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Science Fiction, Politics &MLK

Appearing as a beautiful butterfly spliced with a majestic lioness, Nichelle Nichols dramatically recounts MLK’s demand (repeated three times) that she not quit Star Trek during its inaugural season. Apparently the Kings allowed their kids to watch no prime-time TV outside of Star Trek, because of its relatively positive depiction of a Black character (from the United States of Africa, no less!).

In his illuminating critical work The American Shore (1977), Samuel R. Delany brings us quickly to this recollected bit of sf media’s cash value— “Science fiction is not about the future. It uses the future as a convention to present a significant distortion of the present.”

Watch the full episode. See more Tavis Smiley.

Or is this a modest estimation of that cash value? For, as much as that particular passage —in its amplification of Nichelle’s recall, and in its gross distribution of an elevating force to so many other sf works— titillates, it seems to undervalue the chronopolitical force of sf, in my opinion. Science fiction is not about the future, but rather than offer distortions of what is, I argue that among its highest powers is the deployment of the future as a convention to effectively distort the present. And this is no minimal difference.

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