In January, both M. Harold Page and I wrote posts about politics in fantasy literature. While we came at the topic from different points, I think we narrowed in on the same conclusion. I quote from Page’s post:
Of all the genres, Fantasy must be the worst possible channel for the politically minded author. They simply can’t be heard over that clash of steel and the roar of dragons…
Really enjoyed and appreciated his post. And I do take his point – escapism is great fun and entertaining. But ultimately escape and make believe can only go so far, and at other times and places we will have other needs, other reasons to want to read. Something that touches us inside.
The reason I’m coming back to this topic, perhaps more convinced than I was before of this serious liability in fantasy, is that I’ve just read Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction. I’d mentioned the anthology in my post as something I was looking forward to reading.
Now that I have, maybe I’m having one of those stumbling-upon-a-watch-in-the-heath moments, because, for the life of me, I can’t see how fantasy could have done even a fraction of what this anthology seems to have accomplished effortlessly. A few examples will make this clear.
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Recently, a columnist in The New Yorker discussed how literary work has ceased discussing politics and has accepted the prevailing economic assumptions and political models. He noted that the political discourse that is happening in literature is happening in science fiction and went on to illustrate forward-looking political principles featured in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series.
It’s easy to think of other examples of science fiction as a vehicle for political argument, all the way back to H.G. Wells and into today with the Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin, or Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross, or too many to list. The Libertarian Futurist Society even offers the Prometheus Award annually for libertarian science fiction.
A small Canadian publisher, Bundoran Press, is starting to carve itself out a niche with its concern with science fiction as a vehicle for political discourse with an Aurora-winning anthology called Blood & Water*, about the resource wars to be fought in the 21st century, and a new one, already available for pre-order, called Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction. So, without a doubt, science fiction is actively and increasingly involved in political discussion.
So, does the same go for fantasy? On Wednesday, Black Gate columnist M. Harold Page tackled the question, with his article Why Medieval Fantasy is Not Inherently Conservative (or Inherently Anything Political).
What about more contemporary fantasy? I tried to think of some examples, but I’m not sure the zombie apocalypse can count as a legitimate part of a political argument. I asked David Hartwell, who has experience anthologizing the year’s best science fiction as well as the year’s best fantasy. He viewed fantasy as being more concerned with pastoral situations and identity politics.
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