Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Science fiction and terrorism

When I grew up the word 'terrorist' was not in use - it was 'freedom fighters' or 'rebels', later 'insurgents', and then, as communications allowed grievous acts to be spread globally and with a mouse or thumb 'click', terrorism became the accepted term.

Science fiction often looks at where we are today and extrapolates to where we might be in the future. It isn't always optimistic, but often there is hope. But terrorism is a difficult subject to write about, especially in the wake of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which frankly at the time moved me to tears even though I was thousands of miles away, and after the awful tragedy recently in Norway. Still, I wrote a story, The Sapper, about terrorism, and what it might look like if we haven't managed to eradicate it, in a couple of hundred years.

Not much science fiction really deals with terrorism. I remember Star Trek Deep Space Nine addressing it over a couple of seasons, and tackling some nasty issues along the way, but then it reverted to the more palatable War with aliens.

My novel (The Eden Paradox) includes a terrorist sect (the Alicians) who actually have an alien agenda, and give rise to an almost equally nasty (and unaccountable) Interpol known as the Chorazin, set against a context where fundamentalism has gained a deeper hold on the planet. The characters live and operate in a world where terrorism is never far away. The recent 'uprisings' in Northern Africa, known collectively as the 'Arab Spring', have however given me new hope that we don't need to go down such a course. 

One man's terrorist may well be another man's (usually a far smaller minority) freedom fighter or martyr. That doesn't justify such deeds as terrorists commit. Some of them would no doubt say the end justifies the means. No way, if only for the simple reason that if you take the long view of history, there are no 'ends', since life goes on, and one corrupt government often replaces another after a coup, one bloody revolution follows another, and so on. In the long view there are only means. We will be therefore judged by our means, since that's all there really is. If you get blood on your hands, it doesn't wash off. Ask Lady Macbeth.

The Arab Spring gives me hope that we are changing, in this case aided by communications technology. Repression works best if people don't know better, can't form groups, and think things can't change. A major instrument of any despot or authoritarian government is ignorance and misinformation. Science fiction could explore where all this new social media is leading. Maybe somewhere better.

As for my latest story, The Sapper, it contains some gore, because it is about terrorism, and terrorism is ugly, and writers should paint it the way it is. But as I said earlier, science fiction is about hope... - short story The Sapper

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