Social Issues in Speculative Fiction

This article is by Isobel Mitton.

Speculative fiction writers often tackle social issues. The Hunger Games tackled the social class system. And so did the Divergent series. Both series were about the haves and have-nots. They were also about dictatorial governments in a world where one person had all the power to decide life and death.

My series, Across the Realm, is no different. I simply chose different issues to concentrate on. And that is because it is my strong belief that the past mirrors the future.

Once, my grandfather told me that human beings did not change. He said the buildings, the times and technology changed, but the way we thought and the way we treated each other did not. Although I still do not believe him, I wanted to project that perspective in my series.

Earth in the 26th Century

I based my scifi/fantasy series, Across the Realm, on earth in the 26th century. The 26th century is an amazing time for humans. They have reached the pinnacle of development and are still going strong. Crime is almost zero and all-social issues such as discrimination, racism, prejudice towards the LGBT community and others are moot.

That is because human beings have finally made decisions they are happy with and Mother Nature aided and abetted in this newfound wisdom. Earth’s tectonic plates moved in the late 21st century and continents became a thing of the past. Basically, the movement left two huge landmasses, one to the North and one to the South.

The ocean temperatures went up to boiling level and the South was more affected by the hot waters in comparison to the North. In the North, people can still go to the beach, as long as they keep a safe distance. That is not the case with the South. The Southerners are completely allergic to water.

The North

Two civilizations have emerged in the North and the South and they are polar opposites in the same way as East and West. The North is a segregationist society where all races opted to live separate lives from other races. They believe in segregation and have reaped great benefits from it. They do cooperate in many things such as the military, but each race is autonomous of the other. They never mix. They most certainly do not have interracial relationships, nor can they fathom such a thing. They believe in purity, as Hitler believed. They are happy.

Their way of life has led to great development for the North and science is the cornerstone of their civilization.

The South

The South is a society that is deeply spiritual and lives as a collective. They are interracially mixed and bound together by their history and experiences. They have biologically evolved to survive the hostile territory of Southern earth and in many ways are completely different from the 21st century human. They emphasize love, togetherness and devotion and they all have one MOTHER. She is their deity who has a very active and present role in their lives.

They live together, eat together and love together. They depend on one another in everything; even basic survival and they are thriving. They are each others brother’s keeper.

Belief Systems Are Still the Same

In our 21st century way of thinking, one can say that the North practices the perfect segregation as our social scientists penned it way back when. The South, meanwhile, practices extreme socialism at its finest, as Karl Marx would have wanted.

It might be the 26th century, but the belief systems of the past are still the same and going strong. Only, in the 26th century, they have reached the pinnacle of success in the function.

The Past Mirrors the Future

I am a history buff. I cry real tears at the past. The wars, the discrimination, slavery, the civil rights movement, 9/11, the Holocaust and genocides all break my spirit. To get away from that, I am lucky enough to be a citizen of Lalaland, and I imagine a world where space is my backyard.

I am a scifi fanatic because up there, everything always turns out right and the good guy always wins. I am also a fantasy fanatic. I believe fantasy is real. I believe that there are people with “superpowers.” They are human and live among us because they are us. We just haven’t uncovered them yet. I believe the world is full of mystery still to be discovered. Again, I emphasize that I am a citizen of Lalaland!

It was a no brainer putting the things that I loved together in one work of fiction. History from where the social ideologies emerge, Sci-Fi, greatly influenced by Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, and Fantasy.

It all made one great story in my head. All I had to do was to convince myself to go there, especially with the social ideologies. It was not easy. I am a coward and I was afraid of the world rejecting my work because of the ideologies, but I said to myself, “No one has ever asked that question. The question of whether any of these ideologies would actually have worked, given the chance.” And so I asked myself.

What if?

What if every ideology, including Hitler’s came to be? What if segregation and communality worked and solved all the world’s problems? What if those people who lived under such ideologies felt safe, happy and prospered?

What if they had no idea that there had been any other kind of ideologies that humans lived by?

I know these were not politically correct questions, but there you have it. Creativity must challenge the boundaries or it has no right to exist. So, in trepidation, I will not lie, I set out to write the series.

The thing is, I can only write the story and leave it to others to debate. My biggest problem, after I had created these two different worlds, on one planet, was what to do with them.

A story needs a plot, and a reason for being. I had none for a long time. But, through the social ideologies, it came to me once again.

And then what?

History proves that different countries with different ideologies cannot live peacefully side-by-side. There is most certainly an outbreak of war between them because they feel threatened by the other side. There is distrust, contempt, anger and most certainly a superiority complex when it comes to the “others.” So, why should the 26th century be any different from the 21st century?

I decided that two such strong ideologies could not possibly exist in harmony on one planet. It stood to reason that they had to go to war.

But to me, a plain shoot out war was just too simple. I had to complicate my plot as much as possible. And so I put the fate of Earth in their hands. Earth can only be saved by their co-operation.

That was not enough for me. I had to come up with the human cost of these social ideologies and of course I picked my favorite topic, love. I am a citizen of Lalaland after all!

What is a story without love, heartbreak and anguish? Naledi, a warrior from the South, falls in love with Greg, a military officer from the North while they are stranded on what I would call a “deserted planet” reminiscent of “deserted island” themes.

They are soldiers, enemies at war with each other, and loving each other at the same time.

I guarantee many tears of anguish for both of them.

Naledi, a warrior from the South

In ATR2, I have even more grief when it comes to love. Khadija the Arab queen is an abused wife who was forced to marry a cold and selfish man at 15. Her husband, king Adil is in love with her best friend.

On top of that, she has to fight the Southerners and her own patriarchal society to survive. ATR2 tackles the role of women in some societies in this world. My grandfather did say that people do not change.

Historical Fodder

I was concerned that, because of how I use social issues, people would try to kill me. I was afraid that would happen. No lie. The compliments, however, have been thick when it comes to my action scenes, and there are lots and lots of them. Describing action scenes is my specialty.

I see in images or pictures if you will. When it comes to action scenes and battle strategies I am detail oriented to a fault. I even practice taekwondo, fencing, karate, hip-hop dance and any movement that will make what I see come alive in words. What I do see is more spectacular than any words I can drag from my brain. I am so happy that my audience enjoys my action scenes, gets involved in the lives of my characters and goes on this journey with me.

I feel relieved. I might be a dreamer, but I am not the only one, as John Lennon stated. I do however tend to stick to reality as much as possible.

In ATR2, the Arabs use suicide bombers against the South. And the Southerners use the British Scorched earth policy used by Lord Kitchener in South Africa against the Boers in the Anglo Boer war of 1899.

There is so much historical fodder to work from.

Surprises

Politics, past and present, are a gift that keeps on giving! I have had lots of surprises when it comes to the social issues I use to drive my series.

In ATR2, when two tribes go to war, I made the king of the Arabs give a speech about not allowing refugees in his territory, and that although the Arabs had closed their borders, they would continue to show compassion to those in need.

Right after the book went for print, the United States government issued a very similar statement after they closed America’s borders to citizens of certain countries. I had to ask my Editor and now good friend, Jennifer Stewart if I was crazy. Had I not put those words in my character Adil’s mouth? She said, indeed I had.

I have to point out that I am apolitical. I am an observer, like most of us. My primary passion is saving women and children from abuse.

Hopes and dreams

I didn’t expect ATR to be read because I tackled current social issues that are supposed to not sell. And indeed, it wasn’t easy. At first, many rejected my work outright, but that no longer seems to be the case. I believe my audience has seen the entertainment value of the ATR series and many do write to me and talk about the social issues, but, as one reader says, “the social issues of the 26th century bring me so close to the characters and their experiences. This is not an alien world. This is earth, centuries later.”

Okay, so I am an emotional kind of Lalaland resident. I bowled my eyes out when I read that. I want us to see ourselves in these futuristic characters.

My whole point was, these things have been happening forever and may continue into the 26th century because we are humans. Only we can change what we don’t want to hand over to the future. We have that power.

Now, I hope that the ATR series begins a dialogue. I don’t expect to be read at universities, nor be mentioned on the news or even the bestseller list. But I hope that the people who do get to read the series will talk about it among themselves and in my own small way, I might help usher a better future. Art, creativity, has that influence.

Is it possible?

Is it possible for us to get rid of our prejudices in one generation? Yes, is what I say since I am a hopeless optimist. I would like to know what others think.

The 26th century is not as far off as we like to think it is and what we do today, may very well be in practice then.

Further Discussion

What ideologies are over-represented in speculative fiction? What ideologies are underrepresented?

Have you depicted any ideologies in your own writing? Was the portrayal positive, negative, or neutral?

Any recommendations for works of fantasy that deal directly with political ideologies?

About the Author:

Isobel Mitton is an award winning Canadian scifi/fantasy author. Her latest work, Across the Realm Book 2: When Two Tribes Go to War, is now on sale at Amazon. You can learn more about the author and the Across the Realm series at acrosstherealm.com.

This article was contributed by a featured author whose details are mentioned above. Are you interested in writing for Mythic Scribes? If so, please check out our submission guidelines.

6 Responses to Social Issues in Speculative Fiction

  1. This was quite a refreshing article to read and very interesting. Given the complexities of human nature, I take my hat off to you that you’ve managed to remain neutral in writing this novel. It’s a difficult thing to stay objective. Some believe it’s wholly impossible because no matter what, your lens through which you view life is informed by your experiences and upbringing, whether bad or good.

    I believe writing shouldn’t be hampered by ideological restrictions. I also believe it shouldn’t push social issues. Not overtly, anyway. The story comes first, not the message. It is far more powerful when, if there is a message, it evolves naturally and catches the reader by surprise.

  2. Are you familiar with Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series? His books present an ideology known as Objectivism, which was created by Ayn Rand. Some say that he is too heavy-handed in advocating it, and that it ruins the books.

    How do you avoid being too heavy-handed? Are you advocating a specific ideology, or just exploring several?

    • Hi.

      I absolutely do not advocate for a single one of the ideologies I am highlighting. My own ideology is love, togetherness and devotion. I have a whole weird ideology in my head about how we should treat each other as we want to be treated.

      If anything, I hope I am shining a light on the fact that none of those ideologies work for us.

      How do I avoid being heavy handed? By letting the reader be the judge. After I give the reader the image of this world and how it works, I quickly move onto my characters and their stories. I concentrate a lot more on the stories of my characters than I do on what system they live under.

      For instance, in “Across the Realm 1, Life will find a way”, my character Greg comes from America in the North. That is Caucasian territory. He lives in a segregationist society which informs him in every way that his race is the best race.

      However, because he was born in that society and doesn’t know any different, he would be shocked at the racism that exists in the 21st century. Racism is not part of his vocabulary. He inherited a world that was completely segregated and happy. It thrives. Its normal. So, he is not a racist. There are no racists in the 26th century.

      This is the world that they inherited. It is a world that works. So, I put in a lot of effort to show that this segregated world works. Everyone is on the same stage of development, despite their country and race. No race looks down on another because there is no reason to do so. There is mutual respect if not understanding. But, they try. You can most certainly see the effort.

      An African American female reader wrote to me and said she was ready to hate my hero, Greg, but found she couldn’t. Instead, she fell in love with the Aryan. I told her I was in love with him too. He is an honorable man with amazing qualities and a fascinating way of thinking. He is not his system.

      Neither is Keisha in book 2. She is Canadian and black. Canada is a black territory. She works well with Greg despite the fact that they come from segregated communities, because to her, segregation is not based on racism. It makes common sense to her that different races live apart.

      So, for the North, I do not discuss the ideology of segregation in detail. My readers get that is what it is, and I get into the human stories.

      For the South, I am sort of working backwards. I present to my readers the perfect “communism” or “socialism” as it were. And then I show the weaknesses of such a society as I continue the series.

      To give the reader a complete view of this “communality,” I have a children’s series dedicated to the South, “The Training Grounds”. The first issue comes out March 2018. Naledi, Vimbai, Aoki, Zinzi, Ashmita, Jian And Cheveyo, characters I have already introduced in the two adult books are the central characters. They are 12 years old and undergoing training as warriors in this society that on the outside looks perfect. But, the reader will realize that it is not perfect.The question I would like the reader to ask themselves is, “Would I live in this society and be happy?”

      So, I think I am exploring and asking questions and hoping that the reader has the answers. I am simply saying “What if?” and then putting my case forward in the events that unfold with my characters and hoping that the reader will answer the question for me.

      I hope I managed to answer that question for you. I am so grateful to be able to have this platform. You have no idea. Mystic Scribes has given me something no one else could. I am having a dialogue with others.

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