20:10 GMT +318 September 2018
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    Brave New World

    Sci-Fi Space Wars?

    Brave New World
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    John Harrison
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    In August, US Vice President Mike Pence outlined plans to create an elite corps of soldiers trained to fight in space, and a space command that would design military strategies for warfare beyond the atmosphere. Impressive! But does all of this bear more than a passing resemblance to Sci-fi literature, movies, and TV series?

    Dr. Paul March-Russell, Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent and Editor of The International Review of Science Fiction identifies similarities but at the same time saying that there are parallels is going too far.

    The first question that Dr. March-Russel addresses, concerns the possibility of making a linkup between the Cold War space race and the new situation with the US apparently setting out to ‘dominate' space. Paul says: "I don't think there is a direct parallel. First of all, there is a lack of goals in comparison with the old Cold War space race. The original race was to do with getting a living entity into space, then a human being, then onto the moon. We don't have those goals now, this is much more a continuation of current terrestrial geopolitics, sort of relocated into space. This is to do with the ways in which we might be protecting territories around the States, Russia or China."

    To the question, is the American public being prepared, through the media, to accept the cost of the design, creation, and maintenance of a Space Force?, Paul answers: "I think it is too early to say, clearly the core supporters of the administration are behind this idea, but whether the public will really buy into this idea is too early to say. We have not yet seen the wall between the US and Mexico go up. General Mattis has been ambivalent about the idea. He is behind it now but was against it previously. It might become a force within the American military services, we just don't know at the moment."

    Mike Pence mentioned the need for American dominance in space. To the question — where does this come from, from the idea of ‘Making America Great Again', or perhaps post-WWII-nostalgia, or science fiction? Paul says: "To some extent, I think the message is a kind of watered-down version of the original Cold War space race message, but very much more inspirational, much more about expanding into the solar system. However, I think at the moment, it is primarily nostalgic. There is a repository of mythical, and ideological ideas from science fiction sources as well as other sources in the 18th and 19th centuries; from the history of America, ‘back to the frontier' mentality, westward expansion, the sense of transacted destiny between the settlers and the land. There is a lot of nostalgia there….Superpowers do see space as a place to make a foothold, and this, of course, has sources in the science fiction of different nations."

    The underlying issue is, however, whose space is it? Paul says: "The general issue is that space has for a long time been militarized, there was a treaty signed in 1967, but that needs to be updated because a lot of the technology that exists now didn't exist then, we have to think about how space will be regulated. What kind of legal structures do we need to introduce to ensure that militarization does not happen everywhere, although militarization has happened already. We do need a legal structure, we do need a way to sort things out because all countries feel they have a Manifest Destiny and they all want footholds in space. But as soon as we get nationalistic about it, there are going to be tensions, fault lines, areas which need to be regulated by a multi-national, multi-lateral treaty I think."

    Science fiction can be seen to be playing the role of being a laboratory where ideas are tested. Paul comments: "Science fiction has always had a long history of confronting present-day social problems. I think that if we look at the novels of Ian McDonald, he has a series of novels about the colonization of the moon and the ways in which the moon could be exploited for raw materials and the kind of colonial tensions, which emerge between different financial and feudal dynasties. The novels are very internationalist and pose a whole series of questions about how we should go about this process. There are, however, ways in which we can overcome the problems and find ways of collaborating and working together….Science fiction can be a legitimate way of expressing fears and desires and also to rationally work out how to get around these kinds of problems, for the greater good, without the need for war and antagonism."

    To the question — are some science fiction writers being paid to create a new terminology, concepts and fields of visions?, Paul says: "If you are suggesting that some writers are being paid by the US administration, there is no evidence at all to suggest that. Certainly, if we go back to SDI and the 1980s, people like Jerry Pournelledid have quite close tie-ups with the Reagan administration and the SDI project. But if anything like that is happening now — I've got no evidence to suggest that. The dialogue is quite general; echoes and resonances are there with existing science-fiction-generated-ideas, with things that we have seen or heard about in previous decades, but that is as far as it goes at the moment."

    As far as sci-fi movies go, Paul hesitates to say that there is a direct link with science fiction films and US foreign policy. "…One of the main themes in science fiction was invasion novels of the late 19th century, such as H.G. Wells' ‘War Of The World's', there has always been that element in science fiction of the fear of the other, the fear of the alien, the fear of the unknown, if you go back to the 1950s, again from the Cold War and the space race, we get films like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers', which could be seen as a narrative about the invasion of communism,  in the era of McCarthyism. Clearly, sci-fi movies have their uses, in identifying the ‘other', but then again, not all films were like that. If you look at ‘Battlestar Galactica' that had a very negative view of the War on Terror, and a very skeptical view of American foreign policy, so you can't always say that science fiction movies are priming us for these purposes."

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    Tags:
    Space Force, sci-fi, Military, space, Mike Pence, United States
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