Reading Science Fiction In Our New Political Reality

The way people are reacting (and/or responding) to our current political moment is all over the map. Some are taking the ostrich head in the sand approach: If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Some are happy that the end of the American experiment is closer than we ever thought possible. Some are going full-force with resisting, making sure that what is happening does not become the new default. Some are embracing the newly- burnished hate and division, their fantasies of a fourth and fifth Reich are invading our shared reality. Remember when these people used to be on the fringe? Some say this is the last gasp of a dying ideology. I’m of the mind that it is the first deep breath of a newborn. But what do I know? I’m a born pessimist.

Then there is this other contingent. Usually young, and politically nascent. They feel the enormity of the moment, but are at a loss regarding how to best address the moment, and their feelings about the times they are living in. I work with them every day, on the high school and university level.

About a week ago, I was talking to a student and we had this very brief exchange:

Student: “How do we resist? I’m so sad and lost.”

Me: Start with reading some science fiction. If you cannot imagine, you cannot resist.”

She asked me for some titles, and I gave her a few.

I’ve already written about how Gene Roddenberry is a useful frame through which to view current events. My politically progressive go to is almost always from the televised Star Trek universe. But now, I feel it is really important that we read. More so than television, your mind has to work when reading. You have to imagine the characters, their look and voice and demeanor. You have to imagine the spaces the characters occupy. You have to work to complete a picture. We could all read the same book, but come to wildly different conclusions about what it all means. And this is what makes books so absolutely amazing.

What follows is not an exhaustive list. It is my list. I see you The Hunger Games fans. Admittedly it is both male and white male heavy. These are some of the books that impacted me the most. I will not be providing you with an in-depth review because I truly want you to read these. Please add any additions (and why you think they should be added) in the comments section.


Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents (collectively known as the “Earthseed” series) are a given. We are less than a month into this new political regime and The U.S. is looking more and more like Octavia E. Butler was engaged in prophecy, not fiction creation. Ecological damage. The rise of a political demagogue who wants to erode the separation of church and state and establish a political system that is like the mutant child of a pseudo-theocracy and an autocracy. The primary villain also uses the slogan, “Make American Great Again.” The wonderful thing for me is that Butler shows us a way to resist. And like all resistance, there is a cost. Nothing Pollyanna-ish about it. Surviving and thriving in the face of terror hurts.


Steven Barnes’ Aubry Knight series. While there are few authors who craft action sequences as amazing as Barnes, there is so much more to this series. Ultimately (to me) this story is about how we respond to and recover from internal and external demons. It is also about moving from being a spectator in events, to being an informed and determined participant. It is also about how a functioning and loving family, blood or chosen, can be all the protection we need.


Along Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, The Madagascar Manifesto gave me nightmares. What happens when childhood friends have to break up due to ideology and ethnicity? What if these same friends grow up to be the enemy of the other? One becomes a Nazi commander of a Special Forces group with weaponized German shepherds. The other, a reluctant mystic. Jewish mysticism, Nazism, and the sheer horrors of the Holocaust (and the mindset of the people who support it) are like a punch to the gut. You cannot resist an enemy unless you know how they think and operate.


The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat. Because sometimes you have to be unapologetically badass. You have to know that you’re a badass and you have to make your own rules. You just might have to find the cheat codes of society, find the back door, and get yours when the powers that be are dead set against you having any piece of their pie.


The only graphic novel mention is G. Willow Wilson’s Air. If you read Air, you’ll better understand this. If you understand it, you will see its value and be able to use it to engage in resistance in the info-sphere.


Daniel José Older’s Bone Street Rumba trilogy. Sometimes you have to take the fight them. And in taking the fight to them, you have to be merciless. This is another series where the idea of non-traditional families as a source of both strength and resistance elevate the tale above mere action and spectacle. I will be reviewing the final book, “Battle Hill Bolero” in the coming days.

The power of a legend is extraordinary. Using story to affect the behaviors of others is a time worn tactic. Few things I have read have illustrated this better than Steven Perry’s The Man Who Never Missed. One man versus an empire, and the empire is terrified of this lone clandestine warrior. I will also add the prequel to this story, The 97th Step as it shows just why high-tech things like data-mapping and the ancient practice of marital arts (Sumito, the art trained in the book, is an analogue of Pencak Silat) are a near-perfect compliment.

There are more, but this list gives a well-rounded view of the differing forms resistance can take.

Be safe.

Be kind to yourself.

Be kind to others.



4 thoughts on “Reading Science Fiction In Our New Political Reality

  1. Here is a poem from Celebration of Patriotism and Courage, the official publication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project at the dedication of their statue at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Washington, DC:

    The Last Pair of Round Eyes Hey, round eyes, what’s happening? Don’t mean nothing… Hey, round eyes, where you going? To work, GI, to the OR “Oh,” they say, knowing their shot up buddies come to my place The OR doors swing open I am all set My instruments are all laid out Alices (sic.), kelleys (sic.), lap pads, but the 50s Two or three saws to cut off your crushed and splintered limbs. Protected from you by my mask Gloved…I break scrub… To come to you You’re only 18, a blue-eyed son of some proud mom I go for your hand—we clutch one another You go for my eyes “Hi round eyes” “Hi soldier—you’re OK, We got you now—you’re in good hands.” A smile or perhaps a wink from over the drapes I say hello and goodbye I’m your last stop A refuse (sic.) in hell The last thing you remember are my brown round eyes.

    Some Asian Americans believed Vietnam was a racist war. EJH, RN

  2. I love this post, and I agree that in a time where people don’t read a lot of books, the time is now to start making that a habit. In between the spaces of printed words, hope can be summoned during times of unease.

    This is an admirable list of recommendations that I’ll definitely take a more in-depth look at. As far as additions go, not to toot my own horn, but I don’t think I’ll ever get over the crazily timed release of my own sci-fi novel exactly a week after the election. If anyone reading this is every interested, then I hope you’ll find my novel, “An Absolute Mind,” a timely read.

  3. You can read Batman v Superman in the light of the new reality

    Although many identify the main political discussion of the film as the problem about whether an entity with great power, with a great force of destruction, would respect international laws – with Superman presenting itself as an allegory to the coercive power accumulated by the USA for his obvious military superiority over the armies of the rest of the world – others see the film as a critique of fascism permeated with religious symbolism. The film begins with the fight between Superman and General Zod of Krypton in Metropolis. This fight decimates a good part of the city and causes many to see Superman with great distrust. Among those present in the city during the battle was the billionaire Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego. A few months go by and Superman becomes a commonplace subject in the city, with some supporting the hero and others wanting him to leave. Meanwhile, the psychologically weakened Batman becomes increasingly obsessed by the alien. Every day that passes, despite the good intentions of Superman, Batman sees him more and more like a threat. The Dark Knight’s life is now dedicated to the hero of Krypton, in an obsession with finding ways to destroy him. This constant fixation by a supposed threat is one of the characteristics of fascism. The fascist begins to be threatened by forces that he imagines have power to destroy his values, beliefs and way of life. There is a sense of imminence, of immediacy, in relation to his personal destruction by the forces of his enemy. The fascist has the characteristic of oversizing the size of the supposed threat it faces. And the fascist do this to increase his sense of personal heroism in the face of the enemy. The fascist sees himself as a hero facing forces far beyond his own possibilities. There is a cult of heroism and heroic death by the fascist, who, according to Umberto Eco, “aspires to death, announced as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero waits impatiently for death. And his impatience, it must be stressed, can often lead others to death.” In the film, we see that Batman decides to bet everything on his personal war against the alien, which he sees as a threat. He bets his life and thinks that finally his existence dedicated to the fight will have been worth it. He wants to die as a hero by destroying the outer threat. We see, at the beginning of the movie, Batman looking at the skies where Superman was in an irritated and impotent way. Batman – a man frustrated by his fight against crime, which he saw as almost useless, since “criminals are like herbs You take one away and others are born in the place “- felt shaken by the impossibility of facing the alien. A “sense of impotence that makes good men cruel.” A man who already felt powerless for not being able to force the world to be what he wanted it to be – after all, “things only make sense if we force them to do it” – collapses upon realizing that a new, larger force still arises. A man for whom “pacifism is bad because life is a permanent war” (Umberto Eco) despaired because the enemy that made him feel inferior was an alien, a foreigner, someone who was not born in his land. The hate towards foreigners is a characteristic of the fascists. However, despite being powerful, he could be defeated because he was not a man. Superman, for Batman, was less than a man, was a thing without humanity, which deserved to be hunted like a wild animal. “The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies. When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.” Superman was powerful, but he was not human. This contradiction in the fascist’s mind between the simultaneous superiority and inferiority of the enemy is solved by the dehumanization of the adversary, which is treated as nonhuman. And how to kill a nonhuman? With indignity. Treading on his throat, crossing his chest with a hunting spear. In the movie, Lex Luthor tells us that he just spurred Batman’s rage over Superman, and he speaks the truth. He only stimulated something that was already there. It is one of the characteristics of the fascist to blindly accept only what justifies his hatred. When Alfred tries to argue with his boss about the insanity of taking his fight forward, Bruce Wayne does not listen. When Superman tries the dialogue, the same thing happens. The fascist is not interested in dialogue, is not interested in what can show him how wrong he is. He accepts only what provides reasons for his belief about the enemy. Even more so if deterrence comes from an employee like Alfred or from a foreigner considered less than a human like Superman. “A man like that, words don’t stop him. Do you know what stops him? A fist.”. You can´t argue with a fascist, this is the message of the woman whose husband was killed in prison because of Batman. Elitism is another mark of the fascist. For the fascist, the action is justified by the action itself and one does not have to think much about the enemy. He’s the enemy, he’s a threat and that’s it. End of conversation. The threat must be wiped out. In the tehather´s version some scenes involving Clark Kent have been cut, and for that reason can only be seen in the three-hour blu-ray. In these scenes, we see the Daily Planet reporter investigate Batman’s actions in poor regions of Gotham City. Superman talks to the neighborhood residents about how they see Batman. He realizes that many see him as a source of constant coercion and violence. An old man even says that it is not good to walk around the neighborhood overnight because “he is hungry and is hunting.” Hunting the “nonhumans,” the rabble, the poor. Yet even among the poor, there are those who say that Batman is right, and that he only beats bandits, only beats who deserves to be beaten. Batman, the frustrated, the psychologically weakened, the elitist aristocrat, even kill his opponents. He does not do it in cold blood, but that does not mean that he cares about the lives of those he fights. “Ur-Fascism comes from individual or social frustration” (Umberto Eco). In this way, frustration about a reality that does not suit what he desires as an ideal and unfounded fear of a threatening external enemy, make Batman increasingly psychotic and obsessive. The reality does not fit the values ​​of Batman, does not work like he wanted it to work. The contempt for different values ​​and conflict between them is another characteristic of the fascist. There are also theological issues in the film, such as Batman wanting to prove that Superman is not a God, because if so, God would exist and his parents should not have died in the alley. Superman as a kind of Jesus, violated and misunderstood in life and revered in death. The fact that the final monster is called “Doomsday” and the gods are fighting in a kind of hellfire while the human can only watch bewildered the fight.

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