Are those who don’t follow Science Fiction condemning the rest of us to live it?

I’ve been experiencing a weird sort of déjà vu lately. A lot. Most recently, watching news footage of thousands of desperate refugees walking along a Hungarian motorway hard shoulder. I keep recalling a BBC drama film ‘The March’ from (as a little research shows me) 1990, in which thousands of Africans fleeing climate change walk to Europe. Their challenge to richer nations is help us or watch us die. Those richer nations don’t know how to cope…

I also recall at the time that film was dismissed as unnecessarily alarmist and melodramatic. Oh, no, they said, that could never really happen. How’s that opinion looking now?

Then there’s the US elections. I keep thinking back to John Brunner’s ‘The Sheep Look Up’ (first published 1972). I must have read that when I was a student, or certainly some time in the 80’s, because I remember considering the buffoonish, soundbite president ‘Prexy’ and thinking well, at least Ronald Reagan isn’t quite that bad. But now? Donald Trump? Yes, I can easily see him talking such gibberish while the world goes to hell in a handcart.

Not that we in the UK have any room for complacency. Who else is watching the media attacks and distortions surrounding Jeremy Corbyn and recalling A Very British Coup? Both the 1982 novel by Chris Mullin and the first TV adaptation for Channel 4 by Alan Plater, with Ray McAnally playing the lead; Harry Perkins is the unabashed socialist elected to lead the Labour Party, committed to challenging media bias, American hegemony and pro nuclear disarmament. Goodness, the Establishment cannot possibly have that…

I could go on. Ken Macleod’s ‘The Exection Channel’ is another title that springs to mind with unnerving regularity when I’m watching the news or reading the papers these days.

I suppose I should just be grateful that (so far) we’ve escaped the dire fate predicted for us all in Threads; another BBC film from 1984 dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war.

Anyone else experiencing anything similar? Anyone got other titles to add, from books, films or TV?

And how the hell do we get the politicians and decisions makers to start reading or watching this stuff and thinking about more than their own short-term careerist interests?

Well, we can at least make a start by using our votes and making the effort to write to our elected representatives. If there’s one thing that losing most of this past year to campaigning on EU digital VAT has shown me, it’s that enough single voices really can make a difference.

Let’s do it.

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

7 thoughts on “Are those who don’t follow Science Fiction condemning the rest of us to live it?

  1. I have been astounded by the number of things Brunner got right in _The Sheep Look Up_. His “Puritan” foods — soon shown to be far outselling the amount of food that is grown to it’s “rigorous” standards.

    I think we need to remember Orwell’s 1984. Remember the TV screen watching him? That’s possible now. Remember the way that he couldn’t say anything against Big Brother for fear that he would hear? Think Facebook. Remember the witch hunts that killed all critics? We’ve seen those in many other countries. I very much don’t want to live in that world. But when I look at the US Republican candidates, they’re doing exactly that – condemning women who choose an abortion over poverty, condemning gays who just want to be happy, condemning the poor for not working hard enough even though you can’t live on 2 minimum wage jobs, much less one, condemning the scientists who want to limit the damage from global warming, condemning blacks just because of the color of their skin.

  2. I remember thinking on September 11th that an alarmist Denzel Washington movie (The Siege) would now come true. And it more or less did, with Guantanamo Bay…

    I re-read The Sheep Look Up a few weeks ago. What a staggeringly prescient novel. (

    I read ‘Random Acts of Senseless Violence’ a few months ago, and that, too felt like a novel which predicted the future. The recession / financial crisis / credit crunch, combined with a vicious circle of violence and chaos. It made me wonder just how far it is from (London) riots to (Greek/Turkish) unrest to ISIS levels of widespread insanity. (

    I’m 33 years old. When I was 7, the Cold War started to end. The Balkan wars were background news during my teenage years, but aside from the odd genocide in Africa, it felt like the world had reached a broad equilibrium, a virtuous stability with less war and strife and suffering. I now wonder whether we just happen to be witnessing the crumbling of an illusion – we’ve gotten comfortable and complacent and fooled ourselves into believing that decent living was easy and here to stay, with no further work required. So we elected ever more bland non-leaders, each too wary of annoying anyone to make genuinely difficult decisions and require genuine hard work. In the 80s, the world managed to take real steps to tackle the ozone layer problems. Compared with that, our inability to address climate change shows just how lacking in self-discipline our leaders and our voters are. During the Balkan wars, people fled to Western European countries, and while there were grumblings, I don’t recall anything like the vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s widespread today.

    I’m one of those people who joined Labour to vote Corbyn, not because I believe in all his policies (just most of them), but because I want a political leader who puts morals and right and wrong at the top of his agenda. Someone who has principles and stands by them. Someone who will genuinely work (and require all of us to work) to make lives better, rather than someone who sells us a purely commercial dream while bulldozing over the weakest inside and outside of our society in order to help a few people to flourish.

  3. I keep thinking back to watching ER when they were sending shiny TV doctors to Darfur. Did we think people would stay in so shattered a country for ever? When the world just kept shrugging and moving on?

  4. There’s a lot of fuss being made about Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel _Submission_ which shows a future France under sharia law, but G.K.Chesterton did it first in 1914 with _The Flying Inn_, where he shows England under ‘Progressive Islam’ and all booze banned. And he accurately predicted what was to happen a few years later with Prohibition in the USA – the rich and influential having no difficultly getting hold of alcohol, but the common man damned to go dry ‘for his own good’.

  5. I share your concerns for the future. I think that in some respects your politics and mine don’t agree, Juliet. I thought quite highly of Reagan. I don’t want to debate the worth of any past presidents though. I only start with that to make the point that different political viewpoints can see eye to eye on this. That is, if those eyes can be opened.

    I am American, and in recent years I’ve come to the conclusion that my country can only be changed if Americans would stop voting for the big parties. I call that Grey Politics. It’s not Republican red or Democrat blue. It’s colorless. What scares me about the two big parties is not the presidents and congressmen that do get elected. It’s the ones that don’t. I might not have good opinions of George Bush senior or Bill Clinton, but at least they resembled presidents. George W and Barack Obama are disasters. In the words of Clarence Darrow, “When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President. I’m beginning to believe it.”

    We haven’t hit our low. Though Obama and Bush represent the lows of the executive branch that my lifetime has seen, it could still be worse. Trump is a fun example, but not many people take him seriously. He’s a sideshow that is finally being moved aside. If I look at the main opponents of the last four Presidential elections though, it chills me. Gore, Kerry, McCain and Romney. As bad as the winners have been, the alternatives were clearly worse. Is that the best America can do?

    Well the answer is no, but to change things for the better will require the American voter to do something drastic. Votes will have to be cast for third party candidates. We are capable of voting against the big money, big publicity candidates. The only reason that we don’t is that the others aren’t as well know. A lot of Americans won’t even consider an vote like that because they feel that it’s impossible for an outside candidate to win. They’re probably right. However, the only way to change that, to give the outsiders a chance, is to vote for them anyway. The more votes that the lesser parties receive, the more people will take them seriously. Eventually that might create some real alternatives. I know that this approach can’t really take the Presidency, but the goal isn’t the White House. The goal is the legislature. Third Party Senators and Representatives can be elected. It’s happened already.

    Twenty five years ago this idea would have been ridiculous. Today though, in the information age, the internet can empower the public to start movements that can dominate the public eye.

    I won’t pretend to know enough about the politics of other nations to apply this idea to any other government. It seems likely to me that similar ideas can take hold across the borders though. American or otherwise, anyone with a vote should strongly consider the smaller parties.

    1. Yes, I think it’s fair to say our personal politics are on different points in the spectrum, so we’ll agree to disagree there, cordially and with all good will. 🙂

      Meantime, I’ll absolutely agree with you that two party politics, in the UK and the US, is not at all a good thing, not any more. Especially not when so many of our politicians now seem to come from a professional political class, by which I mean they come from a financially secure background, then go from university reading politics or economics or similar, into a political internship or think tank or similar ‘inside the Westminster village/inside the Beltway’ job, to serve their time before a safe seat comes up for them to start their climb up the elected office ladder. And first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all political systems just make this worse.

      We need outsiders, we need more than two parties, we need some form of proportional representation – yes, even at the price of having UKIP MPs in Westminster, if that’s what it takes to get a spread of Greens, Lib Dems and others to break the Tory/New Labour dominance, which these days very much looks like a ‘heads they win, tails you lose’ choice.

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