Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Politics of Science Fiction

It felt like I'd had just enough time to catch my breath before yet another controversy enveloped science fiction. I swear, sometimes it makes me pine for days past, when I was bashing my keyboard just because and I was entirely ignorant of what all those Real Writers were up to in their golden palaces flying through the rarefied heights.

Except there never was a time like that. Nor was there ever a time before politics in science fiction. But that didn't stop Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds from weighing in in USA Today of all places recently, in a column about how, in his mind, there's no place for politics in science fiction.

My brief rebuttal: bullshit.

My longer rebuttal: this is some bullshit, man.

First off, for the record, I speak as a writer who's recently published a blatantly political science fiction story: "Three Years of Ashes and Twenty Years of Dust" in Strange Bedfellows. I tell you, it was hard coming up with a proper mode for that, but only because Hayden Trenholm was looking for stories in which politics and ideology were front-and-center. Politics are never strangers to science fiction, or writing of any kind--most often they're just hanging back in the shadows, lurking at the edge of the page, guiding the author's arm as the story takes shape. Hell, I have personal experience with that as well: my upcoming story, "Each Night I Dream of Liberty," is set on a sea-based libertarian community. I'm no libertarian, and that absolutely colors the work. I'm pretty confident that if the same notion the story runs on was taken up by a libertarian author, it would not particularly resemble what I produced.

Fish don't notice the water, except when they find themselves flopping on the bottom of a boat. People don't notice the air, except when we take a walk through the airlock without a spacesuit. In that vein, readers don't notice politics in science fiction, so long as those politics match their own.

Politics has always been with science fiction. For someone who knows the sordid history of science fiction fandom, the notion of it being otherwise is ridiculous: the very first World Science Fiction Convention, way back in 1939, was characterized by the wholesale ejection of multiple members of the Futurians, one of the New York fan groups active at the time, after the distribution of a pamphlet that railed against how "the event was run by coercion and dictators."

The problem with politics are the assumptions you carry along with them, that are hidden beneath them like contraband under blankets. Take how Reynolds starts off his column, about how in the Good Old Days™ when Men were Men (and when Women often had to write under Male Pseudonyms to be taken seriously), science fiction was open and diverse, headlined by people as varied as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein.

Because if a bunch of white men doesn't represent diversity, really, what does?

Reynolds mentions Larry Correia, one of this year's Hugo nominees, that he's been getting a lot of blowback. Thinking about it, though, considering that he posted a recommended nomination slate that included Toni Weisskopf, editor at Baen Books and whose post a while back fanned the flames with its talk of cultural divides between "us" and "them," and swine-that-walks-like-a-man Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale, who was kicked out of SFWA last year for using its Twitter feed to disseminate one of his racist screeds... well, what the hell conclusion did he expect me and others to draw? Something other than the winks and nods that say "come on, let's really get those lefties spun up in a tizzy."

Working to nominate people to the Hugo slate who are widely known specifically because of political stances they have taken is not an apolitical act.

there must be a controversy, I'm posting again


  1. "swine-that-walks-like-a-man Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale"

    Racist, much? Check your privelege, white man!

  2. Question: If calling a PoC a "savage" is racist, is calling a PoC "swine" also racist? If not, why? What if it is interpreted that way by others?

  3. Of course there's a place for politics in science fiction. What a silly thing for Glenn Reynolds to say!! There is a place for politics in all fiction ;)

    Sara @ simpleNewz