Thursday, January 28, 2010

Philosophy: Science Fiction as Commentary

(this post started out as an introduction to my review of Camouflage... and then just kept growing, so I decided to make it its own post)

Joe Haldeman is best known for his novels Forever War and Forever Peace, neither of which I have read. From what I understand, however, Forever War was a scathing commentary on the Vietnam War, thereby doing what science fiction does best - thinly discussing a critique on a current problem that everybody else is perfectly comfortable critiquing without the disguise (that is, when it is critiquing an old issue that everyone is perfectly comfortable talking about out in the open).


I actually think that science fiction can be quite good at critiquing issues that people don't feel comfortable talking about. On the other hand it seems that, at least in modern science fiction, people do a lot of disguising of things that don't need to be disguised, just so they can pat themselves on the back for having commented on a political issue. I think now, for example, of Battlestar Galactica, which did a commentary on the Iraq War when everyone was already opposed, or District 9 which commented on apartheid (what shall we do next, make a science fiction story that is a disguised portrait of how evil the Nazis were?).

Ultimately, I don't think science fiction has to be a commentary on anything, it can tell good stories and weave important myths. But, if you're going to use it as a vehicle for veiled social commentary, at least comment on something worthy of being veiled.

Thank you.


  1. Hi, my name is Kevin Greenlee. No seriously, it is. I found you when I put up a google alert on my (our) name to see who has been saying anything about me (er, us). I was really surprised to see how much we have in common although we seem to have alot of dissimilarities as well. anyway, I am at and thought I would say hello. God Bless. and "engage".

  2. You and I have disgust this Kev: BSG lost its way at some point. My main problem with BSG is that it never got out of it's 'we're saying something here' ordeal and just kept piling on social commentary that wasn't needed. They started adding religious and spiritual extremism and then literally spent whole episodes with one hot topic of the week (remember the Balatar-torture episode. . .yeesh).

    M*A*S*H is the perfect show to use as a dramatic example of social commentary gone awry. I still love the show in its later seasons but in those later seasons, the show stopped being funny and started being comedic BUT meaningful. . .always saying something about a war that had ended LOOOOOONG ago in its time. Not too many dramas/comedies like M*A*S*h after that and I predict a death of sci-fi preaching as well. . .Caprica is already moving in the direction of more fantastical sci-fi (though weapons will probably be involved at some point) and movies like the new Star Trek are bringing back the popcorn in flicks. Avatar, even, just speaks about the environment which is better then preachy Iraq stuff.

  3. oops. . .discussed. :( not disgust!

  4. Avatar worked better than Battlestar Galactica because the message it told was mythic. It wasn't just about our particular problems, but larger ones that span human existence and touch us in places we can't always fully express in rationalist dialogue.

    While Avatar was a far from perfect story, where it did work it was because it seized on this. If you want to be significant, be mythic.

  5. Another important thing to add Kev. . .Avatar hardly ever FELT like it was preaching to you or making a comment on any particular issue. BSG blatantly says, 'LOOK AT THIS ISSUE!!!!!'