As the stadium lights dim on the 2008 DNC, I find myself pondering the new definition of "liberalism", wondering what ethical challenges the next generation of Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors will tackle. After all -- and maybe I've been living on the Left Coast for too long -- that is our task as SFF authors, and it seems like all the low-hanging fruit has already been plucked. Want to stick a poker in the side of religion? Break out Stranger in a Strange Land. Racial tension on your mind? Re-watch the original Star Trek episodes, or crack open any novel with half-elves or alien crossbreeds. Interested in creating a universe where sex with anyone or anything is A-OK? I hardly need to give examples (and definitely don't view my pie-chart regarding Gravity's Rainbow).
So, what's next?
Can we construct a plotline in which biodiesel plays a critical role in saving the world, and have it still read more like a thriller than a documentary? Probably; for fodder, read about how biodiesel is four times more efficient than ethanol, and then pit the conservative pro-corn-subsidy statesmen against a few (starving) radical activists. Place the novel in 2030, put the radicals on bikes and the statesmen in gas-guzzling flying cars...might come off a bit cheesy, but there is headway to be made. Don't forget to refute the Niven/Pournelle/Flynn Fallen Angels scenario.
Next up: universal healthcare. Our protagonist is a pregnant teenager (better be first-trimester or we'll have to be overly cautious with the action scenes) whose mother has just died from an expensive form of cancer; strike that: make up a new disease which is highly curable but costly to combat. Worse yet, the disease is hereditary...transmitted at birth. If she doesn't make it to Canada -- whoops, looks like BlueMed CrossCo bought Canada in 2018 and commercialized the healthcare system -- if she doesn't make it to Cuba before the child is born, both she and the child are doomed to join the US Army, the last bastion of affordable healthcare.
Hit me with 'em, I'm listening. Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?