When George III read the Declaration of Independence, he might have thought he had come across a piece of speculative fiction. The colonies’ victory was by no means a done deal in 1776. The Continental Army was underfunded, poorly armed and largely composed of part-timers who went home after a month or so of fighting. But Thomas Jefferson knew there’s a generative power in writing something down. So in honor of the birthday of a country that first existed on a piece of paper, four groups of revolutionaries from other, more fantastic, textual worlds.
1. Paul Atreides/Muad’Dib and the Fremen, Dune. In Frank Herbert’s futuristic interstellar universe, the Fremen inhabit Arrakis, the universe’s source of a magical spice that enables those who ingest it to see the future, travel between worlds, and get really rad blue-in-blue eyes. Of course, some things never change even 21,000 years in the future, and Imperial overlords have colonized the planet to ensure access to the spice. After being betrayed by the Empire, Paul Atreides joins the Fremen, who make up for what they lack in numbers by owning at hand-to-hand combat. And they can also ride giant sandworms to great effect. Paul completes the overthrow of the empire through a canny bit of extortion, though almost immediately realizes he bit off a bit more melange than he could chew.
2. V and Evey, V for Vendetta. The one good thing about futuristic totalitarian dystopias is that they always seem to create the impetus for their own destruction by and through their oppressive tactics. Case in point: V from Alan Moore’s graphic novel. After being imprisoned and tortured by the Norsefire regime, the eponymous rebel takes on the mantle of Guy Fawkes (another would-be revolutionary whose radical cred is somewhat undermined by the fact that the endgame of his Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament in 1605 was to establish the Catholic Church as sole ruling authority in England) and proceeds to destabilize the fascist rulers by dismantling their surveillance apparatuses and assassinating their leaders. He also radicalizes a female protégé, Evey, and leaves the creation of a new world to her. A dying man in a somewhat ridiculous mask and a teenaged orphan reactivate the autonomy and artistic spirit of a subjugated people? Alan Moore, even if you do live in a cave under your house, you’re eminently crush-worthy.
3. Robb Stark and the army of Northmen, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings. Something’s rotten in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros in the first novel of George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series. When the death of the feckless King Robert causes a country-sized power vacuum, the House of Stark seeks to return to self-rule in the North and disavow the illegitimate monarch in the South. For many reasons, this plan is highly unlikely. The patriarch of the family is put out of commission early in the first novel, leaving fourteen-year-old Robb to call the banners of the North, march south, and take on the king’s army. Robb ambushes the army, captures the devious and brilliant brother of the queen, and invades the West. Also, he has a quasi-mystical brotherhood with a huge direwolf that fights alongside him. All of this is precisely as awesome as it sounds. Though Robb doesn’t enjoy quite the triumph of the above rebels, he makes up for it in pure moxie. (The HBO adaptation of Martin’s books airs in 2011. Richard Madden will be playing Robb.)
4. Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity. Full disclosure: The short-lived series Firefly and follow-up film Serenity is not based on a novel. But its source is the great and powerful Joss Whedon, who is a speculative fiction juggernaut unto himself. Mal is the heir of other space-western lone wolves like Luke Skywalker and James T. Kirk, but what makes him interesting is that his story begins after his rebellion has failed. The opening of the series finds the Independents’ battle for, well, independence from the dictatorial, autocratic, and downright creepy Alliance already lost. Mal has retreated to create a democracy and family on his ship and contents himself with smaller acts of rebellion against the government that pursues him and the capacity for overthrow he houses on his ship and in his soul. Though Serenity chronicles the group dealing a mighty blow to the Alliance, the conclusion of the film finds Mal and his crew safe only “for now.”
So this Fourth of July, imagine Jefferson as a Browncoat, Franklin with blue-in-blue eyes, and John Hancock sporting a Fawkes mask. You won’t be too far off.