The Mundane Politics Of Starmoth
When I was a kid, I stumbled upon a rather obscure French comic book series that would change my outlook on sci-fi-fi: Yoko Tsuno. In terms of stories, themes and aesthetics, Yoko Tsuno wasn't that different from the myriads of sci-fi French comics that existed at the time such as Valerian, with which it shared a lot of DNA. There was one detail that made Yoko Tsuno stand out, however: most of the cast was made of women. The main character was a young Japanese woman and the vast majority of supporting characters were women as well, with male characters often relegated to the role of sidekicks or (with a few exceptions) background villains. In the general environment of 1970s-1980s French and Belgian comics, meaningful female characters were exceedingly rare. When they had any kind of prominent role they were either relegated to stereotypically female professions (such as Natacha, sexy stewardess in the eponymous comic) or doomed to become the damsel in distress/love interest for the main male character (though Valerian's Laureline gets a pass because she's a well-developed character on her own). Yoko Tsuno really stood apart because it cast female characters in roles that were usually meant for men (the badass space explorer, the intrepid warrior, the grizzled space pilot...) and vice-versa (hell, the only vaguely sexualized character in the comic was a male-coded android!). There was no constructed, organized political statement in Yoko Tsuno, just the quiet confidence of its all-female cast. As I grew up I went on to read much more overtly political sci-fi such as Ursula Le Guin or Kim Stanley Robinson's works, but Yoko Tsuno remained as my first encounter with what I would like to call mundane politics.
Mundane politics are unremarkable but pervasive. You are not making a grand, overt statement, you are just setting up a new normal. Starmoth is exactly this. It is an extremely politically charged setting - I think that is obvious at first glance - but I never felt like I had the legitimacy or even talent, to turn it into a pamphlet or manifesto. For a long time, I pondered about the anti-capitalist nature of Starmoth. In fact, when the setting was in its infancy, it was meant to be a split world, with a cold-war like dynamic between a post-capitalistic, socialist faction and a hyper-capitalistic, neoliberal, corporate faction. I think a better writer would have been able to pull this off, but I quickly rejected the idea. By turning unchecked capitalism into a villain, I still had the idea that high-tech capitalism in space was possible, if hellish and dysfunctional. I wanted Starmoth to be more radical. I wanted it to picture a world where capitalism has already failed. A world where it cannot exist. And by erasing the capitalist side entirely, by writing a future world made of cooperatives and communes, Starmoth fully indulged in mundane politics. Not that said politics are neutral or middle-of-the-road, quite the contrary, but they are pictured by the environment, by the very way the world works, not through its conflicts or plot points. The idea that capitalism can't work in the long run isn't expressed through characters or interstellar wars, but through the simple fact that communes and cooperative are the default way societies are organized.
Again, there are no grand statements on human nature in Starmoth and I do not plan to add anything of the sort. It is a communal world, for better or worse, exactly like Yoko Tsuno had a mostly female world and just ran with it. For a long time, I was annoyed by my unwillingness to engage in direct political commentary. I saw it as weakness, cowardice even, but now I do think that mundane politics have their place. They aren't directly asserting anything. They are simply telling the reader that the world as they know it is accidental. That it is not meant to be like it is. That it could go any ways.
I like to think that it can be useful.
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