August 16, 2015

Slice of PIE: “Is There a Government in the Story?”
Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London, August 2014, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

“Ideology versus Politics in Science Fiction – Most “political” science fiction doesn’t really deal with politics, it deals with the setting out of ideologies. In other words, it tells stories that have little to do with running a government. The result is a debate of ideas where the political is described by greed and corruption, but never the merely bureaucratic. Why are these tropes recycled time and again? How can politics be approached in a more authentic way and remain interesting to readers? With: Teresa Nielsen Hayden (M), Martin McGrath, Laurie Penny, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jon Courtenay Grimwood” (page 61)

Fascinating thought – and it forced me to weed through my books.

Where do we actually SEE government in a novel?

Once set of books where I’ve seen not only the working of a government – but that HOW the government works is integral to the story is in Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN books. In them, the entire series begins with an attempted overthrow of the standing government. Miles, the usual viewpoint character, is CREATED by this event. Without this seminal event – the crippling of Miles – the rest of the series would not only be impossible, but it would be downright boring.

Who Miles is, is a direct result of politics in motion.

Rereading the blurb above, though, made me realize that the “complaint” seems to be that “‘political’ science fiction doesn’t really deal with politics, it deals with the setting out of ideologies.” So I suppose George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD would be the “political” SF the author of the blurb is looking for. Most in the panel might mark THE LATHE OF HEAVEN as political SF; or DUNE…no?
Probably not, because we never see the Landsraad actually meet or debate. We just see Paul Muad’dib overthrow the government and declare himself God Emperor and then never talk about politics again...We see the machinations of the Harkonnen family as it works to outmaneuver the Atreides family, then again, it’s a space adventure and while the discerning 29 people voted that  it’s political SF, the majority won’t read it that way. Look at the movies – very little politics, lots of explosions and special effects!

The VORKOSIGAN novels can’t possibly be political SF novels, either voted on by the body of people nominating Best SF or suggested by the site owners. No one voted them onto the list, yet the introduction of reproductive freedom for women strikes me as eminently political.

I would argue that DUNE is more of a political novel than BRAVE NEW WORLD. I would argue that ANCILLARY JUSTICE (and ANCILLARY SWORD) are more political SF novels than THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE because they demonstrate the effect of political decisions on the “voters” or the proletariat, in fact, again, they posit such a radical change as the feminization of the generic pronoun. While CAT’S CRADLE may have received raves as a literary novel and hold the fifteenth spot on Best Science Fiction Books list of political novels, CJ Cherryh’s FOREIGNER books don’t even rank – yet every novel turns on political machinations of the complex world of the Atevi, the place of Humans in that world, and the actions of one particular Human, the paidhi, Bren Cameron.

What exactly were the criteria that the voters of on the Best list and the organizers of LonCon laid down for the discussion?

Your thoughts?


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