Tag Archives: The Lathe of Heaven

Sleep – Science Fiction Today

There’s a topic that’s on our minds a lot right now – sleep. With Holly sick last week, the Geek Baby and I spent the week sleeping in a different room. And, while the Geek Baby is a pretty good sleeper, the schedule change seems to have messed with her. So we’re taking advantage of it a bit – it’s time to start transitioning into the crib. There are a lot of suggestions on ideas and tips… but anyway, suffice to say: thinking a lot about sleep.

I have a troubled relationship with sleep. On the one hand, a good sleep – a fascinating dream, sleeping in, snuggled warm when it’s cold… these are good things. But I also feel like there’s so much more I could do, and would want to do, if I could just sleep less. I did sleep a lot less during college, which did leave me feeling like I got a lot done – and like I would fall asleep in early-morning classes.

There are interesting visions of sleep in Science Fiction – like the powerful dreams in The Lathe of Heaven, or the cryo-sleep in countless deep-space travel stories. However, what I’m thinking of I’m not sure I’ve read, but I’m sure it’s out there – what about not needing to sleep at all? Or about some sort of super-caffeine, where we can simulate having slept for a while at least.

Because even in, say, Star Trek where they seem to have solved so many things – like the effects of alcohol with Synthehol, or say scarcity… they still definitely sleep. Beds prominent in all of their cabins.

So I feel like because I don’t have specific examples, I would open it up to you – any good examples or thoughts on the future of sleep? Or, how about a poll?

Science Fiction Today – Xenophobia

Whoa, dropping a big word to get in an X. Let’s go for a definition:

“fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners”

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/xenophobia

As someone in the US, the obvious place where I am coming from is immigration debates in a country largely made up of immigrants. However, I am also fully aware that things like loosening borders in Europe due to the European Union, for instance, are leading to similar debates, concerns, or prejudices elsewhere in the world.

A lot of things feed into xenophobia, so it definitely counts as a problem with no easy or obvious answer. Saying “everybody like everybody else!” doesn’t quite cut it, as words alone might work in abstract, but how do they work in the specific? Luckily, this is a topic addressed a lot in science fiction: so what answers or future problems do we see?

The Solution – Us versus Them

It’s Watchmen. The conclusion that we always need to identify an Us, those like us, and the Them, the outsider. And we don’t like the outsider. So in much of science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter) the outsider is not another human being at all: it’s an alien race, from somewhere else. If aliens attack the earth, humanity will hopefully be at peace with each other. I’ve just read this idea in The Lathe of Heaven as well.

Of course, there is a more hopeful solution in mind. If we solve the sorts of scarcity problems that create differences and a feeling that we need to protect what is ours, then maybe we won’t fear the outsider. Think Star Trek. The crew of the Enterprise is always on a mission of peace, with a diverse(ish) crew of humans and aliens, and off to meet aliens, to meet outsiders. Peace can be imagined, but it does seem like a far-flung future to get there!

Compounded Problems

However, if we don’t reach an idyllic Star Trek sort of future, then often authors envision a dystopia – and xenophobia is often a problem in dystopias. When things go poorly, when there is war or famine or plague, the outsider is one of the great fears or hated groups. I’m thinking of dystopias like V for Vendetta, or Children of Men, or The Windup Girl. All of these show worsening relations between nations, and worsening racial situations. General distrust and unhappiness.

Which unfortunately means that even if we reach an idyllic future, we may have to go through worse xenophobia to get there. Even in Star Trek, the idea is that they went through World War 3 to get there – and things were likely not very friendly at that point in future history. It was the introduction of aliens and space travel that united humanity and led to peace.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction Today – Gender

GI have heard Gender described as the civil rights fight of the next century. Well, that means much of the fight is in the future – Science Fiction time! Of course, first I think I want a definition of Gender.

Let’s peel some definitions apart. There’s “sex,” which is physically male or female. Then there is “gender” – often used as the word instead of “sex” – which is about masculine or feminine traits. Definitions on those traits are probably beyond the scope of a short post… Then there is “sexuality” which is about what sex one is attracted to… well, also probably which gender. All of these elements taken together could perhaps be called a “gender identity.”

Between all of those elements, there are a great many laws being passed – that increase or decrease freedom in these different areas. Laws like ones being passed in some countries against homosexuality. Or like laws being passed in the United states – in some states, allowing homosexual marriage… in others, trying to stop it. It’s a hot enough topic that I don’t think I can fully say what utopia or dystopia would look like with this – so let’s look at three possible future states.

Gender Difference Illegal

One way that the dice could fall is for the laws blocking any forms of gender difference – anything outside of masculine males who like women, and feminine women who like men – would be illegal. Parts of the laws to get to this point are already in place in many places.

Depending on how these things are defined, though, what would life look like? For instance, take the geeky things that we love here on the blog. They tend to be considered “guy” things – comic books and their movies, video games – but not “masculine” things. So who would get to enjoy these things?

Gender as a Non-Issue

Then again, there’s the other extreme – gender differences are all made legal, and we have all moved past them as an issue. But how likely is this? After all, there’s the hope that the same could be said of race, but that doesn’t seem to have happened…

Indeed, while many of the apparent legal barriers have been removed, racial tensions still exist. So while on one extreme there are legal pressures against difference, on the other extreme having none of those legal pressures does not inherently mean that society is cured of what ails it.

So how even do you get to a point where it’s a non-issue?

Genderless Society

Of course, if we really want to talk science fiction, then it’s not a legal remedy one way or another. It’s science. And I could see genetic engineering, eugenics, or some form mental or physical controls being used to “solve” the gender question.

Okay, if I’ve already mentioned race, then let me mention the book I just finished reading, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. In it, a character could change all of reality through dreaming. At one point, he dreams about a solution to racial difference – and he dreams that everyone was grey, that everyone had always been grey. No racial difference.

Okay… so is a solution like that utopian or is it dystopian? You tell me.

Historical Note: Though I used it as the conceit for this post, it is an oversimplification to think of gender identity as the civil rights battle of the next century. Even just thinking the last 150 years of American history, the basic narrative could at least be seen as race and slavery… then women’s suffrage… then race again… then feminism… then gay rights… to today, where honestly it feels like all of these things are in play. And it was probably the same in the past: all of these things were in play at once. None of them are a “start” and “stop” dialog, and there is no clear “end” to them either.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!