Pathology in Speculative and Science Fiction Literatures

Speculative and science fiction can serve as a methodology to explore the nature of humanity and the development of new technology and how it will affect culture. In regard to pathology in speculative and science fiction, it can be used in exploring the ethical limits and constraints concerned with technologies and formulating possible arguments and solutions before the advent of such technology. Equally, it can promote pernicious concepts such as critical race theory and critical gender theory. As a result, speculative fiction can both explore truth and obscure it and derive fabrications designed to promote anti-Western concepts and Marxism.

Urbanski (2015) documents how speculative fiction has exhibited the fears that many people express concerning technology. The creation of medical technology, genetic engineering, and even cybernetic systems has resulted in people fearing the worst aspects of nightmares when it comes to the question of what could go wrong. At its heart, as Sholes and Rabkin (1977) note, science fiction reveals many of the hidden aspects of the human psyche. In reviewing the effects of the pathology of plague and medical research, such fears may be exhibited in science fiction horror and stories of Orwellian governments that utilise technology to control people.

Plague has been a significant cause of human suffering and misery for as long as humanity has lived in urban communities. Thucydides (2 47-58) documents the horrors in the Peloponnesian as society broke down and plague swept through Athens. In this ancient story, we see themes and tropes which re-occur throughout the ages and through different generations. This early story was designed both as a history and as a warning. In noting that “catastrophe was so overwhelming that men, not knowing what would happen next to them, became indifferent to every rule of religion or law” (2 52), Thucydides seeks to demonstrate how precarious modern life can be. In our modern world, we have experienced a pestilence through the coronavirus, and we can again imagine the negative impacts of plague. When compared to the devastation wrought in Athens, what we face today is minor. Yet, human imagination in the world that we can create as an alternative enables us to think through the possibilities and imagine what must be done to protect society.

Analogously, Defoe (1882) documents a memoir intended to create a narrative around the 1665 plague in London. Defoe intended to warn his reader about the potential for future epidemics. In doing this, he creates a series of memoirs based partly on fact but fictionalised in order to demonstrate how London has informed rages suffered from pestilence and that (IX) in warning others as people had tried to do before the spread of the plague from Holland in 1664 that this could occur again in London (p. 302).

Apocalyptic fiction concerning pandemics reminds people of an obsession with catastrophes that can occur when governments and society failed to account for risk and the isolated event that can have dire catastrophic consequences. Science and speculative fiction provides an opportunity to process the intellectual and cultural aspects of events and provides opportunities for people to imagine scenarios and create solutions before they occur.

In “The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy”, Poe (1895) concocts a fictitious plague whilst integrating many of the conventions started in Gothic fiction by Walpole(1794). Prospero, who Poe takes as the protagonist, allows us to link into the earlier story by Shakespeare. In the Tempest (Shakespeare, 1876), Prospero has come to a small island as an exile floating for use on a “rotten carcass”. In these earlier renditions of stories concerning death and plague, the monster and the disease are attributed to sorcery. Poe creates a mazelike system in his Gothic structure of the castle designed to keep sickness out.

Poe’s story has been interpreted both as a psychological analysis of Poe’s mind (Rein, 1960. p. 33) and the reaction to the consumption (tuberculosis) that Poe’s wife Virginia was suffering. In these stories, we see the standard trope of mortality. No matter how hard we try, we cannot get out of this world alive. In Poe’s story, Prospero attempts unsuccessfully to hide from death. Quinn (1997, p. 331) observes that Poe does not provide a moral to his story, yet this may leave the reader’s interpretation open. As with any true art form, the audience helps create the story. The inescapable message from Poe’s story remains that “Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” (490).

Heffernan (2004, p. 106) documents how multiple stories from Poe, including The Mask of Red Death, have been incorporated into American film and literature.[1] Musings of German expressionism may be seen in the 1964 movie rendition of The Red Death when the unmasked expression on Vincent Price’s face is demonstrated to be a doppelgänger of the spiritual force. Yet, equally through the incorporation of Poe’s extended idea of Walpole’s Gothic story through the Red Night Trilogy by Bill Burroughs, the trope of urban decay and disease demonstrates a classic human fear.

Burroughs (1981) integrates the apocalyptic story of decay and collapse this re-envisioning of Thucydides integrated with the pervasive Western cowboy trope. Around the same time, Burroughs released his story, and the Ebola virus devastated villages within the Congo rainforests. Soon after the release of the story, the AIDS virus became known. Throughout his Trilogy, Burroughs integrates the disease that will kill off the drug-addicted and homosexual population creating a planetary catastrophe. In a prescient tale, Burroughs becomes yet another Cassandra-like prophet telling society that there is always another potential apocalypse and catastrophe that we should prepare for. Yet, as with Burroughs’ story, the world soon forgets.

The apocalyptic disease and plague trope has further spawned the Americans on the Gothic. In both novels, graphic novels and movie and television series, the zombie or walking dead thematic monster has extended the realm of the apocalyptic plague into one where not only do people die but where the dead come back. Post-modern authors such as Bishop (2010) erroneously attribute these stories to the concepts of atrocities and colonialism, and slavery. These authors link the trope of the zombie apocalypse to voodoo and Mandingo stories. Yet, to do so is to fail to comprehend the source of the zombie trope.

The censor initially banned Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead for the use of the word ghoul (McIntosh, 2008). To get around these prohibitions, the little-known term zombie was used as it was deemed less offensive. The result was the recreation of the zombie in popular culture, and myth is a trope that replaced both the Revenant and ghoul terminology (Pullen and Fonseca, 2014). Unfortunately, this renaming of the monster and the integration later of the plague and disease meme introduced an avenue to falsely tie this meme into colonialism, slavery, and cannibalism (McAllister, 2012).

In modern re-imaginations of the Gothic story started by Walpole and extended by Poe, the introduction of Critical Race Theory in the 1970s has infected the narrative. It is this complete disregard of the truth that has allowed Bould and Miéville (2009) to not only utterly misrepresent Jules Verne as a Marxist despite a plethora of evidence that utterly discredited this concept from Verne (1864) but to integrate Critical Race Theory into descriptions of stories that are not based on racial privilege to disingenuously mislead the reader into believing that these stories concerning Marxism, power, and class struggle.

In many ways, it would seem that the entire genre that has developed following the introduction of critical race theory is one of misleadingly recreating history and truth. In demonstrating the lack of understanding around the history of the genres the authors are analysing, Bould and Miéville (2009) would seem to exhibit as much intellectual honesty as Marx when he plagiarised the labour theory of capitalism and the already discredited 19th-century concepts of the Saint-Simonianist movement Word for Word in the production of the Communist manifesto (Lutz, 1836). Personally, both Marx’s plagiarism of ideas that are still attributed to his “scholarship” and his complete and utter discrediting by economists even in his own time (Hilferding & Paul, 1919) has done nothing to stop post-modern authors falsely attributing ideas to Marxism.

Equally, critical race theory, critical gender theory, and critical sex theory all seek to focus on incredibly inconsequential aspects of life. Their analysis ignores both what can and what will happen, and focuses on inconsequential areas of life and society. To propose that all science fiction is Marxist is, in itself, incredibly disingenuous, but importantly, it destroys the author’s message. Authors such as Verne were vocally opposed to socialism and the redistribution of goods, favouring an aristocratic system. Consequently, any criticism of science fiction needs to avoid the deceptions promulgated by those creating false information and intending to mislead their audience, such as Bould (2009).

The tropes of pathology and, specifically, those concerning the spread of academics and the discussion of mortality are both historically important and a critical aspect of rationally understanding the nature of life. To falsely argue that they are merely Marxist tropes or systems that propagate critical race theory and other valueless and unsupportable concepts does the original authors a grave injustice. It would appear to be about time we saw the Orwellian lies in the story (Orwell, 2021) and started to accept why the tales of dystopian societies were initially written (Claeys, 2010): not to promote Marxism but to ensure we remember and reject the lies it contains (Awan & Raza, 2016).


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Bould, M. (2009) ‘Introduction, Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet, from Nemo to Neo’ in Bould, Mark and China Miéville (2009) Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction, 1-26. England: Pluto Press.

Burroughs, William S. Cities Of The Red Night. Holt, Rinehart And Winston, 1982.

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McAlister, Elizabeth. “Slaves, cannibals, and infected hyper-whites: the race and religion of zombies.” Anthropological quarterly (2012): 457-486.

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Shakespeare, William. The Tempest of Shakespeare. Rivingtons, 1876.

Urbanski, Heather. Plagues, Apocalypses and Bug-Eyed Monsters: How speculative fiction shows us our nightmares. McFarland, 2015.

Verne, Jules. “The Count of Chanteleine” Musée des Familles. Paris. 1864.

Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story… Last Edition Adorned with Cuts. CF Himbourg, 1794.

[1] Note that parodies of several of Poe’s stories have been released as “Treehouse of Horror” episodes in The Simpsons television series.

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