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Last week’s blog was about Martin Luther King’s Dream as a utopian vision and its relation to science fiction. I said it relates to science fiction because the genre is basically a vision of social change for the future, good or bad. There is the utopia and the dystopia, the first one being the perfect or ideal society the second being a messed up society struggling to remain intact. Many might say that if all science fiction is utopian or teaches a need for a utopia then it’s boring because there’s no story or it sounds too much like a lecture. That’s not necessarily true. Science fiction does not have to take place in a utopian society in order to convey a need for social change. In fact, the best science fiction is probably just the opposite: dystopic yet often serving as a warning so we won’t allow such a bleak future to occur and so we can work towards the utopic.
Science fiction being visionary shows us where we might go as a society. It shows how future technology or scientific discovery can impact us. Good sci fi will do this without preaching and therefore without sounding like a boring lecture. However, there is science fiction that talks about social reform more overtly. Authors such as Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood have done this yet without sounding like lecturers and so have done it well. So whether it intends to or not, if science fiction is written well it will serve as a social commentary about both present and future society regardless of the time period it is set in.
Like much of art and literature of any genre, science fiction is a starting point for social awareness.The best sci fi asks the what-if question: “What if we can download our consciences to computers?”; “What if we come in contact with aliens” (a more typical and classic example); “What if we could change our biological identities anytime we wanted to?” Then it shows how these phenomena effect society by showing how characters respond to them. Some examples: stories that show people downloading their consciences to machines might show the drive for capitalising on those consciences and the controversy it brings; humans will turn racist toward aliens that settle on our planet; if people could change their biological identities anytime they wanted to, there might be more crime in the world that would eventually lead to anarchy. Any of these three examples can lead to a dystopia even if they started out with utopian intentions on the characters’ parts, such as introducing instant biological identity shifting for reasons of annihilating inequality.
So science fiction can serve as a vision for utopian purposes even if it’s set in dystopian societies. It criticizes society by showing what may happen to it if necessary changes are not made.
Things to Come
Speaking about necessary changes, I may have to change my agenda a little for The Hidden. Instead of publishing my short stories in this second collection, I am thinking about publishing each individual story as its own book first, mostly through Kindle. The good news is that readers would be able to buy each story for a lower price than they would an entire collection. I will eventually publish the stories under one collection as originally planned, it’s just that I won’t be doing it right away. I found out that putting all of them into one book is going to take a little longer than I originally thought. I’ll talk more about my reasons for this change in plans next time. For now let me leave you with that and some further reading relevant to science fiction as social criticism. You can purchase each of the items below by clicking on their links.
- Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and FantasyCulture, Ytasha L. Womack
- Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social JusticeMovements, Walidah Imarisha (editor)
- Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
Until next time . . .