Family Values, by Sara Genge

August 10, 2008

Listen to it at Escape Pod.

This is probably one of the bravest science fiction pieces I’ve ever read.

It’s a cliché that scifi is about alien cultures. It’s also wrong. Science fiction is about our own culture, but tweaked enough that we are able to look at it objectively. The creatures of that society might look completely different (or they might not), but it all comes down to the same thing in the end: eerily recognisable societies and cultures, that are only really alien because they hail from a different planet.

The reason I think this story is brave, is because it takes a few steps away from the tried-and-tested mould of recognisable aliens. Family Values focuses on sentient underwater blobs, with reproductive processes that are very alien indeed.

Why is it brave? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that people, even science fiction geeks, aren’t interested in aliens. They’re interested in people. Well, that’s being very generous. People are interested in people in general and themselves in particular. Literature is usually most enjoyable for the reader when he or she can recognise a character who is similar to themselves, or when they are confronted with a situation that they have had to deal with in real life.

Unfortunately, this piece isn’t as brave as it could have been. Although it is vastly more alien than most science fiction in the creatures presented and the worldbuilding, the narrative itself is incredibly human. There’s bribable politicians, petty squabbling between women based on age and experience (therefore social merit), and there’s men and women using sex to manipulate each other, based on each gender’s unique weaknesses and strengths.

Still, I applaud the author for having the audacity to dare write about something that wasn’t entirely human. It makes it harder for the casual readers, but much more enjoyable for those looking for something more than semi-escapist fantasy.


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