Politics of Science Fiction

I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy. It was perhaps my first great love as a reader. When I was nine or ten I discovered Anne McCaffrey on my father’s shelves, and devoured entire series of her work. As I got older I was launched into Kurt Vonnegut, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Orson Scott Card, Philip K. Dick, John Varley and more. My love of it has never waned, though as an adult it’s taken a distinctly young-adult turn (thanks in part to my brilliant friend who writes YA sci-fi). And I’ve always suspected that it’s more than escapism that draws me into these books.

In this comprehensive history of Mexican science fiction, Silvia Moreno-Garcia mentions the inquisition’s persecution of an 18th century Spanish priest who wrote science fiction. She tells the story of José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi’s who was jailed for his fantasy-based parody of the Spanish colonial structure in his 1816 novel which the Spanish government prevented from being published. She talks about Diego Cañedo’s anti-Nazi 1942 novel El réferi cuenta nueve written to conter the generally positive reception Nazi propaganda was receiving in Mexico at the time. But then, it seems, Mexican sci-fi was driven out an overabundance of English sci-fi books in translation.

It’s this engagement with the political world that has always intrigued me about sci-fi and fantasy. Huxley and Orwell are merely the most recognized examples of this trait. Asimov, Card, countless other authors use the freedoms of imagination in science fiction to criticize the world, and imagine the consequences and sometimes even solutions of our cultural and political actions. And its this powerful capacity that has always intrigued me about sci-fi. Not just that as a genre it’s open to more creative engagement with politics, but that it believes as a genre that literature has a responsibility to engage with the world. And the capacity to change it.

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