December 11, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Does Life Influence SF or Does SF Influence Life?

Is the current World and US climate of international, national, religious, political, environmental and economic dissonance the root cause of the tiny number of Humans-who-meet-and-work-with-Aliens science fiction on the market or is that lack the cause of the dissonance?

This question was sparked by the Kirkus Review announcement of the Best SF and F of 2011 ( Of the ten, seven are fantasy so I’m eliminating them. Of the last three, only Embassytown has Human and Alien interaction. The Quantum Thief takes place on a near-future Mars, and Rule 34 takes place in cyberspace.

Of SFFMeta’s Science Fiction All Time High Scores (, 100 books), only 10 are from 2011 (the rest were published between 1953 and 2010). Of THAT group, four feature aliens, three are mysteries and one of them is Embassytown.

So what am I trying to say?

Writers – whether they publish ebooks, exclusively online or their books are solely available at brick-and-mortar stores – are responsible for change. Darwin’s writing shook the world. The Prophet Mohammed changed the course of history. CS Lewis altered the beliefs of tens of thousands.

Science fiction writers, while their main goal is to entertain, are also responsible for preparing humanity for First Contact with aliens. Their job is to offer scenarios that we can weigh and explore. We can question ourselves and the society in which we live. For example, though it’s a movie, DISTRICT 9 offered a stunning thought: what if aliens don’t contact Americans?

Robert A Heinlein recognized his responsibility when he said: “I write for the following reasons – 1. To support myself and my family; 2. To entertain my readers; 3. And, if possible, to cause my readers to think.” (Robert Anson Heinlein to a Reader in a letter dated 20 January 1972, and reprinted in Grumbles From The Grave, pg 281;

This is the same reason I teach a summer school class called ALIEN WORLDS. The thoughts I want the kids to have are that “alien does not equal enemy” and I believe that this attitude can spill over from imaginary aliens to the people we meet or see on the news or on Youtube who seem alien.

I believe that this SF community may have truckled to the masses and have produced work to promulgate the belief that “alien equals enemy”. Even such writers as David Brin ( and Stephen Hawking ( have trumpeted the inherent dangers in letting the universe know we are here. This contributes to the meme that “alien equals enemy” and this plays out in promoting a climate of international, national, religious, political, environmental and economic dissonance.

I believe the SF community should fight the obvious trend and start to produce work in which “alien does not equal enemy”.

I think they should do it NOW.



SamRogers said...

Well, you can always trust human xenophobia to depict someone different as an enemy, even if they don't exist (yet).

But, it seems to me that the "Aliens are evil" meme is a symptom, not the cause of the so-called "climate of dissonance".

However, even though I don't think that writing about evil aliens will enforce an idea of xenophobia in the people who read them, a well-written story about "aliens who do not equal enemies" could definitely make an impact, especially in the young-adult crowd.

GuyStewart said...

Good idea! I think I have something on a back burner that I'll be starting soon!

Also, while I agree that it's most likely a symptom, a little "anti-meme" probably wouldn't hurt.