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Friday, May 13, 2011

SF is about more than just spaceships

A while ago I wrote a column declaring my personal geekdom. This didn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows me.
Be it Star Trek, Star Wars, Farscape, Firefly or science fiction books and comics — I love them all.
I was reflecting this weekend on the late, great Robert Anson Heinlein this weekend. Heinlein started out as a flaming liberal, and later became a raving libertarian.
He's often been called conservative but this is far from accurate. Heinlein believed in, and wrote about, a world where personal responsibility and individual freedom were the most important principle of all. As one of the premier writers of the Golden Age of SF, he did so in a time when writing about race relations or equality between the sexes was a touchy subject.
Heinlein tackled them anyway — and could do so because SF allows a writer to tackle subjects which would otherwise be controversial.
I said earlier I was reflecting on Heinlein, I was doing so because I'd read books by several of my favorite authors recently which all had a bit of a Heinlein-esque flair to them.
Two of them had strong female protagonists, which is very common in Heinlein's work, and in all cases the heroes either lived in, or were trying to build, a world in which personal responsibility was the rule rather than the exception. As beautiful as the worlds they created were, I'm not sure they're possible in the real world — but that's not the point.
Science Fiction, at it's best, uses the meme of the future in order to shine a light on the present. SF has often been dismissed as a literary art form. However in many ways it is the truest to the ideals of literature of all genre's. SF has tackled controversial subjects years before conventional art forms were able to. In the 1960s Star Trek had a black woman, an Asian man, a Russian and an alien all in positions of power and authority — in the middle of the civil rights movement.
There's always been a strong individualist streak in SF which seems to be getting more pronounced as time goes by.
As more and more of our essential liberties are infringed SF authors are increasingly showing us how it would be to live without strangling regulation and bureaucrats poking their nose into every aspect of our lives.
There are leftist SF authors too, of course, and they sometimes show a different path, but even then, many of them tend to have that same individualist streak.
The joy for me of SF, is that while showing us the folly of modern life and the way to a better future, the genre — or at least the authors I read — manages to do it without being preachy.
My only problem is wanting to live in those wonderful societies where there are few regulations, little to no taxes and everyone takes care of themselves. I don't see one of those around here. More and more we are hemmed in by regulation and bureaucracy. As a nation we have more total energy reserves than anywhere else in the world. But we won't let ourselves access them.
We prevent the construction of cleaner sources of power while screaming about pollution from coal. We are the most powerful nation on Earth, with a people who work harder and longer hours than any other people, and yet we act like we are beaten, broken and exhausted.
None of this is the case, yet we are choosing to make it so.
SF points out to us that we don't have to make that decision. That we can choose another way. This is the true genius and joy of the genre.
What's really depressing to me is I get out of one of Sarah Hoyt's novels or Michael Z. Williamson's books and realize you not only do I not live there but probably can't. Besides, turning into a dragon would be fun.

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