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View Diary: Sex and science fiction (134 comments)

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  •  It's not entirely dead. (18+ / 0-)

    But what you tend to get is more of an approach where instead of designing an entire alternate society (another example, not as strong as Left Hand of Darkness might be Ethan of Altos in the Vorkosigan universe) what you get is at least portions of future society where alternative sexual patterns and race and sometimes even gender bias became nonissues generations or centuries in the past, and the protagonists get culture shock when they encounter a society much more like ours.

    A lot of military sci-fi has gender and race mixing as a nonevent (Honorverse, Battlestar Galactica V2 to pick two) but that focus tends to have sexual relations as a sideline (you'll know the attraction of the primary characters, but vast parts of the cast it never comes up, because you only see them in their professional capacity).  Sometimes religion is treated this way too, sometimes not (in the Honorverse religions mix freely in most "modern" cultures, but there are a lot of planets settled by monocultures of religions trying to get away.  Battlestar Galactica was also all about religion in a way, as Cylons were evolved from monotheistic terrorists, where the mainline culture was pantheistic and fairly secular - very like early Christian era in Roman society.

    Another approach I've seen had a 2020ish carrier strike group from a UN coalition force dropped into the middle of WWII.  They had less trouble with the actual war than with the fact that they had black, female commanders, Japanese ships as members, etc, etc.  The casual sexism and racism of the "greatest generation" was a huge and ongoing problem.  And on the flipside, everyone from that era learning what the future was like and trying to get a better outcome (from the Soviet, the Aryan supremacist, the white privilege, the Jewish, the Muslim point of view etc) was also interesting.

    The main thing though is I haven't seen as much of the fiction where it's more an exploration of the specific society rather than having a story with protagonists from different cultures clashing as a natural component of the story.   Rather than a monoculture or cautionary tale with maybe one observer or protagonist with a more traditional attitude like Handmaid's Tale, Female Man, Left Hand of Darkness or Forever War, it's more like just telling story arcs and letting the cultural elements fall out as they may.

    And yeah, with a lot of writers, privilege means the default protagonist is a white, het, male of professional class or rich class, with folks of other orientations, genders, class and race being supporting characters at best, or at worst simply invisible.

    These days though, such an author is more likely to be called out about it, and some even try to change things, making their later work somewhat less offensive.

    We're also getting a lot of stuff in the monster fiction that's coded, much as in some fantasy where humans are all default (caucasion, het, white, often blond with traditional gender roles) and the other races illustrate alternatives.  This is an old tradition, where, intentionally or not, things like the Slan and Deryeni captured the people with "invisible" differences from the norm.

    We're still going to get some fiction about cultures created to prove a point.  (Hell, the whole "Left Behind" series is that sort of thing for folks who like the idea of the Rapture).   I think it's probably even out there, I just don't read as much of it anymore, as I think in many ways I just prefer the "make a universe with diverse people and cultures and show inclusiveness by the absence of anyone thinking about a given issue until they're brought up short by encountering a culture that thinks it is important"

    Come to think of it, that was kind of the Star Trek way.   The Federation was a pretty strange place (no money economy to start, possibly because they had replicator technology) but it had its ugly little secrets in how it viewed aliens that were a military threat, and in how often its own prime directive got broken when the captain-on-the-spot found it expedient to do so.   But a lot of the plot elements revolved around encountering societies different from them and how they responded.

    •  I remember (9+ / 0-)

      that as a white, middle-class child raised in a de facto segregated society, one of the things I found fascinating about Andre Norton's stories were a number of them in which she made an effort to use protagonists who were various shades and origins of brown: African, Amerind, South Asian, and in some of the farthest futures, simply describing their complexions as various brown shades and saying nothing more about it because that was JUST a physical description, not an indicator of status or origin in these societies.  Or the stories in which her protagonists were pale blonds of Nordic extraction, and were clearly and obviously Other in the diverse galactic milieu.

      It was rarely more than a sidelight to the action, but still, getting in the habit of seeing my alternate "self" as any potential size, gender, or skin color was a useful experience.

      •  So true (0+ / 0-)

        I also grew up in a rural "rednecky" society.  Books were my escape to a wider world, & Sci Fi could "go where no one has gone before."

        "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

        by NancyWH on Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 07:33:08 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

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