10 March 2005

SF for Liberals

I'm a sucker for lists, and just discovered Waggish's list of Sci-Fi Novels for Liberals, a rather inaccurate title, in that he includes short stories by Carol Emshwiller, Cordwainer Smith, etc. (Waggish's list is in response to China Mieville's.) Some of the short descriptions are masterful -- for instance, of Cordwainer Smith:
Smith was a Kennan-esque Cold Warrior, and in between the more cutesy bits, his work has a Kissingerian sense of realpolitik, depicting a point in the future where government must intervene to alter people's existential senses of themselves.
It's an interesting list, too, in that it suggests some pretty obscure work. For instance, I'd never heard of Mark Geston or Lords of the Starship, but a little bit of research revealed it to be his first novel, written while he was a college student. It sounds marvelously bleak. (Geston went on to write three other novels soon after: Out of the Mouth of the Dragon, The Day Star, and The Siege of Wonder. Then he didn't publish a novel until the 1990s, with Mirror to the Sky.)

Waggish links from his list to an interesting post about Olaf Stapledon's novella The Flames (available in An Olaf Stapledon Reader). The whole post is great, but notice especially these last sentences:
As with most everything Stapledon wrote, there's enough high-minded ideas flying off to distract from the incoherence, but the main message is one of repudiation of his earlier self, a rejection of human aspiration, and an embrace of Wellsian darkness. But Stapledon doesn't have Wells' detachment, and "The Flames" is ultimately more miserable than anything Wells wrote. Stapledon's self-flagellation over believing in his own imagination's "exciting and clarifying experiences" is evidently an overreaction, but it marks him as a brave, if defeated, man, and an antecedent of an entirely different tradition of science fiction.
Perhaps a better title for this list would be "SF for Conservatives" -- not just because it gets rid of that awful "sci-fi" term, but because it seems to me that the last thing liberals need these days is more apocalypticism. It would be interesting, too, to take a small list of books like that and run side-by-side essays about reading them, one of the essays by an avowed liberal and one by an avowed conservative.

Update: Over at SF Signal, John C. Wright offers a fine series of lists, including "SCIENCE FICTION FOR PEOPLE WHO THINK POLITICAL OFFICES SHOULD BE CHOSEN ON THE BASIS OF NEUROLINGUISTIC EXAMINATION BY GIANT MACHINES". Finally, I have a cause!

No comments:

Post a Comment