As I write this, the campaign season here in the United States is drawing to a close. For most of the month this issue is live, it will all be over, and thank goodness for that. No matter what the outcome, I think the nation will be relieved to be free from the onslaught of increasingly shrill noise from all candidates, presidential and otherwise.
However, it does put me in mind of the presence of political thought and political dialog in science fiction. The history of utopian literature precedes the genre, but has, to some degree, been adopted by fantasy and science fiction as one of our own. Authors inventing far flung worlds, remote futures, galactic civilizations, or magical fantasy worlds often imagine political systems that speak to our own age. Contemporary fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction of the near future also hold up a mirror to our world.
Given this, I am surprised that we have not seen more submissions exploring the political nature of the genre.
Traditional science fiction has a left and a right, whatever those labels really mean. There are libertarians, militaristic conservatives, ecologically-aware conservationists, liberals, radicals.
Politics can be as explicit as found in Jerry Pournelle or Kim Stanley Robinson or Ken MacLeod. Some of the masterpieces of the genre, such as Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed are enormously political works (although in this case, the overt political thinking is merely the setting for an even more fascinating psychological story).
And from political discourse, science fiction utilizes every tool in the literary toolbox to examine political possibility and reality. One need only think of Stanislaw Lem using the "safe" vehicle of space adventure to explore the absurdities of life in the Soviet bloc.
Politics has been a part of the cultural history of science fiction, as well as part of the literature. In an essay written for Penguicon in 2002, Eric S. Raymond composed a Political History of SF in which he demonstrates how John W. Campbell helped shape science fiction, and how his politics influenced, either directly or by inspiring antagonistic reaction, a long history of political writing.
So, as the electoral season winds down, and we find some time to think about our world, our society, and the choices we make through the institutions of government and the exercise of law, I encourage readers, and potential contributors, to think about the presence of politics in science fiction.
In particular, I must say, that the sense of politics I get from most contributors is almost exclusively "liberal." I don't think IROSF has been around long enough to establish itself as a voice for the liberal wing of the genre community, but I very much don't want to end up that way: IROSF is now and will always be open to thoughtful works of criticism and essays no matter what the politics.
And if you are in the States? Do your civic duty.