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Science fiction as social commentary

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Showing 1-14 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 12, 2011 4:17:36 AM PST
What interesting social commentary have you read about in science fiction? Here's one I came across recently. Forgive the fact that it is somewhat outdated, but the book was published in 1986. I'm going to quote extensively. Ethan is from an all male world where children are gestated in uterine replicators from ovaries that were imported.

. . . Maybe they meant to raise battalions of mutant super-soldiers in vats like you Athosians and take over the universe or something."

"Not likely," remarked Ethan. "Not battalions, anyway."

"Why not? Why not clone as many as you want, once you've made the mold?"

"Oh, certainly, you could produce quantities of infants-although it would take enormous resources to do so. Highly trained techs, as well as equipment and supplies. But don't you see, that's just the beginning. It's nothing, compared to what it takes to raise a child. Why, on Athos it absorbs most of the planet's economic resources. Food of course-housing- education, clothing, medical care-it takes nearly all our efforts just to maintain population replacement, let alone to increase. No government could possibly afford to raise such a specialized, non-productive army."

Elli Quinn quirked an eyebrow. "How odd. On other worlds, people seem to come in floods, and they're not necessarily impoverished, either."

Ethan, diverted, said "Really? I don't see how that can be. Why, the labor costs alone of bringing a child to maturity are astronomical. There must be something wrong with your accounting."

Her eyes screwed up in an expression of sudden ironic insight. "Ah, but on other worlds the labor costs aren't added in. They're counted as free."

Ethan stared. "What an absurd bit of double thinking! Athosians would never sit still for such a hidden labor tax! Don't the primary nurturers even get social duty credits?"

"I believe," her voice was edged with a peculiar dryness, "they call it women's work. And the supply usually exceeds the demand-non-union scabs, as it were, undercutting the market."

Ethan of Athos

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 8:41:27 AM PST
LOL, that's rich. I'm going to link a friend of mine to this; I think she'll get a kick out of it.

Now, as for social commentary, I'm currently reading Brave New World, which isn't the most subtle commentary ever written.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2011 12:54:21 PM PST
C. Sachs says:
Distopias are not subtle. It is to me sad that the man who wrote of the ambiguities of "Shooting an Elephant" and the Spanish Civil War in "Homage to Catalonia" should be remembered chiefly for the strident and poorly populated 1984.

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 1:10:33 PM PST
Bob G. says:
I do, as a rule, prefer my social commentary to be more on the subtle side.

(Not that I don't get a bit more barefaced about it in a couple of spots of my novel.)

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2011 4:23:12 PM PST
Ronald Craig says:
(Pity you're not as subtle in flogging your book...)

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 5:29:28 PM PST
Bob G. says:
Point taken well enough, Ronald; though I didn't give a link to it here, mainly because it's not relevant.

I do like what's usually seen in the Star Trek series. There were a couple of TNG episodes that got kind of shrill, but "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (the Original Series episode featuring two aliens who were black on one side and white on the other) was a clear but unpointed commentary on racism.

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 5:46:06 PM PST
I hated Brave New World because it was so unlike all the sci fi I'd read up until that point in high school, but it made lots of Star Trek episodes make so much more sense.

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 6:35:21 PM PST
BNW does seem to be the prototypical dystopia. Especially what I might call the "shiny dystopia," where it looks pretty good to the average person living in it.

Woops, time for my soma. G'night.

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 7:08:15 PM PST
Many people talk about Brave New World as a prime example of allegorical science fiction, but much of Isaac Azimov's and Robert Heinlein's work were social commentary in thinly veiled alternate societies. These works and the early "Twilight Zone" episodes are frequently overlooked and deserve more credit than they typically get. I am not knocking "Brave New World" except to place it in its context of one of many such excellent works.

Bob Cherny

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 7:25:48 PM PST
Bob G. says:
Actually, I've been putting off reading Brave New World, and you guys have convinced me to make it next on my reading list.

Posted on Jan 13, 2011 2:34:14 AM PST
Brave New World is a classic. When I read it, decades ago, it was not put with science fiction in the library. I believe it was considered too good to be science fiction. (Librarians at the time did not have a high opinion of science fiction.)

Star Trek had lots of social commentary: If you want to consider what it means to be human, bring in Data. If you want to discuss homosexuality, have a species of aliens with only one sex. Religion is discussed in an episode where Picard is mistaken for a god.

Posted on Jan 13, 2011 4:58:55 AM PST
Yup, when I was in college we weren't allowed to read SciFi, but Brave New World and 1984 were not considered SciFi because they're literature (iow, SciFi by definition wasn't literature, anything the teacher considered literature therefore by definition wasn't SciFi).
Same with Tolkien. We weren't allowed to read the Lord of the Rings because it's fantasy, and therefore not literature.
The Hobbit was disallowed because it was written for children, and therefore now literature.

When I asked the panel what literature was (rather than just give me a list of what isn't literature) they fell rather silent. Seems the only way literature was defined was in the negative, by writing down page after page of titles, authors, entire genres that were NOT literature, and a very few authors considered literature (everything by those authors was automatically literature, anything else had to be vetted by the panel on a case by case basis, leading in extreme cases one student being allowed to put a book on their reading list as literature while another student was denied the same book, depending on who did the vetting).

Posted on Jan 13, 2011 5:20:11 AM PST
I think the best way to categorize things is to be inclusive rather than exclusive. If a book is likely to be read by both science fiction readers and general readers, it is probably popular enough so the library can have two copies and keep one in the science fiction section and one for general readers. By the way, the title of Brave New World comes from The Tempest, which should be classified as fantasy, but it's Shakespeare, and that means they can't do that.

It's a pity that some people dismiss the whole genre of science fiction. The best of it is not just good science fiction, but good fiction.

Posted on Dec 13, 2012 6:28:28 PM PST
Two authors comes to mind on recent personally well received commentaries. I will always adore the works of Olivia Butler, who commented on everything from gender roles, race, tolerance, and freedom. The other would be Robert J Sawyer, mainly for his works like Calculating God, Rollback, and Mindscan.
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Discussion in:  Science Fiction forum
Participants:  9
Total posts:  14
Initial post:  Jan 12, 2011
Latest post:  Dec 13, 2012

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