So, like, where’d all the politics go?

Tomorrow I lead the first of three workshops in Science Fiction and Politics.

(The organisers have sold 14 out of 12 tickets, which I take as a good sign.)

I’ve had good fun selecting books to talk about, and looking through the sometimes odd political perspectives SF writers have taken over the years. I’ve also taken a root through the many different definitions of science fiction that have been arrived at over the years. Looking at some of those definitions reminds me how, at times in it’s history, science fiction has had a sense of mission far beyond simple entertainment.

Sometimes that mission was political, the idea that somehow science fiction had a role to play in defending, or perhaps gaining, political freedom. Sometimes it borders on the spiritual, the idea that science fiction aims to illuminate truths that a swiftly changing society has lost sight of. You could argue forever about whether science fiction ever did or does achieve these things, or even whether it should try to. But at its best, science fiction has had those ambitions.

Does science fiction still have those ambitions? Does it have a sense of mission beyond entertaining its audience? A lot of the energy of science fiction was generated before the term had even been coined. Is that energy still out there? Or has it dissipated away to find a different vehicle to attach itself to?

One of my seminal moments in science fiction was reading, over two nights, the final volume of Philip K. Dicks collected short fiction. The collection opens with this quote. It’s one of my favourites.

How does one fashion a book of resistance, a book of truth in an empire of falsehood, or a book of rectitude in an empire of vicious lies? How does one do this right in front of the enemy?

Not through the old-fashioned ways of writing while you’re in the bathroom, but how does one do that in a truly future technological state? Is it possible for freedom and independence to arise in new ways under new conditions? That is, will new tyrannies abolish these protests? Or will there be new responses by the spirit that we can’t anticipate?

Philip K. Dick in interview, 1974

From Only Apparently real

Elsewhere in our truly future technological state:

The Nebula Award shortlist is announced. What was that? Whatever happened to the New Weird you ask? Oh look, there they are!

Things that make Megan Kurashige laugh.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.


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