Stories Can Lead the Way: More Policy-Relevant SFF Is Needed

FutureShift has a blog post up entitled Missing from our Speculative Fiction: Government that Works. Below are the leading paragraphs.

Speculative fiction and political intrigue go hand in hand, yet we tend to see the same few stories about the same governments, over and over. In fantasy, you have your monarchies (benevolent or corrupt) or the occasional oligarchy, mostly based on hereditary power structures. This is your Game of Thrones territory. In science fiction, there’s only slightly more variety: oppressive dictatorships like Big Brother (our nightmare), or weak and corrupt democratic republics (our criticism of our present situation), or more rarely, various takes on socialism, ranging from deeply critical to cautiously optimistic.

Only rarely do we see other systems of government represented in our fiction, and it’s distressingly uncommon to see government working effectively for the common good — especially governments that resemble our U.S. system. In pop culture, democracies are corrupted by moneyed influences, elected officials are power-hungry, inept, or both, and government employees are bureaucratic drones who’ve had the joy sucked out of their lives by their dull work and sterile offices.

I sympathize, both with those crying out for new ideas to lead us in a positive direction, but also with the writers trying to do so — because this is a tall order. In effect, this is what I am trying to do in the as-yet untitled sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers: depict the messy process of throwing off old systems that no long work and replacing them with ones that do, all the while staving off attacks from everyone who has a stake in the outcome… which is basically everyone. Summary: it’s hard. I find myself spinning my wheels often.

The double whammy is that not only is the substance hard, but at the end of the day it’s also got to be a good story or people simply won’t read it. How do you make socio-economic systems and the politics of structural oppression both interesting and accessible in a world where the bottom line is that readers/viewers want to be entertained with escapism, spectacle, character and adventure? It’s certainly not impossible, and the bloggers at FutureShift do point out a few examples.But we need to acknowledge that the bulk of the genre is not explicitly thinking this way, and we will have to make stories that not only have policy-relevant substance, but ALSO appeal to the masses to actually prompt change.

SciFi Policy posted a list of policy-relevant SFF markets which I think is a great start. However, I note that very few of the markets listed actually focus on this kind of story. We need more than incidental inclusion. I think more paying markets — even a single anthology to start — that specialize in constructive, forward-looking, policy-relevant fiction without sacrificing character and story would be a huge boon to this effort.

The topic reminds me of a panel at the last Arisia: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? The link there is to my panel post-mortem on this blog.

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