Avast! Thar be spoilers ahead!

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Word About Genre: Social Sci-Fi

Social science fiction may sound at first as if it is a part of soft sci-fi since it's main concern, anthropology, is one of the soft sciences. However, the focus is on the group rather than individuals. This is usually developed through the exploration of hypothetical, alien societies. This is perhaps one of the earliest sub-genres in science fiction because it was possible prior to modern or even accurate science. Think of Gulliver's Travels. Obviously, this genre is closely related to the alternate reality/parallel universe genre since the development of a separate world facilitates the creation of a new society. However, one does not imply the other.

These invented societies are frequently critiques of existing social norms and their possible futures as well as suggest possible solutions. Morality and ethics often are central to these critiques. Taken to extremes, social science fiction crosses into the utopia/dystopia genre.

Consider The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. The society on the moon has different mores concerning sex and marriage. The female to male ratio is very low. As a result, the society has introduced polyandry, the practice of a woman having multiple husbands, and group marriage, the practice of having shared spouses, both male and female, that often develops into line marriages which successively introduces new spouses so that the marriage does not end due to any one death. The family votes before a new husband or wife may join and the marriage is to the whole family. It also maintains economic stability by working from improvements made in the past and through multiple income earners. The continued line marriage also insures continual parental influence. This part of the novel is social critique. The romance and friendship of Manny and Wyoming is within the domain of soft science fiction.

Classic Examples:
Brave New World - Alduous Huxley
Nineteen Eighty-Four - Orsen Wells
Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula Le Guinn

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stephen Fry Quote

The American prison system is the reinvention of slavery.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Word About Genre: Alternative Reality/Parallel Universe

The alternate reality, parallel universe is one of my favorite elements in science fiction. It turns our silly world on its head. Generally, the alternate reality has a stronger relationship to our reality than the parallel universe, it is much like ours but with small variations.* A parallel universe often has different laws in the hard sciences. For example, gravity may not be stable or travel at the speed of light may be possible.

The other world has a beautiful history as ancient as man. Many of our great myths are stories of events in another world, such as on Mount Olympus. Other worlds are found in favorite children's stories as in the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In such a world, there are talking animals and trees. Another key difference is that time passes at a different rate. The Pevensie children live full, adult lives before returning to childhood, having missed little time during the reality that contains WW II. Similarly, when they return, they have not aged greatly but the world of Narnia has aged and changed greatly.

Authors and film makers tend to have great fun when surprising their readers and audience by the surprise twist that the plot takes place in another reality.

The magic of this genre is that anything in our world can be changed, for better or worse. We can live for a few hundred years, travel great distances, be able to move through time as we move through space. The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde offer a complex alternate reality in which time travel is possible, literary integrity is a crucial part of law and government, vampires and werewolves exist, dodo birds have been resurrected through cloning and so much more it makes my head spin. And all it takes is the gentle letting go of some law of reality and suspending it.

Of course, like all science fiction genres, alternate reality is not all fun and games. Parallel universes frequently threaten the universe of the main character's universe. And quite often his/her universe is quite like our own. An excellent and curious example is Isaac Assimov's The God's Themselves, which includes characters from both sides of an Electron Pump.

Do not be fooled by our "common sense" ideas about parallel universes. Quantum mechanics has widened our minds to the possibility. I must admit that quantum physics is exactly where I lost my firm on physics and resigned myself to Newtonian laws.

*One such variation is the alternate history sub-genre. I plan to get to this one later.