When it comes to social issues, there are few that generate as much heat and controversy as abortion. It seems the more controversial a topic is, the more likely someone who disagrees with your position will feel like you are preaching at them.
Case in point. I wrote a flash fiction one time that ended up having an abortion message. They discovered a gas they had collected were the unformed babies of an alien race. The captain realized they were about to kill the equivalent of embryos for that race. In this world, their history saw abortion in retrospect like we currently do slavery now: an evil culturally permitted but now seen for what it is. I had an overt statement to that reality in that fictional future.
The first place I submitted it to rejected it, in part because, as one editor put it, he felt like he’d been hit over the head with a hammer, and the whole story seemed to be a set up for saying abortion was wrong. I could see their point. I wondered, however, how much of that rejection was because they disagreed with the message, or how much was uncomfortableness in running something that controversial, or they just didn’t like the preachiness of it? Or a combination of the above?
I made the story more subtle by taking out the overt statement, and the next magazine took it. It is still online, titled Life Intruders.
But the experience illustrated how skittish some venues can be on appearing to take sides on an issue.
So I did an internet search on “speculative fiction abortion” and pulled up some examples.
One that popped up was an article on this site, by Rebecca LuElla Miller, in May of last year: Speculative Fiction and Our Culture. She highlights a book by Karen Hancock: The Enclave. In her review of the book, she says:
It is this aspect of speculative fiction—the ability to look at the hard issues, the complex topics—that I think too many people overlook . . .
In Russia, a movie gained blockbuster status with an abortion message, titled Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch) back around 2003-04. The abortion message was a subplot. It worked in Russia. Not sure if the American version kept that subplot and if so, how well it did here.
In 2005, Jeff J. Koloze wrote an article titled “Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Literature and the Right to Life Issues of Abortion, Infanticide, and Euthanasia” In it, he lists five novels that significantly touch on abortion: H. G. Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), James Blish’s A Case of Conscience (1958), William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run (1967), and Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993).
However, he admits, “Abortion as a topic seems to be rarely mentioned in science fiction literature.” These five represent a tiny fraction of all the science fiction written last century, which would seem to support the premise that publishers and author fear aliening readers by appearing to have taken a side on a controversial topic like abortion. Much easier to avoid the issue.
One other example of note I found. Dave Astor, in writing about Margaret Atwood’s legacy at the Huffington Post, makes the following point:
Like Barbara Kingsolver, Atwood is socially conscious without being preachy. This is certainly the case in The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and 2009’s The Year of the Flood — three dystopian novels that say a lot about things like women’s rights and the despoiling of the environment but do that via the books’ interesting characters and plots.
What do you think?
Why aren’t more novels themed on controversial topics like abortion? Are you likely to read an engaging story promoting a view other than your own on such a topic, or would you promise to never read another of his/her books? Is there not more because authors and publishers are afraid to risk losing readers? Or do readers of speculative fiction tend to not buy such books? Would you like to see more speculative fiction, by a Christian or not, address the subject in an engaging, but not preachy manner?