Thursday, 21 April 2011

legal science fiction

I occasionally get emails about my website, including questions about SF. I'm no expert, but sometimes I (or more often, my other half), can provide a bit of an answer.

Here's the latest question in my inbox:
I'm writing short stories about law. The story criteria are:

1. Uninvented technology. This is, to me, the sine qua non of SF.
2. The story focuses on law. A simple reference to a statute is insufficient.
Police procedurals are unacceptable.

Examples of good stories of this sort: "A Loint of Paw," by Asimov; "The Sixth Palace," by Silverberg.

Is there a bibliography already done, the subject of which is SF law stories as I define that category?

Have you any recommendations for the bibliography? I'm a bit short on novels which fit the criteria. Only the Circuit trilogy by Snodgrass comes to mind.

I don't know of any bibliography, but I (rather, we!) can provide a few more examples, after a quick trawl through memories and bookshelves. One trope is to use a trial to get the protagonist out of the military, or out of society, so they can go off adventuring, or go undercover, or something; see, for example, E. Everett Evans, Man of Many Minds. We've tried to avoid listing such "trivial" trials that are there just to set the (otherwise unrelated) plot going, and to list ones where the trial is an integral part of the story (if not always the focus). But there is no sharp line.

Lloyd Biggle Jr, Monument, is about establishing and gathering evidence for court cases about who owns a planet, and uses an obscure point of tax law to win the day.

Miriam Allen deFord's anthology Space, Time and Crime has several relevant stories. Check out "The Adventure of the Snitch in Time"'s throwaway reference to a famous lawyer.

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother, has a trial.

There are court cases in Heinlein novels, such as whether Lummox is a pet in The Star Beast, and whether humanity should be allowed to survive, in Have Space Suit, Will Travel.

Frank Herbert's Bureau of Sabotage stories can involve court cases: see "The Tactful Saboteur" and The Dosadi Experiment.

In Larry Niven, "The Ethics of Madness", the court case is central to the plot.

Niven and Pournelle's Oath of Fealty includes a murder trial, where the defence is essentially that it's okay to kill someone who is shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. It's not central to the plot so much as indicative of the overall philosophy of the book.

Pohl and Kornbluth, Gladiator-At-Law, might fit the brief.

Jerry Pournelle's "High Justice" features a Solicitor General.

Charles Sheffield, Space Suits, is a collection of short stories about Burmeister and Carver, Shysters-at-Law, and their legal exploits in the solar system. He has also written the short story "Humanity Test", which is at the opposite end of the humour spectrum.

Robert Sawyer, Illegal Alien, has an alien visitor tried for murder.

Cordwainer Smith, "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal", ends in a trial -- well, a verdict -- about the use of a time machine to create an entire sentient race.

There is a whole sub-genre about whether something non-human (computer, robot, alien, uplifted animal) should be given the status of human. Probably Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man" is top here, with also Heinlein's "Jerry was a Man". Scalzi's The Android's Dream includes a scene about the legal status of one of the protagonists.

MilSF is replete with courts martial. For example, there is the court martial of Pavel Young in David Weber's Field of Dishonor, and a couple of courts martial in Heinlein's Starship Troopers (one being used as an example to the hero not to request his own court martial later!).

There are alternative legal systems -- for example, ones where the whole community gets to vote on a punishment, such as in Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage.

If we are allowed TV SF, there are some Star Trek episodes revolving around court cases, and there is the Battlestar Galactica trial of Gaius Baltar.

Any more?

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see an article on this topic. For a while I maintained a blog about law and SF. It can be found here

    It is now maintIned here:

    I've put together a list of a hundred or so works to read and blog about eventually. Many of them came from here:

    I also have a bunch of law review articles on legal SF (Legal Studies Forum, vol. 23, no. 3 (1999) and The University of Toledo Law Review, vol. 24, no. 1 (1992), mostly Star Trek, and there is a book out there on law and justice in Star Trek. Trek Justice or something like that.