Politics in Science Fiction - WIRED Article Gets Tweet Wrong But Content Right

Recently, an article in WIRED caused a bit of a stir on Twitter. Not because of the article’s content, but because of the tweet that accompanied it:

The suggestion that science fiction is only now “starting” to get political was roundly criticized as a misunderstanding of the genre and its history; indeed, much of science fiction has been overtly, fundamentally political for decades. It’s difficult to read The Black Company, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Forever War, Parable of the Sower, Dune, or… well, almost anything else, really, without finding political exploration and messaging inextricably woven throughout the stories, characters, and settings.

Anyway, poorly phrased tweet aside, the article itself focuses on SF’s response to the difficult politics of the last few years, and how such stories are helping readers cope and imagine a better future. The excellent short story anthology IF THIS GOES ON, edited by Multiverse 2019 Guest of Honor Cat Rambo, is cited as an example of how authors are imagining future consequences of the current state of affairs, as well as ways we might “get back to normal.” Authors Sam J. Miller, Tobias S. Buckell, Malka Older, and editor John Joseph Adams also contribute their thoughts to the article.

A quote that stood out to me comes from Tobias Buckell, discussing how political messaging is (or is not) received by SF readers:

Nora K. Jemisin was just saying on Twitter the other day that in science fiction we have this venerable tradition of using metaphor to dig at some of these problems—like race and power and structure and history—and that it’s been a mistake, because in the past we would always use the metaphor assuming that our fellow readers and fans of the genre were following along, getting the metaphor, and it turns out that they weren’t. In other words, you needed to be way more in-your-face and say, ‘This is what I’m trying to say.’ Because they were looking at a metaphor of an alien that is powerless and out on the fringes of society—and that that society was being racist toward, and things like that—and then when they were done with that story they’d say, ‘That poor alien,’ and they’d never make the implicit connection.”

Click here to read the entire WIRED article - there’s also a link to download the audio of the entire interview, contained in Episode 354 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

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