by Ernest Hogan
There’s something rumbling through Scifilanda. It’s happening all over. Even here at La Bloga. Rudy Ch. Garcia has been bringing up the Latino specfic (somebody has got to come up with a better name, dammit!), and David Brin is concerned about “political wrangling.”
Of course, none of this is new. It's practically the story of my life as an ancient Chicano scifisista who came of age in the New Wave/Dangerous Visions era. We had What If? And If This Goes On . . . but with the world tuning in, turning on, and dropping out, and running riot with all kinds of brave new strangness, it just seemed natural for speculative fiction to explore all kinds of new political possibilities.
Before that, just about every low budget sci-fi flick I watched on shows like KHJ-TV's Strange Tales of Science Fiction began with a prologue that explained that with atom bombs and space exploration, things people couldn't dare imagine a few years ago were today's headlines. Even Plan 9 From Outer Space's trailer explained that Tor Johnson and Vampira rising from their graves were the shape of things to come. The connection with our current reality has always made science fiction seem relevant, and flirted with the political.
And why not? Politics is the business of making and selling alternate realities. That's what Fox News does, so does the Daily Show. The same for Greenpeace and ISIS. And your friendly neighborhood politicians, no matter what party they belong to. You get more people buying into your alternate reality, actual reality starts looking more like it.
In science fiction they call it world building. How do you build a world without dealing with political issues?
Throughout my career I've had to deal with those who don't want any nasty, old political commentary in their sci-fi. They think it should all be “pure” entertainment. Oh, for the nonpartisan, orgasmic joy of exploding spaceships and disintegrating nonhuman enemies!
But then, who decides who the enemies are? And just who are you calling nonhuman?
What if your participation in any kind of future depends on the world being changed?
Of course, when Star Wars was marketed as “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” the consumers were delighted to have sci-fi reconfigured in “pure” entertainment. As the juggernaut franchise took off, politics was pushed out of science fiction as being bad for business.
People said a lot of strange things in those days. Nothing sci-fi had ever been this popular. Looking back, it was just that they took old fashioned melodrama and dressed it up in new spacey fashions, but in those days strange theories abounded. A lot of people liked the fact that they didn't have to think, just sit back and enjoy it. No controversy. Nothing to disturb the fun.
Then a few spoilsports mentioned that all the people in the movie were white.
Fans and critics shot this down when ever it came up: “No, no! That was one of the things that made the movie so enjoyable! One black or brown face would have ruined my pleasure! Besides, that's not Earth, it's another galaxy! George Lucas is such a genius!”
But Lucas hadn't really invented anything. Some of us at the fringes of speculative fiction were complaining that most of it seemed to take place in an all-white universe, as if there was some secret plan for planetary ethnic cleansing that would make the world a Klansman's utopia by the year 2000. We were crying out for alternatives. I was seeking them out, reading them, and writing them.
Not much progress has been made, if you consider how long we've been struggling.
I don't think there is such a thing as “pure” entertainment. Even in a simple tale of good guys versus bad guys, you have to decide which side you're on. I've seen enough pulp entertainment from different cultures to realize what is possible. No matter who you are, you are a “bad” guy, or an alien to someone else.
Specfic has always been a good way to get out of your point of view, and see what it's like to be someone else, walk a few mile in their moccasins, so to speak. The world would be better if we all did that more often.
For decades I've been dreaming of a global cultural explosion in which we'd see science fiction of all kinds, from all cultures and points of view. Not political wrangling, but an orgy of possibilities. Not just futures, but other realities. That's what our imaginative genres are supposed to be about, but they rarely achieve it.
We're getting close in this age of Afrofuturism, Chicanonautica, Transhumanism, and new movements that are emerging as you read this. I think Latino specfic will lead the way, because all the peoples who are Latino are more diverse than the Anglos.
So, to What If? and If This Goes On . . . we should add Why Not?
Ernest Hogan lives and works in several universes at the same time. Manifestations will be appearing near you soon. Meanwhile, please support Caravana 43: USA Tour of Families of the Missing Ayotzinapa Students.