As Skunk Anansie told us, years ago, Yes, It’s Fucking Political. Of course it is. Everything’s political, when you get right down to it. We’re readers, we’re writers; for all we might like to think that we’re above the mundanities of the dirty world, we can’t escape it. You think Dickens wasn’t political? How about Shakespeare? Arthur Miller? And you’re into politics too.
At the moment it seems that there is a move – read ‘giant lurch’ – towards the right-wing in writing, and especially in science-fiction. Actually, that’s almost certainly not true; these voices have always been there, as have an equivalent bunch of Lefties. But circumstances have now propelled a small minority of extremists into the limelight. Check out this little slice of delight, for example; and we’ve barely just got over the Rabid Puppies contretemps.
Let me just go on record and say that I detest these people, and most especially their loathsome figurehead Vox Day*. I‘m not here to talk about them specifically; nor am I going to rehash old arguments. I want to talk about the nature of writing – and indeed, life – and SF in particular.
All writing is political. Hell, the clothes you wear, the way you talk – it’s all political. Mostly it’s something you never think about – you can perfectly enjoy the Shopaholic books without ever considering the consumer society in which the characters operate. Some writers are more overt than others – Orwell, of course, is an obvious example, and I could point at the doyenne of American libertarianism, Ayn Rand.
But no story exists in a vacuum. There are underlying concepts, a framework, behind every novel. Even historical fiction has to make a choice between presenting things we now find repellent – such as the treatment of women or slaves or rampant antisemitism – with a modern eye or in the most accurate light of the time. This is a political decision, although not necessarily done for political purposes.
But science-fiction is different. Everything science-fiction is political, almost by definition. This is because we either have to create a whole new world ourselves, or because our stories are born of that classic old question: what if..? Thus are born some of the greatest writers, and stories, in the canon. Asimov and Dick are the classic examples; if you’re after a more modern examples I’d point to the great Terry Pratchett – whose Discworld series is all about the real, modern world – and Adam Roberts, who has taken as themes religious extremism, communications and animal rights in his writing.
It’s inherent in science fiction – no, not all, but some – to look into ones fears, to find trends in the modern world and extrapolate them into the future. Now, I don’t believe in censorship; nothing should be off-limits. Science-fiction is not about hiding – it is about exploring, and the most beautiful explorations are those of the human condition. A novel on the rise of Islam, or the ‘spread’ of homosexuality, or of Liberal hand-wringing (a la Mr Covington in one of the above links) can have its place.
If it’s done well, and sensitively, and explores the issues rather than just demonising those the author finds distasteful.
It’s not just the Right that politicises. The Sad Puppies – the ‘political wing’ of the more extreme Rabids – originally set out to protest at a perceived bias towards the Left in the Hugo awards and in publishing in general. More personally, I am writing my new novel, Oneiromancer, with a left-wing slant: nothing overt, but with an underlying theme of society in peril from a biased media.
This (I hope) does not do my own work justice. I write about people first and foremost, with a bloody good story laid upon them. That, at least, is the plan. But I am a product of my upbringing, my (continuing) education and my environment – just as you are too. There’s nothing wrong with this.
But it’s something we should be aware of. It’s perfectly fine to explore the big issues – in fact, it’s a necessity for the good of mankind – but you ignore the consequences, the way others with perceive your work, at your peril.
Because yes, it’s fucking political.
And if you’re writing about white supremicism, or religious extremism, then you must know how the work will be taken. You must know that those who aren’t your race or religion are exactly the same as you, with their own hopes, fears, and prejudices. And you must acknowledge this in your work.
Otherwise you might be accused of foaming a little around the chops.
*This is a link to his Wikipedia page. I would never, ever link to his blog as every hit gives him the oxygen of publicity. I’m not too happy with him having the oxygen of oxygen. Besides, too long spent in his electronic company leaves me needing a good wash and, possibly, a lobotomy.