Science Fiction and Social Commentary

I just finished reading Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s one of the early science fiction works that’s often credited with heralding in the science fiction genre as serious literature. In the novel, a Martian is brought to Earth to learn the ways of Man and ends up founding his own religion until he’s murdered as a martyr (oops…spoiler alert). The novel isn’t as widely read nowadays, but in the 60’s it flourished since it tackled commune living, free love, minimalism, and the rejection of conservative American values.

The reason I love sci-fi novels is that there is no better stage for social commentary than the realm of aliens and spaceships and time travel and laser guns going pew pew pew! Sci-fi has always been a bit silly. People from other worlds and robots and space monsters. But the ridiculous nature of science fiction also makes it fertile soil for commenting on our social norms in a safe setting. Some of my favorite works of literature are dystopian sci-fi novels.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 warned us about the rise of television and the dumbing down of America as literature decreased in popularity. He also correctly predicted the rise of censorship and the inventions of the flatscreen television and headphones. In fact, the dude who invented the Walkman based his idea off of Bradbury’s description (Guess he wasn’t paying attention to the book’s message).

Orwell’s 1984 warned us about totalitarian governments and the rise of “surveillance states” where Big Brother is always watching. Big Brother was also the first to tout “alternative facts” as it manipulated information to control its citizens. I’m sorry to say our world looks more like 1984 than ever before. We became exactly what Orwell warned us not to.

Aldous Huxley may have been more accurate than any of his fellow writers with his predictions in A Brave New World. It isn’t threats and violence that the Powers-That-Be use to enslave us but pleasure and distractions. iPhone anyone? Netflix? Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition? We’re too busy having fun to worry about the world burning all around us.

Science Fiction gets away with social commentary because it warns us about what could happen if we continue down the path we’re on. Unfortunately, more often than not, these authors become prophets as the human race time and time again refuses to heed their warnings. We turn their fiction into our reality.

In that long tradition of science fiction and social commentary, I’m currently working on a science fiction novel that sees a man accidentally travel into the future where Trump’s evil clone and Walmart have teamed up to take over most of the United States. Hey, give it 50 years. You’re gonna see it happen…

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~ by themoderntranscendentalist on March 9, 2017.

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