Science fiction has always best served those not served by their current reality. Utopias proscribe alternatives to a reality increasingly hostile to many; dystopias highlight destructive elements while we still can change them; and all speculative tales offer metaphors that double as handy tools in the fight for social change. Alas, not all sci-fi advocates for social justice; some only focuses on wish fulfillment, whether it’s consequence-free sex with mega-hotties or a mastery of the fourth dimension (time). But by marshaling imagination and innovation, the best sci-fi authors grant us a better understanding of ourselves, our world, and all the selves and worlds we can be. Is it any wonder that the genre holds the greatest appeal to those of us who in one way or another are labeled “other” or “in-valid” (with a nod to the 1997 film “Gattaca)? With a bona-fide dystopia now serving as reality, it’s time to explore visions of how else we can live. Here’s a primer of five authors that make a great start.
Widely considered the gold standard of “afrofuturism,” a term coined in Mark Dery’s essay “Black to the Future” to describe art and literature envisioning new realities for members of the historical African diaspora, the late Octavia Butler created raw yet heartening universes that never denied humanity’s capacity for evil as well as adaptation. All her books blow the mind, but it’s best to start with Lilith’s Brood, a trilogy about an apocalyptic war survivor who is “rescued” by an alien race that wishes to manipulate her genetic material to create offspring. Her dilemma about whether to be “bred” or stay loyal to her species is a powerful analogy for descendants of slaves in the United States. Continue Reading →
I want to resist wherever resistance is possible, to stay alert to the idiocracy of greed and hatred building in our nation. But I don’t want to let it debilitate me, nor blind me to the beauty that flourishes all around us. On a day like today in NYC, when a cold rain poured down upon our heads and most of Manhattan was held hostage by our new oligarch, it was fine art that I found most healing. This painting by Édouard Vuillard—really, his whole body of work—fills my heart whenever I gaze at it. Olive and pine, lapis and beryl, sea moss and sky marine: these are life colors, Mother Earth colors. Good colors. Some people consider the Jewish Frenchman a mere society painter, but I see him as subverting gentile gentility by casting their machinations in colors they never could’ve imagined, let alone seen. It’s a thin line between dissociation and self-flagellation, and somedays that line is every shade of green.