Othering in Sci-Fi and Life Imitating Art

I just finished reading a paper about children’s horror by a film historian friend.   Hers was a basic analysis of how the genre functions when the target audience is children. It’s a fascinating paper, and when the book is published (of which it will be one chapter), I’d be happy to pass the title along to anyone who is interested in learning more about the topic of children’s horror.

Because my mind is always on science fiction, and because horror is the creepy speculative fiction sibling of science fiction, of course I read this paper through my particular lens.  I was quite interested in the things Dr. Davis has to say about the way horror is often used by segments of the population who are the “Other” to help make sense of the world and their own place in it.

(I’m pretty sure to do this justice, I’d have to read Kathleen Brogan’s American Stories of Cultural Haunting: Tales of Heirs and Ethnographers, but I do try to keep my blog approachable to everyone who stumbles across it. So, I’m not going to delve into literary theory or sociology.)

The basic idea is that the story is used by one group to help them learn how to assimilate into the larger culture.  If you take the angle that science fiction culture has traditionally belonged to mostly white American men, then any group trying to come to terms with  their own places within that culture is considered the “Other“.  Dr. Davis, through the course of her paper, points out that this includes children.

I would add that in terms of the larger world of science fiction, the Other includes not only children, but also women, people of other cultures and races, and people of varying gender identities and sexual orientations.  In High School, the Other would have been the dweebs, the geeks and the outcasts.

We use fiction to help us find our place in the larger culture.

When we feel like outcasts, we seek out fiction that speaks to us.  In my experience, science fiction draws in a huge variety of fans from all sorts of backgrounds and identities. I think the reason why sci-fi appealed to geeks 20 years ago is the same reason why it is entertaining broader appeal now.   It speaks to the benefits of diversity (so many see that message in Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek: The Original Series). 

What we don’t see, however, are a huge variety of creators being given the reins to bring new science fiction to life.

In terms of Others, the writing community of comics, science fiction, and publishing at large is still very much a white, male place.

This is changing.  Just as we keep creating and publishing works with Strong female characters, we will continue to push the real world forward.   The most succinct write-up of this continued push-pull of women’s role in the industry creating science fiction is Seanan McGuire’s livejournal post about the SFWA Bulletin and the “kerfluffle” about sexism there.   Macguire’s statement that women are alien forces to be conquered is spot on. Women are the Other in sci-fi and fantasy.

Of course, for every silly book cover Jim Hines mocks for us, there’s another reddit insult about about Fake Geek Girls. But the dynamic is there. This is a front ripe for revolution.

I think women will make the first strides into the science-fiction front, but I think  Gender in Sci-Fi  as a whole bears looking at.  Not to mention race. I can count the number of non-white science fiction authors I know of on one hand, perhaps two if I extend my list into comics.  This is another point that has to change, and has to be on the cusp of changing.

Am I the only one to find it strange that a genre known for gazing far into the future is in the 1960s within its own social and hierarchical structure?

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3 thoughts on “Othering in Sci-Fi and Life Imitating Art

  1. Pingback: Sci Fi in Seattle: A Review of the Science Fiction Museum at the EMP, Seattle | The Archaeologist's Guide to the Galaxy.. by Thomas Evans

  2. Pingback: Is There Really a Difference Between US and UK Sci-fi? | An American View of British Science Fiction

  3. Pingback: The future | The "Professional" Blog of J. M. Brink

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