Sci-fi was never not political

I was reading through this otherwise excellent retrospective of Command and Conquer, when something incongruous caught my eye. Namely, the suggestion that Dune, with its stylized far-future setting, was somehow disconnected from the real-world politics of its time.


Bwahahahaha! Folks, are you for real?! Dune is quite explicitly about Arabs in a desert fighting off a high-tech empire coming to take their oil, pardon, Spice. In the guise of "liberating" them from another occupation, no less. Even the white savior plot is 40% Lawrence of Arabia. Come on.

That's hardly a singular case, either. The much-maligned Starship Troopers is an incredibly transparent depiction of the early Vietnam War, complete with paratroopers and tunnel combat. Star Trek moved the then-ongoing Cold War in space, submarines and all. (Though Klingons being the only side to use cloaked vessels and pack tactics is more reminiscent of WW2.) Going a little back, we have Beyond the Black River, by Robert E. Howard. A lesser-known adventure of Conan the Barbarian, it's ostensibly an allegory of American colonists fighting against the natives a century before, though the ending is an obvious reference to the rise of fascism in Europe at the time of its writing. Speaking of which, don't even get me started about Olaf Stapledon's The First and Last Men. Ironic how just a quarter century earlier, The Iron Heel by Jack London featured corporate overlords as the villains who install an oppressive regime lasting many decades. An idea not seen again until Neuromancer, this side of the Oil Crisis. And since we moved closer in time, let's mention Robocop, that's all about the privatization and militarization of law enforcement. Or the same Star Trek coming back to mark the end of the Cold War with The Undiscovered Country, thus bringing the original series full-circle.

Sci-fi was never not political. I could quote the entire oeuvre of H.G. Wells (yes, even The Time Machine; think Eloi vs. Morlocks). Or anything written by Norman Spinrad: it doesn't get more clear than Other Americas. Heck, I didn't even mention Asimov's Caves of Steel. Funny how something based on the author's memories of growing up during the Great Depression can echo so strongly for someone who caught the tail end of Communism. Or for that matter the present day, when automation is once more threatening to tear apart society. And remember The Lord of the Rings, where our hobbits return home victorious only to find the Shire turned into an industrial nightmare?

Gee, I wonder why that bit was left out in the movies.