Talk to Me 85: Opposing groups in science fiction

Posted November 11, 2015 by Ana in Special Events, Talk To Me! | 7 Comments


This month, I’m joining in Sci-Fi Month 2015 and all my science fiction-related posts will be for that! Join me, join us, and let’s have a blast together!


You know what I love reading about in science fiction books? When the aliens or rebels or non/augmented humans or vaguely humanoid insect people have depth and complexity that contrasts against the protagonist’s group. Basically, I like a book where the interactions between the groups are very interesting from a sociological point of view.

  • Dystopian: government vs ordinary people

Probably the most common type that I see in sci-fi/dystopian (see last week’s discussion post re: my thoughts on these two being separated as genres). The oppressive government giving the wealth and riches to the few while ignoring (or enabling) the suffering of many.

Examples: The Hunger Games, Divergent, Legend.

I think this is interesting when the story switches between an ordinary person and someone who works for the government and has been brainwashed into their way of thinking. When the Government Person starts questioning their loyalty, looking past the propaganda that’s been drilled into them at an early age, I think it paves the way for their character growth as they realise what’s really going on and they have to discover the dark secrets under what they thought was a sterling government.

  • Dystopian: government vs rebels

See above, but the focus is on the government and the rebels. Some of the really interesting examples of this are the ones that have grey morality on both sides. If all the rebels were noble and stalwart heroes of justice and all the government soldiers were cackling faceless automatons, I think the story would be rather boring. Mix in some rebels with not-so-noble agendas, or are so into their own group’s propaganda that they start seeing the world in black and white morality. Mix in some government soldiers who are forced to be there for reasons instead of “I like doing this because I like being a cackling faceless automaton.”

Or something like the trope of Rage Within the Machine. ;)

Examples: The Lotus War series, Legend (yes, mentioned again because I love it), Pawn.

  • Upper class vs lower class

This one tends to bring in that ol’ romance trope where one half of the relationship is of a different social standing compared to the other. Not just in the “rich girl and dude from the wrong side of the tracks” kind. What’s more interesting to me is when the upper class character tends to have a very condescending view of the other one, and gets a real slap to the face as they wake up to the reality that things aren’t as simple as they think and that their “perfect” life isn’t so perfect after all. Usually their condescending attitude is rooted in their ignorance, and I love it when a good story manages to get that character to develop and realise the bigger picture.

Examples: Perception (where the “perfect” teenagers have shallower relationships compared to the “naturals”), Legend (hello again, well-illustrated in a scene where June is looking at the poor people and thinking about the things her brother said),  Uninvited

  • “Obviously bad” people vs “normal” people

Ah, this one. I think this was really well done in a book like Uninvited, where the people with the “murder” gene are essentially treated like animals and believed to have no control. Here, have a quote from my review:

There’s just so much wrong with what is happening in the book, and it makes for an utterly fascinating read. The world in Uninvited may seem in the realm of science fiction, but when one thinks about the core idea of it: that something that someone is born with causes them to be automatically judged, thought of as inhuman, or just placed in the “Other” category. It doesn’t exactly sound like science fiction, does it?

Examples: Uninvited (obvs), Strong Female Protagonist (“biodynamic individuals”), The Lunar Chronicles (how cyborgs are looked at, anyone?)

  • Post-apocalyptic: group vs group

In this situation, something Really Bad has happened and conventional society has broken down. People start forming groups, hoarding resources, arming themselves, and try to surviving in the new world. It usually ends up as small communities that have to struggle to survive or large well-armed settlements that control everything. In these stories, I think the whole “humans are innately good/bad” debate is really interesting. In a situation where social norms are thrown out the window, how do humans react?

Examples: Not a Drop to Drink, The Day of the Triffids, and Enclave.


Why do I find it so fascinating? Because I feel that these conflicts in fiction can be a commentary on things that happen in society. Oppressive governments, conflict between different groups, prejudice, groups that form when society breaks down.

The stories presented have the science fiction casing, and the conflicts can seem so outlandish or far-fetched or that those things will never happen. But when you look at the core idea, at the real prejudices and power imbalances that drive the conflict, does it really seem like pure fiction?


What do you think, dear reader?

What other group conflict stories do you see in science fiction/dystopian/post-apocalyptic titles? What do you think of its connection or commentary on the real world?

Let me know in the comments!


7 responses to “Talk to Me 85: Opposing groups in science fiction

  1. Well put! I definitely read Scifi not only because of the outlandishly cool future world and tech, but for what that means for humanity and how humanity regards itself. Lots of wonderful sociological explorations that make you re-think things we take for granted.

    Also, I really hate the “obviously bad” vs. “obviously good” people, though in some ways I do have a few fav reads that feature this trope. I’ve never read Uninvited though, sounds like it turns this trope on its head.
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    • Ana

      Exactly! As much as I love the science and tech in the books, I love the sociological things. :D

      I think Uninvited was a good read, especially from a sociological POV. (Just… I pretend that the sequel never happened.)

    • Ana


      Yes! I loooove it when the groups are just so morally grey and you don’t know who to root for! I think it makes things very exciting. :D

  2. I think one of the reasons I like post apoc or dystopian stories so much is because while the world is probably not going to collapse anytime soon, it’s fascinating to think about what would happen if it did, and how would “civilized” people remain civilized, or would they? I tend to like the group vs group styles you identify here, and gov’t vs rebels as well. star Wars would obviously fit that category. I think it would be neat to read a SW book where we see that the rebels are not all good guys, maybe there is corruption or competing agendas there, that would be a neat gray area.
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    • Ana

      Totally! I think it’s a really interesting thing to think about. :) There *must* be a SW book out there which has this storyline, there has to be!