When I told my partner that I had a writing assignment on something outside of my comfort zone, a huge grin appeared on his face. He doesn’t shy away from what makes him uncomfortable. That’s one of the things I love about him.
His suggestion was to read a science fiction short story and write about that. I made a hissing sound at that suggestion.
I am embarrassed to say: I don’t like science-fiction stories.
I know it is an awful generalization of an entire genre and speaks about how little I know of the depth and the variety of this genre. That sentence is not even fully true since I have come to love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I call it ‘Jane Austen in Space’ as the characters, with the decorum of the Regency era of England minus its racism, navigate encounters with other species and try to reckon with complicated questions about life.
I picked myself off the couch and we went to the bookshelves. He picked up one of his favourite short-story book: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929-1964. I picked a random story: Microcosmic God by Theodore Sturgeon, and sat down begrudgingly to read and fulfill the assignment.
Here is the first sentence of the story: “Here is a story about a man who had too much power, and a man who took too much, but don’t worry; I’m not going political on you.”
I laughed out loud at this sentence. This, in a nutshell, is why I don’t like Sci-Fi. As a socio-political scientist Science Fiction, more than any other genre, makes me feel like I am at work.
Science fiction to me is a pure philosophical text cloaked in a story.
Whenever I encounter a Sci-Fi story, especially from the early part of the 20th century, I feel like I might as well be reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, or John Locke’s The Leviathan, or Karl Marx’s Capital. Science fiction never takes me outside of myself into another world. In Microcosmic God, where Sturgeon brilliantly showcases the trappings of hunger for unfettered power and knowledge, I never get absorbed in the story. I only see our reality being reflected back in the story. Mr. Kidder’s creations, the Neoterics, are no different to me than enslaved people.
To me science fiction is unabashedly about our world and our problems; it’s about what people do to themselves and to each other. They are stories of the lives of people who are dispossessed, who get caught in the complexities of being human, in a web of power, and who try to untangle themselves and become stuck in some other way. It is an analysis of life and unpacking it through the story, which is a fantastic way to discuss philosophy. But it is philosophy. And I don’t normally pickup Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex for a bit of a light reading during my spare time either.
Then a question began to appear, a research question for this socio-political scientist: Are most science fiction stories written by those who live more privileged lives but see the problems with such privileges and attempt to tell those stories to their fellow humans through Sci-Fi? In another words, how much science fiction – notwithstanding the lack of access to the literary publishing world by many racialized people and women in general – is written by white men for white folks?
An intriguing question.
My brief internet search led me to a writer complicating that research hypothesis.
For the second time in the past few days her name has come across my desk. Perhaps it’s time to get more uncomfortable. I think I’ll pick up her book: Kindred.