History is full of stories about folks who dislike (or fear) their governments, have no way to alter said governments, and must relocate (or flee): Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, Irish fleeing famines that English colonialists ignored, and the Pilgrims fleeing Dutch religious tolerance all come to mind.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that numerous science fiction authors have written about politically-motivated migration. Consider the five following works, representing only a small sample from a well-populated category…
The Stars Are Ours! by Andre Norton (1954)
Hard-working scientists taught the governments of the world how to make A-bombs, H-bombs, and finally Null-bombs. The few people who survived nuclear holocaust blamed the remaining scientists. Now unified under the oppressive Pax regime, Earth has embraced an unrelenting anti-science policy. On the plus side: no more nuclear wars. On the minus side: the entire planet is sliding toward a dark age.
A handful of scientists have decided to flee and have developed a cold sleep formula that will allow them to escape in a secretly assembled spacecraft. The migrants hope that they will find a verdant, human-habitable paradise at the end of their journey. What they find is a world with its own native people, living amid the ruins of a long dead civilization whose malevolent overlords may not be quite as extinct as one might hope.…
Orbit Unlimited by Poul Anderson (1961)
The Guardian Commission does its best to keep the gears of civilization spinning on an increasingly overcrowded, impoverished Earth. Efficient use of dwindling resources demands sacrifices: no more democracy, no more Venus colony. At the same time, the Commission is well aware that Earth cannot afford to crush another rebellion, lest the entire system collapse into a new dark age. Thus, when North American Constitutionalists become troublesome once more, the Commission provides an alternative to fruitless uprising: the Constitutionalists can have a fleet of mothballed sublight starships and leave Earth forever for e-Eridani’s habitable planet Rustum.
Starships are slow and the galaxy vast. The migrants are lucky that a world as hospitable as Rustum is within reach. However, Rustum is no paradise. Only its continental highlands are habitable by terrestrial standards. The colonists have only the technological resources that fit in fifteen starships. Perhaps they will succeed in creating a new America. Or perhaps they will fail, leaving ruins hidden in silent forests to show that humans briefly lived on Rustum.
Rissa Kerguelen by F. M. Busby (1977)
United Energy and Transport rules North America with an iron fist. Life is borderline tolerable if you are obedient and silent; it’s impossible if you resist. The UET regime, uninhibited by democracy, squeezes every possible penny of profit out of North America’s subjugated population.
Resistance is futile. But there are those, like Rissa Kerguelen, who would escape if they had the opportunity.
An unexpected lottery win in combination with some quick thinking provides Rissa with a ticket off-planet. Since UET has a monopoly on starships, this might seem to be trading one UET-run dystopia for another. However, UET’s starships are sublight, and UET’s control weakens the farther one gets from the Sun…
Which isn’t to say there aren’t other dangers threatening Rissa.
Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)
Technology offered escape to a community of women-hating religious fanatics. Firstly, uterine replicators free the misogynists from dependence on female labour in the matter of reproduction. Secondly, starships could deliver the community to the planet Athos, where the settlers could enjoy lives of purity, uncontaminated by women.
After sufficient time has passed for the all-male community on Athos to develop in directions not entirely those intended by the founders, Athos is forced to confront the key flaw in their arrangement. While they do not need female wombs, they do need human ovaries. When the awaited shipment arrives sans ovaries, someone—the unlucky Ethan of the title—will have to venture out into a universe he believes to be filled with sultry demonesses.
Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji (2022)
Earth’s AI-run nanny state offered its citizens stultifying security and acceptable levels of creature comfort. Some didn’t want to settle for such a life. Seven generations ago, three generation ships—Archimedes, Bohr, and Chandrasekar—set course for Tau Ceti and freedom. At least, that’s the official history that Midshipman Ravi MacLeod has been taught.
Tau Ceti is very nearly within reach. Ravi is determined to prove he is more than another crooked MacLeod, someone worthy of senior rank. However, the official history of the fleet has elided embarrassing details. Forgotten secrets are about to come to the surface. Violence is predictable. If the fleet is to survive, Ravi will have to apply not just his sanctioned skill set as a trainee engineer, but the illicit skills that are the birthright of the steadfastly criminal MacLeod clan.
This is, as I say, a very popular subgenre. No doubt many of you have favourites that you are outraged I failed to mention. Comments are, as ever, below.
In the words of fanfiction author Musty181, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll “looks like a default mii with glasses.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis) and the 2021 and 2022 Aurora Award finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.