Originally, I'd intended this to be kind of a fluffy week because I was concerned about messing things up horribly. (I still am, mind you, but I'm less frightened about it now.*) This community likes the thinky stuff, obviously. (I love that about y'all. A lot.) Anyway, several questions from yesterday got me thinking about a new topic. (An excellent sign, if you ask me.) And it's related to a subject I'd blithered about on my own blog a few days ago. It's also a private conversation I've had with a few other authors, and a concept that I think is worth exploring more thoroughly. Forgive me if y'all have discussed this before. (I wouldn't be shocked to hear that you had.) So, here goes. Oh, by the way, feel free to ask me questions in return. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.
Is there such thing as an off-limits topic for SF/F writers?
After considerable thought, my personal stance on this is: there isn't. HOWEVER, the author is responsible for handling the topic in a thoughtful manner. They owe this to their readers and to the sensitive topic in general. (Primarily, the people associated with the sensitive topic.) As I said before, I believe that talking about the tough stuff is SF/F's purpose in literature. Mind you, others read SF/F for different reasons and escapism is valid. The beautiful thing about our genre is that there's something for everyone--or should be. Anyway, my favorite SF/F deals with the psychological/ethical/philosophical problems humanity faces. (I suspect that this is because I read so much Ray Bradbury and Stephen King early in life.) While I like technology** I don't read SF for the gadgets.***
SF/F (the good stuff version) often deals with the concept of oppression in one form or another. There's a reason for that. It's one of humanity's biggest, most horrific problems. That's why I read non-fiction books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown as part of my research. My goal is not simply to entertain (although, that's part of it) but also to spur the reader into thinking about how one resolves this complex problem. Mind you, I don't propose an answer. That's not my job as a SF/F writer. If it were, my job title would be 'propagandist.' That's a totally different critter. My duty (as I see it) is to help the reader to come up with their own answers. The way I look at it, you all are far more intelligent than I am. I'm optimistic that you all will come up with the answer one day. Frankly, the answers are beyond my skills. I'm just here to make it okay to think about the sensitive stuff beyond the surface level and from different directions. Ultimately, I believe we're on this planet to learn how to heal, and I have no idea how one heals this kind of... evil. There isn't another word for it. It seems to me that it's human nature to take advantage of those that are deemed 'lesser.' (And that's not a good thing.) It doesn't matter the group. Looking at history, oppression is a system that is employed in consistent ways. The groups in question don't really make a difference. The steps employed are the same. Depending upon how long it goes unchecked the result is the same as well. Religion obviously isn't the answer. It gets used as an excuse to oppress every bit as often as racism and sexism. Being a member of an oppressed community doesn't make you exempt either. Righteous anger gets turned into oppression every bit as often as religion does. We've mindlessly repeated this pattern so many times it's just... awful. Maybe with communication and technology being what they are now we'll finally learn? I have my hope. But I have my doubts too. As I've learned in a university perception class -- we're hardwired to fear Other. On the other hand, I don't believe that destroying that part of us is the right answer. That instinct protects us from danger. That's the issue. Oppression is deeply connected to our need to protect.
Oppression isn't a simple problem, folks. It doesn't have a simple solution.
* That's a sure sign of doom ahead, isn't it?
** Oh, my gods, do I ever get gadget envy-not that I use all the functions of the gadgets I do own, but that's another story.
*** Although, I did watch James Bond films almost entirely for the gadgets. As a straight female, it was just about the only aspect of enjoyment available to me. Bond is a male power fantasy. For the record, there's nothing wrong with male power fantasies. And hey, Aston Martin. Mmmmm. Shiny. Oh, and thank you, GB, for The Avengers. Seriously. Yay, Dianna Rigg! She didn't just stand there and look pretty. She did stuff!