January 12, 2020

Absolutely Positively “Possibly” Irritating Essay: How About Trying Some Issues WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT????

Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on Friday at 2 PM…

Can fiction convince people when facts can’t?

Do people need to understand a subject to care about it? Can stories be used to help people understand when the facts are not enough? There are plenty of current issues where the facts are known but large sections of the public are not convinced (as with climate change, vaccinations etc.). This panel will explore the use of stories to help people understand the science.

Alex Acks, Moderator (and writer): Angry Robot Books, numerous short stories and movie reviews
Paolo Bacigalupi, Author: Hugo and Nebula, National Book Award finalist; adults and young adults
Aimee Ogden, Writer: former science teacher and software tester; short stories published in lots of pro places
Anne Charnock, Author: Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, etc., etc.
Phoebe Wagner, Participant: author, editor

OK, enough of THAT!

Of course the focus is Climate Change and how fiction writers can force anyone they want to, to have the same beliefs they do, because “they” are totally right and “anyone that challenges them is an idiot” and deserves to be jailed…

OK, established. Let’s move on to more productive thinking.

Electricity was a new, weird science and practically magic in the early 19th Century. Gaslight, horses, coal-powered industrial revolution, child labor, invisible women, and outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever, typhus, and of course, smallpox were the (unspoken) issues of that day. The experiments of men like Benjamin Franklin and Luigi Galvani – who first made the dead legs of frogs twitch from a spark generated by an electrostatic machine – in the previous century had led abruptly to the invention of batteries and the concept of electricity being able to pass through wires.

Mary Shelley, daughter of authors and one political philosopher and a renowned feminist, her mind was a fertile playground for ideas from any field of study. One night, prompted by Lord Byron, John William Polidori and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland to write for a contest for which each must write a horror story. Hers grew into the novel FRANKENSTEIN: OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS.

In case you didn’t know, Prometheus was a Titan who not only created humans from clay, but gave them fire in direct disobedience of Zeus, for which he was sentenced to be chained to an enormous boulder (obviously near Mount Olympus) for eternity and have his liver eaten out of his living body by an eagle. His liver (traditionally the seat of consciousness) regenerated overnight, and the entire process was repeated.

Of course, not long after (in terms of eternity) he was rescued by Hercules (or Heracles).

The warning was clear, as was the explanation of the connection between lightning and electricity. The story also made certain to show Victor Frankenstein CONTROLLING electricity; to create life, reanimating dead flesh, so that he could be like unto the gods – but “Man! He controlled lightning! Humanity’s manifest destiny is to control NATURE!”

Hmmm…not so different from the current spate of novels attempting to explain anthropogenic global warming and educate people so that they know what they should be doing. So far the message has been pretty muddled because scientists and spokespeople insist on FLYING to exotic places (like the current COP25, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Climate and Health Alliance (GCHA) rather than video conferencing…) 

If someone (Where are you Isaac Asimov? Whatever happened to the clarity of BNTSG?) could just EXPLAIN climate change succinctly and then create a plot in which the characters were able to DO something, they would accomplish much. Instead, we have the wealthy accusing the poor and then excusing themselves from responsibility. Which leaves us normal people up a creek without a paddle.

I want to interject here that before “climate activism” became the cri du jour, society was slowly beginning to understand the reason for recycling, reducing, and reusing. But today, with the focus on the unattainable “climate stabilization” and the recent cry from US “Democrats in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have released the legislative framework for what they are calling a bold, ambitious, and sweeping plan to achieve the goal of a 100% clean U.S. economy by 2050.” (https://wattsupwiththat.com/2020/01/11/democrats-100-clean-energy-by-2050-because-australia-is-burning/), most people don’t have any idea WHAT TO DO. They throw their hands up in despair and stop recycling, and start buying things that are pre-packaged, delivered in boxes packed with inflated plastic stuff to keep the things that are already packaged from crunching into each other, they don’t worry about overpopulation, and obsess over the souls of their animals, and weep over the destruction of koala habitat by Climate Change Caused wildfires (which, of course, have NOTHING to do with contractors bulldozing said koala habitat to make way for their Brand New Houses…( https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-13/koala-habitat-cleared-against-department-of-environment-rules/11392454) (But isn't that the fault of CAPITALIST LAND SPECULATORS? Hmmm, I don't think most of those homes will be owned by the capitalist land speculators who bought the land; they'll be owned by the most recent spurt of "the new wealthy and trendy)...

Vaccination? Same thing, only the reverse is most often true. For example, in one of the novels you’ll find on the list below, by superstar writer, Margaret Atwood, in the novel ORYX AND CRAKE, “Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, might be the last human being alive. Struggling to survive…after…a worldwide plague, he begins a journey through the wilderness…surrounded by a new breed of humans — the remnants of corporate-run genetic engineering gone awry.” She makes it sound like not ONLY has the world been destroyed by climate change deniers, but it’s also been overthrown by antivaxxers and corporate-greed-motivated GMO producers…The movie “Contagion” isn’t started by antivaxxers, either, just a commonly mutated flu virus.

OK – so what WOULD I like to see the world’s SF writers of note to tackle?

How about racism? Classism? Specism? The disconnect between pornography (an inalienable UNCENSORABLE right of democracy!) and human trafficking? The accelerating pace at which elderly humans are warehoused and the connection between what we’re doing more and more quickly to the elderly that was already legally done to those under 18 and effectively done to those under 22: institutions created to keep them out of the way of “Productive Rich White Men (and the occasional Woman)”.

Instead, I see a waste of ink gassing about an issue for which there is apparently absolutely NO grassroots solution.

What about the continuing atrophy of any kind of meaningful space program? It’s my opinion that the intense navel gazing engendered by the “climate crisis” has turned our eyes from the heavens – even the Moon! – to gaze intently (and worry) about our belly buttons…Oh, and the transition to post-humanity (for a very, very, very, very select couple of the WEALTHIEST humans on Earth at the cost of…well, all the victims of racism, classism, specism, trafficking, old age, young age, and gender.

So – response: Can anyone point me to science fiction (not interested in fantasy) that addresses any of the following issues so that “…people [will begin to] understand a subject to care about it. Can [we create] stories [to] be used to help people understand when the facts are not enough? There are plenty of current issues where the facts are known but large sections of the public are not convinced…” And instead of prattling on about things normal people can’t do anything about, they address…

Human Trafficking
Old Age
Young Age (aka education)
Gender Equity (no matter HOW many there end up being.

Oh, and don’t make the stories ABOUT these issues. Make them about things that normal people care about and skillfully WEAVE the issue into the story so that the reader can DISCOVER something themselves. People are by nature lazy (I’ve been a middle school and high school teacher for decades; for all levels of student. Believe me when I say if that can be lazy, they will be!)


Step up to the line, folks and let’s DO something about it!

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