By A. Bowdoin Van Riper via Boston Globe: Political messages in sci-fi nothing new
Few Science-Fiction fans will be surprised, as Martha Bayles (“The marketing of a global blockbuster,’’ Op-ed, Jan. 2) apparently was, to find political messages in James Cameron’s “Avatar.’’ Science fiction films have been using aliens to comment on events here on Earth since “The Day the Earth Stood Still’’ and “The Thing’’ in 1951.
In her surprise, however, Bayles has misread the film’s message. The invaders from Earth who plunder Pandora are driven by profit, not politics.That alone makes the film a poor analogy for the Iraq War, but an excellent analogy for imperialist misadventures from the Spanish in Peru and the British in India to the Belgians in the Congo and the United States in the Philippines.
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Israeli-born sci-fi writer Lavie Tidhar skipped an opportunity for “shameless self-promotion” on World SF News to mull this phenomenon, citing as example French, Finnish and Dutch sci-fi authors who are choosing to write in English.
“So… why English? I ask the question not for myself but because a common argument – across languages, in fact, since I’ve heard it expressed with regards to any non-English language, from Hebrew to French – is that English is the language of science fiction…The argument about vocabulary really doesn’t hold. Indeed, it should be one of the most fun parts of writing science fiction in another language – coining new terms or transforming existing ones to create a new language of science fiction.”
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But that’s not all there is to SF. It’s a major element – all my favourite SF books are rich in great concepts that challenge the imagination, and make the reader think. But science fiction can also be sensual. It can make your skin prickle. It can make your pulse race. It can make you feel.
One of the SF books which has always haunted me is Frederik Pohl’s Man Plus, which tells the story of a human being bio-engineered to live on Mars. It’s a version of the Frankenstein story of course – the making of a monster. But what chills me when I read it is not the concept, not the idea; it’s the being there. We are Roger Torraway, the Man Plus; we feel as he feels, we see as he sees.
All fiction does this of course; but the joy of SF is that we get to see and feel some very weird things.
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I really believe that Sci Fi is a special genre. It not only entertains (which all fiction does), but the genre allows for commentary, and greater imaginative freedom when it comes to the story. Each of these articles covers one of the many things that Sci Fi has that other literary genres don’t, or at least have less room to explore: political commentary, language change, and imagination. You can explore these in regular fiction, but you usually have to make the really strange things happen in a characters dream, while Sci Fi lets you live in an amazing new world.
What do you think?