I’ve had a chance to read more than just the appendix in the Thoughtcrime Experiments anthology. The opening story, Mark Onspaugh’s “Welcome to the Federation,” is a fundamentally familiar story to me, and to anyone who has lived in a place that’s been colonized. Gird, leader of Covalla, struggles with the changes on his home planet brought about by the coming of the Federation. The story is a bit top-heavy with telling rather than showing, but it paints a clear picture of the sense of regret and bitterness that comes in the wake of colonization:
The bus went along Coastal Route 24, a four lane highway that the Federation had built to replace the first Federation road, a two-lane thoroughfare they had named Sea Front Road. In pre-Federation time it had been a small and lovely path called Minoh-Ul-kjavallah, or “The Trail Minoh the Sea God Took to Court Mother West Wind”.
You couldn’t see much of the ocean, any more. The clear areas had become the sites of barracks for a proposed Federation base. The enormous base had been half completed when war had broken out near Antares, and all available Federation soldiers and engineers had gone to fight the good fight.
The story takes its time establishing cultural details of the Covallans. Reading it reminded me of the way I felt growing up on Oahu in Hawaii. My grandmother worked at the Iolani Palace, seat of the Hawaiian monarchy at the end of its years, and I would take tours often, hearing stories of how the last Hawaiian queen, Liliuokalani, had been removed from power. I heard about prohibitions against the hula dance. I watched rich foreigners establish a place on the island at the expense of native Hawaiian people and culture. I had mixed feelings about all of it, because I’m a poi dog (mixed blood), and because I felt nostalgic for a past I didn’t know even as I couldn’t imagine giving up the comforts of the present.
“Welcome to the Federation” doesn’t approach this topic in a very complicated way. It’s basically a wish fulfillment story–Gird devises a plan to get the Federation to pull back enough that his people can restore their original culture. I enjoyed the fantasy, but I was a little unsatisfied because my experiences growing up left me distrustful of simple nostalgia. The story is simplified in part by the fact that the main character remembers what the planet was like before the foreigners came. I was in pretty different shoes growing up after the Hawaiian language had become a curiosity.
I did enjoy the story’s humorous tone, though the jokes exploited easy targets:
Admiral Benjamin Breckenridge IV was the first to step out onto Gird’s lawn, squashing some hgu lilies in the process.
“I’m here for the Ptaak,” he said menacingly, holding both a ceremonial sword and a phasing blast pistol. His first words had been carefully crafted on the journey to Covalla, beating out “Show yourselves, alien scum!” and “Who wants some?”.
“As soon as they saw you coming they ran,” said Gird nervously.
A victory cry went up, cut short when Breckenridge raised his hand. “And just who might you be?”
“Gird Mackel, brother of the late Governor,” Gird said.
“I thought the dead Governor was Gird Mackel,” said Breckenridge, puzzled.
“All my brothers are named Gird Mackel.”
Admiral Breckenridge nodded paternally, accustomed to the simple ways of indigenous people out on the Wrong Arm of the Galaxy.
As I read the story, I wondered why it was science fiction. Don’t get me wrong–I think science fiction is a good venue for addressing issues of colonization, because stories of aliens are similar to stories of foreigners. I found the analogy so direct in this case, however, that I was curious about how the science fiction setting added to or changed the story. I don’t see grounds here for a rigorous definition of science fiction. I’d be interested in people’s thoughts on how the genre serves the story.