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She Knew: The Women of Science Fiction Who Predicted the Future | Features




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The Lathe of Heaven

PART THREE: POLITICAL RUIN

In the realm of speculative fiction, few authors have captured societal upheaval and the potential for political ruin as incisively as Octavia E. Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin. Their works, particularly Butler’s Xenogenesis series (Lilith’s Brood) and Parable Duology, along with Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, serve as harbingers of a future that seems all too familiar in today’s context. These two intergalactic empresses of science fiction envisioned worlds of chaos and transformation. They also provided a mirror to our present realities, hinting at the aftermath that may follow the political pitfalls of today.
 
In Butler’s Parable of the Talents, the rhetoric and divisive actions of Andrew Steele Jarret echo contemporary political figures, serving as a reminder of the ruination caused by autocratic politics and oligarchies. The rise of religious extremism, a prevalent theme in the Parable series, becomes even more relevant in the current global landscape, where religious fundamentalism is on the rise. By unmasking the impact of weaponized faith, Butler delivers a chilling forewarning of the consequences of unchecked zealotry. With several adaptations of her deeply prescient narratives on the way—including Lilith’s Brood by Ava DuVernay and Victoria Mahoney—Butler’s work will continue to serve as a blaring siren for sociopolitical issues.
 
Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, first published in 1971, speaks to the ethical use of power—a theme that resonates in discussions about the responsible use of technology. The story revolves around dreams that alter reality, a metaphor for the power we wield through technology and how it can be misused. Government surveillance and control are key in The Lathe of Heaven, a relatable reference to the privacy issues and the potential for governmental overreach we face today. It also posits how the populace can be manipulated through mental healthcare—a frightening scenario. Both the 1980 and 2002 adaptations of The Lathe of Heaven offer their unique interpretations of Le Guin’s dream-altered universe. The ’80s version stands as a pioneering classic in sci-fi television, while the 2002 version provides a fresh perspective. Each is a testament to the enduring power of Le Guin’s narrative.

Political ruin often sets the stage in sci-fi, as seen in Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death and Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police. Okorafor’s work hurls us into postapocalyptic Africa, where Onyesonwu—a magical heroine—is poised to end the mass annihilation of her people, a narrative steeped in themes of mandated sexual assault and systemic racism. Ogawa’s story, on the other hand, explores a dystopian island where memory and culture are systematically obliterated, a disturbing metaphor for state-sponsored erasure. These works amplify the human and cultural cost of political ruination, serving not just as sci-fi narratives, but as potent reminders of our duty to resist, persist, and remember.
 
The works of Butler, Le Guin, Okorafor, and Ogawa are both mirror and compass—plotting a course from our current sociopolitical realities while pointing toward more destructive futures. Made more evident by the historical consequences of our actions. As the hints of impending political ruin become clearer, these stories serve as warnings and guides, urging us to consider the trajectory of our behaviors and their fallout. Or perhaps to dream a future into reality where harmony and justice prevail. 

Westworld

PART FOUR: TECHNOLOGICAL TRAGEDY

The 2016 HBO version of “Westworld,” brought to life by co-creator Lisa Joy, expands on our pursuit of artificial intelligence. The series asks, when does AI become conscious and should it be bestowed with “personhood”? Weaving the intricacies of human and AI interaction, “Westworld” raises questions about the ethical implications and the apprehensions surrounding what defines life. As precursors for the AI entities in “Westworld,” Alexa and Siri are becoming integral parts of our daily lives and might one day achieve sentience. If AI thinks for itself, is it a danger to human existence or do they have more to fear from us? Only science fiction knows.
 
In the film landscape, Akela Cooper’s “M3GAN” is an alarming extrapolation of AI’s potential dangers. The film also aligns with contemporary concerns about the effects of AI advancement. In the intersections of governmental, parasocial, and digital interactions, “M3GAN” voices real-world anxieties, such as the manipulation of social media platforms, the prevalence of disinformation campaigns, and the growing use of technology to influence public opinion. From the potential of AI to shape youthful minds, “M3GAN” captures the broader concerns about the long-term effects of technology on human relationships, and the potential threats to democratic procedures and civil discourse.
 
Both “Westworld” and “M3GAN” portray our current technological trajectory and the ethical dilemmas we face as AI becomes more integrated into our lives. These works challenge us to consider the future repercussions of AI advancements and the responsibilities of creating increasingly human-like artificial beings. The fact we can’t stop talking about these two techno-tragedies is a testament to Joy and to Cooper, who serve up puzzles of ethics and personhood with doses of spice and sauciness. Their characters make us want to dance, to fight, and to keep them on our side.

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