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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

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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