the basic failure of most all speculative fiction, both fantasy and scifi, is the failure to examine its societal pre-assumptions. they show worlds 1000 years in the future or the past or in a wholly separate universe, inhabited by people who, despite the presence of magic or hypertechnology & a completely different material circumstances, still basically live & think like 20th century westerners — and when they don't, it's virtually always shown as a moral or intellectual failing

not only is it boring and bad writing, it's a betrayal of the genre's potential to show completely different societies, systems of epistemology and ethics, etc. instead they end up reinforcing it, by implicitly presenting the 'western worldview', which isn't even universal on present-day earth, as a fact of existence that applies even when the actual laws of nature are different

one of the worst manifestations of this is putting in modern-day sexism and racism to make it more 'realistic' (game of thrones / asoiaf is an obvious offender here). racism was only invented under colonialism, and is unlikely to outlast it; sexism did exist, but in different forms & based on a different understanding of gender. by showing them existing in a world with dragons or ftl spaceships, you're justifying them in the present by making them out to be necessary or unavoidable

for fantasy, which is nearly always implicitly in 'the past' even when not imagined as on the same timeline as us, it obscures the historical background of oppression. for scifi, which correspondingly is in 'the future', it blocks out the possibility of oppression being lifted. their imagination is limited to the boot, just given fancy magic runes or a chrome plating and a wifi connection

@esvrld big extreme agree fantasy is often just the most disappointing stuff. Sci-fi, I dunno. At least there are good ideas but everyone is so damn afraid to be creative

@esvrld There are authors who try to subvert this, Ursula K Le Guin among them, but it is still very present in all modern fantasy and science fiction.

Le Guin was considered "daring" for attempting to create a discourse on anarcho-socialism with the Dispossesed, and her later work deconstructing the sexist assumptions of her ow world of Earthsea was panned by fans of the original trilogy.

@esvrld Too many people fall into the tropes and refuse to fight them. I'm trying to work hard against that impulse myself, but it is sort of engrained in my fantasy consumption, and I need to do much work on it.

Anyway the point is you gave me a lot to think about, thank you for this thread.

Would like to recommend Chambers and McMaster Bujold in addition to Le Guin.

Also I'm not sure the problem is limited to the Western worldview unfortunately: books by Cixin Liu for instance provide non-western (and interesting) perspectives while being extremely sexist and potentially racist...

@esvrld I think I've already said something similar but Ursula K LeGuin whips ass at not doing this, The Left Hand of Darkness is basically all about being like "Actually, fuck western conceptions of gender"

@esvrld scifi needs to do both. We often see the errors and backwardness of our ways better when placed in a future context.

@esvrld humans have shitty imaginations though. we can’t even imagine alien creatures that aren’t just chimeras of earth animals. and our limits of understanding and acceptance of things different from our previous experience is extremely shallow, which is important if you’re trying to sell something like a book. or an ipad.

@zensaiyuki you do realise when you make a statement about what all humans in the abstract are like, you're talking about yourself, because that's the only direct evidence you have, right?

@esvrld of course because i have never read or watched any fantasy or sci fi. only the stuff i have written myself. 🙄

@zensaiyuki why do you keep writing things that are racist then. you could just stop doing that. seems easy

@zensaiyuki if you think 'our limits of understanding and acceptance of things different from our previous experience is extremely shallow', especially if this is your first thought on seeing someone say it's possible to write speculative fiction without being racist or sexist, that maybe tells us mostly about how you view oppression and how you are willing to excuse it?

@esvrld no, it was a statement about my observations of audience reaction to anything that isn’t racist or sexist, or has a concept that strays too far from cliche.

@esvrld scifi and fantasy sticks close to formula because that’s what publishers are able to sell. stuff that has actually new and weird ideas i see get rejected by audiences all the time

@esvrld see how much black female scifi authors struggle to be allowed to put their own name on their book, or put artwork that has a black woman on the cover, for isntance

@zensaiyuki wow, it's almost as if capital has an incentive to push works that do not question the underpinnings of capitalism 🤔

@esvrld okay, i am going to back out of this conversation because i am clearly not welcome. i appreciated your original thread and didn’t intend to start an argument over it. bye.

@zensaiyuki @esvrld I think you were very misunderstood in this thread, yeah it's obvious capitalism needs to push away these kinds of works and that's absolutely fair, and it's also a fair remark that we tend to write scenarios and people that mirror our own understanding of ourselves (hence the humanoid everything)

that does not mean of course your point is invalid, the opposite in fact! we should probably make an effort to make this a noticeable issue and give credit to authors who actually do write fiction keeping that in mind

at least I think it's way better than ranting about it and soon abandoning the discussion

@badmoxx thanks for sticking up for me. some people don’t appreciate comments from strangers on here and that’s okay. people can have their own boundaries and aren’t obligated to understand my intent.

@esvrld can I get your take on an idea? I've been playing with the idea of writing a mouse-guard fic that leans into the idea of a matriarchy. does that feel like leaning into the idea of this thread to you or more reproducing the problem? I'm genuinely not sure

@secretlySamantha oh, absolutely. i've never read mouse guard, but if you'd like to describe your concept in more detail, i can certainly give my opinion. dm me; i've this conversation muted so i won't get notifications from replies in it

@esvrld Always frustrated by worlds that do well 99% of the time but then have one dude whose 20th century insecurities are played for laughs by ‘90s style “Girl Power” type characters.

@esvrld my take is that speculative fiction exists to hold a mirror to our world, but what the mirror reflects is down to the choices made by the author. Some of those choices won't be conscious but reflect the author all the more clearly for that.

@robotcarsley @esvrld speculative fiction should ask a question, then examine it. What question is asked, and what evidence the author allows, speak volumes about the author and what agenda they're pushing. My own Venleitche started out with the question, what if karma was real, and the magic of the world brought back the impact of everything you did? How do crappy people try to get away with stuff in such a world? What problems arise that still require adventurers?


You aren't wrong, but sf has also always been a vehicle for authors who envision societies quite different from modern western society.

For instance, Olaf Stapledon, Robert Heinlein, Cordwainer Smith, Frank Herbert, Joanna Russ, Ursula Leguin, Octavia Butler, Stanislaw Lem, A. E. Van Vogt, John Brunner, Phil Dick, Michael Moorecock, Phillip Jose Farmer, M. D. Cooper.

'Social Science Fiction' was one of Isaac Asimov's three 'types' of science fiction: gadget, adventure, and social.

@hhardy01 heinlein would actually be my go-to example of what i'm talking about it scifi. many of his works — 'the puppet masters' and 'starship troopers' being the most glaring ones — are straight-up fascist propaganda

@hhardy01 i'm not condemning the entire genre here, i'm saying a large portion of authors fail to explore its full potential (aided, of course, by a publishing industry determined to give the audience only more of the same, but that's outside my scope here). le guin and butler for sure would be examples of authors who do do that

@esvrld @hhardy01 I love Heinlein but he's one of my first thoughts of "impressing our own social biases into our art without questioning them" when it comes to SF. Asimov is right up along side him.

@enby @esvrld

RH is "impressing our own social biases into our art without questioning them"?

Ok but...

The allegation was that the 'basic failure of most all speculative fiction' is 'the failure to examine its societal pre-assumptions.'

How can one read 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", "Starship Troopers", "Time Enough for Love" and "Stranger in a Strange Land" and say that?

Asimov: The City and the Stars.

@enby @esvrld

Where I fault "classic" science fiction most is in the almost non-existent role of women. I am straining my brain for an ur-example of a strong female protagonist in science fiction literature...

*Jeopardy music* sf authors who handle women characters well, identify as women or trans/transitioning in the case of M. D. Cooper.

Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Cooper, Joanna Russ, Butler, Kurtz, Tiptree, Collins, Vinge, Cherryh.

I am writing my 1st sf story now hope I do better.

@esvrld what's that book with vat cloning, cannibalism and locusts

@esvrld Sorry but there are a lot of works that don't show things that way? I can't think of many examples off the top of my head (most of my scifi reading when I was a kid was clarke and asimov tbh and they do indeed have a lot of work that conforms to your statement (and also some that doesn't but again, I'd have to do a double check)) aside from Ursula LeGuin

@esvrld check out the imperial radch series by anne leckie for great deconstructions of empire, identity, personhood, culture, etc

@esvrld (i agree and wanted to shout out a good recent author doing great things in that space)

@esvrld as Stanislaw Lem put it in Solaris: “we have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors.”

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