International aid, oppression, dystopias, Cosmos, and the future in science fiction…

Live Aid, Band Aid, USA for Africa: Did pop stars and hit songs help Ethiopia famine victims? is a very good read, which made me think of The Hunger Games. Stick with me. The article makes the startling but entirely logical point that democracies don’t suffer famines. Autocratic nations, dictatorships, suffer famine because the people have no power there; in fact, the famine is used as a tool to further control and oppress them. The Hunger Games has very effectively delineated these tools of oppression in a form that even young readers can understand. I guess that makes them more savvy than rock stars.

For related reading: How America’s leading science fiction authors are shaping your future. More on The Hunger Games and how it reflects our current societal anxieties, which helps explain its enormous popularity. Science fiction, like horror, reflects society’s fears, but unlike horror, it also reflects society’s hopes. Perhaps we do need more optimistic science fiction right now.

Have you been watching CosmosThe episode last night on the next great extinction was… unsettling.

A look ahead: Four possible futures

“It’s easy to imagine the end of the world, but we cannot imagine the end of capitalism.” – Four Futures

Why is it so difficult to see outside the box we’ve currently put ourselves in?

The author of this article imagines four possible futures based on combinations of scarcity or abundance of resources and a hierarchical or egalitarian social structure. Like all fictional utopias and dystopias, these postulations are not meant to accurately predict the future, but to point toward extreme potential end points of our current path. He draws heavily on science fiction to guide him, including the works of Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, Orson Scott Card and Star Trek.

For more fictional future takes, see my Dystopian Reading List.

Techno-optimism in science fiction…

In an interview published in yesterday’s New York Times (in the Future of Computing section), Neal Stephenson mentions his project Hieroglyph. By inspiring science fiction writers to return to their “techno-optimistic roots,” Stephenson hopes to reignite the popular imagination to “develop new technologies and implement them on a heroic scale.” Well, we certainly could use some of that. If it were up to me, I’d not only want to address the problem of climate change, but figure out how to get us off this rock once and for all. And science fiction can help us dream up possibilities. Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Mars trilogy almost makes it seem easy to colonize Mars and build a space elevator there.

Here is Neal Stephenson’s piece for the World Policy Institute, in which he describes his Hieroglyph theory: Innovation Starvation | World Policy Institute

More on Margaret Atwood and science fiction…

I like Margaret Atwood a lot, but I think this reviewer is on target in this review of her retrospective on science fiction. Atwood is still a bit too snippy about distinguishing the genres for my tastes. The reviewer also correctly identifies one distinction: While Atwood may favor a philosophy of leaving well enough alone, the science fiction author’s attitude is “let’s give it a try.” Fortunately, there’s room enough on my bookshelves for Atwood, mainstream authors who “slipstream” and good old-fashioned science fiction. And in my library, I get to decide what the labels are.

More book reviews! Science fiction by women…

I was pleased to contribute three of my book reviews to SF Mistressworks, a blog devoted to reviewing science fiction written by women and published during the 20th century.

The reviews:

I appreciate what SF Mistressworks is doing to highlight science fiction written by women, a strong interest of mine. Please check out the rest of the reviews while you’re there.

SF recommendations for newbies

On my books blog this week, I posted a list of science fiction recommendations for people who don’t read science fiction. The list includes several science fiction novels by authors not normally known for writing in the genre, following by a similar title from a more unabashedly SF writer.