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THOUGHT POLICE

America's freedoms-- of speech and religion, particularly-- have been very much in the news lately.  At the end of September, libraries across the country will be putting a spotlight on the First Amendment by observing Banned Books Week.  In light of this month's events, I thought this would be a perfect time to look at the subject of censorship in speculative fiction.

First, let me clarify: I'm not talking about the censorship of  speculative fiction-- not that that hasn't happened. (In fact, it's happened to several of the titles in this month's list-- how's that for irony?)  Speculative fiction is, by its nature, an edgy, boundary-pushing genre; it's almost inevitable that an SF title will end up on a list of challenged books at some point.  However, my focus this month is on the topic of censorship within the pages of speculative fiction.

The truth is that, compared to places like China or Iran, free speech is pretty healthy in this country.  I think it's safe to say that few Americans have encountered incidents of censorship in their day-to-day lives.  (Not telling your best friend-- or your wife-- what you honestly think of her dress doesn't count.)  What does censorship look like?  Is it really that much of a problem?  So what if a few pre-teens aren't allowed to read Twilight in school-- they can still buy it online, right? (Sure, if they can afford-- wait, wait, not talking about censorship of  SF.  Right.)  So... what's the big deal? 

Cue speculative fiction!  You may recall my December entry about future-Earth science fiction.  I said then that, by projecting a current topic into an imagined future where it had become commonplace (or run rampant), we could use future-Earth SF to gain a fresh perspective on an issue we might otherwise have trouble examining objectively.  Today we're going to do the same thing with speculative fiction and the topic of censorship.  After all, speculative fiction is the genre of "What if?", the genre of free thought.  Perhaps because the genre is so idea-oriented, spec fic authors find it all too easy to imagine dystopias where free thought is stifled, or actively destroyed.  (And yes, they're all dystopias-- I wasn't able to find a single title suggesting that censorship could be a good thing for a free society.)

What happens when texts are suppressed, libraries are burned, free speech is stifled, and non-governmentally-approved thoughts are punished?  Here's some speculative fiction that takes a look at the war of the mind:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Fiction Atwood)
The Pickup Artist by Terry Bisson (SF Bisson)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (SF Bradbury)
A Pleasure to Burn by Ray Bradbury (New SF Bradbury)
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler (SF Butler)
Veracity by Laura Bynum (SF Bynum)
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Fiction Fforde)
Galileo's Children by Gardner Dozois, ed. (SF Galileo's)
The Left Hand of God by Hoffman (Fantasy Hoffman)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin (Fantasy Jemisin)
The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin (SF Le Guin)
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (SF Miller)
Flash by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (SF Modesitt)
Libyrinth by Pearl North (YA North)
The Destruction of the Books by Mel Odom (Fantasy Odom)
1984 by George Orwell (Fiction Orwell)
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (Fantasy Pratchett)
Haroun & the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (Fiction Rushdie)
Anathem by Neal Stephenson (SF Stephenson)
Heaven by Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen (SF Stewart)
Glasshouse by Charles Stross (SF Stross)
The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya, with Jamey Gambrell (trans.) (SF Tolstaya)
Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge (SF Vinge)
Remake by Connie Willis (SF Willis)
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (New SF Zamyatin) (COMING SOON)

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