Election Day is upon us.

Well, finally.

I guess.

I’m staying off of social media today. I know you don’t want to hear my opinion of any of the candidates, and to be frank I have not the slightest interest in yours either. Here in the State of Washington we vote by mail, so my ballot has been cast. I have done all I can do. Let the chips fall where they may. What will be done, will be done.

Though I readily admit that I have dropped the occasional political, or semi-political post here at Fantasy Author’s Handbook, for today I’ll refer you back to just one in particular, then leave it at that.

So much for reality, then. But what about fantasy?

In my online Worldbuilding course we spend a whole week on governments and religions—combining the two things some wise person in your life has probably long ago advised you not to discuss with strangers. But rather than argue over secure vs. unsecure email servers and what a famous man can and can’t get away with grabbing, in that course—and as science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors in general—we’re free to deal with those subjects in the abstract.

I think the overtly political fantasy novel, in particular, is a fairly rare animal. Even science fiction novels, which are often more grounded in the here and now, tend to make a few political assumptions then get on with tales of honor, loyalty, love, family, and so on. That’s probably why I always end up falling back on Dune and 1984 as my examples of overtly political science fiction novels and pretty much nothing as my go-to political fantasy. As for horror—politics seems almost never to rear it’s ugly head.

But is that really the case?

It could be—mostly like is—due to the fact that I’m not a terribly political-minded person that I don’t tend to pick up on the more subtle political cues in SF, fantasy, and horror. After all, I am the guy who wrote a fantasy take on Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead having no idea there was this weird Libertarian movement gathering around a misinterpretation of her later work. But in my writing and teaching on the subject of worldbuilding politics has come up—and it should.

I’ve pondered whether the elves of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings are substitutes for the post-imperial British. Are they?

I wrote about the political aspects of a very, very old book by Homer Eon Flint to show how science fiction, even close to a hundred years ago, was more a comment on the day in which it was written than any attempt to guess at the future or describe the unknowable.

I’ve been re-reading some Stephen King in preparation for my Horror Intensive course, the first round of which I’m finishing up now. The story collection we’re using for that course, Skeleton Crew, features more than a few nods to the politics of the day, especially the story “Cain Rose Up.” And King makes numerous references to Cold War politics in particular in Danse Macabre. The Stand had some overtly political ideas in it, too, didn’t it?

And then of course there’s Starship Troopers, The Man in the High Castle, Metropolis, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Gateway, and on and on and on.

But may I please ask one favor on this worst of Election Days?

If you’ve started outlining your science fiction, fantasy, or, let’s face it, more likely horror novel loosely inspired by Trump vs. Clinton . . . don’t. Just please don’t.

Maybe it’s too soon.

Let it simmer at least a few months, then disguise the ever loving shit out of it.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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