With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility

With Great Technology Comes Great Responsibility: Technology and its Representation in Science Fiction Literature

I’d like to start by exploring an idea presented by Ursula K Le Guin, found in the introduction of the Nebula award-winning novel The Left Hand Of Darkness. She discusses the genre of science fiction, stating:

“Science fiction is metaphor. What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life—science, all the sciences, and technology…”

I simply draw inspiration from this statement by Le Guin, rather than incorporating The Left Hand of Darkness into the upcoming discussion. However, I believe it is not only a wonderful way to introduce this discussion, but on a more personal note, it was a wonderful way to begin a formal study of science and speculative fiction. I’d like to focus on the idea that technology is an inspiration to works of science fiction. In developing this thought, I’ll look at two works in particular, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore with illustrations by David Lloyd and Feed by M. T. Anderson. Through this analysis as well as extrapolation to a greater picture, I hope to explain the unique relationship between science fiction and technology, as well as how it relates to modern day society.


The quote by Le Guin in her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness provides a good platform to start this adventure. Focusing on the segment of the statement referring to the “…great dominants of our contemporary life—science…and technology”, I’d like to present a brief argument that technology should not be isolated to a great dominant of only our contemporary life, but rather expanded and applied to human life over a larger range of time. Technology in a modern context is easily associated with the devices that are so common in today’s society: cell phones, laptops, cars, television, music, and so on. But it is also beneficial to take a more reminiscent paradigm, and to realize the relative magnitude of different technological innovations as they have occurred in time. For example, one of the first major innovations is considered to be the wheel. This shape is so incorporated into our society through its function that it is easy to forget that at one point, it held no functional purpose. Another interesting example is the innovation of tools. The development and use of tools in more ancient time is used to differentiate the development of different populations and at times is used to differentiate species of hominoids. Something as simple as a pointed rock or a sharpened stone used for a purpose is a great technological innovation that holds little relevance in modernity, but was a cutting edge innovation in a more ancient context. So while Ursula K. Le Guin emphasizes the importance of modern technology in its inspiration of science fiction, I believe it is important to realize the spectral nature of technology, with importance and significance within a temporal context.

Suggesting that technology is a major motivator (though by no means the only motivation) of social change and revolution may even further expand this point, and is a useful argument to briefly consider. The most obvious example of technology as a motivator of social change is the industrial revolution, sparked by the invention of the assembly line and the cotton gin. These simple innovations completely revolutionized manufacturing, creating a renaissance of sorts, in which manufacturing was completely remodeled and new inventions and innovations were frequent. These changes in technology exerted heavy influence on the social and political environment of the time. Another very obvious movement closely associated with technology was the Cold War era, in which conflict was driven by the threat of developments in the field of nuclear warfare. Concurrently, the Space Race drove massive advancements in aerodynamic engineering, with the goal of being the first to pioneer outer space. In these two examples, and in numerous more, innovation and societal evolution are closely related.


From here, it is important to examine the double-edged nature of technology. Arguments exist for both the benefits and harms of specific technologies and technological advancement as a whole. Advancements in technology have promoted growth and development in innumerable fields of science, education, and human welfare. Advancements in medical technology, pharmaceutical development, environmental engineering, agricultural sciences and even further specified fields, both within each of these overarching titles and in titles that were not named, have improved aspects of human life. But while the specifics of the argument are far outside the realm of this writing, it is important to draw attention to the counter-argument to the benefits of technology. For adults, an Information Technology Productivity Paradox is cited, saying that innovation designed to increase communication and the switch to electronic processing saw a decline in productivity rather than the expected increase. There is also the phenomenon observed more recently of younger and younger children understanding smart phones and how they work. Each of these specific instances both have arguments and counter-arguments, which speaks to the controversial nature of increased development and use of technology, which is not limited to the two examples cited above. Because of this controversial nature, technology, its uses, and its appropriateness are highly debated, creating a source of friction from which many thoughts and interpretations grow.


From this discussion, it is clear that technology is important to our modern society. Whether these developments and innovations are considered good or bad is a more controversial topic. Regardless, technological innovation is a constantly evolving field, adjusting to context while both influencing and receiving influence from social and political climate. In this niche, literature plays an important role. Literature has often been a resource to express thoughts about society and change, if any is present. Period works are interpreted within the contexts during which they were written, to help interpret purpose as well as reveal detail about societal conditions. Some of these thoughts may be represented in literature. Science fiction should be no less considered as a representation of social and political climate, despite its supernatural and otherworldly reputation. If anything, it becomes most relevant in a world trending towards technology. This is the case in Lloyd and Moore’s V for Vendetta and M. T. Anderson’s Feed, which both incorporate technology, though in different methods and magnitudes. However, both can be viewed as social commentary, to lengths that will be discussed.


To start, I will highlight the technological aspect of each novel, as well as give a brief summary of each. Feed follows Titus, a teenager in a futuristic society in which a computer implant has been installed in the majority of peoples’ brains, supplying them with a constant feed of advertisements and entertainment. In a terrorist attack while Titus and friends are spending spring break on the moon, the feed is temporarily disabled in a group of people by direct contact, of which Titus is a part. Another one of these affected people is Violet, a teenage girl that Titus meets while on the moon and is instantly smitten with. The novel follows Titus as he develops a romantic relationship with Violet, in spite of complications that arise from the terrorist’s actions. The emphasis on technology in this novel is the feed, purchased and paid for by individuals in the society and installed in close relations with brain function. The feed not only allows the constant bombardment from advertisements, but it also provides direct communication with whomever an individual desires, in spite of distance or separation, as well as an instantaneous sharable database, so that thoughts, images, memories, among other things can be shared instantly between people. V for Vendetta is a graphic novel that centers on the central feminine Evey as she encounters the anonymous character of V in a fascist London undergoing repair from global nuclear warfare. The novel reveals V’s orchestration of government overthrow, centering the action on government agency actions and the way they handle V’s attacks (both physical and technological) designed to weaken and reveal corruption. While the centrally focused theme of this novel is government relations and the role of corruption, an understated aspect is the role of Fate, a computer system that the society’s leader, Adam Susan, uses to make nearly all decisions. We later find out that it is V who programed Fate and is ultimately influencing the decision making of Susan. While both Feed and V for Vendetta incorporate technology and both are considered works of science fiction, both utilize technology in different ways to comment on society. How each does so will be discussed.


The feed in Feed is an extrapolation of our addiction to smart phones, the need for instant information, and the desire to be connected, at least electronically, at all times. In an essay about the novel, author M. T. Anderson states:

“At the time, I was worried about the cultural effect of this information buzz on how we understood ourselves—even on our own neurological development. Now I am more worried by how this media shell actually insulates us from understanding the world around us.”

It is interesting that Anderson reflects in such a manner, as he makes this statement years past publishing, yet this insulation from the world is exactly what is observed in the main character Titus. This is in stark contrast to the other main character, Violet, who pushes Titus to think about the world around him and what is going on. Titus often dismisses Violet’s comments, which frequently reference the possibility of nuclear warfare as well as numerous comments regarding current environmental conditions. This is an interesting extrapolation from modern society. For one of the first times in history, the individual can claim responsibility for the type of information they receive. By choosing whom they follow on Twitter, or becoming Facebook friends with certain people and figures, the individual chooses what information is available to them.  Even more basic than that, individuals can choose what they do and do not read, with the nature of the presentation of the information influencing if that information is pursued or not. The idea of “click bait” has unlocked the potential for advertisement of information and news, a modern phenomenon. This just further plays into the focus on advertisement that is featured in Feed.


The insulating effect that the feed has on Titus can be viewed as a comment on the role of social media in our modern society. Social media is a relatively new platform for the spread of information and opinions. With information becoming so easily accessible, the overwhelming feelings that Titus experiences at times are understandable. The sheer volume of information that is available both to Titus in his future and to the modern person is massive, and some people may experience the desire for isolation that Titus experiences, choosing to listen and observe only to the news and information that directly affects the individual. This phenomenon can be observed, especially in younger generations as they mature, and manifests itself in things like decreased voter turnout. While technology seemingly increases the amount of information available, paradoxically less and less information reaches younger minds, and seemingly even less choose to act and register opinions on this information. This behavior is mirrored by Titus in Feed, and was one of the themes that Anderson chose to focus on when incorporating modern trends into science fiction and a future dystopia.


While the feed and technological innovation is a major focus in Feed, Fate is a more background element in V for Vendetta, however its role in social commentary should go no less noticed. The societal structure presented in the post-nuclear fallout of London relies on the computer algorithm that is Fate to make decisions. Adam Susan, the leader of the society, makes no decisions without consulting Fate. The public in the novel is also well aware of Fate, as Fate is personified in the novel and leads a political propaganda campaign. It is not revealed until much later in the novel that V was responsible for the decisions presented by Fate, but until that point, Susan allows its decisions to dictate society. For example, following the initial bombing of Parliament, an attack by V to launch the action of the novel, Dascombe, who is the character responsible for broadcasting the voice of Fate (Lewis Prothero, who records as the voice of Fate to make Fate seem more human, gaining trust with the people) states:

“…Fate wants us to say it was a scheduled demolition undertaken at night to avoid traffic congestion.”

In this sequence, it is revealed to the reader that decisions regarding political and social discourse were directed by Fate. So how is this relevant to modern society? I argue that it is an extreme extrapolation of technological addiction. The most relevant example could be the use of Siri, an artificial intelligence application that is common on most iPhones. While Siri does not make explicit decisions, it does present you with all information needed to make a decision.   For example, when asked, “Where should I eat?” Siri will compile a list of all nearby restaurants, listing their distance away, address, phone number, as well as a review. Another comparable thought experiment is the film Her, in which the main character Theodore falls in love with an artificial intelligence operating system. Ironically, something similar happens in V for Vendetta as Adam Susan confesses feelings of love towards Fate. While modern society seems far from falling in love with technology, the rise in addiction is an area of concern. Addiction and love are two different ideas, and the distinction and connections between them are a topic for another writing.


As observed, technology tends towards an omnipresent force in science fiction, some arguing that it is what defines the genre. So then why does science fiction choose to focus on technology in this way? I argue that it is because it contextualizes the unimaginable in a way to which we can still relate. Often, works of science fiction focus on unfamiliar things, whether that be a computer-controlled society as is observed in V for Vendetta, an implanted computer screen as in Feed, or things like time travel, space travel, or superheroes that are seen in many examples of science fiction works. I argue that if these technologies and phenomena are presented in a manner that is too unworldly, meaning that there is nothing familiar to the reader, their impact is severely weakened. I think that in order to be an effective thought experiment, as is the aim with some (but not all) works of science fiction, there still must be a strong relatable aspect within the imagined world. This allows the reader to still relate to the world, and can therefore imagine what it would be like. If the world becomes too foreign, the reader may loose the ability to interpret its significance, as most readers bring a self-centered paradigm to a narrative.


This brings attention to another interesting interpretation to give thought to: should there be a limit to the relatable nature of the content? I say this with V for Vendetta in mind. The graphic novel was a source of inspiration to the political activist group, Anonymous. For background, Anonymous is an Internet group that opposes censorship and actively hack and perform cyber-attacks on corporations and governments that they feel are guilty of censoring information. When they do stage a physical protest, it is not uncommon for members to wear the Guy Fawkes mask that matches V’s from both the novel and the film. Technologies that were featured in Feed are also coming into reality, though Anderson admits that he did not write with the intentions of predicting the future direction of technology. An outstanding example is a new contact lens that is being released by Sony, which acts as a recording device. Now, events can be recorded as a person experiences them, and played back and shared as memories. The sharing of memories through video and audio representation was featured in Feed and can now be observed in reality. One last example of a work of science fiction that is notorious for inspiring a flood of new technologies is Star Trek, which provided inspiration for the flip phone and some Bluetooth technologies. Simply labeling Anonymous, contact lens cameras, flip phones, or Bluetooth as “good” or “bad” innovations would severely oversimplify their complexity, but the connections to science fiction literature is interesting and significant. All these examples illustrate the ways in which science fiction is both inspired by and concurrently inspires reality.


Bringing all aspects of this discussion together, a unique relationship can be observed connecting science fiction literature, technology, and the two’s further feedback into modern society. While Feed and V for Vendetta provided examples of this, innumerable examples of technology and its incorporation into science fiction literature exist. Technology and technological innovations have been a driving force of societal change throughout history, present day included. The widespread use of smart phones as well as an increased use of artificial intelligence shows some ways in which the fictional aspects of Feed and V for Vendetta can easily become reality. However, referring back to Ursula K. Le Guin’s introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness, she states:

“Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.”

The authors of at least Feed and V for Vendetta certainly drew inspiration for their fictional worlds from reality, as was discussed above. But while the authors of these novels may not admit to predicting these societal changes (in agreement with Le Guin’s statement), society nonetheless seeks inspiration from these works, as is evident in social movements such as Anonymous and Sony’s recording contact lenses. Not to say that these works are the sole inspiration for these technologies, but science fiction’s incorporation of technology allows a way to represent social and political opinions through literature, as technological innovation becomes increasingly important and more closely integrated into society. As science fiction literature and modern society continue to influence each other, opportunities for advancement, either positive or negative, arise and society continues to develop and change.


Final Post

A Review and Commentary on Religion and How it is Utilized in the Sci-fi/Fantasy Genre By: Chris Hennelly

Science Fiction and Fantasy is a large and diverse genre. The setting can be anything from a world identical to ours with the exception of one mysterious event to an entirely fictitious world filled with names and words designed to tie your tongue in knots. This genre roots itself in belief, of course crazy sentient robots are not real (yet) and neither do people disappear into thin air, but when we visit these worlds we suspend those notions and experience what the author intended, the good ones are the ones that can sound so crazy on paper and yet through characters, details, events relate to us on a deep level. There is not a single society or culture that has not developed a system of shared beliefs, no matter how ramshackle, everyone has grappled with the questions of “why are we here?,” “how did we get here?,” This leads to an interesting facet of storytelling and world building in sci-fi/fantasy, religion.

Any fictitious world created, the good ones at least, have a core of truth to them. Using religion an author is able to create a new layer that bleeds into everything from the cultures, characters, and motivations. Through the semester we have read books as well as found television shows that utilize religion especially to commentate on our own religious institutions and how they affect our society, solidify the fictitious worlds and peoples created, and finally there are works that address faith and belief head on and experiment with scenarios where that is put to the test.

Regarding usage of religion that challenges our institutions today, at the beginning of the semester we read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. This novel puts us into the backseat of Genly Ai, an explorer sent from a futuristic society based on scientific knowledge and trade advancement. He is sent to a world that has yet to recieve outside influence. Here we are introduced to a society crafted by Le Guin for the purposes of her message and story. From being genderless, to the harsh conditions that the people are accustomed too we immediately identify the different circumstances these people are under, however we also discover their religion. The two competing religions that belong to the leading country’s are the Yomeshta and the Handarrata which have a loose correlation with western and eastern ideologies. The Yomeshta seek fulfillment in light and the one path over the other lesser one, much how western religions focus more on good vs. evil. The Handarrata on the other hand take after more eastern sense of balance between two forces, both light and dark.

When put into the context of the two countries that hold these religions we see that Ogoryen (Yomeshta) seemingly strive to be good and yet as Genly Ai discovers people still languish hidden in the dark. We first see it when the town Genly is staying in is attacked and the government steps in to evacuate. Those refugees without papers are immediately stuffed into a dark room and left there. In the seemingly more advanced and transcendent Orgoryen, we discover that for all the talk of the light, they are no different from anyone else and are capable of evil, and in this case the willful ignoring of this other half has caused a society where atrocious things happen being the scenes throughout the book. On themes that have ties to religion in the book there is the idea of the one (light) and the other (dark). While the Handarrata embrace both and welcome Genly, conversely the Orgoryen pose the greatest threat to him as they fear what the other has to offer. I felt that this tied in nicely with ideas presented by the relgious similarites with our world. Many religions today that preach of a more righteous path and of love above evil find themselves susceptible to sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other version of hate for the other.

There were also novels that dealt with religious ideologies getting out of control and creating a dystopic scenarios. The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood is a good example of this. In an alternate timeline to ours now, America had been struck with some sort of virus that rendered us infertile. The resulting chaos was only tempered by a rising radical religious group who took power. The result was a world centered around the commoditization of women’s bodies, traditional values taken to extremes as doctors are hung and infertile women are put into labor camps. Atwood intended her story to be told as speculative fiction, coming up with a premise being wild and yet all it took was an extrapolation of behaviors and ideas that currently reside in our religious make up. This books message was to show a glimpse of a world where a religion had taken over completely like they did in the past and still do in some places today, as well as show how fast radicalized beliefs can warp a society.

Another dystopic scenario would be in Game of Thrones. The Seven of the Sept a religion very similar to that of Christianity, was given rights to militarize during a civil war that was tearing apart the land. While this seemed an innocuous decision at the time the resulting movement meant to keep peace turned wild as masses of poor and unsettled flocked to the religion. The displacement of peoples coupled with the unhappiness with the ruling family led to the militarize church taking over and began to ‘cleanse’ the capitol of sin, by first beating it out of its denizens. While their intent was to help save the people the radicalized nature of their efforts led to a frightening result, as the people were forced into submission.

In terms of world building the religions are often used to give us insight on the groups of peoples we come across in the story. Many times the people motivations, origins, and demeanor have correlation with the types of religious practice we are shown. A perfect example of this would be the set of religions crafted for Game of Thrones. They are some of the most detailed and well thought out, as George RR Martin tackles and entire world not just a single country or two competing religions. In the series there are dozens of religions alluded too, and quite a handful of them are heavily relevant to the story and deeply rooted in the universes mythos.

The first one the reader comes across is that of the Old Gods. This religion takes on influence from druidic cults and is very much about communion with nature and greater forces. The main continent we find the story taking place on, Westeros, has the northern half largely un-swayed from this old belief system as the series takes place much after its prime after it was largely eradicated in the southern part of the continent. This religion does not rely on a particular deity or group of them, rather it is based on things such as the woods, animals, and ancestors. It also is heavily based in ritual sacrifice and mysticism and it speaks to their steadfast sense of tradition as well as their primal nature. The parallel to this is the Seven of the Sept a much more Christian influenced religion that was forced upon the people of the south thousands of years ago, not unlike activity shown by the Roman Catholics during the crusades. These two cultures end up in civil war with one another, while there are many reasons in between that have caused this the difference in their ideologies certainly had a hand in it. In fact understanding these religions explains much of events in season 1. As Ned Stark Lord of the North and poster boy for the Old God practices, who would embrace treason, a necessary evil, in order to do what was right and save his friend from the treachery of the Lannisters. While Cersei and Jaime under the guise of faithful southerners plotted the kings murder behind his back while both practicing adultery and incest in the dark.

There is also an idea of religion clueing us in on the environment that shaped these societies. Here as well as Left Hand  share tropes of a more rugged colder environment producing people who place more stock in ancestors as well as a willingness to accept the darker parts of human nature. One could guess that due to the terrible conditions faced the peoples view of their world and one created by an god to be more gray and crueler than others believe, and a need to rely on those who came before to learn to survive. Both novels also include a counter to this in the form of a more moderate-climated culture. While they look to contain more progressive people each case shows them to be just as flawed. I feel that this lesson is important as in both cases it shows that something as simple as the weather was able to pit people against one another and create a divide that would not have been present otherwise.

Also within the Game of Thrones universe are a few minor societies who’s religions are closely tied to ways of life and how the cultures came to be established. While our character interaction with them is smaller their religion is able to flesh out their cultures and this influences our perception of the world as living and breathing. The first being the Dothraki, a nomadic people who reside in great plains. Their belief system is strictly tied to their use of horse as a means of survival, including travel and hunting. The connection between a man and his horse is seen as sacred, and influences funeral practices as they are burned on a pyre together.

It is one of the only religions that discusses an afterlife seeing it as a eternal ride through the stars with no mention of an worse fate to be had from immoral action. I found this interesting as this seems to lead to a largely amoral culture outside of loyalty to your leader (Khal) and to your own horse. The Dothraki prove themselves the most savage culture in Essos as they takes slaves, rape, and pillage all over the east. The slave culture being especially prevalent as any man without a horse is seen as less of one, and easily dissociated to the level of property.

Another note worthy of mention is that the very thing that makes them so dangerous is also the one holding them back from coming to conflict with our protagonists. The narrow sea that separates the two people is easy enough to cross by boat, however the religions reliance on horses has strongly forbidden any contact with water not drinkable by the animal (salt water), and any travel where a horse is unable.

The second minor religion to discuss would be that of the Many Faced God. This religion centers around only one idea, death. They recognize each and every god worshipped by other cultures around the world and all they see when looking at the different, grand, sometimes garish statues or altars is death in its many forms. The main followers of this religion are later found out to be centered on an guild of assassins. The guild as well as the religion grew hand in hand as a service offered to slaves who were ready to lay down and depart. Those who prayed to death would receive his gift and so on. The following eventually grew big enough to topple smaller slave colonies and the escaped slaves founded a new home in Bravos, where the guild operates out of still. Another parallel with Left Hand would be to the Hanndarata and their belief of death being the one true certainty in life, which matches nicely with “Valar Morghulis” (all men must die), a similar ideal and yet due to circumstance set upon the slaves they took an active role and their beliefs delivering the dead themselves.

Fiction allow us to examine things not possible to our world. Often the story is used to explore the unknown or unexplainable especially in Science fiction and fantasy novels. While it may be magic or mysticism like in Game of Thrones or Left Hand of Darkness, it could also simply be an occurrence that is left a mystery like in The Leftovers or Children of Men. With so many strides in science we have begun to answer many questions that we once looked to the church for guidance on. Science fiction allows for a return to a time when mysteries and miracles still surrounded us, as well as speculating what would happen if we had to confront such a mystery with all we know now.

In the Left Hand of Darkness we are on a journey with Genly Ai, a member of a very advanced community one who’s religion is more understated or in some cases eclipsed by the wealth of knowledge gathered from the galaxy. However we come to this one planet with a society far less advanced from a scientific viewpoint and yet we discover a mystery (miracle) in the form of foretelling. The very notion of actually casting out into the future for answers is seen as ludicrous to Genly Ai, however we are both swayed when witnessing the ritual firsthand. One of the messages that this scene gives us that for all our advancements we make in science there still is more unexplained to us out in the universe.

Game of Thrones also has a commentary on mysticism and belief. While currently in the timeline magic and sorcery are regarded as dead and gone at best, or in some cases complete mythical fantasy, by the people of Westeros. While each of the religious factions have rituals based in magical practice even the believers have accepted that the time for magic is passed. However as the story begins to unfold the readers realize that the people are on a brink of a resurgence. Dragons are hatching, people are being resurrected, and zombies are marching. This lull in magic sets up the public in Westeros to parallel us well in terms of being just as surprised and rocked as we would be seeing such impossibilities occur in front of them.

Finally there are other works that deal with altering the world we live in today with something unexplainable and letting things unfold. The first being The Leftovers, where in an event very similar to that of the biblical rapture occurs, and with it takes 2 million people away into thin air. The world we are presented with after isn’t terribly altered, at least not directly due to the disappearance of the people. Plagues, natural disasters, war have all taken from the population, 2 million spread our amongst the world sound almost like it could be overlooked in the grand scheme. In the show life has gone on, but everyone now has had their beliefs shaken. I found this particularly interesting because even though the Bible specifically mentions the rapture, many are drawn away from Christian, instead many find cults or simply stop believing altogether. It’s possible that truly committing to the belief could be scary to us now considering it more real than ever, and especially when subscribing to the rapture theory means banking on things only getting worse (ie the apocalypse). There also is the aspect of guilt. If God has taken who wants from the bunch what does that mean for the people who are left. It would make sense that many would abandon a church that preaches about making it into heaven even though doors were already opened and closed. This idea is represented in the show by the Preacher Matt, who tries desperately to prove that those who departed were no better than anyone else and in some cases were terrible sinners. However this still pales in comparison to the real mystery of the disappearances themselves.

The novel Children of Men by P.D. James also drops the reader into a world that has been blown of course by some event. In this situations the entire human population has lost the ability to procreate all at once. The book picks up a generation after this occurrence in leaving us in a world without children. This forces us to examine to motivations behind our religious practices. We read in the novel that many people have abandoned faith completely, many resort to suicide, and others simply are waiting out for the end. The idea of children and their involvement in religious motivation interested me. The idea of passing on something of our society to each generation as a way of living, acting, and believing but if that chain were to be broken would we continue practicing till the end. The novel also uses tons of religious imagery especially surrounding the one remaining pregnant girl who serves as hope between man and religion going forward. We see as our protagonist Faron goes from reminiscent but lacking faith to full believer after his travels with Julian, sending a message about how hope can be rekindled and religion found again.

There is an interesting parallel with Children of Men and Handmaids Tale. Both deal with a sudden infertility event and both utilize religious elements. However, I feel that their messages towards religious are counter to one another, Atwood using this speculative world to warn us of the dangers of religious belief and its ability to repress and control if allowed to run rampant. While Children of Men shows us a society that has lost all faith and hope, and takes us on a journey of regaining these virtues for the better.

In conclusion, religion is a cornerstone of our culture and life. In all of the works religion is utilized to deepen the world created and presented to the reader (or watcher). While some may integrate it with the intention of sending a message or if it simply makes for good storytelling to include that kind of depth, it is an important part of science fiction and fantasy works.

Word Count: 3029

World Building

 World Building

One of the most interesting aspects of Science-Fiction and Fantasy is the ability to construct an entirely new world. Not only must the author know the laws, rules and dynamics of this world, but they must be able to convey these thoughts effortlessly to the general audience. By comparing some science-fiction and fantasy works, it becomes clearer on how this process is successful. Game of Thrones, Left hand of Darkness and The Star Wars Universe are all successful in creating new and interesting worlds. Each of these works introduces their new world and constructs their society a little differently, but they all follow the same general process. World building can also be seen though looking at the introduction of the work, the inclusion of new and old terminology, and their overarching government and society.

In the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, by George R. R. Martin, the first book, Game of Thrones, starts off with a prologue. The book eases the reader into the world by using facts. It states that it’s cold, the group are in the Night’s Watch, and they are looking for Wildlings. The terminology of the Night’s Watch and Wildlings aren’t explained outright, but through using context clues it is easy to get a vague gist of what is going on. It also uses the terminology of Ser, lording, and knight. These are recognizable terms and imminently place the setting of the book in a different time than our own. By starting off without explaining the all rules of the world, Game of Thrones sets the precedents that the audience is going to have to work at picking up on the clues of this universe throughout the rest of the book and ongoing series.

At the start of Game of Thrones, it has to be accepted that this world is different and the audience doesn’t understand it yet. By including the dead coming back to life at the end of the first chapter, it opens up the possibility for more fantasy later. This is crucial. If it is accepted that not all the rules of the world are known, then it allows for the introduction of more outlandish happenings latter on. Things like magic and dragons in a story only work if that is a believable option for the story to include. If the story is too far out there and isn’t believable then the reader can’t connect to the book. Imminently setting the idea that there are strange occurrences happening, even in this new world, allows for a greater flexibility from our own world rules.

After the first chapter, Game of Thrones, settles into something more concrete and understandable. Bran, a young child in the Stark family, is watching his father kill one of the men we had seen in the prologue for committing treason. Not only does this act of violence set the pace for the rest of the book, but it also lets us see that not even the children are spared from experiencing it. The first chapter and prologue are really clever in their combined ability to engage the reader and prepare us for the shocking and sometimes violent events throughout the rest of the book. Without introducing us to the brutality at the very beginning, when it appears later on with more ruthlessness, there is a risk of it feeling out of place. Because the audience has to accept a lot of new rules, when the violence is placed right at the front of the book, for better or worse, they accept that too.

The “A Song of Ice and Fire” series is written so that each chapter comes from a different character’s point of view. The intentional choice to have Bran be the one to tell the first chapter helps ease the audience into the story. The chapter could have come from someone else’s point of view but it wouldn’t have been so successful. Bran is still a child. He’s still trying to figure out the world just like the reader. He is easy to connect to and his point of view, with his own mild confusion, gives us something to latch onto. He has an innocence about him in the first chapter, which is a welcome change from the killing and fear from the prologue. The relatability is comfortable and allows the reader to relax and enjoy the story as it unfolds.

In all, one of the most important parts in world building is the way the universe is first introduced. The introduction into the new world sets the standards for that world though the rest of the works to follow. Even in books with new worlds, universes, and societies, in order for them to be enjoyable, they have to be believable. One of the reasons why Game of Thrones is so successful is its ability to seem believable. As soon as the reader starts to question if something is really possible, then that bond of trust created between the reader and the book is broken. That bond must stay intact for a book to be successful and entertaining. Plot twists wouldn’t be as shocking if they seem completely random and out of place.

Just like Game of Thrones started off with something strange happening in their world, Left Hand of Darkness follows on that same path. In Left hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, the first chapter starts off with a break in the normal routine. There is a parade going on that day. The parade allows for Genly Ai to point out the important people around him and explain a little bit of the culture. People are wearing special clothes and there are unique rituals going on with the King. Left Hand of Darkness introduces us to the world by showing us the culture first.

Like in Game of Thrones, Left Hand of Darkness starts by stating facts. They are on Winter. They are in Karhide. There is a parade. While people wouldn’t know what the world of Winter is like, they can at least assume from the name that it’s cold. The same goes for the parade. People understand what a parade is, even though there is a lot of unknown terminology thrown in while it’s described. Mixing new and old terminology is quiet helpful when trying to picture a new place. The new terminology tells that this world is different and it’s important to pay attention to the words so that they can be fully understood. The old terminology helps guide the reader and fill in any gaps while they try to stumble through the introduction.

Later on in the book there is a lot of new terminology used. Things like Kemmer, Kemmering and Foresight are all new and different terms. Even the times, days and mouths are different so getting used to how time moves from scene to scene can be difficult. Like Game of Thrones, there are different customs and cultures that need to be learned. Unlike Game of Thrones, which has a lot of ideas based off of our own society and humanity, Left Hand of Darkness incudes a society that is completely different than our own. Even the people are a different species and an entire chapter is dedicated to explain how they reproduce. Sometimes in order to help explain, Genly Ai will give his ideas own opinions about the new term or do a brief explanation. At other points the term in just repeated until it is understood though context clues.

If a person gets too confused, then the book will lose them. It is part of the trust established at the beginning of each book. There is an unspoken rule that even if the beginning is confusing, later on the book with explain and story and place will make sense. A story in which the reader is in a constant state of confusion isn’t satisfying. Once the reader gets lost it is really difficult to get them back on track and re-enthralled in the book. In order to help negate the possible confusion, many of the new words are capitalized or italicized. By pointing out the words, Left Hand of Darkness makes it easier to know which words need a little more attention.

It’s also important to point out how quickly Genly Ai calls himself out as being a little bit of an outcast. A page 8 Genly says that he is notably different in height than the rest of the crowd and that many people are taking notice. He is different than the norm and that allows for the audience to latch onto him. Genly doesn’t fit into this culture. He is seeing it from the outside and is trying to understand it. He sees everything that is going on, but doesn’t fully comprehend it, just like the reader. His confusion on the idiosyncrasies in the culture and habits of those on Winter can seem understandable and match our own. All of these aspects allow him to be relatable. Even if later on he loses some of that relatability or isn’t as likable near the end, in the beginning at least he helps explain the world and ease us into the story.

Just like the second chapter of Game of Thrones, the second chapter of Left Hand of Darkness pulls back from the intricacy of the universe and simplifies it down. The second chapter is a short story about two brothers. It is quite easy to follow and is similar to a moral fable heard in children’s stories. The story itself is said to have come from a collection of tales. The short chapter gives a break from the all the complexity of the previous chapter. It allows the reader to relax a little and settle into the book. The short tale is written almost as if it were to be told to a child. Again there is the presence of something childlike to explain the world in the second chapter of a world building book. While it sounds like it could almost be familiar, the story is also very different from any occurrence in our own society. The story expands the world and culture by highlighting the differences between our world and theirs.

Creating such a different world from our own is very difficult. There are lots of risks which can jeopardize the overall story. Too much world building and the main story and point of the book is lost. Too little world building and the reader is left in a state of confusion. The amount of new and old terminology can also be tricky to navigate. While Left Hand of Darkness may falter some in keeping up an engaging story and plot all the way through, the world building is really well done. There is a lot of terminology, but that is mostly explained throughout the book. An interesting part of the book is the fact that there are two distinct countries. Not only did Ursula K. Le Guin world build a whole planet but she created two uniquely different countries within it. Because they are both on the same planet of Winter, both counties have to deal with the same natural elements, climate, and geography. However, the way that both countries operate and even evolved both before and during the book is very different. It’s quite fascinating to read and see the world emerge from the page.

The Star Wars universe is even more interesting and complex. Each book and movie throughout the universe has to be able to function as a standalone work. Meaning each book has to individually world build while keeping to the same rules that all the other works have already set. What is most interesting is the need to world build and universe build at the same time. There are so many different worlds and cultures in Star Wars, but the entirety of the universe also has its own encompassing culture. Not only that but each book and some of the movies are made and written by completely different people. These writers have to world build someone else’s universe and they have to stay consistent. They can’t just make up information that would be useful to their story. It’s a combined collaborative process.

World building has to spread across all of the mediums of Star Wars, be it the movies, books, or video games. Theoretically a person could pick up any book, movie, or video game and use that as their first introduction to the Star Wars universe. In the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, there is an order. The later books don’t focus on the world building in the begging, because that had already been done in the previous books. The books won’t make since if you read them out of order. In the Star Wars universe they will.

The seven movies do world building by including their now iconic word scrawl at the beginning of each movie. The scrawl sets out the needed backstory, gives the overall mission for the movie, and tells whom is fighting whom. Similarly to Left Hand of Darkness, the scrawl in the beginning capitalizes the most important words so that they are easy to pick up on and the audience knows what is important. They allow each movie to work as a standalone movie. The scrawl is also written down and used in the novelizations, capitalized words and all.

Each Star Wars movie starts out with two characters doing some task. In Star Wars Episode III, Anakin and Obi-Wan were fighting a space battle. In Star Wars Episode VI, C-3PO and R2D2 were walking to Jabba’s Palace. The tasks are usually simple or easy to understand. This follows with the simple fact beginnings of Game of Thrones and Left Hand of Darkness. The movies also introduce a lot of the advanced weaponry and technology in the beginning shorts. This can be seen by the shadow of a star-destroyer on a planet, holograms, and even walking talking robots. By establishing in the first shots, usually before any dialogue, the audience accepts the advancement. Because of that, later on in the movies light speed, intergalactic tracking devices, and even the Death Star seem like realistic possibilities in the universe.

The Star Wars books are also very interesting in the way that they develop the world in which they are set. Each book world builds a little differently, because they are all written by different authors. The novelization of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster, changes viewpoints throughout the middle of each of the chapters. The very first part of the book starts out with Leia’s point of view. One of the first things the book does, just like Game of Thrones and Left Hand of Darkness, is list facts. Leia’s brother is missing. She wants to find him. She sends a pilot named Poe. These facts are given via short sentences with very clear wants and needs. A person doesn’t need to know any previous Star Wars facts in order to understand and follow along with the plot laid out in the first three pages of this book. Basically find Luke.

It is especially easy to relax into reading The Force Awakens. The diction is simple in the beginning, making the overall story flow and better to understand. When unknown terminology appears, the easy diction with comprehensible situations and context clues fills in the missing gaps. It presents the world by combining new and old situations. A group of people are eating diner before a battle, only they are in space traveling at light speed. Later on, the book starts talking about the Force, family problems and some political background of the First Order and Resistance. As it starts to get more complicated, The Force Awakens falls back into more understood concepts.

The first time Stormtroopers are brought up, they are shown to be relatable to Army buddies. If a person doesn’t understand what a Stormtrooper is, they pick up from context clues that they are soldiers. The Stormtroopers are laughing and telling jokes until a Commanding Officer walks in and they get serious again. This shows First Order culture and their society quite quickly. It establishes them as people and individuals with personalities. It shows them having fun. When Finn breaks out of the faceless mindless mold, it seems believable because the first time we saw Stormtroopers, it was established that they weren’t all the same. They had their own thoughts and feelings.

Each of these works is similar in how they open up the stories to describe their respective universes. They all start off stating simple facts. These facts allow the reader to understand some of the main ideas of what is going on in the story or place. It gives them something to hold onto as the world is being built. The works also set the pace for the rest of the books. Game of Thrones has violence right off the bat while Left Hand of Darkness is more political. The first few minutes or pages throws in a lot of new terminology, advancements in society, or magic. As the reader is adjusting to the new world, they accept those changes as well. Then, the second chapter is like a cool down. The works ease up on the terminology to allow the previous information to digest. Usually they also include themes or tropes which are familiar to people of our world. The diction is easier and there is a child-like aspect. There is more of a relaxed feeling which allows for the reader to settle into the book. Game of Thrones, Left Hand of Darkness, and The Star Wars universe follow this pattern and are all really effective in world building. The beginning chapters in a book are some of the most important for world building. Through the terminology and the descriptions of the society and culture, the works separate themselves from our own world and start to build a new one.



Works cited


Foster, Alan Dean. Star Wars : the Force Awakens. First ed. New York: Del Rey, 2015. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace trade pbk. ed. New York: Ace Books, 2000. Print.

Martin, George R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 1996. Print.

Final Paper

“We Have Nothing Else to Give”: Struggle for Human Identity within Posthuman Forms in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Never Let Me Go


How do you see yourself? What defines you as a person? Why are you human? Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go all examine the loss of the modern human identity that we face through the idea of “human” versus “other”, though the “other” is vastly different in each novel. Each novel then examines how to deal with the integration of the human self and the “other” into a posthuman form through the universality of things like death and especially empathy.

First, it is necessary to note that these novels take place in some alternate or future reality. All of these universes represent some sort of version of humanity that someone thought was possible, given that science fiction is all about the possible, the provable. It is likely that humanity will one day settle the galaxy, experiment with our own DNA code, create android versions of ourselves, or clone ourselves. All of these ideas are meditations on fears and hopes of how humanity will change in the future. We are endlessly obsessed with the idea of the self, our identity, and what it means to be human.

Also, before proceeding with the argument and look at the vast array of forms of “humanity”, it is important to define our modern idea of human identity: how do we see ourselves now? What makes a human a human? If aliens, androids, and clones are not human, why not? Le Guin’s aliens, Dick’s androids, and Ishiguro’s clones do not look all that different from us. They do not think all that differently. Perhaps there is some difference in culture for the Gethanians, but they want peace and love for their world all the same. The replicants just want to live out their remaining years on Earth, out of slavery and servitude. Kathy and Tommy want even less: a few years to themselves. Being born into a different culture or into slavery does not make you less human: we have centuries of human war right here on earth to prove that.

The only thing that most of us know for sure is that we, as individuals, are human. And then there are people around us, who are presumably human, and others, father out, who may or may not be. Maybe you do not consider certain people or groups of people fully human, if they lack some quality you yourself possess. For example, someone might not view Hilter as fully human; there is an argument to whether fetuses are human; there is an argument to whether someone in a permanent coma is still human. And then there are things that are, for most people, definitely not human: computers, frogs, trees, etc. In order to define ourselves as “human”, we need a whole slew of “others” who are differing degrees of “not-human”.

So, within Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Rick Deckard is (ostensibly) the human, while the replicants are the “others”. Rick Deckard is a cop in a post-apocalyptic world. After World War Terminus, most of the animals have become extinct, the entire political system of the world has fallen apart, and any humans that are allowed to have emigrated off-planet. Those who remain deal with the aftermath of a nuclear war, an abandoned and dying planet, and their own personal health defects.

Animals are set up within the book to be reminders of human empathy, proof that humans can still care for another, more vulnerable, living being in such a world. People who cannot afford or take care of real animals are seen as “lesser” within society. They are not fully human, and therefore shunned to a certain corner of society. Many people make do by buying fake animals, made to look as real as possible, and therefore mimicking the idea of human empathy. In accordance with this idea, androids are merely mimicries of “true” humans, who cannot show empathy.

Rick Deckard has his humanity questioned by the narrative from the beginning. His animal, a sheep, has died, and he has been forced to purchase a fake sheep. He spends significant amounts of time caring for this fake sheep in an effort to keep up appearances. But he apparently metaphorically lacks some piece of empathy; this is made apparent by his depressing relationship with his wife.

Deckard’s job is to “retire” (or hunt down and kill) replicants who have gone rouge. He receives a large assignment at the beginning of the story, and works on completing it throughout the novel. Since humans and replicants are so similar, he uses a test called the Voigt-Kampff to try to separate the two. This test measures empathy, based on the testee’s reaction to various hypothetical scenarios where animals are harmed or killed. Since replicants are assumed to be unable to feel empathy, this sets them up below humans on the scale that has been constructed. Replicants and animals both find their place on a scale that measures human empathy.

As Deckard sorts out the replicants and retires them, he becomes progressively more dehumanized as the book progresses. He’s a sort of killing machine. The replicants, on the other hand, gain human qualities. The reader, as well as Deckard himself, begins to empathize with the replicants. He questions the identity of his partner, Phil Resch, who can kill heartlessly, even after sleeping with Rachel. The issue comes to a head when he must question what he is doing, and whether there is a difference between human and replicant.

The narrative casts doubt on the Voigt-Kampff test, which is not entirely accurate in the first place. Many modern day people would probably fail it, as we do not tend to think twice about squishing a bug or a leather wallet. Within the book, Rachel tries to fool it, and though she does not, the idea that a low-empathy human could be mistaken for a replicant is not farfetched. Deckard himself takes it, but the results are not reassuring to anyone.

Later, after killing a certain amount of replicants, Deckard is able to afford another real animal: a goat. This serves as a reaffirmation of his humanity, and a sort of completion of his quest. No matter how much he empathized with the replicants, he is able to restore his alignment with humanity: he has an animal, and he has killed the “other”. Additionally, the animal is a goat, which is a good bit more independent and individualistic than a sheep (and perhaps, therefore, more human).

But alas, this peace is not meant to last: Rachel, the replicant created to believe she was not a replicant, kills Deckard’s goat. Rachel has been Deckard’s foil for most of the book, and they have an intimate connection shared by few characters. She is forcing him to acknowledge their shared characteristics, and his own false humanity.

In the same way Rachel mirrors Deckard, J.R. Isidore is set up as an interesting character in contrast to Deckard. He allows himself to feel empathy for the “human” and the “other”, the “real” and the “fake” right off the bat. He feels empathy when the fake cat dies, as well as when the actual spider is tortured. He feels empathy for the human race, as well as the replicants that eventually come to stay with him.

Fortunately for J.R., this means he never has to forcibly reconcile a split world view, as Deckard does. J.R. is one of the only characters we know to be truly human. His humanity is never called into question, but rather reinforced by his degenerative condition. Only a human would be effected by the environment in such a way. This reinforces the idea that the one defining characteristic needed for humanity is empathy. J.R. is the most empathic character, carrying an almost childlike innocence with it.

Deckard’s partner, Phil Resch, is almost the exact opposite of J.R. He feels no empathy for the replicants, and believes strongly in keeping the division between human and other intact. The narrative brings into question Resch’s humanity because of this. Even though he is proven to be human later, it is certainly a mystery for a large part of the novel. This helps build the idea the without empathy, it is hard to be truly human.

In Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Genly Ai is our human narrator, with the Gethenians representing the “others”. Genly Ai is a Terran, and assumed to be part of the main race of the universe, which matches our version of humanity. The Gethens seem to be aliens, an ancient split or genetic experiment from our version of humanity. They have a different culture, and a different base anatomy, with no defined concept of gender.

Genly Ai is dropped into the world of Gethen and expected to learn the culture well enough to navigate the world and integrate the people into the Ekumen, the larger collective of humans and humanity in the galaxy, dedicated to preserving human communications and values. However, the people of Gethen and their culture proves to be extremely elusive and hard for Genly to understand.

Estraven, Prime Minister of Karhide, serves as Genly’s main foil, the main “other”, and the main representation of Gethenainan culture. Genly and Estraven do not seem to be able to communicate early in the book. Estraven’s culture and the concept of shifgrethor do not make sense to Genly. When Estraven thinks he is being obvious, Genly thinks he is being vague and evasive. About halfway through the story, Estraven realizes what has been happening. Similarly to the way Rachel must forcefully pull Deckard into his identity, Estraven has to go and rescue Genly from the prison and drag him across the ice in order for Genly to finally understand their shared humanity. The whole time, Estraven is the character who seems to have an erie awareness of what is actually going on. He understands the “fear of the other” that drives not only the countries of his world apart, but also himself and Genly Ai.

Similarly to Do Androids Dream?, in Left Hand, empathy becomes the defining factor to being “human”.

It is a terrible thing, this kindness that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because when we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. We who are so rich, so full of strength, we end up with that small change. We have nothing else to give. (Le Guin 89)

Eventually, sharing love with Estraven allows Genly Ai to empathize with him and understand his humanity. On the ice, they are cut off from their respective societies and rules, stripped down to the bare bone, without the otherness of class and culture distracting them.

Having become “human” in the eyes of the readers, Estraven’s eventual death is all the more impactful. It reminds us of our own mortality. His death is a final act of empathy, a sacrifice of himself for a person (Genly) and a people (mankind, as he says) he cares deeply for.

Similarly, Rachel and possibly, Deckard, have less than four more years until their imminent death (as all replicants have a limited lifespan). J.R., the character with the most empathy, is on a fast track to the grave because of his condition. It seems the discovery of shared empathy and therefore, shared humanity is meant to remind us of our own humanity and therefore mortality. The two characters that become “human”, Deckard and Estraven, also become closer to death.

And death is perhaps the ultimate shared human experience, which reinforces how similar the “human” and the “other” are. In the end, we are all just lying in the ground. No matter our modern definition, it seems humanity only requires one key thing: the ability to empathize with those around you and understand we are all headed for the same place.

When humans can empathize fully, and can impose their identity on others or overlay other’s identity upon themselves, the fundamentally idea of a human can change, and become “posthuman”, rather than “fake”, or “artificial”. At that point, things like body construction, gender, birth circumstances, class, whatever, don’t matter anymore. And that’s the ultimate goal for humanity: to reach some post-human point where these things do not make a difference, where our empathy is not regulated to those lines.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go presents a slightly different situation: we do not have a main character entrenched as “human”. Kathy and her classmates are “others”, while the outside world makes up the “human” aspect of the world. This is not a story about the human trying to integrate the other, but the other looking in to a more privileged world. It’s a different side to the same story.

The “others” in Never Let Me Go are the donors. They are basically clones, created and raised to give organs to the humans of society. After their education at Hailsham, they serve as carers for a while, before they must begin the donating process.

As in Do Androids Dream?, this puts an interesting class dynamic spin on the issue. There is the implication that certain people, who are born naturally, are more “human” and therefore more deserving of life than the clones are. Both the replicants and the donors seem to be sub-par citizens, on par with slaves. This is often the way humans today see “others”, whether they be other races of people, or other classes of people, or other cultures of people (as in Left Hand) or people with different views, or whatever. Whether because of class or culture dynamics, “others” are less than.

Similarly to Deckard, Kathy gradually realizes she is not human. However, she takes this much better than he does. Her capacity for empathy has already been proven to her through her artwork and the gallery. It is never a huge source of contention for her.

Following this conclusion, Never Let Me Go is the only work in which the idea of the “human” and the “other” does not merge. In both other works, the idea of empathy for the “other” must be reconciled with the main character’s humanity. The “other” must be pulled into their definition of humanity in order for them to make peace. Deckard has to accept that he might be a replicant, that his electric toad might be the closest he gets to the empathy represented by other’s real animals. He decides to use the Penfield mood organ box and sets it to the feeling of long deserved peace. Even if the Penfield mood organ is programming people like androids, he is receiving the feeling. “Fake” or not, it serves to resolve the narrative, reassuring the audience that the authenticity of Deckard, his toad, and his feelings are not necessarily what makes him human. His empathy has already crossed that bridge.

Genly Ai has to learn to see the differences within Estraven and accept them. He learns to appreciate the things that make Estraven different. Without this unity, the two of them couldn’t have made it across the ice. That entire journey is about the joining of opposites in relation to Estraven and Genly: the light and the dark, the shadow and the snow, the male and the female, the human and the other:

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way. (Le Guin 115)

This final connection of the two characters cements the narrative of Left Hand the same way Do Androids Dream? was cemented by Deckard’s final peace from the Penfield mood organ.

However, Kathy never fully accepts herself as human. Even in her quest to gain some time with Tommy, she still sees the two of them as “others”, meant for a different fate than the rest of the world.

However, I still think that the idea of death as a unifying factor applies here. Even if Kathy does not get to integrate herself into humanity in life, she and Tommy are both going to die having proved their empathy. Hailsham gave them that freedom. So even if she never considers herself human, the readers certainly will, and that gives Kathy that same posthuman transcendence Deckard and Genly/Estraven receive.

Ishiguro framed the narrative in such a way as to introduce them first as human, and later as others. The readers learn with the students that they are others, but do not accept it. In this way, the readers can reconcile the human and other in a way Kathy could not. It may even make the metaphor more powerful for the readers, forcing them to think about the disjointedness between the two the need for such a connection in modern day life, especially in reference to the aforementioned class, race, birth circumstances, etc. This can be applied to modern day society: we should stop putting people in separate, other boxes, and start to see everyone as human.

Perhaps we are headed towards a future where humanity becomes less “human”. Perhaps we will slowly merge with our technology, through cybernetic implants or artificial insemination and “test-tube babies”. Maybe one day we will be only technology, or only clones of each other or of past humans. Perhaps we will drift closer to androgyny. As transgender and non-binary gender issues gain public spotlights, and become more accepted, the idea of a “normal” human might change. The idea that the core of our base identity today will change so drastically is scary. But as long as we keep our empathy alive, our kindness for each other, it does not matter how much the rest of the package changes; our humanity will live on. Our ability to see ourselves as others and reconcile those two images will allow us to continue to evolve, however that might look.


Works Cited

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: DoubleDay, 1968. Print.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Print.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace, 1969. Print.

Final Essay

Lauryn McMiller

Professor Sarah Boyd

ENGL 146

24 April 2016


The Defining of Humanity and Drawing the Line Between Soundness and Insanity in Speculative and Dystopian Media


During the course of this class, we have read a number of novels and viewed several other forms of media to give us a deeper look into dystopian and speculative fiction. From these works we have been able to come up with multiple conclusions about what this elusive genre really is and what it is looking to expose. It is a very difficult genre to define because it crosses over so many categories. It is flexible to the point where it has varying styles, and therefore there are debates as to what works really comprise the genre and which one’s just have a few elements from it. The works that we have gone over in class that I believe best illustrate the purpose of this genre all focus on defining humanity and seeking to find the line that separates us from insanity. Speculative fiction focuses on finding the variables in life find that really make us tick. Being as dignified as we are as a human race, what are those things that cause us to lose our humanity? How far can we stretch the mind before it snaps? Each author or director of this genre contributes a work that seems to test a different aspect to see whether it’s presence, or more commonly its absence, is the thing that can redefine humanity, or drive it crazy. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and the shows Black Mirror and The Leftovers are each prime examples of the argument that speculative and dystopian literature attempt to make. The goal of speculative fiction is to expose the variables that we attribute to humanity and define the things that keep us sane by isolating each element on its own in an altered society.

The approach that speculative fiction takes is quite unique and I will use the analogy of a scientific experiment to explain it. In an experiment, there is an independent variable, a dependent variable, a control group and an experimental group. The purpose of the experiment is to test specific elements or aspects to determine whether or not they affect the outcome of the experiment. In other words are these things vital. Once an element is isolated through testing, one can either deem it necessary or unnecessary for set purpose. The independent variable is the aspect that is being altered or changed. In speculative fiction, it is the thing that the author sets as out of the ordinary that the main characters must deal with, whether it be a single factor or a whole societal change; for example, gender and sexuality in The Left Hand of Darkness. The dependent variable is what is being measured or gauged. In speculative fiction it is the gauge on how much the situation has taken a toll on the society and subsequently the main characters. The control group is the set that is left unchanged for the purpose of measuring them against the experimental group. Within speculative fiction it is the group that has somehow managed to remain unaffected or resistant to the independent variable. The experimental group is just the opposite and is the group that has been affected or altered based upon the independent variable. I decided to use this analogy because the purpose of a scientific experiment and speculative literature and media is quite often the same; isolate the variable that affects the whole.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin is our first stop in revealing the goal of speculative fiction. Keeping with the experiment analogy, the independent variable is gender and sexuality as we currently know it. In this society, there is no permanent or set gender. Anyone from Gethen could be in either a male or female form and function adequately in both. The reader’s preconceived notions about male and female behaviors are challenged while reading this novel. We saw this world through the eyes of Genly Ai, an earthling whose gender and sexual views align with the readers. Throughout the book, Genly’s views are not altered, he feels the same way about the race of Gethenians in the beginning as he does in the end. He is the control group while the Gethenians are the experimental group. He is adverse to their way of living and cannot seem to conform to their ideas, even though he has been living on this planet form over two years. “Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes (Le Guin, 38)”. This leads us to our dependent variable, we are measuring whether or not it is our sexuality, or moreover our identity that keeps us going. Le Guin examines and asks us to examine whether or not it is our sense of self, the way that we define ourselves that is our foundation and what keeps our minds at ease. When we no longer have those things, do we fall apart? Genly certainly cannot get the hang of it and it causes him to be repressed and closed off and unable to truly connect with anyone on the planet. He has shut his mind because he is unable to handle being a part of this world. According to Le Guin, it is our identity, our knowledge of who we are and confidence in our sexuality that gives us our sanity and acts as our foundation for humanity.

Our next stop is the 2014 TV series The Leftovers. Of the examples I will be discussing, this is the one the most closely aligns with the experiment analogy. First off we have a percentage of the population that has mysteriously vanished, leaving no answers or clues as to what might have happened to them fro the remaining population. 140 million people have disappeared without a trace and the residents that were left on earth are of course completely baffled and people are coping in different ways, some more violently than others. The independent variable here is the sudden departure of the select residents leaving the “leftovers” or the experimental group on earth. The dependent variable is the reactions of the leftovers. We are observing and measuring the way that they are dealing with their loss. Looking to see who and what they blame and what they turn to. Will anyone figure out the answers or can they just move on with their lives? Lastly, the control group is the subtracted residents as they are not being altered or affected by the independent variable.

From the pilot episode alone we can see that things are not as they should be and the people remaining in this society are beginning to fall apart. There is a division among the leftovers, a group that would like to honor those taken away and move on with their lives while trying to forget about the past. The opposing group is one that wishes for everyone to remember what has happened and to keep it with them as they feel this is the best way to honor the taken. There is also opposition within families. Our main character’s, Kevin Garvey, family is falling apart with a marital separation and disobedient and distant children, everyone seems at odds with one another even though no one is truly to blame for this occurrence. Instead of banding together in a time like this, everyone seems to travel down their own confused path because their minds cannot take it. They are breaking and beginning to pass the thin line over to the side of insanity. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that they want answers. Yes people were taken away but why, and how, and why those people (Gary Busey, but not us?!). The religious and biblical explanations such as the rapture are not taken seriously because the group that was taken away was not considered especially holy. This leaves the residents unsettled and on edge, and is the ultimate cause of their inappropriate behavior. The director of the dystopian show, Peter Berg, is making an argument in speculative fiction. His argument is that it is our need for consistency and knowledge that makes us tick. He exposes this by showing us the behavior of the leftovers and reveals that the ultimate cause for this behavior is not knowing what happened to the people who were taken. Without the comfort of knowing what is going on, we as humans are unable to take control of the situation and therefore helpless. These characters are a wreck and they are creating enemies out of their own brothers. Berg argues that our quest for knowledge and need for knowing what is happening in the world is the thing that defines our humanity and keeps us from losing it.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel, Never let Me Go, is the next piece in which my thesis is tested. In this novel, there are a group of clones whose only purpose is to serve as donors for the human population. They grow up in schools from young ages and go through a lesser quality of life until it is time for them to become “carers” and eventually donors. During their time as carers, they tend to the needs of their donor patients until it is their time to take that place. Once the are donors, the give up their organs one by one and eventually “complete” and end up donating all of their vital organs. In this case, our independent variable is the creating of this “experiment” which are the cloned donors that humans have created. The dependent variable is the reaction of humans, those who interact with the donors, but are not they themselves giving anything up. The control group is a little harder to define here but is ultimately the group of clones as they are being added, not changed and they have nothing to do with our measurements (dependent variables). This leaves the humans as the experimental group as they are the ones being affected by the independent variable.

We can see the reactions of the normal people towards the clones through both the guardians and Madame. In the beginning of the book, we do not know very much at all about the mysterious Madame and most of the clones think she is just evil. Their first personal encounter with her does not go so well as she “she just froze and waited for us to pass by. She didn’t shriek, or even let out a gasp”( Ishiguro, 30). We come to find out later that she actually treats the clones in a frigid way because she knows their fate and is unsettled by it. She can hardly stand to even be in their presence and doesn’t know how to behave when she comes in contact with one of them. Madame is the character that we as readers are most likely to identify with as we are learning the situations of the clones. Cloning in our current society is highly controversial and when we are talking about human cloning it becomes and even more sensitive topic, and for such purposes as this is terrifying. Because of this, Ishiguro asks us to examine whether or not it is our ability to ignore, and our need for survival that truly runs us. Most humans in this society completely avoid the clones and they have been placed in a separate living space and have restricted access to the outside world because humans, like Madame, are unable to cope with the evil thing they have created. By separating themselves, they can ignore what they have done and pretend to view the clones as things until they really believe it. The guardians attempt to make the clones lives as pleasant as they can for the number of years that they are under their care and some of them even want to take it farther than that and let the children know what their end purpose is so they can be prepared. The clones serve for the sole purpose of providing healthy organs to humans that are in need. This will to survive drives humans to take the life of these clones all so they can live a little bit longer. Unlike the other works I have discussed, this novel is a bit different as we are not watching how the human character is reacting to set phenomenon, but we can still see what we need by observing Madame and the guardians. Ishiguro asks us to examine whether or not its is our desperate nature to survive and our insistence on ignoring things that we are not proud of that makes us who we are and prevents us from crossing the line over to frenzy.

The last stop on our mission to reveal the purpose of speculative and dystopian fiction is Black mirror. This is a TV series modeled after the classic, late 50s TV series “The Twilight Zone”. The show is not storyline driven and therefore each episode is a work on its own. I will focus specifically on the episode we viewed in class called White Bear. As it turns out, White bear is a public correctional facility in which criminals are taken to live out their days while enduring daily punishment. The instance in this episode is a young woman named Victoria who has been an accomplice to her boyfriend’s kidnapping and killing of a little girl. She is sentenced to relive everyday in torture as the facility has actors and a set made up just for her to believe that she is in another situation so they can tear that away to ultimately remind her of her horrendous crime. Each day she is drugged and “reset” so that she will not remember what is really going on and she will believe that the play is the real thing. The director of this show, Charlie Brooker Annabel, seeks to ask his viewing audience a question by creating this show, just as all speculative and dystopian creators do. He asks us to draw the line between justice and savagery. Once again with our experiment analogy, the independent variable is the correctional facility itself, the dependent variable is the reaction of the audience (in the show), and the experimental group is the audience (in the show). People from anywhere can just come in, even with their kids, and just view the torture they put their prisoners through every day. This episode was quite disturbing to watch, as it proved quite difficult to justify the severity of their punishment. The interesting part is, the audience in the show was not disturbed at all, and they contently watched and even joined in and cheered the torturers on. Brooker Annabel exposes yet another variable that could be the contributor to out definition of humanity. Is our thirst for justice the thing that gives us our drive and our strength? How far will we go to achieve what we believe is the answer for justice, and will we accept it even then?

The genre of speculative and dystopian fiction is broad in nature and is quite flexible in its reach, but one thing remains quite clear in this genre; it’s intent. The intent of speculative fiction is the same in every novel, every show, every type of media in this category. The goal and purpose is to expose the variable that define humanity and find the line between what we know to be rational and irrational. There are several methods for doing this and there are an endless number of variables to test and ergo the reasons the genre is so broad. We often do not have the answer to the questions that speculative fiction poses, but we can still learn form the stories and scenarios the genre gives us. Speculative fiction provides a unique and interesting way to think about the world we live in today and also often our own daily behaviors. Although difficult to pin down, this genre is always a successful experiment in thought.


Time Travel – In Science and Fiction

Time Travel – In Science and Fiction

Conceptually popularized in fiction by the 1895 novel The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, time travel has been featured in countless speculative fiction novels, television series, and movies in the mainstream media. In fiction, novel’s utilizing its concept tend to focus on historical tampering – how ostensibly insignificant acts along a timeline can drastically bring change to the present and future, whether they be intentional or inadvertent. Alternately (pun intended), other plotlines concentrate on the notion of alternate timelines and the creation thereof. Affecting protagonists in different ways, journeying through the time-space continuum sometimes will cause colossal impact and other times no change at all. Speculative fiction in general tends to discuss contemporary issues in a poetic, metaphorical way, and time travel enables this process. Sean Redmond says it creates a “necessary distancing effect” – stepping out of one’s timeline inherently forces them to objectively assess their initial circumstance and the chain events that brought it about. From works as stoic as Star Trek (2009) to series as lighthearted and buoyant as Back to the Future, time travel functions in a diversity of genres, styles, and media forms (Everything Explained 2016).

Michio Kaku from Wired Magazine wrote, “Once confined to fantasy and science fiction, time travel is now simply an engineering problem” (Notable Quotes 2016). The notion of using a mechanism to bend time and space is old, but the science behind the related hypothetical quantum physics have developed quite rapidly recently. Depictions have moved from a lazily written and hastily explained phenomenon (i.e. Kindred in 1979) to a very meticulously elucidated and intelligently described process that feels quite real (i.e. Interstellar’s spectacular utilization of quantum physics and the theory of relativity). Scientific theories that once were solely understood and known by the educated elite are now well-executed plot props in mainstream media.

The initial requisite for understanding the complexity of time travel lies in the obvious portion – understanding time. Since the dawn thereof, time has been considered a constant, linear continuum – seconds, minutes, and years pass at a consistent rate in a singular direction. Albert Einstein, however, theorized otherwise. He argued that this appearance is merely an illusion: time is relative. Since humanity has lived on the same planet that travels at the same speed along the same path each year (or so we believe), a belief that time only operates in one undeviating fashion is inclined to be the status quo. Three dimensions are visible in space to the simple eye: length, width, and depth, but Einstein theorized that there is a fourth dimension that completes the fabric of time and space – direction (Howell 2013).

His theory of special relativity claims that time’s speed varies contingent upon how fast an object or individual is moving relative to another reference point. From complete stagnation to the speed of light, time operates differently depending on an individual or object’s velocity. Relevantly, Einstein’s theory of general relativity argues that gravity can bend time itself. Space and time make up a four-dimensional fabric in which humanity operates. That fabric is sensitive to mass, or the people and things taking up its space. This sensitivity is experienced, theoretically, in the form of gravity. When space and time bend due to their reaction to mass, the continuum travels on a curved pathway in opposed to a straight one, causing objects to be attracted to one another dependent on their relative masses (Howell 2013).

Both of these theories have been partially proven – and their effects are seen as technology further develops. When the spatially and temporally challenged go driving in an unknown community, Global Positioning Systems more colloquially referred to as GPS’ tend to lend a helping hand. Satellites orbing Earth are able to triangulate one’s location and map the surrounding area. What people do not tend to think about, however, is the fact that the aforementioned satellites are traveling at a base speed greater than that of the surface since they have a greater circumference to cover. This causes them to gain 0.0000038 seconds per day – an easy fix for a good engineer. This phenomenon is known as time dilation, and causes very slight differences in experiential time that can practically be seen (Howell 2013).

There are a plethoric excess of time travel theories, and that is primarily because the entire process is completely hypothetical, researching it is highly unpractical and expensive, and actually achieving significant time travel, while technically possible, is entirely improbable. Nonetheless, the science surrounding the subject is intrinsically causing speculative fiction to grow more speculative, and giving birth to pieces taking all of these theories to a literary level.

Beyond the logistics of time travel, the implications of its effects on timeline(s) is explored in depth in the genre of speculative fiction. Given the vast amount of literature and media published with time travel as a plot point – there are seemingly endless styles of executions of time travel and its effects on the world. A beautiful graphic sorts out all of the different types of time travel theories in movies in a way that would be rather arduous to verbally explain.

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(More readable at http://gizmodo.com/5994682/a-flow-chart-explaining-all-time-travel-in-movies.)

Nonetheless, in an effort to keep it simple (and between 3000 and 4000 words), there are three foundational schools of thought in these regards: fixed timeline, dynamic timeline, and multiverse.

In a fixed timeline, there is a singular, internally consistent, rigid timeline that cannot be altered. Individuals have the capacity to travel forward and or backwards along this timeline to some extent, but the actions they make in their endeavors either have no impact or have already had an impact. Fictional examples of this theory include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and The Terminator.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that is both hilarious and intelligent. Held as one of the funniest and most quotable speculative fiction comedies ever published, the novel is also dripping with intellectual prose – the notion of creating a protagonist that is dull, simple, and unimportant for a novel written on a galactic scale requires immense writing talents. One area of focus, though, that the novel glances over is the academically perplexing issue of time travel. The fixed timeline theory is the simplest – the easiest to understand as well as the easiest to write about. In light of this, a book as fun and easy to read as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would naturally be inclined to go with the simplest option.

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with. There is no problem with changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveler’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

This concludes the explanation of how time travel functions in the universe. This sort of quirky writing is in large part the charm of the book – skipping over the scientific explanation of time travel to make time to explain the grammatical issues associated with it. The issue is not becoming one’s father, the issue is explaining how to verbally reference an event that has already happened, but not yet – or already not happened, so to speak. Even this topic of the difficulties of language in space, which maintains much more focus throughout the novel, ends up being explained away. Time travel tenses are confusing enough in one language, let alone through translation across thousands of tongues and dialects. How do people manage communication given all of these difficulties? Well, you put a fish in your brain. Why? Because it’s what you do. How does it work? It works by having a fish put in your brain to understand all of the universe’s languages. The novel never attempts to create deeply explained pseudoscience to add to the reality of the book, as the book never displays an effort to feel “real.” It’s intended to be a fun read, not a brilliant novel that leads to introspective analysis of oneself and scrutiny of society’s current standings. Time travel is fun! Science is not. So a fixed timeline made for the best option in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s references to time travel.

Departing from this intentional use of a poorly explained time travel model, The Terminator series does this in a mind-boggling manner throughout five blockbuster movies and one almost-average television series.

The initial movie of the series kicks it off with implications that the universe follows the fixed timeline theory – casualty is absolute, and there is a single timeline. The changes that one could cause in the past through time travel have already occurred, and are events on a very, very confusing singular timeline. This is not readily apparent in the beginning of the movie, but a journey of twists and turns eventually informs the audience of the continuum model being utilized.

John Connor in the future is leading the Resistance, a group of humans fighting against their technological overlords, Skynet – and John Connor might just be able to turn the tide in humanity’s favor. Recognizing this danger to their cause, they send back a Terminator robot to kill John Connor’s mother before she birthed the rebel fighter. Countering this effort, John sends back one of his best friends and fellow freedom fighters, Kyle Reese, to protect his mother. It is odd that his task was protection, but he did not use it. John’s friend then impregnates John’s mother, putting a baby John Connor in her belly. The Terminator is defeated, John is still born, and all is right in the world.

Or is it? The following four movies take the audience further down the line – John is born, and attacked twice more by robot assassins of higher technological caliber, John leads troops in The Final Battle (although everyone knew it would not be), and John eventually gets turned into a human-terminator cyborg and goes back in time to serve as an antagonist for young-adult Sarah Connor (John’s mother) and Kyle Reese (they were really milking the franchise at this point). The most confusing aspect of this utilization of the fixed timeline model lies in this paradox – everything anyone does to alter the timeline has already happened. Any hint to a younger version of one’s self has already been given, and lays subconsciously within their current mind. Any hit on someone earlier in their life has already been thwarted. Marginal changes resulted in the timeline due to the tampering, so it is not to say that it was perfectly fixed – “Judgment Day”, an important date in the series, fluctuates in time depending on time travelers’ interference. However, no real change ever happens, because the change has already happened. The beauty of such an intelligent time travel model is clear – when it gets too confusing to understand, the viewer assumes it is their lack of intelligence contributing to their perplexity and merely sit back, grab a tub of popcorn, and watch the Governor of California blow things up.

In a glance – a fixed timeline example in fifty words or less: In order to prevent WWII, person A goes back in time to replace baby Adolf with another baby. That baby, however, ends up being the Adolf that was in the original timeline, and WWII was inevitable.

Conversely, and somewhat more intuitive, is the dynamic timeline theory. In this model, altering events in the past have definite, massive impacts on the present timeline. An individual has the capacity to travel in time, but influencing circumstances in the past or learning information regarding the future has the ability to completely alter the timeline. When traveling backwards in time, the all-too-familiar “butterfly effect” plays out – seemingly insignificant alterations to chains of events have exponentially larger impacts in the future. Bumping into someone could cause them to spill a drink on themselves, causing them to miss their flight, preventing them from dying in a plane crash, causing a zany change of events that completely change what would have happened in an unaltered timeline. Similarly, traveling to the future grants the traveler information they otherwise would not have, causing them to act differently than they would have in their initial ignorance, therefore changing said future.

A great (and excessively entertaining) example of this time travel model is the classic hit Back to the Future. The movie begins with Marty McFly as the protagonist, an aspiring musician and a son of a timid cubicle worker and a depressed, overweight alcoholic. Marty’s friend, Doc Brown, informs him of a time traveling machine he had put together. When plans go awry, Doc is shot and killed while Marty goes back in time to 1955, when his parents and Doc were all much younger. A seemingly insignificant event, Marty saves a man from getting hit by a car. What Marty failed to realize was this man was his father, the car’s driver was his grandfather, and he had just prevented his parents from meeting. Marty’s task then became threefold – to get back to the present, to prevent Doc Brown’s eventual death, and to make sure his parents fall in love in order to prevent his existence being wiped off of the Earth.

Through excessive meddling and temporary failures to achieve his goals early on, Marty McFly returns to the present to find out that although he succeeded in mitigating his actions in the past, he still left a dent in the timeline. Doc Brown heeded Marty’s advice about the attack, and wore a bulletproof vest the day of the experiment. Marty’s father was a successful and confident author, while his mother was an in-shape and happy housewife. The movie ends with Doc Brown coming from the future to request Marty’s help in the year 2015.

This timeline appears to be the most intuitive – there is a singular timeline, but traveling across it (backwards or forwards) will alter its course of events and lead to change. Marty’s parents still ended up together, but they lived drastically different lives. Doc Brown was still ambushed the day of the experiment, but he was prepared for it and consequently survived. If the Terminator followed this plotline, Kyle Reese traveling back in time would not have enabled him to father John Connors, as that event was already a point in the line. A Terminator, however, would have been capable of killing Sarah or John to prevent his leadership in the war, or Kyle could have still slept with Sarah but having a child other than John, in turn affecting the likelihood of his birth.

In fifty words or less: if an individual went back in time and killed their grandfather, they would in turn prevent the birth of their parent, preventing their own birth from ever occurring. This would lead to their existence being wiped from existence, and an alternate reality taking place that could be drastically different.

Lastly, the last major school of thought in science fiction regarding time travel is the multiverse theory. This model supports alternate timelines and parallel universes. Throughout the cosmos, there are an infinite number of alternate timelines according to this theory. Traveling through time causes the creation of a new timeline identical to the original up to the point of travel. However, from that point on every action taken impacts the new timeline, but not the original. This theory is similar to the “save as” feature on Microsoft Word: the document is copied and duplicated; the new document is separate from the original, but identical to it; but changes can be made to it without altering the original document whatsoever. A modern science fiction film featuring this school of thought is Star Trek (2009).

The multiverse theory is perfect for a reboot – it allowed director and writer JJ Abrams the creative license he needed to recreate the franchise and adapt the characters in order to create a cast catered to a 21st century audience. Ambassador Spock in the year 2387 is on a mission to remove a supernova that will otherwise lead to the demise of the entire galaxy. Unfortunately, he is too late and the supernova destroys the planet of Romulus. Nero, the Romulan commander, blames Spock for this cataclysm and attempts to take vengeance. These events eventually lead to both Spock and Commander Nero being sucked into a black hole and sent back in time to the year 2233 in an alternate timeline. When Nero arrives, he attacks the USS Kelvin and subsequently kills George Kirk, the father of the famous Captain James Kirk. James survives the incident, but loses his father, and grows up in a broken home. This leads to him being a different kind of “Captain Kirk,” his leadership, talent, and athleticism remains, but a certain cheekiness, rebellion, and brazenness are tossed into the mix. The James Kirk and S’chn T’gai Spock in this timeline spend most of the movie at odds, leading to Spock deserting Kirk for mutiny. During Kirk’s deserting, he meets another Spock – the Spock that traveled from the year 2387. This Spock advises Kirk as to the best course of action, and the beloved Captain Kirk takes charge of the USS Enterprise and is restored to glory.

In this timeline model, there is no singular timeline, and there is no way to go back in time to change one’s home universe. If this was possible, it is likely Nero’s cause would have been to prevent the supernova from killing his friends and family instead of taking revenge on the man he held responsible (which lead to him destroying Spock’s home world). Nero died in battle in his quest for alleged revenge, but the original timeline’s Spock spends the remainder of his days in the fresh continuum, alongside the new Spock (respectively played by Leonard Nemoy, the original actor in the 20th century and Zachary Quinto, the new actor to take the reigns for the role).

In fifty words or less: an individual travels through time, arriving in a timeline seemingly identical to their own and kill their grandparents. This does not change the original timeline nor prevent the individual’s existence. Here the individual will not be birthed, but will be present because of their insertion.

Time travel is a fascinating subject, and science fiction has proven to be the most effective vehicle for bringing its implications into discussion. Some novels and movies tend to be more scientifically accurate than others, and some tend to care about at least making it feel real more than others. Nonetheless, it makes for an interesting conversation topic (that you can now impress your friends with), and nearly always makes for an entertaining narrative.



Works Cited

Howell, Elizabeth. “Time Travel: Theories, Paradoxes & Possibilities.” Space.com, 21 June 2013. Web.

“Time Travel Quotes.” Notable Quotes, 2016. Web.

“Time Travel in Fiction Explained.” Everything Explained, 2016. Web.


Final Paper

Fallout: A Glimpse at Humanity through its Destruction


Creating a Universe

For this paper I’m going to focus mainly on the events, characters, and universe of Fallout’s 3 and 4, but because this universe is so complex and intricately connected, there are themes and events that relate to the entire fallout universe that I need to touch on in order to talk about some of the most interesting concepts of Fallout. For a video game, I find Fallout to be extremely fulfilling, but not because of its action and violence, but because of the uniquely immense and detailed stories that the series tells through the perspective of the main character, all built upon this giant universe that spans through several installments, not unlike Game of Thrones, Star Wars, or the Mad Max series. What I love most about this series is that you as the player are actually exploring two completely new worlds. One is the pre-apocalyptic United States, whose history has diverged from our own sometime around the time of World War II. This alone would be amazing to explore, because who doesn’t like a glimpse at a futuristic utopian United States with robots and laser weapons. Instead, we experience the world almost 200 after its destruction and we are left to discover what this world was like between our own timeline and the year 2077 through the debris and destruction of the apocalypse. Thus, Fallout is introducing the new ideas and norms of two worlds unknown to us and it can be equally exciting to discover what the world was like between 1950 and 2077 as it is to discover what world is like over 200 years later in the year 2277.


Society & Economy

The creators of Fallout thought of everything when it came to the persistence of humanity through the destruction of the apocalypse. Almost as soon as the first people exited their protective vaults, a currency system was created through the use of Nuka-Cola bottlecaps based on the hard value of purified water. Bottlecaps were chosen because while they could easily be found from the tops of these old sodas, there were no existing ways to produce anymore so there was no risk of counterfeits or mass inflation. The use of water as a basis in interesting because it’s reminiscent of the gold-standard the United States had until the 1970s and because purified water is arguably the most important resource in a post-apocalyptic setting it definitely makes sense that water is the new gold. Asides from bottle caps and water, critically important items such as guns, ammos, armor, medical supplies, and technological scrap have become valuable forms of currency in their own right, especially because bartering has become the primary form of economic exchange. With that in mind most people will work just for the promise of a meal and roof over their head.

Because bartering and trade is the primary way of exchange in this new world, the act of rummaging through ruins for valuable goods has become a prominent new profession. Because looting is considered a cynical term even after the bombs have fallen, these rummagers of old buildings are called prospectors at an attempt to diverge from labels such as thieves, looters, and grave robbers. These ‘prospectors’ make up the back-bone of post-apocalyptic society because without them there is no material that which the survivors of this desolate world can use to rebuild. When playing the games of the Fallout Universe you are spurred on by a story, whether it be following your missing father played by Liam Neeson or saving the vault you grew up in, but either way you inevitably find yourself in the role of a prospector exploring the grisly and interesting ruins that the year 2077 left you, selling your scrap for some needed caps, medicine, or water.


Another interesting aspect of the fallout universe is the elimination of racism as we know it in the modern sense. Racism between people of different skin colors and nationalities has been essentially erased because all the history of all these racial prejudices has all been erased since the bombs fell. Sadly, that does not mean bigotry or prejudice has been erased from the world, because just like the slogan “war never changes” people in this new world have still designated all too familiar concepts of in-groups and out-groups. Instead of human on human racism, we now see a more complex sort of bigotry involving two major out-groups, ghouls and synths.

Ghouls are human beings who have survived in the post-apocalyptic wasteland since the bombs fell due to insane amounts of radiation that did not ultimately kill them, but instead turned them into heavily irradiated and disfigured humans. Whereas once we saw segregation in the United States based on nationalities and skin color this has been adapted to fit the ghouls of the new world with a host of new slurs and resentment, and sadly we see ghouls being forced to live in the worst conditions. These ghouls are often called zombies and ferals simply because of their looks despite the very real humanity they have been able to hold onto for hundreds of years. It’s a disturbing yet realistic concept that humans feel this need to band together against a group of ‘others’ because when bands of humans have come together they have this strange need to establish this ‘other’ in order to justify the concept of ‘us’ as a group. It’s eerily similar to concepts like nationalism, where a group is able to grow closer and feel more connected to one another by defining these out-groups and i- groups with trivial concepts like appearance and language.

The other main example of prejudice in this world would be the concern around Fallout’s synthetic humans. These ‘synths’ have been replicated as machines to be almost human, even down to the blood, guts, and emotions, but because they are the other and because their creation reflects the actions of  ‘scientific boogiemen’ they become just as much of a target as minorities groups of our own world. In Fallout 4, there are even parallels to the United States Civil War and the fight against slavery, most notably because the main group fighting for the rights and freedom of these synthetic humans are known as the Railroad. It is a really interesting subplot because it explores new concepts of bigotry and prejudice that stems from the fear of the unknown and it is disturbingly interesting that after 200 years, prejudice has moved away from humans against humans and has been adapted into human against semi-human conflict and raises deep existential questions like what makes someone human.


Changing History

It’s not clear exactly when the historical timeline between our universe and Fallout’s universe split. The main differences are that after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII the United States invested in nuclear technology and robotics instead of computers and the culture of the 1950s has lasted for over a hundred years. However, to me, the most haunting similarities between our universe and the fallout universe are the Cold War similarities and the similarities centering around the resource wars. Instead of getting into a cold war situation with the Soviet Union, the United States primary communist enemy are the Chinese after the events of World War II and in this universe the Cold War never really ends. Because of this never ending Cold War, what really sparks the nuclear holocaust is the resource wars over depleting fossil fuels and resources like timber and the two superpowers quest for hegemony. This is eerily similar to the current state of our world where it’s inevitable that natural resources like oil will dwindle in the next fifty years and new conflicts over the availability of these resources is inevitable. When you realize how historical events such as the resource wars transpired in Fallout and you are able to make connections with how these events ultimately led to a nuclear holocaust, it can be extremely unnerving how similar our two worlds are before the bombs fell, because who is to say that our own resource wars in our own world won’t ultimately end in something catastrophic like the dropping of a nuclear warhead.

The Unique World of Fallout


One thing extremely unique to the gaming experience of Fallout is the arrangement of skeletons that the Wanderer encounters while exploring the post-apocalyptic remains of the United States. The game developers of Fallout have set up these skeletons in a way that really conveys the immediacy of the apocalypse because these people died in the middle of whatever action they were occupied with, having almost no time to react to the bombs. Because of this we get a glimpse as some of the interesting, tragic, and sometimes comical activities that pre-apocalypse Americans were doing at the time the bombs. Examples are countless and some require you to use some inner anthropologist instincts to interpret exactly what scene you’re walking in on, almost 200 years after the fact. Examples include a bank robbery, a drug deal, a detective hunting a serial murderer, suicide pacts, and my personal favorite, a wheel chaired couple propped together to watch the world end together, hand in hand, accepting their fate. Fallout really is a glimpse at humanity in its last throws of normalcy and through its skeletons we get to see exactly how the denizens of the pre-war Utopia spent their last moments.

Interpreted History

For me, one of the most distressful aspects of the Fallout universe is how the citizens of the current time are so misinformed about the actual history of the United States. They range from the funny to the depressing especially for me because as a lover of history, it is a personal hurt to see someone confidently spouting the fake history of the foundation of the United States with total certainty, 200 years after the bombs took away almost all records of American history. This type of thing is seen in several cases, and examples include a baseball enthusiast who understands the sport of baseball to be a gladiatorial like sport where the teams were thought to butcher each other with baseball bats while others include ignorant raiders thinking that Henry David Thoreau was famous because when he traveled to Walden Pond he was definitely prepared and thus inspired the term “being thorough”. As a lover of history these kind of moments make you cringe and because your character is just part of this ignorant world 200 years later, there’s no way for you to convince them otherwise. However, when these serious grievances to historical memory have been committed it really makes me think about our own world and what kind of crazy misinterpretations we have about our own human history. While the world of Fallout is a much more destroyed universe, it brings to mind parallels to feudal Europe and the dark ages where the intellectual centers of the world like Rome and Baghdad were destroyed as a result of mindless warfare.


The Raiders

The most barbaric and anarchic of the groups that frequent the fallout universe, the raiders, are ruthless bands of human beings who have devolved into madness, looking like they’ve popped out of George Miller’s Mad Max series. They are interesting because they embrace whole heartedly the brutality of the new world and live in a hierarchy where the most destructive and insane individuals command the most power. They add a senseless and brutal element to the fallout universe that counteract the attempts at order and progress in the new world. It is extremely interesting because one observes these grand conflicts between big technologically advanced players like the Enclave and the Brotherhood of Steel, but more likely than not you as a survivor in this world need to be more concerned about not taking the wrong turn on a derelict street and becoming a raider’s dinner. You are more likely to be destroyed by the anarchic mess that is the raiders than you are to be affected by the ‘games’ of big players like those in Fallout 3. That being said, how does one attempt to civilize a world where the majority of your enemies are hanging cut up bodies from ropes from ceilings and poles. It’s not as if one of the major players were to come into power, that they’d then be able to convert and adapt these raider types back into society. When people have devolved to such a level that they know nothing but violence and death there is no way to attempt diplomacy and the only way to handle that situation is through a show of force, not unlike the terrible conquerors and colonizers of European history. The level of brutality and mass bloody murder really speaks to the harshness of the Fallout universe, because it’s the world they live in that makes them this way, and at times you can sympathize because if somebody is starving, dying of thirst, or going crazy with radiation poisoning its sadly understandable why a human being could become so violent, hostile, and void of emotion and humanity.




The Secrets of the Old World

Creepy Cult

There’s a lot of eerie stuff in Fallout, no question. With raiders, mutated animals, and giant super mutants, there is an enormous amount of fear factor embedded into this apocalyptic world. However, some of the scariest stuff in the fallout universe comes from information you gain about the secrets of the world before the war, the kind of secrets that would shock the world today if they were to come out now, especially because we only realize these dark truths because there was nobody left to guard these secrets. For example, there’s a satanic cult based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft whose remnants we barely get a glimpse of in the game, but what we see paints a horrific scene of the worship of some dark power, which very possibly may have real influence on the world. Because you only seen the faintest glimpses of this dark cult, one can only speculate on how widespread and entrenched into society it is, but it does highlight the idea that there’s a ton of dark stuff that already exists in our world without adding war and nuclear holocaust into the midst. These types of terrible things are the types of material that make up of conspiracy theories and I find it thought-provoking that these dark American secrets are so well kept that they are only found out after the world as we know it has been destroyed

Super Mutants

Super Mutants are the result of one of the United States dark secrets that we ultimately uncover through our playing and exploration of Fallout. Super Mutants came into being because they were once human beings whom the American government experimented on using a weaponized virus known as FEV or the Forced Evolutionary Virus. FEV made people rapidly grow stronger with extreme consequences. Instead of making the test subjects stronger and better soldiers, the disease instead leads to rapid mutation and sterility which results in some of the most disturbing creatures of the apocalyptic wasteland. Like many of the horrific secrets of the wasteland, the FEV was created by the United States in order to gain a competitive edge over the Chinese and the primary goal was to make super soldiers, not unlike the program that Captain America was part of. However, when the United States and China have reached this level of warfare, it is very apparent that military leaders on both sides are getting nervous and using more reckless decisions and while ultimately this program gets destroyed along with everything else after the bombs fall, one can easily discern the levels of paranoia that are spreading around the globe if both sides are willing to develop crazy, harmful weaponized virus and later use the atomic bombs. After the bombs fell, however, and this terrible secret was uncovered it led to the mass creation of the giant Hulk-like super mutants in support of the “master” we see in the game. The story is that a former human discovered the facility where these tests were going down and he used this terrible technology to make an army of mutants and threatened all the existing remnants of humanity that had made it through the bombs. The Master is ultimately destroyed by the main character from the original Fallout pc game, but the damage is done and super mutants now wander the ruins of the U.S. and in the rest of the Fallout stories, all of the super mutants we see are simply the mutated monster remnants of the master’s army. However, an interesting tidbit is that not all mutants controlled by the master continued being awful after the Master was defeated. Instead there are numerous cases of ‘reformed’ super mutants regaining their mental capabilities and conforming with post-apocalyptic society, even going so far as becoming community leaders and faithful protectors of humans and ghouls alike.



Vault Tec

Apart from military secrets and hidden, yet widespread sadistic cults, the creepiest thing fallout reveals about pre-apocalyptic America is Vault Tec and their disturbing experiments on unsuspecting occupants of pre-war vaults where inhabitants were promised a life after the bombs fell. Occupants were enlisted based on different qualifications and all the staff members knew from the get go that most of the inhabitants would be manipulated and experimented on. In Fallout 3, the vault that you as the main character leave is actually one of the few control tests or at least non-awful tests that seemed only to allow for the regeneration of multiple genetic lines free from sadistic experiments. In Fallout 4, you and your family are tricked into entering cryogenic chambers just after the bombs have fallen and your family has entered into the vault. This one to me is also a bit of an acceptation, because while most of the other occupants do not make it, you survived a horrific death by nuclear bombing, so despite their evil experiments you kind of owe Vault Tec if you can call it that. Apart from these two however, the rest of Vault Tec is basically evil scientist porn.

The experiments of Vault Tec are many and awful. One involves grouping together some of the most brilliant musical minds of the United States and then testing various levels of white noise until they were driven insane and murdered one another and the Vault Tec staff. Another experiment involved filling a vault full of various types of recovering addicts, helping them with 5 years of treatment, community outreach, and programs, and then opening a secret compartment filled with a life time supply of drugs and alcohol. Everyone in the entire vault ended up overdosing or killing one another despite years of treatment and help. Yet another vault experiment involved gathering up a bunch of kids in one area, taking their parents aside and murdering them, and then they basically attempt to breed generations of super pure genetic specimens out of the original kids in order to create the most healthy and superior human beings possible. Kids that are too smart get scientist jobs and kids who perform well are forced to procreate and then killed off. The happy ending of this story however is that the children rebel and all the Vault Tec staff are killed, leaving the unknown possibility that the kids escaped. Actually it turns out that most Vault Tec situations end up with the Vault Tec staff getting murdered for some reason or another because of the horrible experiments they commit, and it is hard to say they didn’t deserve it. It’s an insane idea that such experiments could ever be devised and applied to fellow human beings, but Fallout makes us shudder and squirm when we explore and realize exactly how cruel Vault Tec was and how they used innocent and vulnerable subjects to perform some of the most sadistic experiments in the human imagination.

Cultural Influences

One of the concepts most unique to the fallout universe is the permeation of the culture of the 1950’s as well as some of the obvious influence from film and literature that one can observe in the game. When playing one can see that the styles of music, cars, art, houses, and technology all look distinctively like the styles of the 1950’s. Even the technological advances unknown to our real universe look like they have come out of concept designs of what advanced technology would look like from the perspective of the people living in the 1950s, similar to what you’d find in a world’s science fair. It’s incredibly interesting to explore the remains of the United States because it explores the idea that a culture relevant to a certain time period could persist for over a hundred years while advances in technology, energy, medicine, and civil rights are still ongoing. It makes me think of places such as Cuba or North Korea which are stereotyped as being frozen in time because while many things have changed, there are still obvious throwbacks to earlier times that is apparent through cultural aspects such as music, clothing, and artistic style.

Some real life cultural influences that have inspired the world of Fallout include works such as the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft, the Mad Max franchise, and the book/film that inspired the lovable companion, Dogmeat, A Boy and His Dog. The fallout creators had a lot of material concerning dystopian post-apocalyptic settings and I think they took a lot of the concepts of desolate survival from these works, but I think they went above and beyond from their predecessors by having their reality split from ours as early as the 1950’s so that not only could they explore the ramifications of an alternative history, but because they used this alternative history to create a completely new future resulting from the unique changes in history they adapted to their own universe in combination with the dangerous realities of what our own future might entail.

Common Themes

War Never Changes

One of the biggest themes in the Fallout Universe is the idea that “war never changes” as spouted by Ron Pearlman before every Fallout game. Until I wrote this paper, I never really thought deeply about that message, because war in the traditional sense is not how I would categorize the conflicts of the post-apocalyptic United States, but after more thoughtful consideration it makes a lot of sense. In Fallout 3, the idea that war never changes is represented in the conflict between the supposed remnants of the United States government, the Enclave, and the neo-knight organization known as the Brotherhood of Steel. Instead of banding together as humans against common problems like the need for purified water sources or eliminating hostile mutants, the fight is about control over the new world. While we ultimately view the Brotherhood as protagonists, their goals are not all that dissimilar with those of the Enclave, especially when you consider that the branch of the Brotherhood based in Washington D.C. is not respected by the organization as a whole because they strive too hard to help human beings instead of focusing on the acquisition of technology and the exploration for ways to advance humanity on a large scale. The conflict between the Enclave and the Brotherhood of Steel definitely embodies the idea that war never changes because just like the nuclear holocaust shows, mankind is its own worst enemy. This theme is seen in other renditions of Fallout as well. In Fallout New Vegas set in post war Nevada, the story shows us a conflict between the democratic society of the New California Republic against an encroaching force of neo Romans led by a man who deems himself Caesar. In Fallout 4 we see the same thing, just on a grander scale with more factions vying for control over the new world with a focus on domination rather than collaboration. In all of these games there is conflict at a grand scale with each group vying for dominance based on rationality they deem to be correct. The leaders of all these groups feel that they are in the right and that they have a realistic and credible authority to create war and fight for their cause. Because of this and what we know about where war got the world when the bombs fell in the first place, the basics of war do not change and humans continue to fight and die over ideals that are not all that different in the midst of a post-apocalyptic world where just like in the real world we live in, too much effort is put into destruction and conquering rather than diplomacy and creation.


The Fallout Universe is enormous. There are probably a thousand concepts and plot lines I haven’t touched on, but my main purpose is to express how complex, immense, and hauntingly realistic Fallout is. The creators of Fallout have created an entirely new world to be explored and have filled it with new struggles that explore the deepest corners of our humanity. Fallout as a universe is fantastic because it is impossible to explore everything and to know every story and so much information we get is based on intuition and subtle hints. Fallout really allows us to explore two completely different worlds from our own, the one from the 1950’s to 2077 and the apocalyptic wasteland after 2277. By allowing us this view of a unique historical divergence from the frame of a world destroyed, Fallout is deep, complex, and disturbingly realistic answer to several what if questions about our own mysterious future.

Blessed are the Meek: Marginalized People in Women’s Dystopian

Aatia Davison

Engl 146

April 28th, 2016


Word count: 3, 082

Blessed are the Meek: Marginalized People in Women’s Dystopian


One of my most distinct memories is standing in line at Southpoint mall to watch the midnight premiere of the Hunger Games with my friend Hannah. The line wrapped all the way around the building. I can still feel the spring air light as a feather on my cheeks. The two of us were buzzing with anticipation for the big moment when we would see District 12 come to life. There have been so many films like it since, as there were books like it before. A fan myself, I have often wondered: why do we love dystopias? It is a question that we have been asking ourselves in this class for weeks now. What is it about this genre that hooks people. The books, the movies, the merchandise, the ideas. Why do they sell so well? Also, what does this genre’s success indicate about our own society?


First, I think it important to define dystopian or speculative fiction. “A dystopia must arouse fear, but fails if it completely overwhelms the reader, leaving no room whatsoever for hope of amelioration” (New Dictionary of the History of Ideas). That is an interesting word choice, hope. In order to work, a piece of dystopian or speculative fiction must deal with the future, a reader’s anxieties and hopes for what is to come. Speculative fiction serves a purpose. According to Ursula K. LeGuin, “The purpose of a thought-experiment . . . is not to predict the future— indeed [it] goes to show that the ‘future,’ on the quantum level, cannot be predicted— but to describe reality, the present world. Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive” (The Left Hand of Darkness). It could be argued, however, that its purpose is to do both, to speak at once about the possibilities, as well as the present.


In this way, dystopian fiction has acted as an excellent vehicle for social justice and societal transformation. Many progressive, women writers like Octavia E. Butler, PD James, Margaret Atwood and even more recently Suzanne Collins, write for dystopian. It is, it would seem, a perfect match. “Centrally concerned with the clash between individual desire and societal demand, dystopian fiction often focuses on sexuality and relations between the genders as elements of this conflict” (Woman on the Edge of a Genre). Dystopian fiction also confronts modern clashes of race, class and disability as well as gender. It is a perfect platform on which to present these issues, as it capitalizes on society’s deep-seated fears and insecurities about the future— how will society progress? Or, like in the Handmaid’s Tale, Children of Men and the Hunger Games, how will society regress? Good dystopian fiction criticizes those in power by implying that their goals, and their expectations for the future are selfish, dated and even dangerous. This criticism is ubiquitous throughout the aforementioned works. That is why they are studied; that is why they are celebrated.


In her criticism of Children of Men, Susan Squier touches on how feminist science fiction can challenge certain archetypes. “As feminists, we are quite familiar with the problems bred by the nuclear family, from violence to agoraphobia. As feminist science studies scholars, we face a dilemma equally bred by that disciplinary nuclear family that can (at least for polemical purposes) be imagined as a choice between two directions” Feminist writings have to challenge old beliefs about wives and families because women have always been relegated to that family role. Male writers can only relate to them as part of a “family” if she is an individual, not grounded to a house or husband but allowed to roam free, she is a slut, a whore, or a bitch. Often feminist writing has to turn this idea on its head.  Squier argues that “James’s (1992) novel is an important meditation on what development, growth, aging, and death might mean in a culture robbed of birth and childhood” (np). To be robbed of birth and childhood means to be robbed of hope for the future. What is significant about James’ writing though, is that she centers the story around a man in extraordinary circumstances, someone who has befriended a pregnant woman, someone with hope. That ties back into this idea that dystopian fiction cannot work if it leaves the reader entirely hopeless.


It is relevant to examine the cultural circumstances that created these works. Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale were published in 1979 and 1985 respectively during America’s resurgence of Conservatism. They both serve as responses to right-wing rhetoric that was being put out at the time. Nixon promised in his presidency to be “tough on crime,” declaring the “war on drugs” which we can now recognize as coded language. A more politically-correct way of saying we are going to police black people’s neighborhoods, criminalize their behavior, and imprison them in droves. This approach was popular among white southerners who were threatened by desegregation in the South. Butler manages to combat this in Kindred, a story featuring a black female protagonist romantically tied to a white man in 1970’s California. The Handmaid’s Tale was written in the aftermath of the Roe v. Wade decision and second-wave feminism wherein which women’s bodies and their right to choose were of great social moralistic concern. This conservative climate allowed for progressive movements such as feminism and racial equality to find their dystopian voices in contemporary issues. It would be a gross understatement to say that Roe v. Wade inspired Atwood to write The Handmaid’s Tale. Indeed it was a whole climate of fear for the future (from both the left and the right) that allowed for the authors’ speculations of what was to come. Writers like Atwood and James assessed their environments and wrote fiction that would mirror right-winged ideology in the worst way possible. They presented worst-case scenarios of white supremacy, oppressive patriarchies and crippling classism. They point to societies regression all on account of the greed and hate of those who were in power.


One could argue against the literary merit of The Hunger Games, but the fact is that in an MTV, Kardashian-crazed, video game obsessed social climate— one that relies so heavily on spectatorship, complacency, and the perverse glorification of violence— it is not hard to imagine Collins’ “not-too-distant future” as our own.    


This all ties back in to Le Guin’s statement on this genre being more about the present than anything. Authors take the worst parts of humanity and condense them, centralize them to situate characters in climates of fear, and audiences are simultaneously fascinated and disturbed.  


The future that feminist writers allude to is unanimously one lead by people belonging to marginalized groups. The disenfranchised, the meager, the meek, they are the key. The Handmaid’s Tale includes at the end some “historical notes” on the narrator’s account by an American Indian scholar from the year 2195. Gilead fell, and America’s Indigenous people have returned to power. In Children of Men, it is a group of disabled/deformed individuals, immigrants and people of color who challenge a tyrant. Society’s reject are the first to reproduce after two decades. In The Hunger Games, a girl and a boy from District 12, the poorest outermost district take down the President Snow and reunite Panem. These dystopias all suggest that hope, here meaning hope for a brighter future, lies with those who have been shut out, those on the fringes of society.


“When Omega came it came with dramatic suddenness and was received with incredulity. Overnight, it seemed, the human race had lost its power to breed. The discovery [took place] in July 1994 that even the frozen sperm stored for experiment and artificial insemination had lost its potency.” (Children of Men, 8) In the world of PD James’ Children of Men, the future looks bleak. There have been no births in twenty years and the world has all but given up on a next generation.

In Great Britain, the leader has capitalized on this lack of hope. The people’s listlessness has allowed him to create a society that will believe most lies, and justice the most heinous crimes. As Warden of England, Xan has created a supposed utopia. One with lower crime rates, less violence, less sexual imagery. People feel safe in their doom. “We are outraged and demoralized less by the impending end of our species, less even by our inability to prevent it, than by our failure to discover the cause. Western science and medicine haven’t prepared us for the magnitude and humiliation of this ultimate failure.”(Children of Men 5)  There is an insane obsessiveness that Western culture has with the Omega phenomenon. It is a blow to their pride, a personal failing, that they, all of their seemingly infinite wisdom, cannot find the cause of the problem. They do not wish to solve it, but they want to identify a reason for their suffering. A reason. Western ideology puts an emphasis on the cause and effect relationship of things. The fact that their white, male-driven, Western, superior silence failed to predict this drives the country into its descent.   

  A clear sign that a cure is not on the top of the Warden’s list of priorities is the fact that there was “no interrace cooperation”(Children of Men, 6). If they had been so concerned with the well-being of their own people,  James suggests, they would have crossed class, racial, or ableist boundaries to find a cure. After all, comes from a man and a woman who society has pushed out for their disabilities. Almost every one  of  the Five Fishes, Julian, Luke, Miriam, and Rolf,  has something to offer in this respect— some sort struggle that has made them a pariah. Whether their “otherness” is defined by class, race or their disabilities, it is crucial that the solution comes from them, the outsiders, the meek.  In her work the Human Project, author Jayna Brown agrees, “Racialized subjects, black and brown people, serve absolutely pivotal functions in a startling number of science fiction narratives, and particularly within post-apocalyptic worlds. Black characters determine the crucial meaning and messages of many of these narratives as they bear the weight of the apocalypse.They often hold the truths and the message of the films, often representing both the damning critique and its terms of vindication. [A person of color] literally holds the key to the survival of humankind,” (Human Project).  

Brown also asserts that Children of Men in some ways predicted the future for Great Britain. “ In the late 1990s and early 2000s, these groups organized locally in European centers and came together for transnational actions, such as simultaneous demonstrations, supporting the rights of transnational “precarious workers” and against “migration management for a global apartheid regime,” as the Crossing Borders Newsletter wrote in 2008. “(Human Project) Children of Men spoke to very real anxieties that people had about immigration and changing demographics in the United Kingdom. Its deftness in criticizing conservative, racist policies make it a progressive work.

Theo is a compelling protagonist because he does not exist is either camp— insider or outsider. He is someone who, for all intents and purposes, could be considered on the inside given his familial connection to Xan and his socioeconomic status, but he is not. He has chosen to set himself apart, saying “I don’t want anyone to look at me. not for protection, not for love, not for anything.”(Children of Men, 26). His despondency about the world makes him, as far as he is concerned a blank slate. He notes that “as a historian, I see it as the beginning of the end” (Children of Men, 8) That is why he is so easily roped into the Fishes’ scheme. He is impartial.

Maybe impartial isn’t the right word.  He is not impartial when it comes to Julian, to whom he is drawn in like a magnet, despite her deformity (and marital status). His love or lust for her, is a driving force in his part of the revolution. He is not impartial in his feelings toward Rolf, either, who he regards with contempt. Still, Theo is the perfect voice to hear this story from because he, like the readers, come to an understanding about the way things work from the outside. He gives people someone that they can relate to. Julian and her baby give him a sense of hope that empowers him.  If youth equals hope, then Julian, too equals hope. Her name actually latin for youthful, and it is no coincidence.

Children as hope is a recurring theme throughout dystopian, women’s dystopian especially. In Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, the Republic of Gilead has had fertility problems of their own.  The ability to reproduce is something that is both revered and reviled. “One of them is vastly pregnant […] There is a shifting in the room, a murmur, an escape of breath; despite ourselves we turn our heads, blatantly, to see better; our fingers itch to touch her. She’s a magic presence to us, an object of envy and desire, we covet her. She’s a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved.”  (Handmaid’s Tale, 61). Again, Handmaid’s Tale is a perfect medium to convey feminist ideology.  Women bear the brunt of Gilead’s oppression. They are told what to wear, what to say, when to speak. They are divided up by class, but in the end, none of them have any power. “Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.” (Handmaid’s Tale, 123)

According to David Ketterer, who wrote Margaret Atwood’s “the Handmaid’s Tale”: A Contextual Dystopia “Gilead is based on a new right-wing, religious fundamentalism. In this regard, Atwood’s choice of dedicatees for the novel is significant.”  (np) It is, as the name suggests, the story of a woman who society has turned their backs on. She someone who comes back into her own sexuality “I would like to be without shame. I would like to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then I would not know how ignorant I was.” (Handmaid’s Tale, 40) Because she is a woman, Offred takes on all of these titles and a number of abuses which become too much for her. The moment when she tosses them aside, she is empowered; she is in revolt. Offred’s voice as the narrator ties back into the important of marginalized voices, of the meek in dystopian. “This isn’t a story I’m telling. It’s also a story I’m telling, in my head, as I go along. Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden. But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else.” (Handmaid’s Tale, 85)

To return to the idea of children as hope, Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games is the most literal interpretation of this idea. When Panem fell to the Capitol, the children of each district were offered up as a sacrifice, punishment for disobedience. “Taking the kids from our districts, forcing them to kill one another while we watch – this is the Capitol’s way of reminding us how totally we are at their mercy. How little chance we would stand of surviving another rebellion. Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. “Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District Thirteen.” (Hunger Games, 76) It is a physical act, to ship children off to the capitol to watch them die.

Where does hope come in? The fact that they are children is the glimmer of hope that all successful dystopias need according to the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. They are young, impressionable, but characters such as Katniss and Rue and Primrose remain kind, brave and rebellious. The youth are the meek, and as a young person who overcomes the Capitol’s legacy of violence, Katniss Everdeen literally inherits all of Panem. Collins has chosen children to be her outsiders because they are always the victims of circumstance, with no voices with which to defend themselves. But, this novel also shows how children and hope can become corrupted. The kids from the inner districts are ruthless and brutal, killing for sport, and taking great pride in their victories. They are trained from birth to be smarter and better than the competition, blood-thirsty and psychotic like fighting dogs. Like PD James put it in her own work,  “if from infancy you treat children as gods they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.” (Children of Men, 11)

Dystopian as a genre works as a platform for radical ideas about society’s values and its future. In order to work, there has to be a bit of light against the bleak backdrop of England, of Gilead, of Panem. That hope, in the cases of these three works, is children. To bring new life it to the world, is to change it altogether. For this reason, dystopian relies on them as symbols.

Only the marginalized person in dystopia inherits the earth. After dealing with oppression and violence to no fault of their own, only they have the ability to soberly assess society’s flaws and to start revolutions. “Without the hope of posterity, for our race if not for ourselves, without the assurance that we being dead yet live, all pleasures of the mind and senses sometimes seem to me no more than pathetic and crumbling defences shored up against our ruin.” (Children of Men, np.)

Works Cited:


  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986. Print.
  • Brown, Jayna. “The Human Project”. Transition 110 (2013): 121–135. Web…
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  • James, P. D. The Children of Men. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1993. Print
  • Ketterer, David. “Margaret Atwood’s “the Handmaid’s Tale”: A Contextual Dystopia (“la Servante Écarlate” De Margaret Atwood: Une Dystopie Contextuelle)”. Science Fiction Studies 16.2 (1989): 209–217. Web…
  • Squier, Susan. “From Omega to Mr. Adam: The Importance of Literature for Feminist Science Studies”. Science, Technology, & Human Values 24.1 (1999): 132–158. Web…