Thursday, September 22, 2016

Why I Read Science Fiction (and a few thoughts about politics and Zika)

Many of my friends/acquaintances wonder why I read science fiction.  From my perspective it is and always has been the literature of imagination.  In this posting I'm going to pull together some  previous posts and connect them to current events:  Zika virus and current politics. In previous posts I have reviewed Mira Grant's Newsflesh series.  Yes, it has zombies--but much more.  As I talk politics with my adult children I am alarmed by the increasing skepticism they have for commercial news outlets (also our political system in general!).  The parralles between the Newsflesh series with the current political theater and Zika virus is eerie. 

I don't want to spoil anything in the books so I'm going to talk around how closely Grant predicts the future in these books.  (I can also make much of the same case with Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries books.)  What I can discuss is why I think it's important for people to read these sorts of science fiction.  First of all it helps readers think through possible future scenarios and begin to plan their own actions in similar situations. As a result of my readings I am much more able to react rationally to "crises." Because authors like Grant and Lloyd are exploring possibilities, I have a frame work upon which I can structure my thinking.  I might be a tad bit more paranoid than some, but I remain rational.    I'm not a "prepper" by any means, but I do try to think of the possibilities in the future and prepare in ways that I judge reasonable. In the case of Zika this means staying out of Florida and other areas with the virus.  If I didn't have that luxury I would make sure I had good protection (I hate DEET repellents so I'd probably go for the clothing options as much as possible).  Based on Lloyd's work, and that of many author authors, I also have some "stock piles" of food and supplies that I might need in the case of a natural disaster or system failure.  Not two years worth--but at least some.  [As I compose this I had a horrible thought.  There are lots of "storage units" going up around me.  I have been appalled that Americans have so much stuff that their two car garages and McMansions don't hold it all.  Now it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps they are stockpiling resources instead. Hmmm]

Another area that science fiction writers often explore is that of politics. One of the things bothering me in this political season is the mass acceptance of political "cover-ups" (mostly magical thinking). I'm not certain what I might consider actually doing about the political/media fantasy we have going right now.  I'm in the awkward position that I want to believe we can have a working political system.  But, the realist in me makes me think that I'm being naive.  Unfortunately in all the "futures" science fiction I have been reading, there is no great answer for this problem.  It may be that the system is going to have to get much worse before the wider public can see through the smoke and mirrors that I am perceiving.  I have been persuaded that I need to dig deeper and read more widely.  Being informed as well as I can will at least help me feel confident that I can bring some real substance to the discussions of politics when they do occur.  I find myself increasingly using references to novels to help broaden out the thinking of those around me.  One of the skills I learned during a training about how to handle conflict was to avoid "theory" and simply report my own experiences.  Hopefully referencing some fiction that others might read will serve a similar purpose.

Now, just in case I haven't persuaded you that science fiction is a good reading option let me provide some evidence that you're not going to find it poorly written and simplistic.  Here's some evidence of the quality of the writing.  From Mira Grant's website:

 "Feed is a distopian political zombie thriller set in against the backdrop of a national political campaign. It was named #76 on NPR’s Top 100 Killer Thrillers List, and was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010."  

In this year of another election, I think it's worth reading the series to have some grist for processing current events.

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