Monday, August 16, 2010

Invasion Anxiety

It's rare for a new genre to appear on the scene. What's more common is for genres to wax and wane in popularity, receding from the public eye for years or decades and then returning with a fresh perspective. It might be argued that science fiction is undergoing something like that now - I keep hearing about how the modern generation is more interested in fantasy instead, and that science fiction has fallen from the heights it occupied a couple of decades ago. That would probably be worth a post of its own one day, assuming I can find evidence for it other than hearsay and conjecture (even though those are kinds of evidence).

So what genres might become popular in future years, as the tastes of society turn away from magic knights and elves and vampires? The zeitgeist would influence what gains staying power, and after a bit of thought, I have a theory. Depending on how things shake out, we may see a resurgence of invasion literature: a genre that had its original bout of popularity from 1871 to 1914, dealing with hypothetical invasions by foreign powers. The prototype was an invasion of the United Kingdom by Germany, but the concept found solid purchase in countries around the world until the First World War made all those speculations of conquest just a bit too real.

The world has changed in the last hundred years; there's no longer a massive groundswell of anxiety in mainstream society about whether the Stars and Stripes or the Union Jack or whatever flag you choose to fly is about to be lowered for the last time. This may be less true in Australia: yesterday I saw a trailer for the upcoming movie Tomorrow When the War Began, which appears to be nothing if not Red Dawn down under, and Red Dawn itself is being remade with the Chinese, not the Russians, as the invaders of America.

If invasion literature does come back in a big way, though, it won't be the same as the original nineteenth-century wave; it'll be informed by the fears of the present. What I wouldn't be surprised to see is a new wave of invasion literature based around the idea of the developing world invading the developed.

In a work of future invasion literature, these cargo ships in English Bay would most likely prove to be full of starving refugees with guns, and also tanks for some reason.

It was the story of MV Sun Sea, a vessel loaded with hundreds of Tamil refugees that made landfall on Vancouver Island last week, that got me thinking along these lines. Refugees are always a hot-button issue, and there will always be people who agitate for them to just be sent back where they came from - the fear of strange Others coming to your land unbidden from over the sea is, like Michael Valpy wrote in the Globe and Mail, a kind of primal xenophobia. It's also something we're going to have to learn how to deal with, because unless all our projections are off, the incipient climate and food and water crises of the next fifty years are going to generate a massive tide of people desperate to escape the privations of the developing world.

I can easily see a new wave of invasion literature tapping into the undercurrent of xenophobia that this would generate: stories about how these other, impoverished countries are trying to "steal" the developed world's wealth, and probably also their women - because, honestly, invasion literature would probably be a man's genre. Hell, I can even see the possibility of "liberal" invasion literature, tapping into the developed world's culpability in keeping the developing world depressed and vulnerable to climate shocks.

Personally, I'd rather that science fiction get more time in the sun. It's at least got the opportunity for optimism - not something that invasion literature really shares, unless it's optimism about how "we'll throw them back into the sea."

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