By my headline, I’m not asking if there are any current stories about dystopian science fiction in the news. I’m asking if perhaps the things we see on the news are influencing the science fiction we writers write. Science fiction is speculation about what the future may bring, but like all literature and art it is a reflection of the context of the writer. It is a reflection of cultural context, of what the writer thinks the world is now and what that might develop into as time proceeds.
A while back, I asked if pessimism in US-authored science fiction might reflect a perception — arguably, a reality — that the USA is declining from a peak of prosperity and power. I think that thought has merit, and I think it’s linked to what I’m talking about here.
Yes, this post is sadly inspired by the injustice and violence we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri over the last four months; the scene above from the events of November 24th is rapidly becoming an iconic symbol of social order at any cost, militarization of police, and the deep frustration of people — here, the black community of Ferguson — who feel that working within the system has failed them, the system has failed them, and the system will not validate even something so basic as their right to be the equal of every other US citizen under the law.
That’s dystopianism. People denied their rights, human or legal, that those above them have. We see it rearing its head in the United States, and many of us hoped, somehow, that the worst was over. That privilege and oppression were the language of the past in our country, and that the exceptions we saw were just that: exceptions.
But that has always been the hope of the sheltered, the hope of those who are less oppressed, the hope of those who see opportunity. Too many of us have never really known those hopes. Before the internet, before the explosion of social media and hand-portable smartphones capable of livestreaming video in the hands of ordinary citizens, it was easier to be sheltered.
Year by year, it is more difficult to be sheltered, more difficult to deny uncomfortable truths of inequality that the internet holds in front of our faces. Not only in the USA, but abroad, we more and more frequently see tweets and Facebook updates and blogs and YouTube videos and so on and so forth from oppressed people and groups around the world.
The internet and the smartphone are doing for this generation what television did for the Vietnam War. We’re getting a look, collectively, all of us who have access to the internet, a look at dirt that has traditionally been swept under the rug and stayed there, invisible. It’s far easier to see it for what it is now than it has ever been before.
And that’s sort of depressing. Right now, many of us are depressed by what we see in the world, and we’re afraid it’s only going to get worse. Perhaps this exposure will continue to grow and my little ones will grow up in a time marked by reform and renewed optimism. I can hope. I’ll try to write about that.
But right now, I’m just sad and it is FAR too easy to proceed from watching dystopian current events to writing dystopian science fiction.