I don’t want to read your latest Libertarian screed masquerading as a futuristic civics lesson, nor am I interested in your theories on matriarchal divinity leaping out of your epic fantasy’s exposition. What I am interested in, however, is whether or not a mother has the right to refuse the fetal computer implant thus dooming her unborn child to a life of techno-deafness, or perhaps the vampire debate over easing the draconian laws against overfeeding on the now runaway human population.
In short, I have grown bored with modern politics popping up in my sci-fi and fantasy with nothing more to disguise them than a different flag or pointy ears and a tail. Yes, I know the argument that putting our own politics into these tales gives authors the opportunity to make social commentary in a new light. Uh-huh, yep, got that.
Except that it’s 2012, a presidential election here in the USA. Add or subtract two years and you have congressional cycles along with most of the governors. All of that in a country flooded with media, and there’s no shortage of social commentary. This year is particularly bad as we dredge up debates on issues that seemed settled a generation ago, so when I pick up a nice little escapist book, that’s what I want: an escape. I don’t want to be immersed in yet another argument for or against state-run healthcare.
But I don’t dislike politics in my fiction. In fact, good political drama makes for a great sweeping backdrop to the lives of our individual characters. The world is a-changing, and poor Xaglo and her little podlings need to find a new zhorink if they’re going to avoid being harvested in the fall. That’s high drama, and it’s driven by politics – not the politics of healthcare or immigration, but the politics of genetic diversity and un-zhorinked podlings. Can Karanthia truly prosper with these little half-clones swarming our colony’s gene pool?
Ok, so that one was a little weird, maybe too weird to make a story compelling to us humans who aren’t prone to spontaneous self-cloning. But what are some of the politics we human-ish folks are likely to run into in these far-flung settings?
In space opera, I can see a lot of politics around colonization. Colonies are huge investments. Who should pay for them? Who should profit from them? Who gets to go live on the new world, or perhaps, who do we force to relocate to that new world? How will those colonies be governed? Is there a set process for weaning them off into independence, or is there instead a road towards them become member worlds in some larger confederacy? It makes me wonder if we’ll get a replay of arguments from the British parliament back in the 1600’s and 1700’s.
If we run into aliens – or other races in fantasy – we can debate such concepts as universal rights and law vs. race-specific rights and laws. If the larval stage of the Vanoleks has the intellect of a cow, what rights to we grant it compared to their wiser elders? If an elf can live thousands of years, does his murder call for a stiffer penalty than the murder of a short-lived human? And for that matter, does thirty years in prison really mean anything to such a long-lived elf? Rigellians like to hunt the ape-like denizens of Quatorf-7. These poor creatures don’t qualify for sentient citizenship in the Federation, but should their resemblance to humans be enough to grant them protection?
Many of these aliens or forest-folk or demons or whatever… will have abilities that we don’t, and the political and legal structures will need to deal with that. Babylon 5 did a great job at dealing with the politics around a mixed population of telepaths and mundanes. What about beings capable of magic – should they be restricted from certain jobs or locations? How about those who can fly – do we let the fly freely or do we restrict them public lands? “No peeping angels in my backyard!” What about those hyper-intelligent aliens – do they get all the engineering jobs, or do we institute quotas to keep humans employed?
And then there’s the issue of augmentation. I think about movies like Gattaca where genetic screening and improvements were commonplace. I also think about lifelong computer implants. These kinds of augmentations will cost money. Who should pay for them, the parents, the state, or do we saddle the kiddos with the kind of debt reserved for Ivy Leaguers? If the state pays for it as some kind of universal right, what about those who want their children (or themselves) to remain unmodified? Will parents be allowed to deny their children that advantage? Will those who avoid it for themselves be penalized for not raising themselves to the level of all the other useful citizens?
And longevity? Certainly Social Security is going to need some reworking if lifespans are suddenly boosted to two or three hundred years, but if even if everyone keeps working, there might be problems. Will the young be disenfranchised from the political process by the twenty-two term Senator from Ohio? Will university faculty stagnate after a hundred and fifty years of tenure? Or will rejuvenation require some kind of career sacrifice from the old geezers? Maybe you have to quit your job and start a new career, but would that be a law or merely social custom?
Yeah, those are the kind of political dilemmas I want to see in my sci-fi and fantasy. It’s not that I hate the Libertarians and their free-will utopias. It’s just that they’ve gotten boring. Give me something new.
So, what’s your far-flung political dilemma, or are you still worried that those un-zhorinked abominations will overrun the ballot box with their tentacle spawn?