Five Ways 9/11 Changed Science FictionS

Cloverfield has everybody talking about the way science fiction is dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but that giant monster movie is hardly the first SF creation to tackle terrorism, high-tech surveillance, and governments run amok in the post-9/11 era. As the United States has cracked down on civil liberties at home, and invaded nations abroad, in the name of national security, a crop of futuristic and fanciful tales have sprung up to satirize and justify "the war on terror." These tales generally deal with one of five crucial post-9/11 themes, which we've enumerated (with examples) for you below.

Five Ways 9/11 Changed Science FictionS

New York Must Be Destroyed

One of the most obvious ways that scifi echoed the events of 9/11 was to destroy New York, over and over again. The collapse of New York, via time traveling shenanigans or giant sea monsters, continues to obsess scifi creators. In the incredibly terrible A Sound of Thunder (2005), a time traveler who steps on a butterfly during the Jurassic Age changes the present and turns New York into a savage jungle. New York is made into a less-savage jungle by an inexplicable disease in I Am Legend (2007). Aliens with giant world-destroying Tripods smash New York and everywhere else in War of the Worlds (2004). And of course we've already talked a lot about how Cloverfield (2008) is basically a direct allegory of 9/11, with a giant monster standing in for scary terrorists who came out of nowhere and bashed the city.

Five Ways 9/11 Changed Science FictionS

The Surveillance State is Watching You

Although Minority Report (2002) technically came out after 9/11, and certainly took on new overtones thanks to the passage of the USA-Patriot Act, it was probably conceived and mostly filmed before the attacks took place. Still, another Philip K. Dick-inspired movie, A Scanner Darkly (2006) is clearly an homage to the surveillance state that the current Bush Administration built — and that John Poindexter tried to make even more science fictional with his Total Information Awareness program (now called Terrorist Information Awareness). Fear of computer surveillance — or resigned acceptance of it — permeates countless scifi creations of this era, including Vernor Vinge's superlative near-future novel Rainbows End (2006), which focuses in part on a biotech terrorist attack that's being stopped by intelligence experts who work entirely within vast computer networks.

Five Ways 9/11 Changed Science FictionS

The Terrorists Are Everywhere!

Australian Max Barry published Jennifer Government in 2003, a novel where corporations stage fake terrorist attacks to get publicity for their new shoes. But other tales were less satirical. Mark Millar's Civil War comic book series (2006-7) dealt with what happens to the superheroes of the Marvel universe when Congress passes the "superhero registration act" and forces all heroes to be tracked in the name of fighting terror. Hero fights hero in this response to the Bush Administration's efforts to track Muslims and other "undesirables." Battlestar Galactica dug deep into politically incendiary terroritory in 2006 when some of the humans become suicide bombers in order to fight the Cylon in occupied New Caprica. Even Star Trek: Enterprise had a terrorist plot arc with the Xindi in 2003. In books, Ken MacLeod's The Execution Channel (2007) dealt with high-tech terrorists in a surveillance state.

Five Ways 9/11 Changed Science FictionS

Department of Homeland Security is Plotting to End the World

One of the conceits of post-nuke apocalypse series Jericho (2006-2008) is that the Department of Homeland security may have been behind the attacks that flattened most major U.S. cities with nukes. 28 Weeks Later (2007) has U.S. security forces ordered into London to "protect" citizens being repatriated after a plague has wiped out most of England. Turns out of their orders is just to shoot everybody — innocents and monsters alike — if the situation gets out of control. In The Mist (2007), a secret military experiment unleashes extra-dimensional killer beasts on a small town. And in Serenity (2005), Joss Whedon's film spinoff from the Firefly series, a government obsessed with quelling uprisings in its satellite colonies is hunting one of the main characters, River, an escaped experiment who would have become a mind-reading weapon under government control.

Five Ways 9/11 Changed Science Fiction

Desert Planets are the Source of All Unrest

Two new Dune miniserieses hit the bigtime on the SciFi Channel: Dune: The Miniseries (2001) and Children of Dune (2003). Both are true to Frank Herbert's novels, which are thinly-veiled allegories of Middle Eastern politics — complete with Jihads and desert planets which produce a chemical that enables rapid transportation. ("The spice must flow" = "The oil must flow".) New Dune novels, written by Frank Herbert's son, came out in 2002, 2003, and 2004 and dealt directly with Butlerian Jihad that created the world of the first novels. Clearly, Jihad was on SF writers' minds. People who tuned into the Stargate TV series throughout the last ten years were treated to another desert planet full of nasties and insurrectionaries: Abydos, whose inhabitants are basically space Arabs.