Science fiction can reflect society
October 16, 2010
The realm known as speculative fiction (politically correct term for science fiction) has always held a moderate level of fascination for me. By moderate, I mean that I sometimes like to watch it, I occasionally like to read it, and I am in no way a die hard fan of either film or paper versions.
I recently re-encountered, through the medium of philosophy students presenting papers, a name from the past - The Dune series by Frank Herbert. The first four books, the only ones finished by the original author, were the subject of the paper and the part which really inspired my interest, or renewed interest.
I remember in the late 1960's, when this series, which began publication in 1964, was extremely popular. I remember it because my cousins on both sides, even the males, all of whom were a few years older than I, were wrapped in its spell and eagerly awaiting the next in the sequence. I remember because it superseded the thing which should have been foremost in their lives - playing with me.
I was, in all likelihood, too young to be interested in that contemporary version of the Twilight phenom. Nonetheless, when my student gave her presentation, I was easily transported back to that time and that place. What inspired it? What reflections on the society of "just prior to 1964" gave birth to the world wherein the hero, Paul, emerges as a very introspective, in touch, self-examining leader and he gains in power, gradually loses his close relationship with those whom he leads, becoming a distant and monarchical figure?
Because if you believe Harlan Ellison (and despite my lukewarmness to the genre as a whole, I do inevitably and unquestioningly believe Harlan Ellison) speculative fiction has, as one of its main purposes, to open a window on society, viewed through the eye of fantasy.
• Kennedy had been assassinated.
• The Happy Days of the 1950's had come to an end, about to give way to an age of major change.
• The government was no longer an object of blind trust for many of the middle class.
• The Cuban Missile Crisis had confronted us with vulnerability in our own hemisphere.
These were just a few of the things which I am aware of; there are certainly many others. To a boy of less than ten, growing up in western Pennsylvania, they were of no consequence, in terms of any deep understanding. I only know them to be true on the word of others.
But I am sure, in the rather erudite and intellectual world in which I imagine most speculative fiction writers to move, the implications of the above were , if not understood, at least hypothesized.
Once again, I feel an unseen force leading my mouse toward Amazon.com, to see how cheaply I can get a copy of the first four books. Perhaps this time, I will have more maturity than did that bored 9-year-old, who was wishing his cousin Billy would catch baseball with him instead of burying himself in that dumb old book with a dumb old picture of a stupid desert on the front.