Friday, July 04, 2008


I was born a few months before the Iron Curtain engulfed (then) Czechoslovakia.  Although I love the country in which I was born deeply and many of my cultural, social and emotional sensibilities (such as I have them) come from being raised as a Czech and a refugee and a not very legal immigrant (I'm now naturalized and I have a pretty certificate to prove it) I am, absolutely, an American.  I love this country from the perspective of someone whose parents chose to come here, and who had to earn the right to call ourselves Americans.  Because I'm a writer I take pleasure in the resonance of the fact that both nation's flags are red white and blue.

I find it interesting that much of the fantasy and even a surprising proportion of science fiction (including distopias!) assumes and grants their characters a great deal of freedom.  They can say what they want in public, write letters or email or send messages over the airwaves without considering who might take offense if they were intercepted and read.  They don't have cities or villages that are 'sacrificed' for industry with not even a token attempt to protect worker or inhabitant health and safety.  Want to be depressed?  Google the ten most polluted cities in the world.  I don't want to turn this post into a rah rah American--we have problems--and I don't want to disparage other countries because like us, they're inhabited by human beings and I'm hesitant to cast blanket judgement on entire populations of people I've never met, online or otherwise.   How I feel about political matters for me is pretty personal, though I applaud people who shout out their opinions because they are exercising (literally in all senses of the word) and therefore maintaining (and keeping healthy) that right.  The point I'm trying to make is that although intellectually many Americans are very aware of the privilege of freedom, the perspective of how many if not most governmental systems work (or don't work) doesn't frequently appear in speculative fiction, or at least not what I've been reading.  Maybe I'm subconsciously overlooking those works.  But by and large, it seems freedom is assumed.

1984 was of course a classic and wonderful exception.  One of the things that made that work so terrifying and absorbing when I read it was that, although things were never even close to being that bad for my relatives (or in the vast, vast majority of nations both modern and historical) I could see it.  I could taste it.  I'd escaped the edges of a shadow that had enough common ground with that world that it gave me chills.  And things have been that bad for real people, may now be that bad for real people, or even worse.

I don't think writers in general or speculative writers specifically have any duty in portraying one thing or another to make points and educate people.  I'm just making an observation which may be incorrect and putting it out there as something to think about.  And maybe, in my next novel, I may write about people having adventures in a world that doesn't have freedom assumed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Think about 1984 and "Big Brother" from the concept of how much of our cities now have camera surveilance on most street corners, photo red light enforcement, cell phone tracking...I see why some organizations do fight so hard to keep our privacies alive...think about "Demolition Man." That is one of the reasons Sci Fi has existed as a genre. I'm sure I could look at my shelves and find many more examples. (Anne MacCaffrey and her Petybee Novels spring to mind. Her planet ruled by the 'company'. reminds me of other company towns that have existed/do exist.)

Like you, I am thankful I can read about it, not live it :)
Take care,