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Thoughts About Futuristics Poll

[poll id="102"]

I have a not very well thought out irk that I wanted to throw out there. One issue I have with futuristics, particularly ones that depict the end of our current civilization due to various reasons whether it be war, natural resource depletion (which would likely lead to war), population overcrowding (probably linked to natural resource depletion), disease, etc., is the governmental formation of these future worlds.

If they are post Earth, what is the likelihood that these governments would be democractic in any way? Wouldn’t it be more likely that future worlds formed after the demise of “earth” would actually reject the way in which the First World countries ran things (i.e., some form of democracy) due to the belief, rightly or wrongly, that the “old” form of running things led to natural resource waste, failure of population control, and so forth?

I guess this should be some form of poll question, but it seems to me that the way in which the government/ruling class of futuristic, or even paranormal or high fantasy, should be addressed in regards to why/how it is different. Lois McMaster Bujold once called the SFF genre as being a political fantasy.   Is that important to you as a reader?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Angelia Sparrow
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 15:07:06

    It depends on the story. My futuristics range from political thriller to “road-movie.”

    I like a world that holds together. One that I can poke holes in with five minutes’ thought (The Giver) is not a satisfying read. Good world-building makes me a happy reader.

    Actually, all civilizations build on what came before them. Our current republic was designed along the lines of Ancient Rome and Athens. Both of those fell.

    It’s not illogical to assume some form of democracy in some futuristic societies, anymore than it’s illogical to assume the death of communism (esp. in very small societies) or monarchy or theocracy.

  2. Jessica D
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 15:26:04

    Well, Greece and the Roman Republic fell, and we tried democracy/a republic again anyway, so it depends on how the worldbuilding is handled.

    ETA: Oops, looks like Angelia beat me to it. Basically, yes, if there’s a good reason for it, a democracy is no more or less likely than any other structure.

  3. Sparky
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 15:27:38

    Depends on the story

    I mean, if it’s a first person pov of someone like many romances are then you need to think about the character. I mean, how many people sit and think about the government? Unless they’re actually in politics it’s hard to see why the heroine would sit down and think “now I’m going to have an internal monologue on our political structure” it’s just an info dump

    Now if it’s relevent to the story – like “she’s been afraid since the coup” “the security drones watched her, as they did everyone” etc etc then sure – but even they should be hints rather than an indepth analysis – she sees a security drone, but is she going to reflect on WHY we have security drones? probably not

  4. Victoria Janssen
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 15:39:42

    I think it depends on the story. One thing I don’t like is when the worldbuilding in sf/f or paranormal romance is overdetermined at the expense of the story. If the governmental system can’t be worked tightly into the problems facing the characters, I don’t think the details are important.

    That said, I love when the details are inextricable from the plot. Such as when the conflict between the hero and heroine involves one of them being a politician and the other a rebel, or similar.

  5. Bev(BB)
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 16:04:14

    If they are post Earth, what is the likelihood that these governments would be democractic in any way? Wouldn't it be more likely that future worlds formed after the demise of “earth” would actually reject the way in which the First World countries ran things (i.e., some form of democracy) due to the belief, rightly or wrongly, that the “old” form of running things led to natural resource waste, failure of population control, and so forth?

    I think it all depends upon just how far “post-Earth” we’re talking about. I mean if you’re talking immediately, then I suspect they might wish to recreate the same system, sure. But as time passes, then, not so much. When we’re talking centuries – anything can happen and usually does in most of the futuristic romances I’ve run across. It’s more of a take your pick than always repeating the same situation.

  6. jmc
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 16:12:07

    My first, automatic answer was that I don’t care about the politics or government of a futuristic novel, unless it is an integral part of the plot. But then I started thinking about all of the SFF that I like best, and realized that the politics/government are at the core of the conflict, even though that isn’t how I would necessarily frame the surface conflict or plot of the book/movie.

    Bujold — Monarchy vs. very direct democracy vs. laissez-faire-money-rules-ocracy, with observations about the strengths and weaknesses of each.

    Whedon/Serenity — ostensible democracy that is in reality an oligarchy that seems to limit personal rights and freedoms.

    Star Wars — what is the entire series but one big civil war, moving from Republic to Empire to post-Empire new republic.

    Of course, I’ve read relatively little in science fiction, so I don’t really know whereof I speak.

  7. Jane
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 16:17:02

    As I thought about this when I wrote it up, I wondered what the point of writing a futuristic is if you aren’t envisioning a better world or using the future world to criticize the current governmental structure.

    Isn’t that the definition of wallpaper? Just dress them up in a space suit, give them a spaceship and a blaster and have them run around on different planets? Isn’t that the same thing as putting them in dresses and having them run around the ton and to country estates for parties?

  8. shenan
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 18:20:10

    <>

    I don’t get this. Why should scifi be about politics or some grand theme? What’s wrong with a lovely bit of space opera, blasters and all? What other genres concern themelves with politics? Other, of course, than political thrillers and maybe spy novels? I don’t want politics in my scifi, whether it’s straight scifi or scifi Romance. I want to read about characters, not governments. Tell me about a government, and my eyes glaze over. Boring! And I don’t care how the government affects the characters. That doesn’t make the politics any more interesting.

    So I vote yes to characters running around with blasters in hand to other planets. And a big thumbs down to politics of any kind. In any story. Scifi. Romance. Mystery. (I’ll skip the political thrillers, thanks!)

    Just give me a story about characters. Not politics or governments. Not about world building. Not about the mystery/monster/disease/paranormal whatever of the week. I can read and love an entire book that revolves around a tea party if the characters engage me. I CAN’T read even paragraphs about politics or agendas.

    shenan

  9. Angelia Sparrow
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 18:35:10

    Ah, but shenan, what happens when one of the characters is knocked unconscious and turned over the law? He’s tried while unconscious, found guilty on the word of two white men (he’s Cherokee) and sentenced to death as a sodomite without ever having committed the crime, because the white men wanted his semi.

    The politics are inextricable from the plot of my road-novel. Just as they are inextricable from real life.

    I like space-opera. I’ve written space opera and it’s fun. (It’s kinda Star Wars meets the Persian Boy, without the violence or court intrigue)

    But if I’m writing SF, good SF, I’m going to take the world-building very seriously. Because politics will always influence every aspect of people’s lives, from the clothes they wear (do we have good relations with a place that grows cotton? Do we have petrochemicals for synthetics?) to the food they eat (what can be imported?) to the way they live their lives (are they closeted or open? Fearful of neighbors or expansive?).

  10. RfP
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 20:11:46

    I wondered what the point of writing a futuristic is if you aren't envisioning a better world or using the future world to criticize the current governmental structure.

    Jane, I was taught that science fiction speculates about future or alternative versions of our own world, for the purpose of social commentary. So yes, sufficient detail for critique would be an important goal.

    I think that’s similar to the definition that Heinlein articulated in 1947. From Wikipedia:

    “[R]ealistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present” … “3. The problem itself — the “plot” — must be a human problem. 4. The human problem must be one which is created by, or indispensably affected by, the new conditions.”

    If you look at the other definitions listed on that page, most of them are very much oriented toward *explaining* the world of the novel. I like Jeff Prucher’s 2006 definition (last in the list):

    “a genre… in which the setting differs from our own world (e.g. by the invention of new technology, through contact with aliens, by having a different history, etc.), and in which the difference is based on extrapolations made from one or more changes or suppositions; hence, such a genre in which the difference is explained (explicitly or implicitly) in scientific or rational, as opposed to supernatural, terms.”

    Again, note the emphasis on explanation. Of course sci fi comes in many flavors, but these principles have heavily influenced modern genre sci fi.

    Why should scifi be about politics or some grand theme? What's wrong with a lovely bit of space opera, blasters and all? What other genres concern themelves with politics? Other, of course, than political thrillers and maybe spy novels

    Shenan, there’s nothing wrong with space opera, but it’s not the same literary form, and there’s no reason the two have to be completely separated. Politics isn’t restricted to the nightly news; some very accessible examples include:
    • Whether there’s a guaranteed right to trial or simply a warrant/bounty system (Minority Report)
    • How much privacy citizens have and whether there’s something like universal wiretap authority (JD Robb)
    • Whether governments or corporations control trade (Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace)
    • How minority populations are treated (Kit Whitfield’s Benighted/Bareback)

  11. shenan
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 22:09:30

    – A. Sparrow says: politics will always influence every aspect of people's lives, from the clothes they wear (do we have good relations with a place that grows cotton? Do we have petrochemicals for synthetics?) to the food they eat (what can be imported?) to the way they live their lives (are they closeted or open? Fearful of neighbors or expansive?).

    No offense, but I don’t care about any of that. It bogs the story down for me if an author goes into where a character’s clothes come from or what politics has to do with someone stealing someone’s truck. As far as it goes, just any old plot can bog a story down for me if the plot becomes the story. I read for characters. Even if I’m actually interested in the plot itself, I still need characters worth caring about to make the plot worth caring about. (And really, as much as I loved West Wing, I loved it for the characters. The politics in the episodes were at best a necessary evil. And frankly, I didn’t pay attention to the political details.)

    shenan

  12. shenan
    Sep 29, 2008 @ 22:24:00

    — RIP says: • Whether there's a guaranteed right to trial or simply a warrant/bounty system (Minority Report)
    • How much privacy citizens have and whether there's something like universal wiretap authority (JD Robb)
    • Whether governments or corporations control trade (Ann Aguirre's Grimspace)
    • How minority populations are treated (Kit Whitfield's Benighted/Bareback)

    Yes, but there’s a difference between tossing in tidbits (assuming that’s the case in your examples) and writing a “political fantasy.”

    If people want to use fiction to advance theories or agendas or do whatever else floats their boat, that’s fine. That’s great. More power to them. But I have never seen — in my own personal world view — SciFi in any form as a platform for reforming society or whatever other Great Notion is out there. Not interested, thanks. And that’s straight scifi. For SciFi Romances, I read for the Romance. Not the politics. Not the world building. For the characters first and the romance second. So, no, I don’t feel cheated if an author doesn’t world build government systems.

    shenan

  13. Angie
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 05:47:58

    I think the form of government is an important part of worldbuilding, and I want to see what sort of government the future setting has. I don’t think the story needs to dwell on it in excrutiating detail, nor does the external plot need to deal directly with politics and power, which is what Bujold was talking about, if the story is primarily a genre romance. But if I finish a book and have no idea what sort of government the protag was living under, that’s a fault IMO. Who or what runs things, how power and controls are set up, where the boundaries are and where they can be pushed and how the power flow impacts individuals is going to affect the characters. We don’t think about it a whole lot with the contemporary world because we’ve lived immersed in it and move through it like a fish through water; we only notice it if something goes wrong or changes radically. But although someone living in a future world probably won’t specifically notice their government either, for the same reasons, I’m not familiar with it and it should become clear to me as I watch the character interact with the setting and the other characters how things work in their world, at least in general.

    Completely ignoring politics and government and power distribution pretends that the characters live in a vacuum. Unless they’re literally stranded on a deserted planet, that’s a glitch. But it doesn’t take much to flesh out the setting and give me the impression that the characters do have a fully developed setting in which to move and act.

    Angie

  14. JulieLeto
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:57:51

    As my critique partner is Susan Kearney, I read a lot of futuristic romance. Sue always deals in some way or another with the politics of her worlds, but as her books are not always set on Earth, I don’t expect that everything she writes about is a political commentary, although she definitely has a lot of that in there. Depends on her world. I love space opera–am a HUGE Star Wars fan, but really…it’s only the prequels (cough) that dealt with real politics. The first three movies kept the politics very simple–Empire bad. Rebellion good. Senate non-existent. And those movies kicked butt. We didn’t really need to know anything more.

    So again, it goes back to what do you NEED to know. Star Trek could never have been as popular as it is now without the political side of the stories. But Star Wars did exceedingly well without it.

  15. RfP
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:14:15

    I have never seen -’ in my own personal world view -’ SciFi in any form as a platform for reforming society or whatever other Great Notion is out there.

    A platform for reform is completely different from commentary. A platform sounds more along the lines of L Ron Hubbard, which… yuck.

    As others have said above, there’s what the author knows and what the reader needs to know. When the author doesn’t know enough about how the world works, it shows, and the story’s believability suffers. When the reader knows too much, the story gets lost in the detail.

    Different kinds of detail matter too. I don’t love the CL Wilson books in part because I find them over-detailed in inane ways. In Lord of the Fading Lands I’d appreciate less attention to clothing and *more* on how the world’s politics work. Both action and character development can be interrupted by the wrong kind of detail:

    an important courtroom scene includes a lengthy description1 of Rain's clothes. It doesn't say anything new-’we know he’s handsome, wealthy, and powerful-’so rather than the fashion report, I'd like to see the legal and political interludes developed farther. These scenes are crucial to illuminate inter-kingdom politics, and to explain the villains.

  16. Victoria Janssen
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 14:51:24

    As I thought about this when I wrote it up, I wondered what the point of writing a futuristic is if you aren't envisioning a better world or using the future world to criticize the current governmental structure.

    In a regular science fiction novel, that doesn’t purport to be a romance, I would agree; but most of the people I’ve met who read futuristics don’t seem to want that, because if they did, they would go read sf. They want a romance with the sfnal trappings.

    It’s really tricky to work that much worldbuilding into a romance novel that, by definition, has to focus on the central relationship. One of the ways to do that is to use common sfnal tropes with which the reader is already familiar, so detailed explication isn’t required. I think sfnal wallpaper is a valid choice, if that’s your aim. The point is that it’s fun. I love space opera, myself; I don’t get into most futuristic romances, but that’s only because my taste leans too far towards more mainstream sf.

    However, maybe there’s room for SF with Romantic Elements? Something that is to futuristic romance as urban fantasy (in the current sense) is to paranormal romance? I’ve read books with that feel to them–Kate Elliott’s JARAN, for example, and Bujold’s Vorkosigan books are an excellent example–and would love to see that become a new trend.

    There was an article all about paranormal romance in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin (pub of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America)–I wonder if an influx of sf/f writers into romance will happen?

  17. SonomaLass
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 17:17:26

    SF or fantasy with strong romance is my favorite genre. I love good alternative world building. The masters of sci-fi and fantasy (going back to Tolkien, Asimov, Heinlein) knew that their readers would look at these alternative worlds in light of/comparison with the one we live in. How not? In an “alternate” world, I look for consistency and an interesting premise, and a plot and characters that are more meaningful because of that.

    However, Jane specifically refers to “futuristic” fiction, meaning set in a future that derives from our present. I agree that the contrast and some sense of how we got there from here, or here from there, are important. Just as there’s no point in setting a story in a historical period if you aren’t going to do something worthwhile with the differences that characterize that period, and I don’t just mean the fashions. Then the setting is, as Jane says, mere “wallpaper.” I prefer knowing that the choice of an alternate time setting is integral to the story. In futuristic fiction, that has to mean some sense of the government and social structure, how it differs from ours, and how/why it developed that way.

  18. Angie
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 22:13:22

    SonomaLass —

    However, Jane specifically refers to “futuristic” fiction, meaning set in a future that derives from our present.

    Actually, looking at how the term is used in the genre, I’ve gotten the impression that “futuristic” is just the Special Romance Term for science fiction. I usually call it “SF romance” because otherwise none of the people I talk to who aren’t genre romance fans know what the heck I mean. [wry smile]

    I agree with you, though, that if you’re going to use an exotic setting, whether it’s historical or SF or fantasy or whatever, it should be for a reason. The setting should play an integral part in the story and the characters should reflect at least some of those differences in their personalities and world views, or there’s not much point to the exercise.

    Angie

  19. Angelia Sparrow
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 07:27:47

    What Angie said.

    The setting should play an integral part in the story and the characters should reflect at least some of those differences in their personalities and world views, or there's not much point to the exercise.

    If I’m reading SF, any SF, romance or otherwise, I want to know these characters do not live in my reality and what some of the differences are.

    I don’t want the wall-paper of “cyber-dildos” that have no different function than my own. Tell me “she flipped up the synthetic flesh panel over the implant in her mons and shivered as she plugged the Midnight Rider’s neural net into her own nervous system. For the duration, she would “feel” everything through the lifelike dildo’s state-of-the-art sensors.”
    (pardon the example, I am as yet uncaffinated)

    You don’t have to blather on like a civics lesson. Just show me the hero being surprised by real food at breakfast. Or have the heroine take full sensory immersion entertainment for granted. Or have a guy never have had orange juice because there is no longer any trade with Florida or California. It’s little things like that which help build the world.

    I once started a book with a smeary, smudged religious tract.

    And that’s something else. Religion is an important part of many people’s lives. What’s it going to be like? Internet churches? (There are a few already) Paganism continuing to grow? Fundamentalism getting an even deeper hold? Islam taking over Europe? The Jews will keep on as they always have, I expect.

    Sorry, I’m a geek, and the idea gets me geeking.

    Plot getting in the way of the story…either I’m not awake enough to understand or that makes no sense.

  20. Angie
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 13:53:54

    More thoughts after a night’s sleep….

    Star Trek could never have been as popular as it is now without the political side of the stories. But Star Wars did exceedingly well without it.

    Star Wars — the original movie, with Luke the farmboy and Leia the princess involved in a rebellion against the evil empire — was ALL about politics. That was the point of the story, and without the political machinations, there wouldn’t have been a story and none of the main characters would ever have met.

    I think some of the folks who are against politics in their books are assuming that “politics in a book” always means a bunch of serious people in suits lecturing on CNN, and pages of discussion about treaty details or the minutae of laws, or whatever. That’s not the case at all.

    Star Wars is actually an excellent example of a very political story; it’s all about who has power and what they’re doing with it, and how other people are reacting to their use of power and taking action to try to change the political situation. It’s not boring and it’s not slow. You don’t get minutes-at-a-time of people lecturing the audience about the structure of the government or the details of the laws which have been changed or the rights which have been suspended. Instead you see some of the results of bad government (Vader, representing the evil Emperor, murdering random officers who displease him, and destroying an inhabited planet just to show off to the rest of the empire how super-bad his new toy is, to keep any of them from getting out of line) and what the protesters are doing about it (forming an organized rebellion, stealing the plans to the super-bad new toy and passing them on to other rebellion folks who can make use of them to destroy the thing). If you like Star Wars, even the original movie, then you like political stories.

    Kate Elliott's JARAN, for example, and Bujold's Vorkosigan books

    These are also very much political stories. (Also awesome books, BTW.) Jaran’s Tess is where she is because of politics; her brother is at the forefront of a political struggle between humanity and the ruling aliens. And once she’s on Rhui, she’s caught up in (relatively) smaller-scale political maneuverings, with Ilya working to unite all the Jaran and conquer the settled lands. And that’s not even looking at the later books. And Miles Vorkosigan’s stories are definitely political — his very existence is a political statement by his parents, who are working to drag Barrayar out of its barbaric past, and his individual adventures are all political on one scale or another — often on a very large scale.

    A story having firmly incorporated politics does not mean it’s not also a story which is very much about people. Politics is about people, about how they interact and get along and share resources. Any writer experienced enough to show instead of tell can make it plain how things work and what’s going on and whether or not anything is wrong with the current situation without subjecting the reader to a huge narrative infodump, or to pages of boring “As you know, Bob…” lectures from the characters.

    Romeo and Juliet is a political story. The whole point of it was to show how the political squabbling between their families affected those two particular people. And yet we never find out exactly what political points or beliefs separate the two families; we don’t need to know, because it’s not important to the story being told. The commentary in R&J is about political enmities in general, and the details of the particular political enmity used as an example are unimportant. It’s sort of a meta-political story. :) But again, the story wouldn’t exist without the politics.

    Angie

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