The Absence of 9-11 from Science Fiction

Have the events of 9-11-2001 and the sociopolitical changes they spawned been mostly absent from science fiction? Or have they been present, even prevalent, but disguised?

Earlier national traumas and social upheavals of the 20th century have been widely reflected, either directly or through metaphor, in works of science fiction published not long after the precipitating events. Ten years have passed since September 11, 2001, and yet the destruction of the Twin Towers is referenced in only a handful of SF and fantasy stories and novels, and the resulting Global War on Terror in but a handful more. The issues and themes brought to the forefront by these events had been eagerly explored by science fiction writers in earlier decades — the threat posed by totalitarian religious sects (Gather, Darkness, Fritz Leiber, 1943; The Eleventh Commandment, Lester del Rey, 1962); the enormous powers of destruction new technologies might place in the hands of aggrieved individuals (The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester, 1956; The Weapons Shops of Isher, A. E. van Vogt, 1951); and the power of a properly motivated individual or small cell of individuals to cause hugely disproportionate damage to a large society (Wasp, Eric Frank Russell, 1957). What is it about 9-11 and the following events which have proven different from earlier events of similar magnitude, such as the introduction of atomic warfare, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or the Vietnam War?

The modern era of science fiction in the United States began with the initial publication of Amazing Stories in 1926 and can be said to have achieved its earliest full flowering during the late-1930s rise to prominence of Astounding Science Fiction under editor John W. Campbell. Since the late 1930s, several traumas or massive upheavals of national or international scope have impressed themselves widely upon the American consciousness and registered in American popular culture. These include Pearl Harbor and the American involvement in World War Two; the beginning of the Atomic Age with the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the Vietnam War; the social changes of the 1960s, including the advances of civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, and the Sexual Revolution; and, most recently, the terror attacks on New York City and Washington, DC of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent Global War on Terror, encompassing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the expansion of homeland security efforts domestically.

Prior to the 9-11 attacks, American science fiction writers responded in their work to the earlier traumas and upheavals in a relatively expeditious and prolific fashion, on the whole. Although concurrent fictional responses to the events of World War Two were somewhat curtailed by the fact that so many members of the professional SF writing fraternity found themselves drafted for the duration, the dramatic and world-changing end of the war by atomic bombings spurred the creation of large numbers of works. Stories and novels examining the possibilities of widespread atomic warfare and its aftermath began appearing as early as 1946. Outstanding early examples included Judith Merril’s “That Only A Mother” (1948), Theodore Sturgeon’s “Thunder and Roses” (1947), and Wilmar H. Shiras’s Children of the Atom (1953). A complete bibliography of atomic war stories from the 1940s to the 1960s would run many pages long and feature dozens of writers. George Orwell’s 1984, the classic fiction extrapolation of totalitarianism, was written in 1948, three years after the end of World War Two, in reaction to the crimes of both German Nazism and Soviet Communism. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (1962), a classic work of alternate history, postulates the shared occupation of the United States by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Cold War themes were reflected in many of the satirical stories of Robert Sheckley, one of the leading lights of Galaxy Science Fiction, which, along with Astounding, was among the most popular and influential of the 1950s SF magazines. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) was widely thought to be a reaction to McCarthyism (although the author has denied this as having been his intention). Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon (1959) portrays the aftermath of a hot war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, as does Nevil Shute’s On the Beach (1957), later made into a major film.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy, or alternate history variations of it, has inspired numerous memorable works of science fiction. By himself, Barry N. Malzberg wrote a small shelf’s worth of books and stories centered around the assassination, most notably The Destruction of the Temple (1975). Gregory Benford’s Nebula Award-winning Timescape (1980) hinged on the assassination, and an entire collection of “what ifs” was published in 1992, entitled Alternate Kennedys. An entire movement in science fiction, the New Wave, spearheaded by Michael Moorcock in Britain and Harlan Ellison in the U.S., focused on extrapolating the revolutionary social and political trends of the latter half of the 1960s. Issues examined included overpopulation (Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner, 1968; Make Room! Make Room! Harry Harrison, 1966), feminism (The Female Man, Joanna Russ, 1975; “The Women Men Don’t See,” James Tiptree, Jr., 1973), the threat of environmental catastrophe (The Drought, J. G. Ballard, 1965; The Sheep Look Up, John Brunner, 1972), and the Sexual Revolution (many of the stories in Harlan Ellison’s landmark anthologies Dangerous Visions, 1967 , and Again, Dangerous Visions, 1972, as well as Robert Heinlein’s earlier novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961).

The science fiction community found itself split over the issue of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, with many of the field’s older, venerated professionals (such as Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell) supporting U.S. policy, and most younger writers (including Kate Wilheim and Robert Silverberg), joined by a few of their elders (Judith Merril), opposing that policy. The Vietnam War, of somewhat shorter duration than the current war in Afghanistan, inspired a number of notable novels written during its span, including Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road (1963), Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War (compiled in 1976, but serialized during 1972-1975), and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest (1973), the former book offering a favorable view of the U.S. intervention, the latter two vociferously opposed.

All of the examples offered thus far represent only a small sampling of science fiction works inspired by or written in response to major upheavals or national traumas of the 20th century. In no way should this brief listing be considered exhaustive; only suggestive of the number of works written on such themes by major writers in the field and the temporal proximity of the appearance of such works to the events which inspired them.

A 2008 article published in the online science fiction newszine io9 carried the portentous heading, “How 9/11 Changed Science Fiction,” but failed to live up to its title, unless one considers visual media to be the primary driving creative wellspring of science fiction. The article focused almost entirely on movie, television, and graphic novel presentations, mentioning only Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End (2006) and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008) as books by major figures in science fiction to address the Global War on Terror and the surveillance state.

As best I can determine, the earliest reference to 9-11 in written science fiction was Pat Forde’s Hugo-nominated novella “In Spirit,” published in Analog Science Fiction in September, 2002. It postulates a form of spiritual time travel which allows the elderly sons and daughters of 9-11 victims to travel back in time to the days leading up to the attacks on New York and Washington to be with their dead parents. It was followed shortly thereafter by Lucius Shepard’s story “Only Partly Here,” published in Asimov’s Science Fiction in March, 2003. This story also focuses on a relationship between a survivor and a deceased victim, the survivor a member of the construction crews clearing away the debris of the Twin Towers, the victim a ghost who does not realize she is dead, who haunts a bar a few blocks away from the rubble, which is patronized by the construction worker. In my admittedly limited research, I have found only two other pieces of short science fiction or fantasy which reference 9-11 in a more than passing fashion: Mary Rickert’s “Bread and Bombs,” which is actually more of a response to the war in Afghanistan than it is to 9-11, and “Until Forgiveness Comes” by K. Tempest Bradford, published in Strange Horizons in November, 2008. Additionally, Bradley Denton’s “Sergeant Chip,” published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in September, 2004, winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, features an intelligent dog acting as a soldier in an Afghanistan-like setting; but its evocation of the horrors and sorrows of war do not seem unique to the Afghanistan theater.

The number of novels which engage with 9-11 or the Global War on Terror is similarly small. So far as I can determine, only one science fiction novel addresses 9-11 directly as the hinge of its narrative: Andrea White’s young adult novel Windows on the World, published in June, 2011. Three novels address the Patriot Act, the growth of the surveillance state, and the Global War on Terror: Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End (2006), which features an international conspiracy to develop a biological superweapon; Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel Little Brother (2008), which portrays a future variant of the Department of Homeland Security in a dire light; and Brian Aldiss’s HARM (2007), which does the same for Britain’s equivalent of DHS and whose protagonist is an innocent Muslim British citizen tortured for having published a novel mentioning in passing the assassination of Britain’s prime minister. Two novels feature the extrapolation of a future Islamic Caliphate: Tom Kratman’s Caliphate, published by Baen Books in 2008, and Dan Simmons’ Flashback, published by Reagan Arthur Books in 2011. Additionally, my own novel, The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501, published by Tachyon Publications in 2009, has the development of a future Caliphate in Europe as part of its background and features one of the Caliphate’s operatives as a secondary antagonist.

Five stories and seven novels, of which only three stories and one novel deal directly with the events of 9-11-2001. This seems like a vanishingly small number, particularly given the enormous volume of fiction published from 2002 on.  Locus Magazine calculates in their February, 2011 issue that, in the nine years from 2002 to 2010, 9,420 new (non-reprint) speculative fiction novels (encompassing science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance but excluding media-related works of fiction) were published in the United States; of these, 2,242 were science fiction novels. Far fewer speculative fiction novels were published during the decades following the invention of atomic weapons, the beginning of the Cold War, the assassination of President Kennedy, the social changes of the late 1960s, or America’s military involvement in Vietnam.

By way of comparison, a relative plethora of mainstream or literary novels have been published in the past decade which engage directly with 9-11. The first of these, Pattern Recognition (2003), was written by an author who gained notoriety as a science fiction writer, William Gibson, but Pattern Recognition is pointedly not science fiction, reflecting Gibson’s view that “reality has replaced science fiction.” Critic D. G. Myers counts more than thirty mainstream novels as having focused on the events of 9-11, notable titles including Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children (2006).

Why the discrepancy? Have the themes of 9-11 and its aftermath simply resonated more strongly with mainstream and literary novelists than they have with science fiction and fantasy novelists? Yet considering all the author’s tools that sit within the toolboxes of speculative fiction writers — “what if?” “if this goes on…” and alternate history and alternative realities — it would seem the science fiction and fantasy writers would likely have more to say regarding the attacks of 9-11-2001 and the events of the Global War on Terror than mainstream fiction writers would. Most of the mainstream novels described in D. G. Myers’ list focus on psychological accounts of the aftermath of the attacks or the moral ambiguities raised by the War on Terror. Science fiction authors can do this as well, of course, but they can potentially do so much more: focus on the Clash of Civilizations between reactionary Islamicism and Western modernity, perhaps on ways this clash can be elided or lessened; perform thought experiments regarding potential future evolutions of the Islamic world; and extrapolate potential future tools of combat and civil defense particularly appropriate to asymmetrical warfare.

Yet science fiction has often been a surprisingly timid and commercially conservative field of publishing. In his essay from The Engines of the Night: Science Fiction in the Eighties entitled “Tell Me Doctor If You Can That It’s Not All Happening Again,” SF author and critic Barry N. Malzberg lists seven plots, varieties of extrapolation, or stylistic devices which would render a story or novel essentially non-marketable to professional editors in the science fiction and fantasy fields. He calls these “the taboos of science fiction.”

Do the modern day “taboos of science fiction” include an extrapolation of the potential danger of radical Islamicism? Several anecdotes suggest this is so. The venerable and highly honored science fiction writer Norman Spinrad has tried for years to get his SF novel Osama the Gun published in the U.S. Even after having the book published in France, he has had to resort to e-publishing the book himself in the U.S., as he describes in his blog, after Tor, publishers of his previous novel in the U.S., apparently passed on the opportunity to publish Spinrad’s extrapolation on the global jihad. Dan Simmons shared Spinrad’s interest and concerns, as expressed in an “interview with a time traveler” editorial he published on his blog in 2006. His recently published novel, Flashback, is a near-future extrapolation of many of the concerns and fears he listed in his 2006 editorial. It has been savaged in several major review publications, not for the quality of its storytelling, but for its supposed “Islamophobia.” Simmons tried to preemptively head off such criticism by denying at length that he shares the political outlook of his novel’s protagonist; however, his stratagem appears to have failed.

My own relatively minor usage of the notion of a revived Caliphate in Europe in my novel The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 also prompted a similar bit of moral outrage from a reviewer. A good portion of my book’s plot was based upon that of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon; in Hammett’s classic detective novel, the characters are all searching for the jewel-encrusted statue of a bird, whereas in my book, the characters are all searching for the preserved, liposuctioned belly fat of Elvis Presley. I wanted one of my minor antagonists, an operative of the European Caliphate whom I called the Ottoman, to be a reflection of the sort of shady, unctuously violent characters Sidney Greenstreet used to play in the film adaptations of Hammett’s books. The first review of my novel to appear came from e-publication Strange Horizons, whose reviewer excoriated the book for what he termed “crude racial stereotypes,” devoting much of his review to his visceral distaste for the Ottoman character.

Publishers may be seeking to preempt such critical reactions by simply rejecting books that deal with radical Islamicism or jihad out of hand. It may be instructive to remember that one of the earliest events of what some commentators call the Clash of Civilizations was the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s imposition in 1989 of a death fatwa on British author Salman Rushdie for the latter’s publication of The Satanic Verses. This marked the first time an Islamic leader had reached outside his own society to promise violence on a prominent citizen of a Western nation; it certainly has not been the last such episode. Earlier this year, a professional colleague of mine warned me that no major publisher in the U.S. would want to handle my most recent novel, an eschatological fantasy-satire positing the return of the Old Testament God of the Hebrews to Earth, called The End of Daze. His most pointed remark was, “Are you ready for the fatwa?”

Are science fiction novels extrapolating the rise of radical Islamicism not being written, or are they being written but not being published by traditional publishing houses and imprints? In the not too distant past, answering this question would have been virtually impossible, outside of a major effort to interview a large sample of working science fiction writers regarding projects they had been unable to successfully market. However, the recent surge in e-publishing provides a sample of books which have not been published by the major houses. Amazon lists 46 science fiction and fantasy books which they classify as focusing on the subject of “jihad.” Of these 46, the majority are either Brian Herbert’s Dune sequels or gaming-related books in the Battletech series. However, the following titles appear as Kindle editions or Print on Demand paperbacks, meaning they have most likely been self-published:
The Wormwood Trumpet by C. F. Allison (2003)
Galactic Jihad by Victor De Grande (2004)
Jihad from Hindukush to Armadeddon by Sunita Joshi-Ford (2008)
The Jihad Epiphany by Tom Christian (2010)
Liberation (Celestial Jihad) by Christopher Mooney (2010)
Countdown to Armadeddon by Edward M. Lerner (2010)
Reset Never Again by R. J. Rummel (2010)
No More Time for Sorrow by Dr. Robert Beeman (2010)
The Gomorrha Conjurations by William Maltese (2011)

I have not read any of these publications and so cannot vouch for their quality. However, it seems somewhat suggestive that three times as many novels (nine) have been self-published on the theme of extrapolating a future Caliphate or the worldwide triumph of radical Islamism as have been traditionally published (three, if you bother to include my book, which is primarily a satire on trends in governmental banning of various fattening foods). Could any of the nine books listed above have been published by a traditional house if their subject matter had not been considered outre? That is a thought experiment which would require a panel of professional editors in the science fiction field to work through… which will most likely never happen. It is interesting, nonetheless, to note that two-thirds of the self-published works listed above have appeared within the last two years. That could either reflect the fact that the rapid and widespread recent proliferation of electronic reading devices has encouraged a fresh horde of amateur novelists to self-publish on Amazon; or that readers interested in extrapolations of trends begun by 9-11 and the Global War on Terror have grown tired of waiting for traditional publishers to feed their interests and so have taken matters into their own hands and published their own extrapolations.

Perhaps we’ll have a better understanding of all this by the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001.


  1. […] mest uttömmande jag hittade var The Absence of 9-11 from Science Fiction av den för mig okände författaren Andrew Fox. Han diskuterar det hela en del, och länkar till […]

  2. David McKinnis says:

    You missed Battlestar Galactica. 70 some odd episodes of post 9/11 pathos, ethos and logos.

    • Andrew says:

      David, thanks for visiting and for commenting. I decided not to focus on SF in film, television, and comics, as the website did that pretty comprehensively in 2008, and I didn’t have much to add to it (their article is linked within mine). Also, traditionally the main creative wellspring of SF has come from the written word, with ideas flowing from the books and magazines to the visual media. So I wanted to survey what SF writers had to say about 9/11 and its aftermath.

  3. lakelevel says:

    You seem to be studiously avoiding John Ringo.

    • Andrew says:

      My bad. Which of his books do you think speak especially well to 9/11 and the War on Terror? It’s interesting that he, like the author of Caliphate, is a Baen author. Baen seems to be among the very few traditional publishers willing to handle works which explore this area.

      • Mitchell says:

        Paladin of Shadows series (5 awesomely violent books, and everyone is REALLY HOPING he’ll write some more of them), plus The Last Centurion.

        • SGT Dan says:

          Andrew, the after-material in the “Legacy of the Aldenata” series dealt with it in more detail. He had the first two novels (“A Hymn Before Battle” and “Gust Front”) completed, and by his own estimation about halfway through the third, “When the Devil Dances”, on 9/11 when he admitted he just stopped and turned in what he had done. He later restarted it and that became the fourth book, “Hell’s Faire.” The subject is not directly addressed in-story since the events began in a pre-9/11 world and John’s not much for ret-cons.

          He’d speculated in the first novel about a horrible world-shaking experience that would give the current generations the forging that his father’s generation had with the Depression and WWII. Then we got it, and got a war of our own.

      • (a) Much of Baen’s catalogue is military SF, read by an audience (generally people with military and/or law enforcement backgrounds) that is more conservative than the general population (let alone the “literary SF” crowd)

        (b) The late lamented Jim Baen’s political view were firmly conservative-libertarian, and his successor, Toni Weisskopf, is in the same vein. (This does not mean all their authors are wired that way: I’d imagine Lois McMaster Bujold — whose biggest fan was Jim Baen himself — is at least somewhat liberal, while Eric Flint is a self-described socialist.)

      • And BTW, there’s a family tree effect here. John Ringo (an ex-82th Airborne officer) started out as a fanfic writer in David Weber’s Honorverse (and coauthored several books with Weber), and in turn Tom Kratman worked under John Ringo’s wing for a while.

        • Ringo was enlisted. I was also, now retired.

          I also notice my “Freehold,” “The Weapon” and “Rogue” are not mentioned. Though Rogue was just released. Since I wrote Freehold and The Weapon prior to Sep 11, I think I was ahead of the curve on both massive terror attacks and the resultant police states. At least as far as this particular vein.

          • Andrew says:

            Michael, thanks so much for stopping by. I’ll have to take a look at Rogue in terms of inclusion in a revised version of my article. Good luck with your sales!

      • Mark L says:

        The Last Centurion.

        • Don’t forget Ringo’s “Ghost” series political thrillers, heavy antijihad with a sizeable helping of kink.

          And Kratman’s series starting with A Desert Called Peace, Carnifex and The Lotus Eaters…

  4. unhyphenatedconservative says:

    John Birmingham has written 5, with a 6th, forthcoming book in which militatnt Islam and Western response feature prominently. The Assassin trilogy by Farragino (sp?) feature an Islamified United States. Those are just off the top of my head.

    • Andrew says:

      Again, my bad, and rather embarrassing that I should’ve overlooked Birmingham. But part of my desire to put this article up was to stir up responses so I could put together a more comprehensive survey. Looks like I’ll need to revise the article in a few days, and perhaps take a second look at my thesis. Thanks for writing!

      • unhyphenatedconservative says:

        Hey, that’s what comments are for! And I agree that there’s a paucity of such literaure, which makes the exceptions more notable.

        I do like your idea of comparing the conservative/libertarian tradition in sic-fi versus liberalism. However, I would think that the three philosophies should be treated discreetly, rather than lumping conservatives with libertarians because the utopian nature that lot of more libertarian authors takes have a decidedly different view of what the future would be like with their social policies having had a couple centuries to flourish rather than how conservatives think society might look.

        • Tennwriter says:

          Indeed. I am a conservative writer, and I don’t think I’ll be writing anything like ‘Freehold’ any time soon, at least as a utopia (sorta….Williamson is smart enough to know Libertarianism won’t bring the Millenium) any time soon.

          Someone made a what if comment…what if Beijing had been attacked. I wrote a short story in which that happened, but only sent it out to one person who thought it okay in perspective, but warned some would find it racist.

  5. Missou Mafia says:

    As David said, the Battlestar Galactica miniseries was 9/11, with 30 billion lives. When I get into it, the horror of 9/11 is all there.
    Star Trek: Enterprise featured a season-long arc around a terrorist attack on Earth.
    Print fiction? Don’t know – I’m still getting through the ’90s greats.

  6. Andrew says:

    Welcome, Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn for sending you my way. Please have a look around the site while you’re here, and come back and visit again now and then. Glad to have you!

    • Zilla says:

      I am one of the Insty readers sent here by the good Professor. Congratulations on your instalanche!
      I think we do not see sci-fi extrapolations of a post islamoapocolyptic world because muslims rampage and kill people when they are ‘offended’. Also, a bleak future of a world stifled under the jackboot of a global caliphate strikes too close too home as so many advocates of said global caliphate are currently in all areas of our society and have infiltrated our government at its highest levels. CAIR is treated as a legitimate ‘moderate’ entity although it’s co-founder said this in 1998:

      “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”
      – Omar Ahmad, chairman and cofounder of CAIR

      The Obama administration has islamic supremacists in just about every federal department, people who are open members of the Muslim Brotherhood whose intention for America is explicitly stated IN THEIR OWN WORDS is to destroy it from within.

      Of course people who discuss such things are roundly demonized as ‘islamophobes’, a word invented by an islamic supremacist in the Muslim Brotherhood who intended it to be used to stifle criticism of islamic jihad and sharia. Sadly, it worked.

      Only when people choose to be unafraid and to stand up for the right to speak freely will we see books in the sci-fi fantasy genre featuring islamic expansionism extrapolated to its logical end.

      Just my humble opinion.

      Now I’ll take a look around the rest of your site… 🙂

      • Zilla says:

        I love the idea of a vampire who becomes obese from our fatty blood! As soon as I have an extra few bucks, I think I’ll definitely be checking out your books!

      • Andrew says:

        Zilla, thanks for commenting. I’m going to try to steer the conversation away from political invective directed at either the current administration or the previous one, though, and try to keep the focus on the science fiction and the larger cultural environment. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable visiting here because they think their political viewpoints are looked down upon. Thanks again, and I hope you enjoy some of the other materials on the site.

  7. Synova says:

    Do the modern day ”taboos of science fiction” include an extrapolation of the potential danger of radical Islamicism?

    I’d think that this was rather obvious.

    As to the question are they refused by publishers or simply not written, I’d say not written, because who wants to spend that much sweat and tears on something that can’t be sold?

    And would I be close to right if I guessed that the subject matter and conclusions of literary fiction published more or less reflect movies that have been made since 9-11 that deal with the aftermath? Post traumatic stress and how America is bad?

    OTOH, I’d argue that there is a certain amount of commentary hidden in movies, usually super-hero ones, directly related to 9-11 that doesn’t follow that pattern. And I can think of a few direct references in science fiction, but it’s generally not what the story is about. John Ringo rather gratuitously killed Bin Laden off, and present events explain the location of troops in a David Weber novel. There are more military veterans as characters in books, but then the Vietnam vets are sort of old for action heroes these days.

  8. Ellen says:

    Do not forget: much of science fiction, despite its detractors, is written by literates. And one of the prime tenets of literary education is that the United States is guilty, and anybody that does bad things to it is a hero.

    This does not seem like a good way to encourge writing about 9/11.

    • Andrew says:

      Ellen, thanks for writing. It would be interesting to repeat the political survey of the body of SF writers that was carryied out in Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction back in the late 1960s and see how the balance between conservative/libertarian and liberal/progressive SF writers has shifted in the past forty plus years (although doing so might lead to some hurt feelings and ruptured friendships, I’d suspect). As I mention in replying to some of the earlier commenters, I’ll need to revise my article to reflect a number of works I missed in my web searches. Interesting that most of the writers being brought to my attention have significant military background. The Baen ghetto?

  9. You mentioned Tom Kratman. His “A desert called peace” and the sequel “Carnifex” are thinly veiled allegories on the war on terror (and his view on how it should be conducted). ADCP actually has a direct 9/11 analogue occurring near the beginning.

    And let’s not forget John Ringo’s “The Last Centurion”, which has both the war on terror and AGW as themes.

  10. R Anderson says:

    Tom Kratman has written an extensive series of SF novels in a thinly-veiled post-9/11 world, beginning with “A Desert Called Peace” and continuing for a further 3 volumes. The level of near-prescience he has consistently delivered in “throwaway details,” in books released 2-3 years before the real-world analogues, would almost be amusing were he writing on other topics.

  11. […] ANDREW FOX: The Absence of 9/11 From Science Fiction. […]

  12. Bill Beyer says:

    Err… you ever read John Ringo, or perhaps Tom Kratman..?
    There’s plenty of folks who’ll write about it, but I’ll guess
    fewer who’ll pay for it. Heinlein said something about having to pay for groceries, as I recollect. And my grandfather (also an author) mentioned the same. I’ll guess ‘PC’, for lack of a better term,
    dooms ‘controversial’ novels of that sort.

  13. Roy Heath says:

    I think you should reviewvthe Ender novels of Orson Scott Card written after 9/11. I detected a significant thematic shift directed toward the larger question of religious violence that was not present in the earlier stories.

    • Andrew says:

      Roy, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll have to take a look at them. I actually had Orson Scott Card review a story I wrote as a teenager, way back at the 1980 World Science Fiction Convention in Boston. He said I had talent but that I needed to cheer up some. Pretty decent advice; I’ve tried to follow it.

  14. Thanks for a thoughtful and important article! Just to add to the list, Spider Robinson makes mention of “The Terror Wars” in his Heinlein-channeling work, “Variable Star.” It’s an insulting, tendentious, and simple-minded formulation, mind you, but it’s in there.

    The observation that 9/11 themes appear to be more common in self-published works than in those published by traditional houses is a telling one, perhaps speaking to a timidity and controversy-avoidance in Dead-Tree Land.

    That such gate-keeping may be in effect is troubling to me, and makes me all the more sanguine about finding myself in the company of self-published authors, even as I kvetch about how hard it is to sell books that way!

    • Andrew says:

      Tobias, good luck with your publishing efforts. As I’ve remarked in numerous other posts and articles, the whole universe of publishing is undergoing a paradigm shift, and the roles of writers, editors, publicists, and book sellers will be very different five years from now than they are currently.

      • Thanks, Andrew! Yes, the coming years will certainly take a shape that would have Herr Gutenberg scratching his head (but would likely have Thomas Paine doing cartwheels of joy!).

        Now, if I can only grab a hold of that much-vaunted “Long Tail….”

  15. lil mike says:

    I think the fall back to only two other writers in the comments, John Ringo and Tom Kratman; make the author’s point of how limited an impact 9/11 has made on written SF.

    Although I agree that SF on TV is another story.

  16. Lee Holum says:

    My self published novel, Timeline Warriors deals partially with the results of a nuclear war between Israel and Iran that blows up into a global conflict that essentially destroys civilization. Some of the villains are survivors of the war that invade the timeline where the protagonist reside. I deal with Islamic issues in a couple of subsequent novels that have not been published. One episode deals with a potential stoning and the other with female circumcism both of which occur in the Islamic world. I found your discussion very interesting.

  17. Adam Maas says:

    Note that Tom Kratman has also written a series based on the aftermath of a lightly disguised 9/11 on a thinly disguised earth (at the request of Baen, it was originally set on Earth starting on 9/11),this series starts with A Desert Called Peace.

    John Ringo’s The Last Centurion also relies heavily on the aftermath of 9/11 (it’s set in 2018-2020 after a successful invasion of Iran from Iraq) although it deals primarily with the issues of societal collapse in the aftermath of a cataclysmic plague combined with rapid-onset global cooling.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks, Adam. As I mentioned below in response to a few other commenters, I included Kratman’s Caliphate but neglected to mention his other works. Several others have also brought Ringo’s The Last Centurion to my attention, and I’ll take a look at it in any revised version of this article. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    • Will says:

      Is that where the attack is carried out with a dirigible rather than a jet liner? Sigh.

  18. The odd thing is that there were SF novels warning that Muslim (or Muslim-like) religious fanatics can be as dangerous as any other kind, but they predate the 9/11 attack. For example, there was The Coming of the Quantum Cats by Frederik Pohl. There were also Muslim-like theocracies in The Left hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin, a brief mention of a “heroic nation of monotheists” in Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon and, of course, the Dorsai series by Gordon Dickson.

  19. Rlynh says:

    How is one to write a story with 9/11 as a backdrop without casting Muslims in an adversarial role? To do so would immediately brand the writer as a racist Islamophobe by our PC elites, and the loudest of those Muslim voices that brook no criticism.

    • Andrew says:

      That’s a good question. I think the best any writer can do with any story is to strive to create fully rounded characters with believable motivations. It’s often difficult to carry this out with every single character in a novel, including all the minor characters (this could result in most books being the length of War and Peace). But it is a goal to be strived after, I believe. Make your characters as “real” and three dimensional as you can, set them in believable conflict, and then let the chips fall where they may regarding readers’ reactions. Each reader will have a personalized reaction, of course, so it is impossible to “please everyone,” and no writer should expect to.

      • Bruce Lewis says:

        Yes, we all recall the fully-rounded, subtly-nuanced characterizations of anti-communists and military men (among others) that abounded in SF during the Cold War. I particularly remember our beloved genre’s fair-minded, considered treatment of real-life people like Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Gen. Curtis LeMay. Good thing nobody in SF ever went so far as to vilify whole classes of people such as Southern whites, traditionalist Christians, or businessmen! How embarrassing that would have been!

        • Andrew says:

          Bruce, my comment about how writers should seek to create well-rounded, three-dimensional characters is aspirational; I don’t always hit that mark myself, and certainly many works have been written in the past that didn’t even make the effort. I think that generally, when a writer sets out to set up a bunch of clay ducks to blast apart with a shotgun, this results in an unsatisfying story or novel for most readers (unless you happen to be a reader whose preconceived notions model exactly those of the writer). Bad art is bad art, and bad storytelling is bad storytelling, no matter what side of the political spectrum it may hail from.

          • Andrew: First off, I remembered another portrayal of Islam which, though pre-9/11, might still be considered sufficiently mixed in its sympathies to suffer from unjust accusations of “Islamophobia,” and that is in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic “Mars” series. There, the Muslim pilgrims to Mars self-segregate (?) to their own colonies, where their martial tendencies make them all-too recruitable to execute a notably dastardly act, at the behest of a particularly petty character with an axe to grind…

            As for the question of characterization, your point is well-taken. In my self-published short novel (“Night Music,” for Kindle, in case anyone’s interested [cf. earlier comments about getting seen as a self-published author…]), I was confronted with the problem of a group of characters whose common training and shared adversities (scientists and spacers on a Zubrin-inspired expedition to Mars, under extraordinary circumstances) threatened to blur their voices together. The solution I found was to use my training as a clinical psychologist to create faux psych profiles for several of the main folks –complete with simulated responses on select projective tests, which I then “scored.” This helped me to flesh them out from within, and to add distinctiveness to their reactions and construals of the conflicts they faced.

            But, yes, it does trouble me greatly that even such due diligence in creating Salafist Jihadi characters would nonetheless leave me open to accusations of bigotry by those whose just-as-zealous adherence to the cult of Multiculturalism brooks *no* suggestion that one way of formulating the world can be any more or less problematic than another.

            No publishing house wants their offices picketed or firebombed, and I’m not *entirely* unsympathetic to the choices which they face. But I am deeply troubled by the insidious cumulative effects of these exercises in self-censorship, and the bias which creeps in as a result of the all-too-realistic appraisals of the consequences which would follow from libeling some groups (e.g., Muslims) vs. others (Christians, Jews, rural Americans…).

            No simple answers, but it is eminently worth asking the questions. So, thanks for raising them!

        • Andrew says:

          Bruce, I decided not to post your earlier comment because I felt it dipped into the territory of ad hominem attack. Call me persnickety, but I didn’t want to go there. Sorry if I’ve caused offense.

  20. RNB says:

    ‘Quantico,’ by Greg Bear

  21. Mauther says:

    Dan Simmon’s Illium and Olympus books of 2004 and 2006 deal with a global caliphate as the background. While barely mentioned at all in Ilium, in Olympus, the final war against the Caliphate is a major historical point including the origins of the Voynix and creation of the Rubicon plague. Explaining the the very small human population.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for pointing out Simmons’ other recent books. I do give a good bit of attention to his most recent novel, Flashback, his blog comments which preceded the book’s publication, and the hullabaloo that has erupted since.

  22. Rahadyan Sastrowardoyo says:

    This may come under the heading of SF on TV, but the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers (available as ebooks and traditional paperbacks) includes a character who has kept a fire axe inherited from an ancestor who survived 9/11. As well, the anthology Tales of the Dominion War, published in 2004, seems to have stories that were informed by the attacks of 9/11.

  23. […] Andrew Fox asks, “Have the events of 9-11-2001 and the sociopolitical changes they spawned been mostly absent from science fiction? Or have they been present, even prevalent, but disguised?” Five stories and seven novels, of […]

  24. errhead says:

    It was deep background, but _The General_ series by David Drake and SM Stirling foresaw the final outcome at least, even if the stories predated 9/11. Here’s a couple examples of many that occur throughout the series.

    “Earth floated before him, blue and white like the images of Bellevue that Center showed him—blue and white like all worlds that could nourish the seed of Earth. One final war scarred the globe beneath him with flames, pinpoints of fire that consumed whole cities at a blow. Soundless globes of magenta and orange bloomed in airless space.
    ‘the last jihad’, Center’s voice said.”

    “His beard was dyed green, sign of one who had made the pilgrimage to the Holy City of Sinar; where the first ships from Old Earth had landed, bearing a fragment of the Ka’bah from the ruins of burning Mecca.”

    • Andrew says:

      I suspect many writers felt more comfortable addressing Islam prior to 9/11 than afterwards. Perhaps the outstanding pre-9/11 examination of Islam in SF (apart from the Dune books, of course) was George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen series, starting with When Gravity Fails. They’re all back in print now and are well worth reading, all three.

  25. William R.Morrison says:

    The problem is that we have a problem between the future and the present.There has been a large outpouring of fiction and current work of anti-Islamifcation. With the largest group consisting of writings being of that stripe – anti_Islam.
    It is difficult to write that type of fiction when the anti-Islam writer is possibly subject to the Islamic jihad of actual violence is the here-and-now.
    The backlash of the right is almost entirely one of words (verbal and written).
    whereas the left and the Islamiscits is violence to our physical person. It is between the 21st century (us) and the seventh century (them) How can you write
    science-fiction, when the two sides are between the now, and the past (the 7th

  26. Pushing the envelope a bit, there’s The Texas-Israeli War published in 1999, although Islam is extremely peripheral to the story…

    • Andrew says:

      I recall seeing The Texas-Israeli War:1999, by Jack Saunders and Howard Waldrop, on a newsstand paperback rack when I was a kid. I looked it over but didn’t end up buying it, which I now regret. 1999 was part of the title, though, not the publishing date. It was first published back in 1978 (when I was in junior high school — uggh!).

  27. Can’t say for novels, but as a writer/director who works in Hollywood, selling to studios and networks, I can tell you that I avoid basing fiction on 9/11.


    Because the event is still too close to reality for me. Fictionalize and making entertainment out 9/11 sits poorly in my stomach when I conceive characters and stories.

    As for why others in the entertainment avoid, I can’t say. But I can venture this. A disproportionate segment of Hollywood is like me: originally from New York. “But for the grace of God…” And that may make all the difference.

    • Andrew says:

      Martin, thank you very much for raising a point of view no one else has. I had a somewhat similar reaction back in 2006 and 2007 when I was trying to market my Hurricane Katrina fantasy novel, The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club, to editors at major houses. Half the editors said the events of Katrina were still too recent, raw, and painful to expect the reading public to want to read the book. The other half said, essentially, “Oh, Katrina? That’s yesterday’s news. Nobody’s interested in that anymore.” Head, you win. Tails, I lose.

  28. Brian Aldiss had an absolutely terrible story in the September 2005 Analog called “Pipeline”. It had only trace amounts of science fiction (there was an autopiloted car — that was it), and was about a nuclear attack on an oil pipeline in Turkmenistan (I believe). All the American characters were either evil or naive, or both. The American ambassador, in particular, might as well have twirled his mustache like Snidely Whiplash.

    As someone said, some stories “about” 9/11 are disguised. One is the excellent “Dawn, and Sunset, and All the Colours of the Earth” by Michael Flynn. It’s about a Seattle ferry that mysteriously vanishes with hundreds(?) aboard during rush hour. It’s actually a collection of micro-stories from different viewpoints, written in different tenses and persons. I liked the story, but it was clear that the author chose a mysterious disaster because all the surviving characters have to do is cry and wring their hands. They don’t actually have to take any action.

    • Andrew says:

      Angie, thank you for bringing Michael Flynn’s story to my attention. I’ll have to look it up. Regarding Brian Aldiss, I’ve been a fan for many years, but I do recall being very, very disappointed by some of the comments he made in his most recent interview in Locus Magazine a few years back, right after HARM was published. Sometimes it is just better for readers not to know what goes on in the minds of their favorite writers (or to have to guess at it).

      • Turns out that the “all” in the title of Flynn’s story was my own invention. (I like my version better, but Rupert Brooke failed to think of it when he wrote his poem.)

        Originally in the Oct/Nov 2006 Asimov’s, it was nominated for a Hugo and is collected in Year’s Best SF 12.

  29. John Pierce says:

    There are many sci fi films and tv series which incorporate 9/11. Not sure why you think a film or tv series is not “real sci fi”, but whatever. My favorite treatment of the subject is from the TV series “Fringe” which has an alternate reality where 9/11 did not take place.

    However, if you must have it in the written word, there is “Spirit” – a Hugo-nominated science fiction novella by Pat Forde, published in Analog Science Fiction in September 2002.

    • Andrew says:

      John, thanks for writing. As mentioned in the article and in the comments below, I don’t examine media SF in this article because the website had already pretty thoroughly covered that end of things in 2008, and I didn’t feel I had much to add. Thanks for mentioning “Spirit” — that’s one of the stories I did manage to catch in my net.

  30. Heartless Libertarian says:

    Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender’s Shadow’ series features an Islamic Caliphate as one of several superstates battling for supremacy on Earth after the end of a war against insectoid aliens.

    However, the Caliphate is, IIRC, introduced in the second of the series, Shadow of the Hegemon, which was released in Dec 2001, so how much Card had what we currently conceive of as radical Islam in mind can surely be debated.

  31. Taco says:

    9/11 is mentioned, at least in passing, in Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series.

  32. Kirk says:

    There was a novel written well before 9/11, which had as a protagonist a female captain of a family-owned merchant trading starship. The family in this case was Muslim, and there was considerable backstory relating to their difficulties living in a world where Islam was near-totally repressed due to an incident in the past where nuclear weapons had been used in a campaign of terror by Islamic terrorists. That resulted in a world-wide campaign of reciprocal destruction (I believe Mecca was left “flat, black, and glowing in the dark”) and repression of the entire Islamic faith.

    Many of the characters still expressed guilt over what their ancestors had done, to incite that.

    It was interesting, remembering that book during the years after 9/11. I can’t for the life of me remember the author’s name, or if she (I think…) wrote anything else in the same vein. It was a throw-away book I picked up out of a second-hand bookstore, and I believe it was written in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

  33. I’m glad someone mentioned Fringe, but 9-11 did take place in the alternate universe, except that it was the White House and not the WTC that was destroyed.

    I think SF writers, like most genre writers, write primarily to entertain, whatever their views may be (and many of them are far more to the left than their readers might be.) Also, it might simply have been too soon during the 2000s. Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War” which was strongly identified with Vietnam, wasn’t published until the war was over. Likewise, many of the stories about the JFK assassination weren’t written until many years if not decades afterwards. So maybe with the passage of time we will see more, and better written, stories and novels about 9-11 and radical Islam.

    William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition” is another early post-9-11 novel.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for commenting. Actually, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War was serialized while America was still militarily involved in Vietnam, beginning in 1972, prior to its publication in book form. I do mention Pattern Recognition in the article, although Gibson is specific in not labeling the novel as science fiction. Regarding SF writers writing primarily to entertain, I agree, to an extent, but many SF writers have also traditionally seen their role to include that of a Cassandra, yelling into the wind, “If this goes on…” Many commentators have remarked that SF is about the present, not the future. And SF writers have never shied away from such depressing subjects as nuclear war, environmental degredation, overpopulation, future war, etc. etc.

  34. PS I also agree that movies and especially TV have been far more effective in dealing with 9-11 and afterwards; perhaps i’s because we live in such a visually oriented world that print has taken time to catch up?

  35. Don says:

    It seems like all the trama listed, that sparks SF writers, there always seemed to be the definative bad guy, not something so nebulas as the “War on Terror”. It is like the “war on drugs”. You knock off a terrorist or a drug lord and there is a never ending stream of people to fill the slot. The “bad guy” never dies. How do you definatively. kill “terror” or “drugs”?

    • Andrew says:

      I believe the term “War on Terror” was a bit of white propoganda/intential misnomer meant to not “inflame the hornets’ nest” worse than it already was and make matters even worse for the U.S. geopolitically. Despite its moniker, the U.S. War on Terror has never included terror organizations such as the Tamil Tigers, for example.

      • tioedong says:

        actually athough the “war on terror” is mainly against one group, one side effect of the war was the ability to monitor money laundering and turn off the donations from true believers for other groups, including narco terrorists in Colombia and the Communists here in the Philippines.

        It’s just that such things don’t get into the news often, and of course, accountants don’t make good protagonists in shootumup type films and stories.

  36. Tennwriter says:

    Some of it is related to the present vs. past problem another had mentioned. It took a while after the Berlin Wall fell for writers to really start coming out anti-communist….

    There was always a remnant, but thats the problem. It was a very small minority.

    And then there was Bill Clinton. Say what you like about him, but he should have inspired dozens of novels….Nixon did, and the worse thing Nixon did was try to protect his people who had done something dumb. Even if you think Nixon was worse, still Clinton should have inspired a lot of novels.

    But he did not.

    Now I think I know why.

  37. […] Reynolds (prompted by a post by Andrew Fox) muses on the absence of 9/11 (and by extension the War on Terror) from science fiction, which Fox […]

  38. Dick Eagleson says:

    Charles Stross’s ‘Family Trade’ series of parallel universe stories has several key plot points hinged on post-9/11 events. Enhanced government surveillance programs in the wake of 9/11 are part of the reason a band of cross-universe travelers that have been operating in North America for a couple of centuries finds itself a target of the modern U.S. security apparat. Toward the tail end of the story cycle there’s even a nuclear terrorism attack on Washington D.C. launched by a traditionalist faction from a feudal/medieval alternate universe in which Pres. Bush is killed. Vice President Cheney assumes power but quickly dies of a heart attack and is succeeded by Donald Rumsfeld. None of the three are protrayed as good guys here. Cheney is portrayed as having had secret, corrupt, past dealings with the medieval universe-crossers. Nuclear carpet bombing of said medieval kingdom by USAF B-52’s, among other things, ensues.

    Stross is one of the latter-day greats of SF. It would be nice if he were not also, sadly, an utterly typical example of fever swamp U.K. reflexive lefty Anti-American nutbaggery, but as President Rumsfeld said, just before dispatching the bombers, “You fight the war with the sci-fi writers you have; not the one’s you wish you had.”

  39. Peter Buxton says:

    The only successful science fiction treatment of Islam was Frank Herbert’s Dune series.

    Notably, Herbert thoroughly rewrote Islam—literally: instead of Islam or the the Koran, the major religious work was the Orange Catholic Bible, and the religion we saw most in the books was Zensunni Catholicism.

    Note that Herbert changed and modernized Islam: it shaped and was shaped by the anti-AI Butlerian Jihad, not to mention the syncretism in the very name “Zensunni Catholic.” Herbert merged the warring nature of the old Arab tribes with the interiority and teleology of Christianity. The Zensunni Fremen regard Emperor Leto Atreides II as a God; and Leto bends all religious feeling to his Golden Path, a prescient but non-religious vision. This is quite different, to say the least.

    Leto’s Golden Path, interestingly, parallels the entire science fiction genre: it is a progress, an arc, a trope, with a goal, or at least direction. In this, of course, SF parallels scientific Western society itself.

    Islam is no more conducive to science fiction than, say Orthodox Christianity. It is wedded to tradition and the past. You don’t see Catholicism in sci-fi much, either; about the greatest exception to that is A Canticle for Leibowitz, a novel devoted to cyclic historical time.

    • Andrew says:

      Peter, thanks for writing. If you’re interested in a marvelous and insightful depiction of Catholicism in SF, please take a look at Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God. James Blish’s A Case of Conscience is a classic older work in a similar vein.

    • Tennwriter says:

      The notion that Christianity and SF don’t go together is like the notion that Conservatism and Academia don’t go together. Take gatekeepers motivated by ideology and bigotry against X, and then claim the absence of X means that Y and X clearly don’t belong together.

      The Man Who Folded Himself is a nice counter. Pretty much everything by Julian Mays as well can be included. Vernor Vinge is, in writing his Singlarity influenced stories basically following the Christian doctrine (google ‘rapture of the nerds’ for lots more detail). The Space Trilogy by CS Lewis is rather fascinating with lots of unusual ideas. And Shivering World by Myers deserved an award for craftsmanship. So, we have Time Travel, Aliens and Psis, AI’s and Superhumanity, Visiting Alien Worlds, and Society on a Colony World….thats a broad array of sub-genres.

      So, it can be done. The fact that it is little done is more due to the gatekeepers, which is the same problem those who want to write about 9/11 face. The Great and Good don’t want to talk about it, you nasty, nasty little boy. Shhhhhhhhhh! Thankfully, we have the Internet to disintermediate our ‘betters’.

      Mr. Buxton, you have a point at the end, but its a small straw in the balance, and not at all determinative in most cases.

  40. Ellen Datlow says:

    The following three stories deal directly with 9/11:
    “There’s a Hole in the City” by Richard Bowes directly deals with 9/11 (and was just reread on WBAI Sunday morning).
    The Things they Left Behind by Stephen King
    Closing Time by Jack Ketchum

    • Andrew says:

      Ellen, thanks so much for adding to my “crowd sourcing” effort! I will add those stories to any future revision of this article. I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  41. Ira Nayman says:

    As many posters have mentioned, science fiction publishers seem quite conservative, and are probably avoiding 9/11 and its aftermath because, no matter what they publish, they can expect to offend somebody. However, I also think that some science fiction readers contribute to the problem.

    Over the last few years, I have written a number of short short stories about how politicians use fear to get the population of their country to agree to their political agenda; they appear in my most recent collection of Alternate Reality News Service articles, “Luna for the Lunies!” (including the title article). I strongly suspect these stories wouldn’t go over well with people who have posted here that they want to see more stories about a Muslim Caliphate (and don’t want to see stories that blame the United States for anything bad in the world).

    Now, I read science fiction because I like to see the representation of a wide variety of points of view, human and otherwise, current and otherwise. By showing us what doesn’t exist, science fiction writers ask us to think about what does exist. I know many people who feel the same way. However, there is a minority of people who will complain vociferously if a book contains a point of view that does not agree with their ideological beliefs. In extreme cases, such people could picket publishers of writing they deemed offensive, send trolls to comment on their Web sites, excoriate them in sympathetic media, etc. etc. If I was a publisher who just wanted to make a buck by entertaining people, why would I want to subject myself to this kind of abuse?

  42. Jim says:

    Islamism is in a sweet spot when it comes to avoiding criticism. Just mentioning it opens the author to charges of “Islamophobia” from the PC left, as well as threats of violence from the Islamists that the PC left refuses to admit exists.

    Stephen king had a 9/11 short story, called “The Things They Left Behind” IIRC.

  43. Andrew says:

    Just wanted to let everyone know that I’ve compiled your suggestions for stories and novels that I missed mentioning in my original article. The list of your suggestions is here:

    Thanks again to everyone who took the time to write and add to the listings.

  44. PJ says:

    But I think our leaders are emulating sci-fi. When I read that McChrystal redesigned the strategy of the Afghan war so that our military would emulate the enemy, as in forming loose networks rather than big battalions, I thought… Ender’s Game! He is doing what Ender did to defeat the buggers and save the world.

  45. Raskolnikov says:

    I have to say this is a fairly week article. Beyond linking of unlike qualities (feminism counts as a trauma at all comparable with the Cold War?) it’s rather empirically sloppy. I’ll note that many of the sources you cite on dealing with the Kennedy assassination are from more than ten years after the event, making your conclusion that writers engaged with it more than 9/11 rather awkward. Plus, the suggestion that authors avoided the topic from fear of Islamic assassination lacks proof, and counters the fact that there is an enormous amount of material in this vein.

    Science fiction novels focusing on 9/11, the ‘war on terror’ and subsequent political fallout:
    The Execution Channel by Ken Macleod
    Farthing by Jo Walton
    Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross, the later books
    The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
    The Plot Against America by Philip Roth [these last two alternate history with noticeable and rather unsubtle post 9/11 political parallels]
    Transition by Iain M. Banks
    Market Forces by Richard Morgan
    Iron Council by China Mieville
    Zendegi by Greg Egan
    New Model Army by Adam Roberts
    Glasshouse by Charles Stross
    The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
    Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson
    WWW Trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer
    The Red Men by Matthew de Abatua
    End of the World Blues by John Courtney Grimwood
    Martin martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham
    Pashazade and sequels by John Courtenay Grimwood
    Hav by Jan Morris

    Many of these works won or were nominated for the Hugo, the Dick and other significant genre works, reinforcing my contention that you didn’t look very far in making your initial conclusions.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks very much for your lengthy reply to my article. I’ll admit to being unfamiliar with a number of works that you cite. However, I am familiar with both The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and The Plot Against America, and I disagree that either of these novels falls into the category covered by my article. Michael Chabon has given a number of interviews regarding the genesis of his book; in short, he came across a paperback called Say It in Yiddish, published more than a decade after WW2 and the destruction of much of European Jewry, and tried to imagine a country in which such a book would’ve been useful to a traveler. Since Israel’s founders had gone the route of Hebrew as a national language, rather than Yiddish, Chabon imagined an alternate history in which Israel had never been founded, but a temporary, Yiddish-speaking enclave in Alaska had come into being instead. Critic D. G. Myers mounts what seems to me to be a convincing rebuttal to the notion of The Plot Against America as a 9/11 analogy; rather than repeat his arguments, I’ll provide a link — Just to claify why I included feminism among the my listing of 1960s social upheavals, to a segment of American society, particularly older Americans, the tenets being advocated under the banner of feminism in that decade were both radical and threatening and were, at the time, at least, a major source of controversy and debate. I will take a look at those books on your list that I am not familiar with; thanks again.

  46. Lyndon says:

    As Raskolnikov has mentioned, MacLeod’s The Execution Channel is explicitly and entirely about The War Against Terror, so I’m surprised you missed that one out. Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series also includes 9/11, albeit a parallel worlds version.

    Anybody who takes the “European Caliphate” stuff seriously is a halfwit, so it’s no surprise it hasn’t been much written about.

    • Andrew says:

      Lyndon, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’ll take a good look at The Execution Channel. Personally, I don’t think any sort of extrapolation should be off-limits in SF or thought to be only the realm of “halfwits.” Statistics on the differential birthrates between native Europeans and immigrants from North Africa and other areas with predominate Muslim populations are suggestive of major changes for Europe in the coming decades; as numerous commentators have pointed out, “the future belongs to those who bother to show up.” Thanks again for visiting and commenting.

      • Lyndon says:

        For starters the 2007 estimate of the muslim population of the EU is 3.2%. That’s right, THREE POINT TWO PERCENT. I could name at least half a dozen EU countries which have effectively no muslim population whatsoever. The 2001 census reported a UK muslim population of 2.8%.

        The UK Office of National Statistics publishes extensive research on the total fertility rate (TFR, basically the number of babies born per woman) of each ethnic group in the UK. The “White British” population has a TFR of 1.8, most immigrant groups have a TFR of between 2.0 and 2.5, with a tendency to converge on the UK average. The two most significant muslim groups, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have TFRs of 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. Added together these two groups account for about a million people. My maths isn’t too great, but I’m sure someone out there can work out how long it will take a million people to outnumber the other 60 million UK residents, assuming they have one child per generation extra. This is of course ignoring the well documented tendency of all ethnic minority birthrates to converge on the average. Let’s just say I doubt that even my great, great grandchildren would have to be too concerned about “dhimmitude”.

        It’s also worth pointing out that the US is quite definitely going to undergo it’s own rather significant demographic transition in the next 30-40 years, and one has to suspect that this “Eurocaliphate” nonsense involves a certain amount of psychological transference for many on the US right.

        • Andrew says:

          Does unlikelihood mean that an issue should be off limits for imaginative extrapolation? Many things we live with now were considered unlikely (or even impossible) fifty years or a century ago.

          • Lyndon says:

            There’s a difference between “unlikely” and “mathematically impossible”.

            On the subject of Islam in SF I don’t think anybody’s mentioned Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk trilogy, a noir detective series set in an alternate universe where the Ottoman Empire remains a world power. Thoroughly recommended.

          • Andrew says:

            I’ve read a different take on the stats than yours, but I don’t want to turn this into a “my stats versus your stats” peeing match. As they say in the halls of academia, I hold an unfair power advantage, being the moderator of this blog, and all. So let’s just say we have a gentleman’s disagreement over “unlikely” versus “mathematically impossible.” And since when has SF shied away from the mathematically impossible? Faster-than-light drive, anyone? Anyway, I do appreciate your recommendation of Grimwood’s trilogy. Sounds very interesting.

  47. […] I saw this linked at Instapundit and found it an interesting read: The Absence of 9-11 from Science Fiction. […]

  48. Andrew says:

    I just noticed that the debate and discussion started here has branched off onto another blog:

    In case anyone just can’t get enough of this subject…

  49. Noreen Doyle says:

    Gregory Feeley’s novella “Giliad” must be included in any list of 9/11 related fiction (whether the list is specifically SF or not). I had the honor of including it in _The FIrst Heroes: New Tales of the Bronze Age_ (Tor, 2004).

  50. Mikee says:

    Tom Clancy wrote about a Japanese nationalist who crashed his 747 into Congress during the State of the Union speech, long before 9/11.

  51. Rouge77 says:

    I would say that the “9/11” isn’t really absent from US science fiction, you just need to know where to look. If you don’t go for the high or middle brow stuff, but to the low brow stuff that established publishers like Baen – which has also gone to the aforementioned Caliphate business, by the way – publishes, you would see an increase, for example, in the long established rightwing military science fiction with some current anti-Muslim themes clearly taking the place of old boogeymen of Communism and state etc. The tired old tales of space colonists starting to chant the US Declaration of Independence immediately after poor old Earth has spend untold quadrillions to establish their colony seem to have increased too. The tired old clichés have gone through a mini-revival with added anti-Muslim venom.

    • Andrew says:

      My dear Rouge, I would suspect that many of my earlier commentators would passionately disagree with you on the quality of Baen’s catalog. Most of their books aren’t my cup of tea (I love military history, particularly naval history, but for some reason I’ve never cottoned to military SF; don’t quite know why). But to each his or her own.

  52. There is in fact rather a lot of decent short fiction in response to 9/11. I am not able to survey all the notes from our last ten years of Year’s Best anthologies, but in those alone there must be 30 stories you haven’t mentioned. And a lot more broadly, hundreds of “coping with shocking disaster” stories, of which the Flynn mentioned already is an example, lots more of that than in the previous decade.

    • Andrew says:

      David, I’m honored that you decided to comment. Great to see you here. If you recall the titles of a few of those “Best of” stories over the next few days, please write again and share them with my readers. If not, at least I have one more suggested source to look for stories that fall into this basket.

  53. Interesting article.
    There may however be a more pragmatic reason for a perceived dearth of 9/11 SF.
    It would be difficult to be equivocal about the event itself – it usually ends up demonising Islam or being just plain mawkish.

    • Andrew says:

      It can seem like walking a tightrope, akin, maybe, to the tightrope a daredevil strung between the two towers the year after they were built. Does anyone else remember that stunt?

  54. Bruce says:

    In addition to the already-mentioned works of the BAEN center-right authors mentioned (Kratman and Ringo), one can also see the 9/11 impact in Ringo’s shared Posleen universe as the earth’s effort to respond to invasion is hampered by the UN, transnational organizations and religous fanatics. Ringo’s new “Live Free or Die” series deals with the islamic terrorists by noting that an alien gengineered plague wipes them out because they won’t take the cure for regligous reasons.

    On a different note, Harry Turtledove adressed terrorism in his alternate history series on the ongoing conflicts after the south wins its independence. When the Union captures Canada after WWI, some canadians resort to bomb making and terrorism to oppose the occupation (notably in an attemp to kill the Military Governor of Canada, Gen. Custer). Utah also used WWI as an opportunity to declare its independence, but its subsequent suppression by the Union leads to the LDS community resorting to similar tactics. It puts a different spin on terrorism by taking the muslim equation out of the Palestinian territorial arguments (seen in Canada) or even the reglgious debate (seen in the LDS story line). See the “American Empire” and the Settling Accounts” trilogies.

    Similarly, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series addresses terrorism in its tangent series on the Talbot Cluster as Manticore has to overcome opposition to its annexation of the region that includes violent terrorist attacks (“Shadow of Saganimi”).

    Another Baen author, Michael Z. Williamson, in his novel “Freehold” shows how terrorism can be used against an unprepared occupier to actually win a war – especially when one side has more resources but less will to fight.

    Joel Shephard’s “Cassandra Kresnov” trilogy also focuses on terrorism -and a former special forces officer (in this case a cyborg-like/clone-like woman on another planet) who joins the ‘good guys’ to fight those who try to assassinate the President and who blow up buildings to drive their agenda.

    While 9/11 references per se are not so prevalent, I do think the issues surrounding 9/11 are discussed extensively in modern Sci Fi.

  55. Seileach Corleigh says:

    “The Terrorists of Irustan” by Louise Marley doesn’t deal with 9/11, being published in 1999, but it does depict a Muslim society on another planet(one they mine under terrible conditions in exchange for being left alone with their own laws). Also, S.M. Stirling’s “Change” novels have some depictions of Muslims, mostly as foes with some redeeming qualities. Finally, the “1632” series/universe started by Eric Flint in its alternate history includes some figures from the Ottoman Empire.

  56. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    My novel Finch, Nebula-nominated, is in part a direct response to 9-11 and the aftermath/ripple effects of 9-11. My story “The Goat Variations,” published in Other Earths, is also a direct reaction to 9-11.


    • Andrew says:

      Jeff, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’ll certainly add your two works to any revised/updated article. Please pass along my good wishes to Ann.

  57. Bear says:

    Shortly after 9-11, Richard Bowes published a story called “There’s a Hole in the City” on SciFiction, you seem to have missed that one? It was a very poignant piece.

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks. One of my earlier commentators also mentioned “There’s a Hole in the City.” I’ve put it on my list of stories and novels to consider when I put up a revised edition of the article.

  58. Bear says:

    As an aside… In 2003, Romanian author Robert David published a collection of stories in which the title piece, called “Turnurile gemene” (“The Twin Towers”) had Philip K. Dick predicting in a fictional novel the events of 9-11. Quite an interesting story, I wonder if I can convince him to have it translated and if it could find any interested readers in the US.

    • Andrew says:

      Robert David’s story certainly sounds interesting; somewhat akin, maybe to Norman Spinrad’s novel The Iron Dream, which postulated an alternate universe where Hitler, rather than running for German Chancellor, had emigrated to the U.S. and become a science fiction writer. He might be able to find a U.S. publisher among one of the more adventurous small publishing houses which have cropped up in the past five to ten years (I’m thinking Subterranean, Tachyon, Small Beer, or Night Shade, maybe).

  59. David Malcolm says:

    Can I be a little naive here and suggest Islam is not tackled in SF mainly due to the Western lack of knowledge with the faith? Sure it can be researched but are there any active Islamic SF authors or “world” authors brought up in the religion who then utilise it in their work? The western world has often tackled Christianity but only Salmanazars Rushdie leaps to mind as someone writing about Islam and that didn’t go down too well. I think there is a lot of
    mileage in the idea but it will perhaps emerge in Eatern SF? Ian McDonalds The Dervish House does carry some allusions to extreme terrorism.

    • Andrew says:

      David, thanks for writing. Regarding Western SF authors’ lack of knowledge concerning Islam, I can toss in a small anecdote. George Alec Effinger, author of the Budayeen trilogy (When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss, plus a number of short works collected in Budayeen Nights), mentioned that he did a good bit of personal interviewing of various imams before writing the first book, and later asked some of the imams to review the novel for accuracy of its religious and cultural details. So the knowledge can be acquired, if a writer is willing to pursue it.

  60. Read The Pirate King by R.A. Salvatore and replace the name of the city Luskan with Baghdad.

    And can I throw this out, please, as an aside? I don’t think that people who resist answering hate with hate should be dismissed as “PC elites.” Osama bin Laden and others like him spoke to an uneducated, embittered, disenfranchised minority of muslims. That does not make it okay for us to activate our own uneducated, embittered, disenfranchised minority of far-right Christians. In fact, that’s precisely what bin Laden was hoping to do: Provoke a religious war with Christian America.

    Too bad he was handed that win by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

    • Andrew says:

      Philip, thanks for your comment. Actually, it’s been my impression that both the Bush and Obama Administrations have bent over backwards to try to avoid the impression of having declared war or hostilities on Islam. Please note the verbal twistings employed in official efforts to give a name to the various conflicts and campaigns the U.S. has been involved with since 2001. Numerous conservative pundits have stated the government should label the conflict the War on Radical Islam or the War on Islamicism. Neither the last administration or the current one have followed this advice. Whether the verbal niceties have helped or hindered our efforts is something for historians to judge in years to come, I imagine.

  61. Ande says:

    Not to change the subject, but writers like Tom Clancy have been killing off terrorists for years, and although not all are “Islamists” you’d find the majority are…

    • Andrew says:

      Sorry about editing your comment. It fell outside the topic of the article at hand (and I’m trying to keep the discussion focused on works of SF and fantasy, not political topics such as concealed carry and law enforcement profiling, unless those topics bear upon particular stories or novels). Thanks for writing.

  62. Ron says:

    On a related note, non-fiction writers such as Lars Hedegaard, Oriana Fallaci, and Mark Steyn have been at the receiving end of legal prosecution in the “First World countries” because of their criticism of aspects of Islam.
    Such laws probably have a chilling effect on the conveyance of ideas. If non-fiction writers face the thought police, so do fiction writers in those countries.

  63. Rebecca Sparks says:

    I found the post-zombpocalypse novel _Feed_ by Mira Grant to be influenced by the war on terror. Specifically, I felt that there were a parallel between the freedom acts and her fictional future government agencies. They both leverage fear of the enemy to justify violence and continual invasive surveillance.
    I have more blurry recognition of novels that have catastrophic events and an increase of urban fantasy monster-fighting novels that more allagorically speak to fear of terrorists and terror than of the 9/11 attack and of an Islamic Caliphate. The insertion of a fictional enemy has long been a part of speculative fiction, with aliens or monsters filling the place of the enemies of state.
    I think in 20 years we will more clearly see the influence 9/11 had on SF.

  64. My urban fantasy/hard SF (or at least I’ve been told it’s that mix) Napier’s Bones does not deal with it directly, but the protagonist does relate a story of an event from his life that unfolded as 9/11 took place. And Ellen beat me to it by mentioning Richard Bowes’ story.

  65. Gene says:

    I suspect it may be politically incorrect here, based on the tenor of comments so far, reacting to the paucity of 9/11 influenced sci fi, to mention Steve Alten’s The Shell Game of a couple of years ago, which is a riveting and quite believable sci fi novel whose theme is 9/11 as an “inside job”, not by any means the result of a Clash of Civilizations. He almost never got the novel published, probably mostly for political reasons (eg. it contradicted the 9/11 Commission offical conspiracy theory.) It is well worth readng and quite disturbing.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m not familiar with Steve Alten’s novel. It certainly belongs in the “fiction” category, however. I’ve worked in various governmental organizations for much of my career, over twenty years. Mouths do not remain closed. When the possibility arose that high levels of residual formaldehide in FEMA-issued trailers could be causing respiratory ailments in some aid recipients, and powerful managers inside the agency tried to quash the internal reports and emails, it all got leaked; staff went to the media. I saw it happen all around me. And that was a situation where perhaps a couple of hundred citizens were experiencing illnesses that could become serious to their health years down the road, not three thousand citizens being crushed or incinerated in falling, burning skyscrapers. The Fast and Furious scandal with the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the ATF Bureau is a current example. We have a culture of whistle-blowing, and oftentimes this is a very good thing.

  66. Derrrick Bonsell says:

    While in a sense it’s not really *SciFi*, Ralph Peters covered this topic in a recent book.

    It sorta starts out like the typical “Eurabia” novel, but Europe ends up rounding up and ethnically cleansing it’s Muslim population. Eventually Israel get’s attacked by all sides, relentlessly, and pops off nukes before it goes under. As an aftershock from Europe’s ethnic cleansing, the US becomes a Christian theocracy and starts a crusade in the Middle East.

    It’s none too plausible, but the ending of the book portrays a truly terrifying world. Definitely worth borrowing from someone if nothing else.

  67. It’s really depends on the author. Some authors include hints about these events but not really directly on that event unless it is mentioned as a reference specially if the book genre is about spies or military themed.

  68. […] l’occhio della metafora e del “se fosse”. Anche, non soltanto, eh. Tuttavia, come fa notare Andrew Fox, l’undici settembre, anche dopo essere passato dalla cronaca alla storia, compare di […]

  69. […] l’occhio della metafora e del “se fosse”. Anche, non soltanto, eh. Tuttavia, come fa notare Andrew Fox, l’undici settembre, anche dopo essere passato dalla cronaca alla storia, compare di […]

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