Studying Science Fiction Politics: Perhaps


I’m considering doing an independent study course next quarter. My reasoning is this: I already have to take one course that is required that I really don’t care about and since the number of modern literature courses offered (seeing how I’m a modern lit major) are rather crappy, I don’t want to have to take three courses that I hate. So I’ve resolved to considering independent study as an option to do something interesting.
    I don’t want to discuss race because, quite frankly, I’m not that interested in any subject of race within science fiction beyond tropes of racism and the data I’m collecting for the project I’m working on for this blog (which serves no academic purpose other than to educate myself and anyone else interested on what minority categories look like in the spectrum of science fiction and fantasy). My interest, I think, is in politics.
    Now, when I say politics I don’t mean in the same sense of the types of politics we encounter in the United States. I’m more interested in the representation of government within science fiction societies, and in particular, dystopian societies. What I’m considering is doing a study of the nature of government within several works of science fiction and perhaps arguing that government acts as a negative force and in some ways is like a corporate entity that uses desperate measures of control to maintain dominance. To put it more simply, I want to argue in a short set of works that government acts like an agent of slavery, using policy and the rule of law to enslave, imprison, and otherwise take complete control over a populace, often under the guise of fear.
    The most obvious way of taking such a subject on is to include 1984 by George Orwell into the equation, which is a consideration. I’m also considering We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and perhaps several other novels from the newer period of the last 30 years of science fiction. I’m not sure what works I’ll choose. I could certainly use Neuromancer by William Gibson or Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, or a myriad of other novels. Needless to say this is still in the works. I’ve just begun to think about it.
    I think the argument itself is rather interesting, though perhaps somewhat simplistic, which begs the question, what do I do to make it more complex and interesting? We can all think of governmental forces as enslavers, because we have learned or seen the use of government in that manner. So what is it about this interesting subject that makes things complex? Is it that people allow it to exist and don’t take measures to change things? 1984 would say so, since the main character witnesses several times the nature of ‘doublethink’ and even stops himself to ponder it. But he never does anything, he only considers it, except when it’s far too late. It could possibly be assumed that people before him did the same, and the people before those people, for how else could something so wicked that is used as a method of otherwise illegal control gain so much momentum? The same might be said of the people in We where the rules have changed so drastically in the domed, closed-off city that even sex is done by appointment and without preference. Certainly the benefit of having easy selection of the partners you want has benefits, unless you’re the type that wants nothing to do with someone. Such a world leaves no room for choice and nobody truly complains until the end when it is discovered that there’s nothing really wrong with the rest of the world (sort of like The Island with Ewan McGregor). You can imagine, though, being forced into sex by appointment and being required to perform sufficiently, or be docked points or whatever it might be that a government could use to control your enjoyment. And what would you do if you found you liked a particular person and someone else screwed up your plan of only enjoying their company? These are things that are perhaps created by a negligent public, since such policies either came out of nowhere and nobody did anything, or not enough was done and whatever revolution might have occurred simply failed.
    These are the thoughts in my head on this subject. I don’t know if it will become anything or if I can even find a sponsoring professor to take me on, but I do intend to try and see if I can make it work. It sounds like fun.

    On to the subject of what books to read: Do you have any recommendations? Anything really, so long as it’s SF. I’m curious to see what you folks think!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

5 thoughts on “Studying Science Fiction Politics: Perhaps

  1. So… why did Star Wars just come to mind? “Palpatine and The Patriot Act”

    George Lucas states his influences were of the time in 1977 when the Vietnam War was fighting.

    Hence, how the world interacts, how your creative your mind is(as we know is true from WISB), and from everday life, politics would be a good class to learn more aspects of writing.

    I took a Political Science class in college. It was very informative and helpful.

    Best wishes 🙂

  2. Well it would be an independent study project, meaning I’d do a lot of work on my own, and discussion with a professor, one on one. The problem is that this college doesn’t have a lot of literary interest in SF, so trying to convince a professor to sponsor me to write a thesis of some sort on the subject of Science fiction and politics (or, in specific , Political Enslavement in Science Fiction) is going to be extremely difficult. I have to talk to the lit department about this…I’m very interested in the idea, but I don’t know if there is a chance in hell I can do it.

  3. Alright, so remember how I mentioned that a politics professor was going to use Snow Crash in his class? (I still hate myself for not auditing the lectures)

    Tada! Ronnie Lipschutz is his name (I believe) track him down, talk to him! He’ll be a fantastic source.

  4. Oh thanks! I will talk to Professor Lipschutz! I can’t do the independent study with him though, at least not through the lit department :(. He would just be a resource. the problem is getting a professor from the lit department to take me on…

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