Politics in Science Fiction

Well, first of all, Happy New Year!

It´s been ages since I posted anything here, so I guess a quick recap is in order. Since my last post I published Tacticus, a Rift Saga companion story and Ghost Legion, the first installment of the Legionnaire series, a military scifi/ space opera in the spirit of Starship Troopers. The series continues in Legion Rising, currently on preorder, and due to publish on January 24.

So, here´s a topic that spurred a lot of replies when I wrote about it in an email a while back. Read on and tell me what you think in the comments!

In various writer forums I frequent there´s an ongoing debate; should we as writers stay out of political discussion, and not let our political views color our writing, or is politics just a natural part of who we are, and will shine through in our writing, whether we want to or not? The first stance is in the simplest form saying, “let´s stick to entertaining the reader”, while the second one says, “your politics will always be there, even if you just want to entertain people”. For now, I´m leaving a third stance out, which is the “I have a message and I want to share it with the world” stance. A lot of writers take this third stance, and that´s fine, a conscious choice that no one can doubt.

But is leaving politics out of scifi really a choice? Well, I think it is possible to a certain extent, although those writers who prefers to leave all politics out of their writing, generally seem to represent a certain side of, well you guessed it, politics… Which makes me question if their stories really are so cleansed of all kinds of politics that they claim. I do not doubt their honesty, but how can they be so sure their subconscious isn´t pulling its little strings on them?

I do however think one can choose to be political without being political, if you know what I mean. Take my own writing. In general, as a writer I make up possible (or impossible) futures that take the shape of a mix of dystopian, post-apocalyptic scifi and space opera. Some military and even a bit of hard scifi here and there. I think about, and write about, big issues such as totalitarianism, individual freedom, protection of the human species and what sacrifices may be necessary in either of these instances. I try to give my protagonists weaknesses that make them human. I try to make my villains more human by trying to imagine how they see it. That can sometimes be a chilling experience, when you find yourself sympathetic to the bad guy! I do not play at party politics, but is it at all possible to have ideas about possible futures without thinking about how one may arrive there? Is it possible to imagine a society in the future without (at least subconsciously) drawing the line to present day trends and developments?

One very interesting thing I´ve discovered though, is that people read the politics (that I believe is) inherent in a story in very different ways. I tend to get emails from people on either side of the political spectrum, who have found meaning in my books, and support for their ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. I get it, that makes total sense to me! Because that´s exactly what I mean by being political without being political.

I think people in general don´t want a totalitarian world, they want people to have individual freedom, and we all agree that protecting the human species (at the very least) is important. So maybe we´re not all that different when it comes down to it?

I like to say that as a writer of fiction my main job is to entertain, and sometimes I get to say something important as well. But that´s my view of it. That´s not the most important view. The most important view is yours, the reader, and what you read and interpret from my writing. Because ultimately you, the reader, is the one living the story through my words. That is, if I have done my job right…

2 thoughts on “Politics in Science Fiction

  1. David VanDyke

    Politics is, at its root, about arguments over viewpoints.

    It’s said that the best written arguments are those in which both sides are right.

    In my opinion it’s wise to try to give evenhanded treatment to various viewpoints and let the reader decide. Even if you as the writer have a point of view, it’s best to minimize it and let the readers be entertained and decide the themselves.–that is, if you feel like selling books. Of course, an alternative is to “play to your base,” whatever that is, and write for a particular audience that will eagerly agree with you. Some writers are successful with this, but they tend to be polarizing and self-righteous.

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  2. Steve

    Personally, I’m tired of getting politics pushed in my face. Not only in books but on TV. If I want to deal with politics I’ll buy a book with a political theme or watch the news. In other words, I’ll seek it out if I want it. Lately, there are a few TV drama series which I’ve simply stopped watching because they’ve become political. I’ll do the same with books. If they push politics I’ll close them, put them back on the shelf and move on.

    People are entitled to talk politics if they want, no matter what their view or job but if someone is paying them to be entertained, with an expectation of the subject matter, then I think the entertainer, be it an author, actor, singer, whatever, should provide the entertainment they’re being paid to provide and not use that platform as a bully pulpit. A classic example is the various entertainment awards shows such as the Oscars. I don’t watch them any more. I used to enjoy them when the actors and crews winning the awards accepted them graciously and spoke about the movies they were making. Since the industry has now chosen to use these awards shows to ram their personal politics down our throats I’ve tuned them out.

    There is a place for politics, I just don’t see why it has to come at us from every aspect of our lives. If I pay to be entertained, entertain me. If I want to be politicised, I’ll attend a rally or watch Prime Ministers Question time on the TV news.

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