Does Every Single SciFi Story Absolutely Have to Have a Social Justice Theme?

social justiceIf you like my work, buy me a virtual cup of coffee at Ko-Fi.

Addendum: May 26, 2022 The Bounding Into Comics story Batwoman Writers Room Gets Savaged After They Claim The CW’s Batwoman Should Only Receive Positive Feedback Because Of “Strides For Representation For Queer Black Women” (yes, it’s a terribly long title) maps pretty well with the expectation in certain corners that representation and social justice completely override any responsibility to write a good story.

I asked that question in the above referenced twitter conversation. I actually expected an answer since the people involved usually interact with me, but this time… “crickets.”

The topic is addressed more specifically in the blog post The enduring appeal of the last ditch attempt.

I’m going to assume that from the perspective of the people referenced (who I like) and the progressive element reading science fiction that all SciFi MUST have a social justice element and that it is totally expected.

But why?

I can’t answer that question although I suppose others could. All I’ve ever wanted to do is write a good story. Sometimes race, gender, and so on is involved but most times, not.

Here’s another example.

Dav Pilkey famously wrote the Captain Underpants and Dog Man children’s book series. My oldest granddaughter adores “Dog Man”.

An offshoot of “Dog Man” is the Cat Kid Comic Club series. It’s about a bunch of kids who get together to learn how to write and draw comic books. They aren’t very good at it and that’s the point. The club and Pilkey goes out of their way to say that writing and drawing comics is supposed to be fun more than anything else. As an indie author who will never make money at this, that totally captured my heart.

But in the book Cat Kid Comic Club On Purpose there was another message. That some people, or at least some publishers won’t consider your work good unless you overtly include social justice themes.

Why would Dav put that in a kid’s book?

Because “the powers that be” tried to cancel him for supposedly including “harmful” racial stereotypes in one of his books.

It’s the same sort of thinking that would have made it impossible to create the film Blazing Saddles (1974) today. Mel Brooks, who created the movie, and Jerry Seinfeld have both said that political correctness has killed comedy, and I believe them.

I suppose this bit in his latest book can be considered pushback, although it was hard for me to explain to my granddaughter what he was really trying to say.

In this fictional scenario, a couple of kids submit their comic book to “Publisher Lady” with dreams of becoming rich and famous. It was a silly story about people, no matter how different they are on the outside, all being the same because (it’s a kid’s story) they all wear underwear underneath.

They get a personalized response within a few days which in real life is unheard of. Although their comic book was “humorous” and “cute,” it was rejected because:

Your intended message might be misunderstood by some readers. The idea that everyone is the same fails to take into account how people are treated differently in this world. ‘Global sameness’ fails to recognize that everybody isn’t always given the same opportunities or chances in life. Furthermore, some lines in your story (i.e. Poke your nose beneath your clothes, you’ll see we’re all the same), could be seen as making controversial statements about gender that may offend or diminish other readers.

I’m including numerous photos of the pages of the book I’m referencing since the lettering becomes almost too tiny to read as “Publisher Lady’s” narrative progresses (pun intended).

No real kids were hurt, insulted, or cancelled in the creation of this book, and this is only one small portion of the story but it has a point.

The point is that in spite of what some people believe, it’s okay for Andy Weir to write Project Hail Mary without including a social justice message and still have it be a good and worthwhile story. In fact, sometimes a story is good because it doesn’t bend over backwards to artificially include social justice content that doesn’t serve the narrative (and there’s nothing wrong with SciFi written in the 1980s…in fact in some ways, it’s better than half the dreck being pumped out and being “award winning” today).

But I decided to see just how many of my 40+ publications did include what you might consider “social justice” themes. Keep in mind, I really like writing about multi-cultural, multi-national teams, so they’re a given.

However…

Impossible Hope is the first story where I deliberately included an African-American protagonist. It’s set in the late 1930s and my hero is an older black man who is disabled, widowed, and a Christian. He ends up doing the impossible not in spite of all of that but because of it. It wasn’t social justice as such, it was just that this is who I imagined the character being. He couldn’t be anyone else. I wasn’t trying to impress a bunch of activists. All I wanted was to tell a good story.

My story “Retired” for the anthology The Toilet Zone was macabre humor and also my attempt to understand my Mom’s progressive dementia. Social justice people almost always exclude the elderly because they (we, in my case, since I’m almost 70) don’t have the same “popular” voice as other “marginalized” populations. I still consider it important to represent them, though.

“Death Visits Mexico” in this anthology is a drabble, so not many words, but does address war crimes, the Holocaust, and a sense of brutal justice. Of course Jews don’t address Shoah in the same manner as social justice pundits address other issues, so again, they don’t get the same press or the same online passion.

My short story “The Deseret War” is based loosely on actual 19th century events in a steampunk universe in this unlikely anthology It does depict the real-life horrors committed against native Americans but that was only part of the tale.

My story “The Colonists” written for Spring into SciFi 2020 was definitely and deliberately about the horrors of European colonization as seen from my Mexican-American protagonist. Of course, it had a science fiction twist, but in this case, I did have a message to deliver.

“Buried in the Sands of Time” published in Raygun Retro was based on events in the life of real-life African-American astronaut Ed Dwight. He was the first black person accepted into NASA’s manned space program but was driven out because of racism. I made him and his imaginary great-granddaughter both the first people on Mars in different realities. I even modeled her after Nichelle (Uhura from Star Trek) Nichols, who I consider the first black woman in space. It was my small way to fix a horrendous injustice.

My award-winning short story “The Three Billion Year Love” published here has a Mexican-American genius inventor as the protagonist, but that’s how I pictured him. Technically, there’s nothing about that identity that made the story any different than if he were anyone else.

“The Haunted Detective” in here does show a female private detective in late 1940s San Francisco, but I don’t really picture her as a feminist. She’s tough, she’s vulnerable, and she’s faced with the horror of almost committing murder to avenge a terrible injustice. I don’t think of it as a tale about a “marginalized” person so much as just a very human story.

“Saving the Apostle” is about Christian themes from a Jewish perspective as told here so apart from both protagonists being middle-eastern, I guess my critics would rake me over the coals for depicting Jews and Israelis positively.

“The Last Astronaut” published in Exploring Infinity is deliberately an African-American Christian astronaut/engineer who was inspired to go into the space program by real life former astronaut Mae Jemison. I don’t know why the character developed that way, he just did, and as far as I’m concerned, it fit.

Ice, my only self-published novelette, has a Korean ship captain, a Filipino first mate, and a female south sea islander as the second mate. Like I said, I like diverse teams, and given that the story is set in a semi-fantasy world thousands of years into the future, the story demanded such a group. I wasn’t telling a social justice tale though, just a human one.

The same goes for “Dollface” found in the cyberpunk anthology Surge except the issues are largely about class and monetary inequity, not race. The two female main characters do have a love affair however. It made sense given their lifestyles and how they could only trust each other.

The list is longer than I expected, so I guess I do include “social justice” themes, but only when the story requires it. That’s how I write. That’s how I think. Maybe that’s why I’ll never be a successful science fiction writer these days. I don’t lead with “what social justice theme should I write about today?”

With all due respect to the people who think and feel otherwise, no I don’t think that a story MUST have a social justice theme in order to be a good story. Plenty of good stories exist without them, or if they are included, it’s because the story requires those themes, not just because you want to make progressive “points.” If you need to write a social justice story, please, please do so with good storytelling. Too many movies, TV shows, and books think they’re mutually exclusive. They’re not.

4 thoughts on “Does Every Single SciFi Story Absolutely Have to Have a Social Justice Theme?

  1. While you noted the disapproval of those “progressives” who seem to think every sci-fi story should address themes of “social justice”, as they see it, you didn’t explicitly address (this time) the disapproval that they express if such themes are addressed in a manner that contravenes their progressive propaganda. You touched on it in passing when you mentioned your story that places Israelis in a positive light. The same could be said of characters who demonstrate traditional judeo-christian moralities, or rightist political views, or who insist that genetic sexuality really is determination. The “progressives” might accept such characters as villains, but not as heroes and role-models. No, they are cultural warriors, defenders of the faith that is inimical to all that was deemed upright in the era before they arose and seized the reins of power. Perhaps some truly avant-garde sci-fi may soon be written to depict the wheels of change overtaking them in turn to grind them back into the dust. After all, if “social justice” is a good thing, then it should be just as applicable against the injustice perpetrated by these self-appointed moralists.

    Like

    • I had a more specific focus, at least as far as using that twitter conversation as my jumping off point. Yes, you’re right, there is a flipside. One of the clearer examples of this is when Gina Carano was fired from The Mandalorian, not because she really said anything bad on twitter, but she expressed conservative opinions. The “twitteratti” used the hashtag #FireGinaCarano to effectively “cancel” her. Her crime? She disagreed with mask wearing during the COVID pandemic, believed there was fraud involved in the 2020 US Presidential election, and when “challenged” to state her personal pronouns on her twitter account, used “beep, bop, boop.” For that, she was accused of being “transphobic.” Actor Chris Pratt, who stars in two highly successful movie franchises, regularly takes heat on social media because he’s Christian. That’s it. He doesn’t have to say or do anything, just publicly state that he is a believer.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.