In this installment of Discovering New Worlds with B.K. Bass, I wanted to take a look at a sub-genre that will be a featured theme in an upcoming issue of the Kyanite Press (Volume 1, Issue 5, coming in May 2019): Social Science Fiction.
I’ve been asked a lot of questions about this, so it had to be delved into further!
Social Science Fiction is a broad term to describe any work of speculative fiction that features social commentary (as opposed to, say, hypothetical technology) in the foreground. [From encyclopedia.com.]
Before we dive in, I want to clear up a common misconception that “Social Science Fiction” and “Soft Science Fiction” are identical entities.
The difference between “Soft” and “Hard” science fiction lies in how well defined the technology and other speculative elements are. Soft SciFi tends to include elements with a bit of ‘handwavium’ so that it can focus more on the story, while Hard SciFi delves into the nuts and bolts of how things work.
While Social Science Fiction is often Soft SciFi as well, this is by no means a rule and there have been many socially-focused works that include an element of well-defined realism in their speculations.
As defined above; Social Science Fiction examines sociological, anthropological, and psychological issues as its main focus. The term was coined by Isaac Asimov to define his own work in the 1940’s. At the time, science fiction had consisted mostly of the ‘spaceships and ray guns‘ styles; such as what is often found in planetary romance tales. During the 1940’s, there was a movement spearheaded by the likes of Asimov and Robert A Heinlein to use science fiction as a way to examine our own sociological issues from new perspectives.
Since that time, the term “Social Science Fiction” has not been widely used. Still, it remains one of the most widely explored sub-genres of speculative fiction; often existing in the backdrop of other genres. A great example of this is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick, better known by many as its film adaptation Blade Runner.
This story is considered by many to be one of the quintessential examples of CyberPunk; but despite the elements of technology that are central to the story, the real questions asked here are about the definitions of humanity itself. In the background is also a picture of a future society. Both are strong social science fiction elements.
Other prominent examples of social science fiction include George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ray Bradburry‘s Fahrenheit 451, and The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. Some contemporary examples include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Divergent by Veronica Roth.
I’m happy to present a foray of my own into this particular sub-genre: Integration Protocols.
by B.K. Bass
They showed up twenty years ago, but I can still remember that day like it was yesterday. I was still in high school back then. Mrs. Hayes was in the middle of a lecture when everybody’s cell phones went off at the same time. The national emergency alert system had issued an advisory to seek shelter, stay indoors, and to stay away from windows until further notice – across the entire country! Mrs. Hayes must have seen the same thing on her own phone, because after looking at it her face was ghost white. I can understand now that she might have been reacting to suddenly being responsible for thirty souls in an emergency situation, but more likely she was terrified of being trapped in a room with thirty teenagers for an indeterminate amount of time.
Well, considering we were already in one of the most secure and solidly built structures in the entire county, we weren’t too worried. Some of the other students were concerned for their families. Most of us thought it was a test, or a fluke, or a mistake like that missile strike warning fiasco in Hawaii the year before. The odd thing was that the alert was for the entire country. One would expect a county, or a state, or even a region to get warning of a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or some other disaster. Also, the alerts usually specified these things. This one didn’t say what was going on.
There was one group that could be relied upon not to listen to what the government told them to do, and that was the media. Mrs. Hayes switched on the television mounted to the wall in the corner, and every channel had people out in the field recording what was happening. There were reporters standing to one side of the frame so the audience could see everything behind them, talking about how much they can’t believe what I’m seeing. That quote actually became an internet meme after that, since almost every reporter in the country said exactly those words.
At the time, it wasn’t funny; that’s because none of us could believe what we were seeing either.
Behind these reporters all over the country – literally in every state – strange objects were coming down out of the sky. They rode in on plumes of fire and smoke, rocking back and forth as they struggled to retain control. They weren’t the ‘flying saucers’ that everybody had seen in the movies and cheesy cable TV documentaries. They were rectangular, with bits and pieces jutting out at odd angles. There were antennas and other minor elements extending from the superstructure of the objects, and most of these were snapping off as they plummeted through an atmosphere far thicker than the one they had been designed to land in.
Thousands of ships landed across the world that day, bringing with them millions of refugees from some far-off war that nobody here had even heard of. And, with their ships damaged beyond repair, they were here to stay.
Now, almost two decades later, I’m standing in my front yard watering my wife’s flowerbed. If I don’t keep it watered, the summer heat will kill everything in it. And if I let my wife’s flowers die, I’ll be in the middle of my own personal refugee crisis. The sun is beating down, but the breeze is blowing the spray from the garden hose back on me in a refreshing mist. The neighborhood is full of perfectly manicured lawns, each with tidy rows of flower beds and accented with topiary hedges. It’s a suburban paradise, and there’s a black armored truck parked in front of my neighbor’s house with big yellow letters on the side; I.N.S.
The jobs created by the expansion of the Immigration and Nationalization Service had been a boon to the economy, almost wiping out the unemployment crisis overnight. It wasn’t uncommon now to see one of these armored behemoths park in a residential neighborhood and disgorge an entire squad of heavily armed agents.
One such squad was heading back to their truck now, while the lead agent stood on the front porch of my neighbor’s house exchanging a last few words with the couple that lived there. Once he had climbed into the truck and it had rumbled off down the road, I called out, “Nylix, are you guys okay?”
Nylix waved, and I would assume he smiled since I couldn’t see his face. His people couldn’t breathe our air, so were subject to spending most of their lives in specially designed environmental suits. He strode over towards the white picket fence that separated my domain from his, long legs carrying him over the lawn easily. He raised a slender arm, palm out, in his people’s version of a handshake. I did the same, to be polite.
“We are okay, John,” he said.
“What was all that about?” I asked, jerking my thumb at the paramilitary vehicle turning the corner at the end of the street.
“More of the same. Safety inspections, they’re calling it now.”
“Your safety, or theirs?” I asked. I had known Nylix and his mate Ceela for almost five years now since I bought the house next to them. Having an alien living next-door was great for real-estate prices, and the Iborans didn’t cause any more problems than humans usually did.
Nylix’s shoulders sagged and his slender torso almost doubled over – his version of a sigh. “Theirs, I suppose. Ceela and I have never been in any trouble, but they still show up once every few months with some excuse to search our home.”
“It’s getting worse, from what I hear on the news.”
“Worse than you think. The news talks about it some, but you’ll hear more at the New Iboria Conclaves.” Nylix was talking about a sort of community center for the aliens; set up in most larger cities. It was a place where they could take off the environment suits and spend time with others like themselves.
I harrumphed, thinking about how the government had been paranoid about outsiders even before the Iborans showed up. It had only gotten worse since then. Despite the fact that we lived and worked together for so long, there was still so much distrust. “Doesn’t make sense,” I muttered.
“To them it does,” Nylix said. “It’s been like this since we got here. We knew it would be hard at first, but had no other options. We thought it would get better over time, but it hasn’t. Any time our people ask about it, the government says that it’s all part of their ‘Integration Protocols.’”
“Sounds like a load of crap to me,” I said.
Nylix cocked his head to one side quizzically. “I’m not sure what a ‘load of crap’ sounds like, but I’ll trust you are right.”
I laughed and said, “You better get inside before Ceela thinks you’re trying to migrate to my house.”
“And you better finish watering those flowers,” Nylix said, pointing one skinny finger at the row of colorful plants. “You know what Mary will do if you don’t take care of them.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered, “maybe I can come stay with you guys.”
“You’re always welcome, John. Have a nice evening.”
As the tall, skinny alien loped back to his home, I couldn’t help but realize that he was my favorite person in the neighborhood.