Editorial – July 2014: Whose side are you on?

Whose side are you on?

 Hello everyone

After going on about Science Fiction lacking areas to explore, some heavy thinking on my part came up with something which was practically under our noses.

Science Fiction has often been accused of getting things wrong or even missing something completely. With all the trouble and strife in the world, one subject it never appeared to hit on was terrorism. Granted, back in the Golden Age of Science Fiction, it wasn’t something that we would have heard about in the news let alone turn into fiction. However, just because it isn’t given a particular name, doesn’t mean it wasn’t going on in our genre. As with most things, it would be hidden as a metaphor under a different name.

Probably the most common plot was a renaissance man awaking or appearing in a future time and seeing a somewhat sterile society and proceeds to change it to his way of thinking, albeit with previous century sensibilities. HG Wells was certainly one of the first to do this and with the Eloi had a people who needed him against the Morlocks but it was education they needed more than weaponry.

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The standard renaissance man twenty years down the line might not have been using bombs but he would certainly have been an instigator of change or revolution. If anything, it’s more amazing that this person would not be quashed by the ruling class as being nothing more than an irritant that can be quickly removed from their stable but sterile society. Mind you, we have examples from our own current day civilisation that potential leaders can attract their own followers irrespective of any political or even religious persuasion and just force of personality. Mostly these run cults but such people do have profound effect on others and in persuading them to do things that might seem contrary to society needs. If such activity does turn into a physical attack, no matter what the form, isn’t that a form of terrorism?

With Science Fiction, the scale is somewhat different and such actions are shown to change an entire civilisation overnight or a couple weeks? Now that’s an act of fiction…well, unless all the people really wanted a change but needed something or someone to instigate it. The problem with such stories is we never see how long the changes last. If it is seen as a fad, it could be gone within a decade. A happy ever ending might never have happened once past the crisis…well, at least not in that book unless it rolled onto a series like Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ did. Back in those days, such extended revolutions were nearly as rare as ostriches flying. We never really saw what happened next and what kind of status quo happens when the dust settled.

As frequently pointed out elsewhere, being a terrorist depends on whose side you’re on and what you’re fighting against. In Golden Age SF, such dramatic changes were often won by ideology than guns and bombs. Society had dulled or was ruled by a tyrant whom it would be better off without. Any wars were between countries or worlds, not little groups.

Oddly, ‘Star Wars’ changed this. If you think of the rebels as attacking the authorised government, no matter how oppressive they are, then you really do have a terrorist perspective. Then again, as is often pointed out in the press, one side’s rebels is the other side’s terrorists. Subjectively, with ‘Star Wars’, from the little we saw, the general populations didn’t seem that suppressed. A demonstration that Palpatine had attained a status quo or the population were used to him and as long as it didn’t interfere with their lifestyle, they were hardly bothered. The rebels defiance never even got as far as putting up a poster about oppression nor, come to that, why they weren’t publicly deposed neither.

Interestingly, where such things happen in fiction, it is the rebels who are in the right to want a change not the existing governmental regime. Whatever side you belong to, if interviewed, there will always be a percentage of the population who will be fine and with a galactic empire, those pesky stormtroopers won’t be everywhere which probably explains why criminal activity was rife. It does make you wonder if these people will even be bothered when there’s a change of power.

A few months back, I was pointing out that there are areas where SF hasn’t explored and yet no SF author has dared point out a rebel group who might be wrong. I can’t speak for fantasy because that isn’t my genre. We aren’t talking criminal organisations with megalomaniacs stroking putty cats but something akin to what we see today in the world. This doesn’t mean stories being metaphors for what we see today just the story formula that the rebels are always right is an SF norm. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but doesn’t this send out a rather odd message to the world? If I’m against you, then I will surely win in the end. There are ready made examples of this, one only has to look at the rise of Christianity for instance. Based off our current reality, that has to be darn right frightening if such small groups today raised a selection of SF books and pointed out that the oppressed people invariably won.

So why, in these enlightened times, aren’t the rebels wrong in Science Fiction? It happens in other genres. It’s hardly like it’s a taboo option. The rebels don’t have to have any good characters in their group after all. Nor is there any rule that says that we have to support the underdog just because the geekiness in us would rebel against authority. I mean, if the rebels won in our normal scenario then they would be the authority, wouldn’t they? Then who would we support? Hardly the underdog set-up.

Undoubtedly some of you will be able to cite examples of where I’m wrong on this but there aren’t any significant stories by any of the major SF writers, whom you would have thought might have tackled the subject and haven’t.

As presented above, there are many options that can be selected for this kind of story. Yet, as with other plots, SF authors don’t stray from the basic ones. Are they or the publishers afraid of mirroring our reality too much or making political statements. SF in the past has been seen as the metaphor for our own societies’ activities and is the one genre where it can’t get outright hostile because a lot of the time it’s shown on a different planet. It’s certainly a bold step away from what we’re currently getting and that no one has thought to explore or challenge.


Thank you, take care, good night and always remember both sides will invariably have a point of view but it is the means they resolve it peacefully that is important.


Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


A Zen thought: Music like tears in the dawn.


Observation:  In the 1984 film ‘Back To The Future’, Marty McFly is recording the first time travel experiments using a video recorder which gets awfully close to the plutonium. Not being solid state or digital, it hadn’t been invented at the time, the radiation would have fogged the film and if it was magnetic tape, would certainly have wiped it. So poor Doc Brown in the past wouldn’t have had anything to watch about the future.


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