We find the main character of the Robert Heinlein story, “They” , in an insane asylum, convinced that his whole environment is a gigantic delusion perpetrated by a shadowy organisation which has enormous powers to manipulate and control. His wife, friends, and psychiatrist try to argue him out of this strange idea. It turns out, however, that he is right. What we never find out is who They are, and why They should go to all that trouble. “They” is a science fiction short story of the early 50s. It contains the preoccupations of hundreds of science fiction works of that period pared down to the essential skeleton. The protagonist, a rather colourless everyman (the representative human in these stories is almost always a male), becomes a victim of technological powers which threaten to destroy his life, or worse, his identity, his personality, his memory, his autonomy. Sometimes the threat comes from non-human invaders who have abilities or technology which earth people can’t cope with. But more often the technological power is a human creation, used by an elite to dominate the rest o f humankind. Star Wars, which systematically appropriated the traditional themes and devices of science fiction, finds Them in another galaxy in the form of a military dictatorship which aims to wipe out rebellion by using a planet destroying space station.
Recommended CitationThompson, Janna L., Inventing the future: politics of science fiction, Australian Left Review, 1(71), 1979, 25-29.