The Law & SF

I think for the first real article on this new blog that I should explain a bit about my background with the law, SF, and exactly what I will be discussing here. For the record, I am an insurance coverage attorney, though I have a pretty broad background which includes tort/liability law, family law, bankruptcy, real estate law including zoning, leases, easements, transfers and such, worker’s compensation and regulatory law. I work for a giant insurance company as a legal manager of sorts; my territory is Washington state, though I have handled claims of all sorts all over the western United States. I love my job and I love the focus that I now have, which no longer includes direct litigation. I have a pretty curious mind and I spend lots of time analyzing all kinds of legal issues in my mind. Like I said the other day, I also am a teacher; I regularly teach a few important and complicated topics that are related to insurance law to a rather large group of non-lawyers, and I have even seen a few of them listen! Hopefully what I’m going to do here should not be too far off from the inner philosophizin’ that I do on my own, and hopefully the experience that I have speaking to non-lawyers should come in handy.

I have noticed over the last few years that very few SF stories deal directly with legal issues. I was never too sure why, but I think that not too many SF writers are lawyers themselves. I’ve never bothered to take a census before; the only SF author/lawyer that I am aware of as I sit here is Charles Harness, though I know that there are more out there. Anyway, I have also noticed that in subtle ways many of the stories that I have read have dealt with legal issues in very round-about and non-obvious ways. The first book-related essay that I put up here will be of a Silverberg novel called A Time of Changes. I am pretty sure that you will be shocked by how much legal commentary I pull out of that one. There are of course some books that deal directly with legal issues, and I get into them here. Books for example such as H. Beam Piper’s Fuzzy Sapien, which features a courtroom battle at the end to decide whether or not the cute little fuzz-balls on a planet that someone wants to exploit qualify as “men” who have rights, or “animals” which do not.

So. When I say “law,” what am I talking about? As a practicing lawyer I feel restrained to stay within the boundaries of what I practice. My safety zone, if you will. That is to say, statutory law, regulatory law, cases and things of the sort. I certainly will discuss those aspects of the law where such is relevant, but if I’m going to ever say anything important here at all (and I really hope that someday I do just that), I think I should take a broader approach. Some SF stories do occasionally deal with the reality of everyday type rule-law. But in my opinion most of the good SF out there usually tries to say something bigger about society than the story that words on the page tell. I think that I want to uphold myself to that same standard, so I think that it is necessary to pay more credence to the bigger legal issues too. Things like fundamental rights, freedom from servitude, and criminal law are worthy topics, and are also things that turn up again and again in SF. Expect to see lots of discussion on things like that and much more, like the law of wills and the “right” to devise property as you best see fit, the rights of refugees, the power to tax, penology, governmental power, contract law, civil litigation, and all kinds of good things.

In surveying the field it would seem that this blog is pretty much the only thing of its kind out there. Other than a thread at one particular web-site, and a blog where the owner purports to deal with the interplay betweew law and magic, I am pretty much the only game in town. Me likee! I love to review the books, but I hate that everyone else does too. Maybe its that typical lawyer Type-A in me, but I like to stand out a bit. Hopefully I’ll get to do that here without coming off like an ass.

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