Tuesday 17 October 2017

The science fiction of revolution

America was born of science fiction.

In the 1770s, the idea that a country could govern itself through the collective decision making of
Ben Franklin was the Rick
Sanchez of his time.
(Image via Wikipedia)
everyday people was a science fictional concept: It required imagining a fundamentally different world that was bereft of monarchs; it was based on an unproven social technology; and it aspired to a utopian future.

The man who is often called “The First American” — Benjamin Franklin — was the most science-fictional person of his day. He experimented with electricity, invented new technology, and imagined new ways of organizing government.

All science fiction is political. But all political movements – especially the revolutionary ones – are likewise science fictional.

Those setting out to change the world start with the premise that the world could be different. They have to imagine a different world before knowing that action should be taken, and the more revolutionary the change, the greater the imagination required.

Which is why some particularly radical political movements keep being reexamined, reflected, reinterpreted, and revisited within the genre of science fiction.

Major radical movements such as communism, libertarianism, socialism, feminism, conservatism, and fascism have each been reflected in major movements in science fiction.
This isn't science fiction — it's the
headquarters of the communist party
of Bulgaria (Image via Wikipedia)

There was a well-established strain of science fiction in the Soviet Union — much of it made with explicit government support — that depicted a triumph of communal living.

The German Nazis produced several works of now-forgotten (I would say deservedly forgotten) films and novels depicting a triumphalist science fiction that echoed the architecture of Albert Speer.

It could even be argued that the bizarre fantasist Arian mythology created and promoted by the Nazi regime was a morally corrupt work of science fiction.

Perhaps this is why the “Nazis In Space” trope echoes throughout the genre, from the Empire in Star
Sometimes the space Nazis aren't just
a metaphor. (Image via IronSky.net)
to Emergents of Vernor Vinge’s Deepness In The Sky. Authors unconsciously recognize that Nazis were a science-fictional regime based on a radical ideology that is anathema to modern liberal values.

And of course, the genre is rife with variations on planetary democracies that are a reflection of an idealized U.S. — from the United Federation of Planets to the Twelve Colonies of Kobol to the Interstellar Alliance of Babylon 5.

When we realize how integral science fiction is to radical politics, it should be no surprise that the most radical American political leader of the past 30 years, Newt Gingritch, is an avid fan, and has even published science fiction.

Now Gingritch’s utopian vision, best expressed in his “Contract With America” is not a utopia that we would subscribe to, but it is indicative of the link between radical politics and science fiction.

In his Hugo Award-winning 1998 book The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, Thomas Disch suggested that science fiction can claim to be America’s national literature because “it is the literature most suited to telling the lies we like to hear about ourselves.”

Although this may be partially true, one could alternately argue that the space opera is America’s national literature — and that variations of science fiction are national literatures of many nations of the Western World — because science fiction is an embodiment of an idea that the world can always be changed for the better.

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