Science Fiction Today – Terrorism

Well, today’s another awful day. I’ve seen plenty of people posting their support of the people of Brussels and Belgium and who were there, and our hearts and  prayers go out as well.

Pray for Brussels

But as Holly mentioned yesterday, we take the awful stuff in the world today, and step back. Step forward. We look at them through the lens of Science Fiction stories.

And I’m sad to say, Science Fiction stories still see a lot of terrorism in the future. It seems it will remain a way for a smaller force to deal with a larger one, for an occupied force to deal with an occupier. For one dissatisfied person to take out all their frustration and send a message.

For instance, I think that Science Fiction was probably the original home of cyber terrorism. Sure, it became more mainstream, but it was originally near-future nerd stuff. And it still shows up in TV shows and such as far more interesting and useful and powerful than it is in real life… far more Science Fiction.

And if you count some of superhero fiction as Science Fiction, then we certainly see it there too, often in a world somewhat like our own today. Really, a lot of what happens in those stories – especially when you step away from the incredibly super-powered folks – is a story of organized crime and domestic terrorists versus vigilantes. Maybe wider terror groups, working on recruiting, like the League of Assassins or the Hand. We’ve been watching Daredevil season 2 – lots of things you could call terrorism there.

In Science Fiction, you see Utopias. One of the best is Star Trek. And even there, we definitely see terrorism. Khan is the perfect example. However, the Bajorans – fighting a Cardassian occupation – absolutely also are an example, and that’s pretty much the setting for Deep Space Nine. So it’s not like it’s something that’s just a one-shot in an episode, it comes up many times. From re-watching Next Generation, I remember Ro Laren having to infiltrate a terrorist resistance group. It wasn’t easy for her, because you get close to them, and you find out they might be human…

And Science Fiction also tells us a lot about Dystopias… generally the result of a cataclysmic event that leads to a response towards security, and terrorism seems a part. Sometimes before, sometimes after. Like V for Vendetta, where one man’s terrorism exposes a dictatorship and pulls it down.

But the dictatorship, the Dystopia, can form because of terrorism too, it’s not solely an answer. After these sorts of things, we want vengeance. We want justice. We want it to stop. And things happen that, in hindsight or over time, we see to be a bridge too far. And often, this is what Science Fiction writers are warning us about, when they write about Dystopias. Beware those impulses to sacrifice our liberties, to strike out too broadly or too blindly.

In many ways, I hope they’re all wrong. I hope that we find ourselves in a future with peace.

10 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Terrorism

  1. I always keep reminding myself, that only 100 years before, peace was a riddiculous notion in a an Europe, which hadn’t manage to stay at peace at any period of time. And now we have manage 70 years of it. It is too bad that some jealous cowards disturb it by deliberately attacking innocents. But I won’t allow them to win this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point, 100 years ago was some of the very worst of war. Weapons far more powerful than defenses. Trench warfare. And a world at war…


      • 200 or 300 years ago it wasn’t much better either. War has been part of the European reality for it’s whole history. I am really proud of my parents and Grandparents that they learned their lesson and focussed on building a world at peace. It might be the most impressive feat in history.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You compare the end of WWI and the end of WWII and you can see that lessons were learned. WWI set up WWII with how it ended and the decisions made to keep the losing side down… but the rebuilding work put in after WWII is how you build a peace. Things like the war trials to specifically deal with the leadership, and not the nation as a whole. Sure, the Cold War followed, but we didn’t nuke the world into oblivion (so far) so it’s still certainly in the positive. One fear, however, is that we’re getting far enough removed from that that we may be forgetting the lessons learned during that era. Will the future maintain peace? Or forget what it took to build it?


  2. The original Dune novels are applicable to some of what is happening. Paul uses religion (one that was careful constructed by the Bene Gesserit) to manipulate the Fremen into a galaxy-wide jihad. It’s a useful, albeit fictional, perspective to look at how real-world jihadists are created. Science fiction can often address real-world issues in ways that non-fiction can find problematic. For example, Battlestar Galactica examined how ‘heroes’ could justify suicide bombings, something that would be much harder to do in the context of real-world terrorism. My own novel (The Age of the Jackal; yes, I know, shameless self-promotion) does a lot of this, looking at real-world political and economic issues through the prism of fiction. This is not a new concept, of course. But, the fact that many people regard a science fiction look at something like terrorism as being of less utility than, say, some talking head on the news having 90 seconds to spew slogans, means that creative people (authors, filmmakers, etc) can use the genre settings and tropes in ways that can be more incisive than a non-fiction analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said! Also you referenced Dune, meaning that you get to go right ahead with the self-promotion.

      That line between freedom-fighter and terrorist can at times be blurry. But in a stable nation, it’s far less blurry and far more an act of pure violence and message-sending. Science Fiction, meanwhile, can give us ways to look at all sides of a situation like this and at times root for all of the different sides… whereas in the world, any specific situation is likely to lead to an emotional or historical reaction in us, about who was in the “right.” Harder to explore then. And often harder to get into the head of the other side…


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  4. Have a round of applause.

    What we understand as “terrorism” is endemic to the human condition at this point. It’s a way for an actor who is willing to use violence to get what they want to erode or break an otherwise impervious group.

    Equally accessible to states and insurrectionist movements.

    It’s a tactic.

    It’s the noun-formation I find problematic. I don’t see how “terrorist” is productive as a label. Because every terrorist, whatever their cause, has other ideological labels, and naming them for the tactics they use does nothing but cloud the waters and make more people vulnerable to manipulation.

    Better to call iSIS “religious extremists prone to terrorism,” than to call them “terrorists” and leave it at that. Is what I think. Language is insanely important in matters such as this.

    You are right about what science fiction says. And I agree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So Khan was a Eugenics Extremist prone to terrorism…

      Including religious in the description is also problematic as there’s that guilt-by-association that has folks like Drumpf wanting to just do away with Muslims. Adding “extremist” is a minutiae that is ignored. Ironically ignored most especially by different kinds of extremists…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’ve pegged Khan perfectly.

        The rest of that made my head swim a little, but I see your point about “religious.”

        Far as the extremism goes. Doesn’t matter whether most people understand it or not. Extremism is the thing we’re working against, I think. And in all its forms. Extremism is bad for business. Introduces chaos, gets people killed, causes riots . . . and so forth.

        Once the extremism crosses a line, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s right or left, religious or secular. Extremism is just bad.

        Liked by 1 person

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