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50 SF/F Works That Socialists Should Read

At Fantastic Metropolis, author China Miéville has listed 50 SF/F Works That Socialists Should Read.

Hmmm…another list, this time with titles where politics feature prominently. Not too promising for me given my dislike for political fiction.

However, in true biblioholic fashion, I own eighteen of the titles but I’ve only read three:

  • Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights (the UK name for the trilogy we know as His Dark Materials) – I enjoyed this a lot. At the time, I said that these books restored my faith in fantasy as being an enjoyable genre. Although, I remember liking these books more for the story and less for the themes.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. This book, to me, was a long, drawn-out chore. This could easily have been a third of its length and way more enjoyable. I remember also saying that this was political fiction disguised as sf.
  • Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – Another very long book. I remember enjoying the early parts of the book, but then later it got a bit tiresome (as in the 50-page Galt speech).

Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, also on the list, is part of a current reading project. We’ll see how that goes.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

11 Comments on 50 SF/F Works That Socialists Should Read

  1. I’m not sure I’d characterize Atlas Shrugged as ‘vile’. Depressing? Sure. Selfish? In some sense. Cold hearted? Certainly at the end. But vile? I saw the book, especially the ending, as a ‘you reap what you sow’ lesson, but I guess being anti-libertarian/capitalism would lead you to that view.

    As for the rest (non-MacLeod only), I don’t remember the politics playing that big a role. But of course, the ones I have read (again, non-MacLeod), I read a long time ago, when I wasn’t reading with as experienced an eye as I have now. Now, MacLeod I knew, right off, what he was preaching. But his politics didn’t bother me, as much as I disagree with them, because he writes good stories.

    And darn you John, stop posting Boing Boing links before I do. I thought you didn’t like that site?

  2. Nobody ever said that socialism was easy.

  3. Got the link through a newsfeed, BB-lover.

  4. <nitpick>

    Northern Lights is in fact the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. I think the names are the same on both sides of the Atlantic?


  5. D’oh! my UK proofreader is correct. Northern Lights is the name of the first book. (I should know this…I’ve seen copies of the UK version at Half Price Books.)

    However, my UK proofreader gets one demerit at the same time: in the US the first book is called The Golden Compass.

  6. Having read at least some of the books listed by Mr. Mieville, and having seen little or no political content in most of the ones I’ve read, my suspicion is that Mr. Mieville suffers from the typical flaw of Socialists: he thinks the personal is political.

    The conservative divides the world into areas of political, religious, and personal, and in each sphere he acknowledges separate duties and loyalties to separate entities. The conservative owes fealty to his commonwealth, worship to his God, courtesy and loyalty to his kith and kin. The Socialist seeks to eradicate all ties of love and loyalty to any entities aside from the state: hence their contempt both for religion and family, the scorn heaped on the traditional roles of husband, wife and child. For the socialist, the State is Father and Mother and God, and we are its children.

    Of the three spheres, the State is based on Law; the Church is based on Revelation; the Town Square is based on Tradition, the Hearth on Family Love.

    This simplification of the three spheres of life into one has several consequences. When the Town Square is absorbed into the State, those courtesies and roles long ago evolved to render civil society pleasing and tolerable are replaced by an awkward mechanism of lawsuits to enforce norms. Instead of a gentleman’s fear of being thought a Bounder to keep him from acting the Cad before a lady, now only his fear of a sexual-harassment lawsuit keeps the Cads are bay.

    Likewise in the intellectual realm, the Socialists become color blind to any nuance of human relationship except power and force. Hence, for the socialist, a subtle book like ISLAND OF DOCTOR MUREAU becomes a narrative about colonialism. NORTHERN LIGHTS becomes a narrative about child exploitation, or perhaps (rooting for the bad guys) about here, so he refers to this as being about the willingness to make hard choice, or some such nonsense.

    The conclusions of the socialist become clumsy, predictable, one-dimensional, and, excuse me, silly. Example: neither book is about politics. ISLAND OF Dr.M, among other things, is about the science fictional notion that, since men have no souls, the distinction between them and animals is a matter of superficial biology, nothing more. NORTHERN LIGHTS starts as an interesting fantasy, but degenerates into an anti-clerical tract: a Chronicle of anti-Narnia.

    The socialist reads political messages into books about life, because, to them, life is nothing but politics.

    Mieville includes WE on his list, which puzzles me. Perhaps he does not realize this is an antisocialist tract, along the lines of 1984 or BRAVE NEW WORLD.

    Mieville is correct to include ATLAS SHRUGGED as the exemplar of his enemy and the enemy of everything for which he stands. Ayn Rand writes about the heroic and triumphant in man, the glory of the individual; Mieville wrote PERDITO STREET STATION, a world peopled by grotesques, victims, perverts. Of course her philosophy to him is vile: not merely wrong, but blasphemous. The socialist world consists of nothing but exploiters and victims: the idea that men should cooperate for their mutual benefit without coercion is repulsive to them, for they dare not believe that the so-called wage-slaves volunteered for their so-called exploitation, and are helped by it.

    John C. Wright

  7. “The socialist reads political messages into books about life, because, to them, life is nothing but politics.”

    Does this apply only to socialists? One of my pet peeves is when people read too much (usually an author’s politics) into a FICTION story.

  8. I would venture to say the allegorical-misinterpretation disease does not afflict only to socialists. Anyone who thinks about politics too much will read a political message into a story where the author is merely trying to tell a story. It is an error to which I also am prone.

    BUT socialism by its very nature urges its partisans to regard all aspects of human life as being merely reflections of a power struggle. To them, there is no life aside from politics, no philosophy aside from political apologetics.

    In other words, other political viewpoints are not as all-embracing and exclusive as socialism. Socialism is a substitute for religion, and seeks to give all life’s questions a political answer. Political Philosophies that favor limited government (liberalism, libertarianism, anarchism, conservative) by their very nature place something outside the political realm, and ergo not subject to political solution.

  9. Allan Rosewarne // July 4, 2005 at 3:31 pm //

    Sorry to revive this thread, but here goes anyway. Ok, taking the non-Mieville interpretation of the two books discussed, Island of Dr. Moreau and Dark Materials trilogy. One does not see the political message of writing a book where the theme is man has no soul (IMO, that is a profoundly political statement), and writing the anti-clerical, anti-Narnia, anti-Inkling is poltical, too; regarless if one sees it or not.

  10. With all due respect, the comment that is it a profoundly political statement to say that man has no soul is a prime example of the socialist thinking disease discribed above. I submit that “man has no soul” is a theological statement.

    Only someone whose politics ARE his theology could read this as a political statement.

    Keep in mind that conservatives see a difference between the Altar, the Hearth, the Public Square, and the Town Hall. The socialist sees nothing but the Town Hall: it is his father and mother and priest and savior all wrapped up in one.

    I am a pro-capitalist lover of liberty who believes man has a soul; my best friend is a pro-capitalist lover of liberty who believes man has no soul. We are conservatives, and tolerant of each other’s failings. Our politics are the same. Our theologies differ.

    If you can read ISLE OF DR. M as political, then you can read anything as political. I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but reading politics into fiction has hindered my enjoyment of the field, not augmented it.

  11. “The Socialist seeks to eradicate all ties of love and loyalty to any entities aside from the state: hence their contempt both for religion and family, the scorn heaped on the traditional roles of husband, wife and child. For the socialist, the State is Father and Mother and God, and we are its children.”

    Someone doesn’t know much about socialism.

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