The Politics of a Bug Fight

blog header (1).pngAs my professor would say, all great science fiction is a thought experiment. Joe Haldeman once said, “Science fiction as a genre has the benefit of being able to act as parable, to set up a story at a remove so you can make a real-world point without people throwing up a wall in front of it.” How would something play out? How will this affect our lives, if this were to happen? It’s a question of world view, and sometimes the best science fiction novels contradict one another on the same key issues.

Everyone and their uncle has heard of Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s rumored to be on a few of the U.S. military branch’s reading lists, had a crappy movie made about it that turned into a cult classic, and is generally regarded as one of the great pillars of American science fiction. Alternatively, The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, is viewed by some as Vietnam-era anti-war propaganda, is of equal status to Starship Troopers as a “classic” science fiction novel, and is thought to be both visionary and very problematic.

Both of won Hugo Awards, both are about soldiers who do war with aliens in space, and are only actually thirteen years apart in publication. Both novels are considered great science fiction. However, that is where the similarities end.

Starship Troopers has always been viewed as a staunchly “conservative” book. The Forever War has always been viewed as “liberal.” Starship Troopers views war and the act of conquering as an inevitable fact of existing in the universe, that this is where man can become great and find glory for himself and his homeland. The Forever War maintains that the inevitable march of war is where men go to get eaten up and turned into soldier-mulch.

haldeman
Photos courtesy of WikiCommons

One of these books was written by a Naval officer who took his two-years and left the Navy with obviously fond memories. The other was written by a recipient of a Purple Heart. One of these books was written before Vietnam, one written after.

The duality of these two novels exemplifies a tonal shift in American science fiction. The 1960s gave rise to books like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-FiveBabel-17 by Samuel Delany, and of course Frank Herbert’s Dune. Science fiction had always been a political genre. Even Frankenstein’s Monster, the first proper science fiction novel (written by a woman, I might add) has strong didactic undercurrents. However, this decade gave rise to a level of overt politicization and existential storytelling never explored. If Theodore Sturgeon made science fiction literary with More Than Human, the Korea and Vietnam made science fiction complicated. 

heinlein
Photos courtesy of WikiCommons

This also came after the commercial shift in the 1960s. The 1950s might have been considered a Golden Age for shoot-em-up laser-fights, but over the next fifteen years the newsstand-rags that were the bread and butter for selling these stories quickly disappeared. Perhaps it was the quick succession of wars, perhaps it was a trend that simply went out of fashion, but ultimately it was at this time that the purely-commercial stuff disappeared.

A bottle-neck effect occurred, and science fiction became very academic very quickly.

One of my favorite parts of science fiction is how each book is a product of its generation. Each story talks about the fears, the dreams, the ideals of its society. Starship Troopers portrays intergalactic conflict as an inevitable march of progress. We have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. After Vietnam, after the economic and tonal shift, Haldeman’s book was published. The Forever War’s stance on war is probably best summed up by this quote:

“The 1143-year-long war had begun on false pretenses and only because the two races were unable to communicate.
Once they could talk, the first question was ‘Why did you start this thing?’ and the answer was ‘Me?”

 

 

 

In Stone

blog header

It’s easy to forget things. It’s easy to misremember. But there are some cases where people say things that… Just aren’t true.

Sean-Spicer-Assad-Hitler-MSNBC-575x323

And you’ve gotta wonder… can you rewrite the facts?

I’ve already written about how easy it is to become politically polarized and ignore the truth, but comments like this are on a whole other level of… alternative facts. However, this isn’t just offering an alternative view on what happened, it’s denying what’s happened.

When I saw this headline, I immediately thought of Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Phillip K. Dick. His work and Goodreads Quotes smack of a little too much elitism, and his prose is too dense for me. However, I’d be ignorant myself to say that he hasn’t significantly influenced the genre of science fiction.

Man in the High Castle is a story within a story, in that it is the story of an alternative history that portrays a world conscious of it’s alternative status. It follows several different characters and their adventures through post-WWII America- if the Axis powers had won. Maybe you’ve seen the Amazon Original, which I’ve been told is very good.

However, I can’t truly analyze the two situations, Spicy’s gaff and Man in the High Castle,  because ultimately in one they are ultimately aware of the fact that they are in an alternate history, and in the other they don’t.

So that’s it. That’s all I have.

Chick-Lit

blog headerI’ve seen a lot of scathing remarks over the years about “PC language.” Usually in reference to someone defending the rude or degrading comment they just made. They follow it up with the idea that somehow being politically correct limits their ability to freely express themselves. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to argue that the language we use is important, and that it does influence how we interact in society. One doesn’t usually categorize “Chik-Lit” as quality reading. The genre, usually written by women, is defined by the female-centered plot, sexual intrigue, girl-time and happy endings. Take The Handmaiden’s Tale for an example. 

The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is about a woman in a repressive regime that actively treats women as property. The narrator is a “handmaiden,” a fertile woman who has been given to one of the “commanders” of this regime to have his children. Fertility is a prized commodity, and handmaidens are viewed as spiritual icons in this extremely religious government. This is not the point of the story, however.  I’ve been putting off writing this blog post because, quite frankly, this book scared the shit out of me.blog infographic

It’s set in an alt-history 1990s. It narrates how quickly society devolved into a place where women have to cover their toes and certain women must cover their faces. A quote from the beginning sums up this new social order quite nicely:

“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from.” Freedom from sexual assault. Freedom from paying taxes. Freedom from choosing a husband. Freedom from making their own decisions.

The narrator describes how one day she was simply laid off from her job, and the next cut off from her bank account, and how change happened so quickly based simply on who held the power in congress. The book is deliberately vague about what happened. Instead, she focuses on how seemingly powerless women were to fight back, how there was no one person to protest against, how the men seemed to sit by and let this happen. 

The concerns of women are nudged aside casually, almost imperceptibly.

After her bank account is frozen, the narrator’s husband comes home from his job and comforts her, “I’ll take care of you.” The narrator’s husband has no idea what his own wife is feeling, and says the thing she least wants to hear. There is a disconnect established between the sexes in this book that feels very real. I think this gets much closer to what the conflict of the novel is about.

vP4fM4mOur narrator is eventually smuggled to safety, and within the last few pages it’s revealed to the reader that these were ‘recordings’ that have survived over time and are now in the hands of academics who study the struggle of the narrator. They have just given a presentation on the history of this anti-woman regime and the lecturer is giving closing remarks. He jokes about her plight. They question the validity of the story, despite the recordings.

Despite the harrowing experience we just read, the narrator’s honesty is still being questioned by these academics separated by space and time. And that is what frightened me about this book.

It’s often said that female experiences aren’t valid until a man experiences them. For example, this thread on Twitter:

Do you think a woman writing about the same thing would be given as much consideration? If I know the internet- and I do – her experience would be subject to endless vetting. Maybe he just had an easy week. Maybe he has more experience. Maybe you just need to deal with it. Maybe you could work faster. When was the last time you got a raise?

Though that might be unfair. The internet is a hostile place to be a woman. I saw enough backlash on my Facebook feed to know that people thought the Women’s March was too much.  “Don’t women know they already have equal rights?” But not the right to march in support of other women, apparently. Of course, to have the right and to have the support are two totally different things.

It’s like “Freedom to” and “Freedom from.” They’re both freedoms, sure, but their meanings are very different.

Black and Blue and Purple

headerMarvel’s Jessica Jones is a bit more recent than most classic science fiction shows, and most might not even call it a classic. It’s too new, and that’s fair. However, the more I go back over the Netflix Originals, the more I see the rewatchability of them, and I think these shows will be watched for a long time coming. Jessica Jones was the next show to air after Daredevil, and generally thought of as the more drama-heavy of the two, dealing with far more serious subject matter in a more complicated way.

For example: Abortion. Don’t see that in very often in the MCU. It’s also got women writers- more than any other Marvel-Netflix show. 

blog infographic
*Ratios calculated on first seasons alone

But my favorite thing about Jessica Jones is how it portrays all the messed up things that come with leaving an abusive relationship.

As a quick summary, Jessica Jones, titular character, has recently left the clutches of Kilgrave, AKA the Purple Man. He’s not actually purple in the show, it’s more like a calling sign. Kilgrave has the power of mind-control, and is made of pure evil.

Jessica Jones covers the PTSD, the fear and paranoia, and the lasting harm an abusive relationship has without giving over into Lifetime-movie-esque victimization. Jessica Jones, the detective, is nobody’s victim, despite having been put through serious trauma. And this is addressed by more than just her brusque and sarcastic attitude-, she actively fights against Kilgrave even though she’s clearly scared shiffless about him. She plots to take him out, like any hero would. 

That’s another thing: most heroes don’t know their enemies. They have to figure it out by following the clues and then in the last few episodes somewhere there’s this big showdown. Usually two. Jessica Jones knows exactly who the enemy is, and she knows exactly what he is capable of, but instead of making the tension boring or allowing the viewer to becoming uninvested, this actually creates more tension. We are more invested because nothing is being hidden from us.

Jessica Jones doesn’t treat the viewer as stupid. The plot-twists aren’t predictable nor are they out of left-field, the tactics used by the hero aren’t completely naive or flimsy (looking at you, Iron Fist) and the viewer isn’t mollycoddled about what an evil man with mind-powers will do. It goes beyond, “Oh, he made me give him my wallet.”

Jones knows this first-hand the power that Kilgrave wields. She has, in fact, lost to him before. But she got back up, and decided to try again. This is what makes Jessica Jones so good- this is history repeating itself, but we are all the more engaged for it, and still rooting for the loser. We don’t pity Jones, we look up to her, even if she has lost before.