The Many Sides of Science Fiction by Anne Cramer
This exploration created free-thinkers interested in fact checking. My students became connoisseurs of exploring speculative fiction that carried current scientific theory into the future. They followed Merriam-Webster's’ definition of science fiction as “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component”. (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science%20fiction).
From this pursuit, my classroom generated a list of titles they felt would allow educators and librarians to engage students in scientific endeavors while also creating a myriad of exploration of cross-curricular themes and academic pursuits .
Many of today’s science fiction novels paint a monochromatic future, (see The Future Is Pale: Race in Contemporary Young Adult Dystopian Novels By Mary J. Couzelis) There tends to be a lack of cultural and racial identity in the characters in the novels. Our students need to see themselves in our future or have the platform to explore how, in the future constructed in many science fiction novels, race has been extinguished and cultures whitewashed in order to achieve a perfect world. The Marrow Thieves, The Giver, and Parable of the Sower provide three opportunities to explore not only the science behind science fiction but also tap into the diversity of science fiction characters and novelists. The three books create a framework to discuss how the need for a “perfect” world erases different cultures and communities in order to achieve some semblance of salvation.
There is no shying away from the attempts to whitewash the future in these texts. The bittersweet introduction to The Marrow Thieves instantly alerts the reader that the genocidal mistakes of our past are being repeated in the future as the main character, Frenchie, and his new family try to save the oral history tradition and rituals of their respective tribes. They are at the edge of extinction and desperately clinging to their community. Lauren Olamina and her family are barely managing an existence in walled-off community, Robledo, California. They are trapped inside for safety reasons but, at the same time, are slowly dying of poverty and lack of opportunity. The only way out is to sell themselves to a company, a comparison to slavery that many students will not miss.
Drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages are obstacles in the settings of the novels as well as making their presence known in recent headlines. Flint, Michigan. Standing Rock, North Dakota. These brutal stories quickly faded from headlines while the problems continue to grow. Both writers introduce characters who are openly gay, have suffered great trauma, and are victims of class warfare. These issues are openly discussed in these texts, offering up a ripe field for discussion when juxtaposed with Lois Lowry’s The Giver. In this canonical text, Lowry does not shy away highlighting the whitewashing of the future in order to create harmony. She forces the reader to address the erasing of differences and of love for the good of the safety of The Community. Jonas’ escape paves the way for many discussions about the risks that people take in order to break away from sameness and seek communities that are accepting of the differences that make us human. The theme that links all of these texts together is community. What remains true throughout time is the importance of the bonds of humanity and our need to be together, no matter how bleak our future.
These diverse texts show us that the answer to many of our dystopian problems are not solved by one hero or even science but through true leadership that utilizes delegation of authority and makes space for those who do not fit the conventional molds of the future. These science fiction novels that paint a diverse landscape for our students to identify with also make sure to create communities of acceptance, something that many of our students long for.
The true horror of our future in these three novels is not what science creates or the scientists that wield the power. No, the true horror lies in what humanity creates in the name of protection while hiding behind a mask of fear: the breakdown of community. The ritualistic and thought-out plans to dismember the foundation of civilizations by destroying art, music, culture, language, and love. The humanities ground the communities in these science fiction novels. Community as revolution is something that our students see reflected in current social and political movements and even better, like the protagonists in these three novels, these movements are headed by teens who are refusing to accept the answers that society is dealing them. They are hurtling together through tiny hand-held devices to lead us to a brighter and safer future for generations to come.
Butler, O. E. (1995).Parable of the sower. London: The Women's Press.
Dimaline, C. (2017). The Marrow Thieves. Toronto : Cormorant Books
Lowry, L. (1993).The giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.