Readers are drawn to speculative fiction for different reasons. For me, it’s not merely escapism, nor is it to imagine how our world might be one day. I think what draws me most to speculative fiction is that it can examine the human condition without the restriction of our natural world. Genre authors will often use alien species or demigods or sentient technology to transcend and look at humanity beyond our mortal bodies. In this sense, their viewpoints become meta; their words and actions often echo the sentiments of a minority group on a personal level without being confined to that population or its shackles.
In some stories, the allegory is subtle. In fact, it may even be apparent without the author drawing an intentional connection. In other stories, the correlation is so obvious that it is almost insulting to the reader. I’ll give an example that was shared with me recently. In the Star Trek episode, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” we are introduced to an alien species that is half-black and half-white. One of the races has their whiteness on the right side and another has it on the other side. An argument ensues about what race is superior and the crew of the Enterprise must intervene to prevent a war. Now I wasn’t alive at this time, but I’ve got to imagine that even the most obtuse of viewers wouldn’t fail to see the episode’s commentary on the civil rights movement.
I think there are many better examples where the use of meta perspectives is handled much more elegantly. One recent example is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. In this novel, the language of the Radch does not distinguish gender with its pronouns. In fact, they use “she” as an inclusive term to include both male and female. This is apparent to any attentive reader, but what Leckie is doing is more than commenting on gender equality. She is challenging language assumptions all together. In fact, there are other anomalies to the Radch language. The word civilized speaks to the notion of having an advanced culture that is organized and under control. A civilized culture can thrive on any continent with any race of people. But in the novel, the Radch only apply the term to themselves. They cannot apply the term to another race, for they see themselves as the most advanced and any other group is lesser. I am really hoping that Leckie continues to examine language on a broader scale in subsequent novels, because I think there is a lot we take for granted with the use of our own language.
The ability to take a character and transcend them from human bodies and human culture is precisely what I love about speculative fiction. An SF story allows the reader to step into another person’s shoes without the preconceived biases that come with real-life characters. This alone makes speculative fiction both unique and important in literature.