This post was inspired by reading the following article, on the diveristy of characters in science fiction:
At the time, I found the article fairly engaging. In retrospect, it’s not great in tone. My own view of the future is probably much darker than these writers expressed. But the concept of reviewing hidden implicit bias in a fictional character’s gender and ethnicity all made clear sense to me.
It’s lazy writing to rely on stereotypes, and cliches. It requires minimal effort, and can easily be derivative. It also generally reproduces the image of the world we already had, rather than creating anything new. And it’s also inaccurate…
What surprised me most was the comments to the article. Many expressing real anger and disbelief at the article’s contents. I found it quite a shock, as I had literally not even conceived of their arguments. Am I in a bubble? Maybe.
The source of their irritation was the article’s accepted wisdom that science fiction should present viewpoints and experiences from groups outside of traditional western society. They seemed clearly to feel this were a waste of time, and a fundamentally fraudulent concept.
It’s an extremely persistent attitude in our culture, that I may well describe more in further posts. Soft forms of white supremacism in science fiction date back a very long way. An editorial by Isaac Asimov written in 1972 describes how previous editors of his in the 1950s would insist their tales of space describe a universe of white characters. The old Jetsons cartoon is another well-known example. It seems to present a clear narrative that whites have left behind the other races, as though separation was always the goal. White nationalism, in today’s language.
Even in films as considered as ethnically diverse as Star Trek and Star Wars, the cast are still disproportionately filled with white characters, when planet Earth is considered. Gene Roddenberry made a massive effort always worthy of respect to think outside the box.
Perhaps living in Asia has changed my perspective, but it’s hard to see dominance of the world by European ethnic groups as a serious possibility 100 years from now, like it has been over the past 500 years. Even less so 200 years in the future, and even less so after that…
One potential big difference in approaches to race can be the application of deep time in the philosophy of a writer. As a science fiction writer, the concept of deep time is perhaps the single most compelling reason I find to work in the genre. We are at the forefront of a species that has lasted 500,000 years. Regardless of what we do to the planet, I believe some form of us is certain to continue long ahead. Political structures such as the nation or borders can only be fleetingly temporary. The history of life is one of constant adaption. The insistence that the future will preserve the cultures of the present seems absurd.
But other science fiction writers don’t feel the same way about these ideals. Odious and notorious members of the far right can tend to loudly make their presence known on the internet on these issues, and topics of culture. And they do feel like their time has come, at this present moment.
But I strongly doubt the future will look like they expect it will, no matter what happens.