February 20, 2005

Socialist novels?

Phersu links to this list from China Miéville of science fiction and fantasy novels that 'embed' politics 'of particular interest to socialists.'

I like SF and fantasy, and I'm a fan of Miéville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar. I'm interested in politics, too. But I'm not the slightest bit interested in a list of novels that share a certain kind of politics--socialist, agrarian, or whatever else.

I've liked Miéville's stories, which might reflect a socialist slant; I love Tolkien, who reflects elements of aristocracy, agrarianism, and Catholicism; I love Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, even though the author is known to be a far-right wingnut.

Just give me a good story, and don't waste my time with lists of socialist books. I could use that time to learn to read French.

Posted by Carey at February 20, 2005 09:37 PM

The novels that are on Miéville's list that I have read I have enjoyed; I suspect much of the rest of the list is equally good, socialist list or not.

(I personally vouch[1] for the Banks, Bull/Brust, Dick, Gentle, MacLeod, Robinson, Shelly, Swift, Zamyatin, with no particular axe to grind).

[1] Not that without knowing the remainder of my tastes my opinion can be of any particular use.

Posted by: Richard Campbell at February 21, 2005 12:29 PM

That said, I highly recommend Ian M. Bank's Culture novels. While I wouldn't read any novel specifically for its politics, science fiction that considers political themes can be uniquely entertaining. I'd recommend, however, that you skip Use of Weapons (not the best of the bunch) and instead try The Player of Games or Excession.

The premise of the Culture is really pretty simple: scientific advances are coupled with almost limitless but beneficent artificial intelligence to ensure that the society is full of happy communists. The results--particularly when the Culture interacts with any other society--are uniquely intriguing.

Anyway, my two cents, for what it's worth.

Posted by: A. Rickey at February 21, 2005 04:31 PM

Thanks for the tips.

If someone recommends a book because they think it's good, that's a lot more compelling than if they disclaim all representations of quality but insist that I read it because it has some socialist doctrine in it. Blech.

Posted by: Carey at February 21, 2005 09:32 PM

A.Rickey: Interesting. I would have, until fairly recently, said that Use of Weapons was the best of the Culture novels (it's now a tough call whether Look to Windward is better). I do think that Player of Games is excellent, and a much better starting point to the series ... the nonlinear narrative and decidedly unreliable narrators in Use of Weapons are IMO just too confusing if you're not already familiar with the series.

Posted by: Zack at February 22, 2005 01:49 AM

I like Use of Weapons over Look to Windward, although you may be right about Player of Games as a better starting point. Use of Weapons was my starting point.

I would like to also recommend Iain Banks's (as opposed to Iain M. Banks, which he publishes his science fiction under) mainstream fiction, in particular The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road.

In fact, I heavily recommend all of Iain Banks / Iain M. Banks work, with the exception of Feersum Endjinn.

Posted by: Richard Campbell at February 22, 2005 10:29 AM

To be fair, I don't think Mieville said that Socialism was an "added value". Some of those books are not necessarily good.
His list was meant for socialists who happen to like SF, and listed books they should know (including some books like those by Wolfe or Rand which are not socialist by any stretch of the imagination). But one should not take Mieville as advocating a kind of Jdanovism. :)

BTW, did you read Mieville's essay on Tolkien?


A little harsh but amusing.

Posted by: Phersu at February 22, 2005 05:03 PM