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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Reproduction In Science Fiction Is More Than Fantasy

(Courtesy io9.com)

Reproductive rights are a hot button issue this election year. The state of Texas now requires women to undergo vaginal ultrasounds before having abortions, and the Susan G. Komen foundation came under fire for temporarily withdrawing breast exam funds from Planned Parenthood.

But as Annalee Newitz, executive editor of the science fiction blog io9.com points out in a recent article, reproduction, and the government’s involvement in family planning issues have long been a subject for science fiction writers in both books and movies.

“One of the truisms about science fiction is that it’s really about the present even though it’s about the future.”
– Blogger Annalee Newitz

“Often political debates are about things that we’re going to do to ourselves in the future, so it can be very instructive to look at how science fiction deals with those questions,” she told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

She points to such works as Magaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the 1997 film “Gattaca” and even “Terminator 2.”

Newitz says that science fiction writers often use their medium to express present day concerns, and that a lot of the movies and books about reproductive rights address “fears about how the government will control how we can reproduce…and how we rear our children.”

Fear Of Government-Controlled Reproduction

For instance, in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Magaret Atwood portrays a distopian society that resulted after right wing Christians took control of North America after a nuclear disaster.  Women are only as good as their ovaries  and they are given to powerful families to make babies.

Newitz says the fear expressed here is that the government will take the control it already has much further.

“So instead of regulating who can get married… how adoption happens, the government will regulate reproduction from start to finish,” she said.

But science fiction is not partial to one side of the political spectrum — there are movies and books that express the fears of both the political left and right.

Anti-Abortion Science Fiction

Phillip K Dick made “The Pre Persons” to be an anti-abortion story. The premise is anyone who hasn’t mastered algebra can be executed, and Newitz says it portrays a fear over what would happen if abortion could occur outside the womb.

Pro-Choice Science Fiction

“Dream Snake” by Vona McIntyre is an example of pro-choice science fiction.

It portrays a society where people have complete biological control over their bodies and can decide when to be fertile, and as a result, when to have children.

“It’s a scenario where these questions that we’re confronting now over reproductive rights are simply irrelevant because we have control over our bodies– we’ve reached a point where we don’t fight over this stuff anymore,” Newitz said.

Newitz points out that science fiction goes beyond the pro-choice and anti-abortion debate.

“It’s not just about abortion or choice, it’s about what happens to the child and how the government controls the destiny of the child,” Newitz said. “One of the truisms about science fiction is that it’s really about the present even though it’s about the future.”

Reproduction-Themed Sci-Fi Books And Stories

  • “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
  • “The Gate To Women’s Country” by Sheri S. Tepper
  • “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
  • “Herland” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ
  • “Dream Snake” by Vona McIntyre
  • “Unwind” by Neal Shusterman
  • “The Algebraist” by Iain M Banks
  • “The Color of Distance” by Amy Thomson
  • “The Pre Persons” by Phillip K Dick

Movies And TV

  • “Hell Comes To Frogtown”
  • “A Boy And His Dog”
  • “Never Let Me Go”
  • “The Island”
  • “House of the Scorpion”
  • “Terminator 2″
  • “Battlestar Galactica”
  • “The Road”
  • “Deep Space Nine”
  • “Real Steel”
  • “The Omen”
  • “The Brood:
  • “A.I.: Articifial Intelligence”


  • Annalee Newitz, Editor in Chief io9.com, a science fiction blog from Gawker media

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Mama23mice

    What about those of us who oppose most forms of birth control because of health concerns.  I don’t put synthetic chemicals in my compost pile, why would I put them in my body?

  • Agrupee

    Historically we have cases that illustrate and even assert this science fiction theme. We  know that Black women were treated like this by southern states(NC) and we also know that poor women have had many restrictions about their very own body-this is the ongoing battle about women’s body in this country over “reproductive rights” which in fact is about women’s right to control their body.  Since the eighties, both the federal and state governments  have RESTRICTed this very option for women(North Dakota), not just the supreme court.

    Atwood’s novel clearly illustrate the difference between opulence and the poor-somewhere we are headed nationally. Choices versus controlled options.

  • listener

    Why does scifi always assume that in the future the government will evolve into an efficient totalitarian state, able to control all aspects of human life?  This seems like old-think, rooted in mid-20th century fears.   An updated view of the future – one based in our present-day government’s inability to control or regulate anything successfully – might be more Wall-E than Brave New World.  In such a future I doubt that anyone will have to control reproduction as humans will be too fat, stupid, and complacent to bother much about procreation.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5LYHM2LXAT7AN7U4MYPPBOT2N4 NashidA

    @79f88955922b12a4e399c9f0b1b0be8a:disqus  – What  I find is, sci-fi is not talking about government in the traditional sense, like the US Gov, or Canadian Gov, but sci-fi is assuming that there is an idea, a thought, a concept, that governs our behavior and actions,  that if you can connect the dots, and logically follow that idea, that thought, or that concept to its natural conclusion, we have to ask ourselves if these governing concepts are enlightened enough for us to allow them to have control on any aspect of human life.

    …..just saying.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    This left out “The Giver,” which is derived from Plato’s “Republic.”  The idea and fear in this is an old one.

  • Anonymous

    Did Captain Kirk wear condoms? 

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