopia, it is now time to get back on track and retake the issue of politically relevant sub-genres of Science Fiction. In the previous post I wrote about the sub-genres in which socio-political concerns have the biggest importance, and now it's time to go into the remaining 4.

5. Near-future science fiction
6. Cyberpunk
7. Cross-genre
8. Military science fiction

Near-future SF tends to be centered around the technological advances that are just around the corner from us, and sometimes they involve socio-political changes, but that is not always the case. Precisely because of the near-future time setting, the society in which the story takes place has not really changed that much, and if it has then it's not near future SF but another of the sub-genres.

Cyberpunk deals primarily with the effects of merging technology with humans (cyborgs, direct neural inputs, immersible computer networks), and the results are more often than not bl…

Dystopia - What did you say that was?

Over the past couple of days I have come across several blogs dealing with the issue of Dystopia. In fact it was one such post that led me to start this blog, and every time I read an article on the topic I start to comment, only to realize that that comment is in fact a part of a post on Dystopia that I plan to write, so to address this issue I have decided to jump ahead a bit and write the damn post, way before its time in the scheme of the blog, but here it seems the issue can't wait any more.

The original blog post I came across was "A Short Discussion About Dystopian Lit" and this week I ran across this question: "How do you define Dystopian?". Both of them deal with the question of What is Dystopia, so here goes my attempt at, not defining, but rather characterizing it.

In a purely grammatical sense Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, so first we need a definition of Utopia, to find what it's opposite is. After reading several dictionary definitions …

Politically Relevant Sub-Genres of Science Fiction - Part 1

In order to move forward, and closer to the subject matter of my research, it's necessary to take the sub-genres from the last post and analyze them in order to determine in which of them political thought has the most relevance. I have to admit that my reading list has been focused mostly on a couple of genres, and if you disagree with my conclusions and think that I should expand into other sub-genres please let me know.

It can be argued that most of Science Fiction has at least some sort of political background and relevance, but what I'm really looking for is stories where the political aspect is central to the story, not just decoration. So based on the list of sub-genres from the precious post, I have selected the following as those most relevant, ordered according to the importance political thought plays in the overall sub-genre:

1. Dystopia / Utopia
2. Soft / sociological science fiction
3. Alternate history
4. Apocalyptic, holocaust, and post-apocalyptic
5. Near-futu…

Science Fiction and its Subgenres

Now that we have a working set of boundaries for determining which stories to include in the body of works that we call Science Fiction, it's time to look into the main sub-genres within SF. This is probably one of the most unknown issues for readers of other genres, and oddly enough some SF writers as well: not all Science Fiction stories take place in outer space or involve laser weapons and the props of Star Trek.

For a very good list of the sub-genres of SF, take a look at Writing World. Each item on their list has a brief description of it, but I intend to build upon those definitions, and others, to expand their scope and help clarify the sometimes confusing landscape of the Science Fiction genre.

The Sub-genres suggested by Writing World are:
Alternate history
Apocalyptic, holocaust, and post-apocalyptic
Cross-genre
Cyberpunk
First contact
Hard science fiction
Light/humorous science fiction
Military science fiction
Near-future science fiction
Science fantasy/future fantasy

Setting some boundaries for Science Fiction

Given that in the previous 2 posts I have taken each of the tropes and rules I had set forth as the ones governing Science Fiction, and analyzed them in detail, and found them too broad, I feel it is necessary to expand each of them in order to better reflect what it is we mean when we refer to them as the defining aspects of SF.

As Paul Kincaid has stated, there is no ONE element that can be identified as clearly defining of the genre, but rather it is a multitude of intertwined threads, coming from a multitude of origins and sources, which define the genre.

This sits in well with the tropes and rules I have mentioned as the constitutive elements of SF. However, in order to use them as the guidelines for selecting texts clearly belonging to Science Fiction, it is necessary to refine them. Based on the expansion of the tropes to see their relationship with works of other genres, a new expanded version of them would be as follows:

- The story takes place in a different time than that o…

On the rules of Science Fiction

Moving forward on the topic of the previous post, it's time to look at the rules governing the definition of a work as Science Fiction. As I stated on the post about the tropes, they can be applied as well to works from other genres, and logic dictates that this is also the case for the rules.

Well let's look at each one of them in detail, as we did with the tropes.

- The setting must be coherent within itself.
This rule seems pretty obvious, and it definitely applies to other genres. In fact stated as is it would apply to any genre whatsoever. Here we would have to expand this rule, and James Gunn's proposal that a Science fiction story takes place in a world of extended every day experience fits in nicely with that need to add more detail to this rule.

- There must be a clear set of rules within the setting. (I.e, if pigs fly there has to be a rational explanation). One more we have a need to expand on this rule within the specific context of Science Fiction, for this ha…

Elements of Science Fiction. An expanded definition.

In the last post I grazed on the surface on the problem that is defining Science Fiction. Now I feel it's necessary to go into a little more detail.

The first point is, what exactly is the difficulty in defining Science Fiction? Well if you read the last post you'll see that in order for a determined work to be considered Science Fiction, it has to deal with certain tropes, and comply with some simple rules; however it doesn't have to fulfill all of the tropes, and the rules are so broad that they can be applied to most mainstream, or realist fiction.

So let me retake each of the tropes, one by one, and look at them to see if they can be applied to a genre other than science fiction:

- The story takes place in the future (from the authors time).
This trope can clearly apply to mainstream fiction (and therefore to many other genres), and does not necessarily mean that the story is SF. One book that comes to mind is "The Election" by Darryl Greer, or "Patriots…