As a long-time fan of science fiction, I was delighted to hear that J. was writing a new novel, the world’s first humanitarian science fiction. J. is a fabulous writer as his previous books – fiction and non-fiction, all with humanitarian themes – attest. I’m not sure what it’s like for someone who is a professional aid worker to read his books, but for someone like me who occasionally works in the humanitarian sector and is really a fringe dweller in their world, his books provide a useful insight into the complexity, the joy, and the sorrow, of aid work.
Science-fiction, you’re thinking. Why science-fiction? If you’re not a fan, don’t be put off. Science-fiction has been used, and continues to provide, a window into current social and geo-political conditions in a way that conventional fiction can’t. Science-fiction provides a world that is unknown but familiar, characters that exhibit the best and worst of what it is to be human, and a way to explore ideas without the predictable “that would never happen here” response.
HUMAN does this very, very well. It’s a great read. It’s short enough – novella length – to read in a couple of sittings or on a long flight, and is chock full of insights into what it’s like to be ‘like me’ and ‘not like me’. The parallels to current world events is illuminating and/or scary, depending on your point of view.
In a world where our views are mediated and manipulated, and where ‘outsiders’ are increasingly viewed with suspicion, HUMAN provides an insight into what it feels like to belong, and not to belong, and the underlying bonds that make us all human, no matter what our circumstances or backgrounds.