Why Science Fiction Must Err on the Side of Diversity

On Friday the Supreme Court made an historic 5-4 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the entire United States. Although there is still much to be done, this is a huge step forward in the gay rights movement. Heck, it’s a huge step forward in the quest for human rights in general.

But Tosche Station isn’t a blog focused on current events or politics or even social justice (as much as some people would like to believe). We’re a blog about Star Wars, about fandom, about geek culture. That includes science fiction which, believe it or not, is a genre greatly affected by the Supreme Court ruling. Because from now on, if you create any sort of Earth-based science fiction set in the near or far future and you don’t include married couples of both the same and opposite sex, you’re doing it wrong.

Nothing can take you out of a science fiction tale more than bad science or inaccurate predictions about the future. Let’s look at, for example Back to the Future Part 2. It’s set in the year 2015, which is the same year we’re in now. The movie predicted flying cars, cars that ran on trash, hoverboards, widespread hologram technology instead of 3D, fax machines in every room of the house…I could go on and on. Some of the predictions were made to be purely humorous, like abolishing lawyers and an accurate to the second weather service. But the others were supposed to be extrapolations of what the actual 2015 would be like, based on when the movie was made (the late 1980s). How many times have you heard someone say this year, “Where’s my flying car?” While you can still enjoy Back to the Future 2 despite all this (although most people consider it the worst of the trilogy), the fake future stuff takes away the viewers’ suspension of disbelief. Of course, Back to the Future is a comedy first and foremost, so the inaccurate predictions aren’t as egregious as movies like 2001, for example, where Pan Am flew regularly in outer space.

Now, let’s consider a science fiction film made today that’s set in the year 2045. The creators might add in some technology based on virtual reality. They might extrapolate that people wear Google glass type devices at all hours of the day. They might predict that space travel is much more ubiquitous. Maybe humans have finally colonized other worlds. Who knows. But say you go to the movie theatre or stream this movie via Netflix and you’re pulled into a futuristic world in which there are no married couples of the same sex. Some people might not even realize this as a problem, just like there are still some people to refuse to admit that a lack of women or POCs is a problem in all fiction–because it’s not realistic.

Just like a lack of gender or ethnic diversity, a lack of diversity when it comes to sexuality is a huge issue in stories set in the future. As of Friday, June 26, 2015, a man could marry another man anywhere in the United States and a woman could marry a woman. Many countries have already legalized same sex marriage. Whether you like it or not (and that is not the point of this article), this is how marriage will look going forward. It would be as foolish not to include married couples of the same sex as it would to include no multiracial characters. If you do that, you’re effectively telling the consumer you don’t understand how the world works. How can they then trust you to know how storytelling works, too?

Science fiction must err on the side of diversity, especially when it tells stories about the future. It must be progressive because its entire purpose as a genre is to push ideas forward. Anything is possible in science fiction, from time travel to colonies on other worlds to teleportation. These fantastical, futuristic worlds must be based in reality in order to be taken seriously, and that includes characters of all colors, genders, and sexualities.

The world we live in right now is diverse, so why shouldn’t our visions of the future be as well?

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9 thoughts on “Why Science Fiction Must Err on the Side of Diversity

    • I actually like it a lot. But I also realize that most people don't like it as much as I do. 😛

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  2. "These fantastical, futuristic worlds must be based in reality in order to be taken seriously,"
    Fiction is an escape from reality. To make it reality is to forgo fiction. What are you talking about?

    • Sure, fiction isn't real. But there's a reason authors do tons of research in order to get things right. If readers call you on things like getting the make of a car wrong, or not understanding how to shoot a gun, how are they ever going to believe your characters or plot? You hook the reader in with believability so they'll accept fantastical things like FTL travel without batting an eye.

      If your stories aren't diverse, without their being a good plot reason for it, readers are going to call you on it and not buy into the fictional worlds you've created.

      • Researching to avoid anachronisms? Sure.
        Researching to avoid incorrect usage of weaponry? Sure.
        But politics? As of 2015?

        "If your stories aren't diverse, without their being a good plot reason for it, readers are going to call you on it and not buy into the fictional worlds you've created."
        Real world politics shouldn't have absolute bearings on a story, especially those that take place in the future, a place where anything could happen - positive or negative.

        I also see this issue with your argument:

        If you choose to include and celebrate diversity on one fictional world, why should each and every planet be the same?

        • "Real world politics shouldn't have absolute bearings on a story, especially those that take place in the future, a place where anything could happen - positive or negative."

          Well, I'm not discussing politics, because I don't think having a diverse cast is a political issue. It's just the way things are. You tell a story set in the year 2100 and don't include any black characters or gay characters, there better be a hell of a good reason for it.

          "If you choose to include and celebrate diversity on one fictional world, why should each and every planet be the same?"

          Why shouldn't they be? If a fictional world is not diverse, I think that says a lot about the creator. Also, I'd probably find that story really boring. Your mileage may vary, of course.

          • Anything dealing with diversity, racial, gender, or sexuality falls under the spectrum of politics. It's a hot debate right now.

            I.e, "black characters or gay characters."

            I'm not saying politics shouldn't influence writing. Many stories are politically driven, only masked by the story. Like good exposition. But politics, as of now, shouldn't indicate where we are heading into the future. It could change.

            "Why shouldn't they be? If a fictional world is not diverse, I think that says a lot about the creator. Also, I'd probably find that story really boring. Your mileage may vary, of course."

            No, not at all. Diversifying and creating planets with their own ideology creates a much larger galaxy. I doubt everyone would be pro-equality, if that's what you want to see in fiction. Everyone has their own individual needs, beliefs, and values. Whether they're from the future or some distant galaxy, individuality trumps like-minded people.

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