Often, knowing what you shouldn’t be looking for can be as valuable as the opposite. The HBO series Raised by Wolves provides the perfect example, as the Ridley Scott-SF-industrial-complex keeps churning out ideas inspired by his earlier, more innovative works. The newest progeny, a dystopian tale of humans raised by androids, religious strife, and colonization, is rife for a CoFutures picking apart.
Spoiler alerts are damned: In the 22nd century, Earth was destroyed by war between believers and non-believers. Humanity is spreading out in search of new worlds, presumably to also obliterate them with war and attrition like the home planet. An atheist scientist reprograms a highly advanced war android know as Necromancer to become an artificial mother to six mechanically assisted embryos, who are sent to the Earth-like world Kepler-22b in an impossibly small interstellar ship. Conveniently enough for our analysis, the producers picked South Africa as the primary shooting location. The Mithraic, a stand-in for Jesuits or the Templars, soon follow with their spaceship.
One wonders how such a technologically advanced civilization could not somewhat get along before destroying itself. Plausibility gets lost in the sophisticated art direction and careful acting of the series. We get plenty of androids splattering milk-like substances in place of blood and the usual trope of artificial intelligence going rogue due to human interference or reprogramming.
Acting and interpersonal relationships are the series’ strongest points. The nuclear family representing the last hope of human civilization serves as the backdrop for a compelling web of relationships, motivations, and responses that drives the narrative. But Raised by Wolves also has a clear colonialist mindset, one that researchers of science fiction indeed are acquainted with thanks to such authors as John Rieder.
Colonialism somewhat updated, let us be clear: the strong White android mother gets aided by a Black “service model” android. Meanwhile, the Mithraic androids are primarily black; the believers’ clothing and iconography strongly resemble Christianity. Following unexpected developments, they are reduced to a roving gang blinded by a superstitious faith, no more different than Cristopher Columbus or Hernán Cortéz rampaging through “virgin” lands. The challenges of surviving in an unforgiving, desert-like world of utter darkness after leaving a declining, war-torn homeland fit neatly with the overall context driving European colonialism and mass migration to the New World.
This aesthetically well-crafted series is problematic when viewed through the lens CoFutures is developing. This research project seeks to go beyond genre studies and understand how future fictions can help find solutions for the present. As a futuring strategy, Raised by Wolves does not help us with that mission precisely because it fails to offer a redeeming or innovative vision of the future. Enjoying a slick space melodrama is fun, but looking under its hood to understand how the engine works can be one strategy to understand that not all SF is futuring, and not all futuring is SF.
One could even argue that it is not science-fictional despite its use of conventions, given how little innovative it is. Humanity is destined to replay endlessly the same cycles of destruction and exploitation, so it goes because the future has been canceled, and one can only return to the past. From the opening sequence, in which a nursery rhyme juxtaposes scenes of nuclear explosions and post-apocalyptic landscapes that keep proving Susan Sontag’s thesis in “The Imagination of Disaster,” to the moral ambiguity of its characters, especially its terrifyingly nurturing Mother, Raised by Wolves may be in tune with its time, but not with the future.
Ehrlich, Lara. Allure of the Antihero. The Brink. http://www.bu.edu/articles/2016/anti-heroes/
Sontag, Susan. The Imagination of Disaster. Against interpretation and other essays. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York. 1966. https://americanfuturesiup.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sontag-the-imagination-of-disaster.pdf