For many years now I’ve been experimenting with various ways to help people explore ‘big-picture’ themes such as the relationships between society, technology and politics. I’ve written a lot of non-fiction on this, but it seemed it might also be a good idea to try a fiction-based approach too.
I’d been brewing several ideas drawn from science-fiction classics, such as Ursula le Guin’s The Dispossessed, HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds and John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. To me, these pointed towards a genre perhaps a bit like steampunk, with somewhat of a hard-science orientation, though focussed more on the human, rather the technology itself.
At some point I wandered down to our local comics-store, to see what might exist along those kinds of themes. What I found there was, well, a bit dispiriting…
I couldn’t find anything that matched up with what I thought this would need. At all. The whole domain was riddled with super-heroes, super-powers, the wrong kind of magic: nothing that would work in any real world that we know.
And worst of all were the default responses to any kind of conflict. Almost every time, a literally bloody mess of guns, swords, gratuitous physical violence, gratuitous sex and unrequited teenage angst; not much else, really. And so much of it still so blatantly sexist, too, with so many of the women – even those who were the nominal heroines – still shown in ‘sexy’ poses, skimpy clothing and improbable bust-size, all ‘out there’ on all-too-overt display. Disappointing.
There were country differences, of course. If the story was from the US, guns came first, almost every time, though with swords and suchlike not far behind. From Britain, the violence tended to be more physical, fists and feet beating others to a pulp. If from France, perhaps no surprise that sex so often came first, or at least front-and-centre. And Japan? – yep, teenage-angst, lots of it, though usually mixed in somehow with any or all of the other messes as well. Sigh.
Could we really do no better than that?
More to the point, can we do better than that?
I hope so. Or at least, that’s the intent here.
No super-heroes. No super-powers. No magic. Or at least, none of the latter beyond the sort-of-magic that’s inherent in every technology that we don’t yet fully understand. (Which is all of them, to date.)
No guns. No swords. No violence. Or at least, nothing more than active attempts to resolve violence before it becomes violence.
No sex; no sexism. Or at least, no sex-for-sex’s-sake. Nothing more than people being people – with any or all of the confusions and errors that that might imply.
And no teenage-angst. Or at least, no angst-for-angst’s-sake. Again, nothing more than people being people – with any or all of the confusions and errors that that might imply.
Maybe. Though I’d hope not.
At the least, keeping to those constraints would allow us to hold the focus on the real, deeper themes of the story, without getting lost in distractions that have little to do with the story itself.
The story, and how we find ourselves in that story, is always what matters most.