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March 19th, 2007


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01:56 pm - Novels, settings, villains and politics
Over the weekend, I've been reading Kriniya by Ian McDonald, [[1]] the sequel to Evolution's Shore. The vast majority of the novels I read are set in places, times, or worlds vastly different from my own. I'd far rather read about an alternate world, fantasy world, or other planet with no connection to this world than read about the present or near future. I primarily wish to read about exotic and wonderful places very different from where I live. These books are one of the exceptions, because they involve a wonderful transformation of this world via alien nanotech and are chock full of many cool and wonderful ideas as well as excellent characters and images of Africa done far better than by most authors. In any case, I highly recommend both novels.

However, in reading the 2nd one, something came to mind. Although both books are almost exclusively set in Africa, international politics plays a significant role, and one of the primary villains in the novel is the US government. I just stopped and thought about that. While this has become more true since 2001, even before that, novels set in the near future that portray the US government as a source of all manner of ills (both internally and abroad) attract me far more than those that portray the US government as a source of good - primarily because any other vision of the US seems (to me at least) to be either unbelievable, deeply naive, or ideologically vile. I never consciously considered this before, but it's completely true. Even in novels having less to do with politics than these two, that remains true. If a novel deals with modern politics at all, I'm far more likely to be attracted to a portrayal of the US government as venal, greedy, a corporate puppet, or actively murderous than I am at any actively positive portrayal. I considered when this began to be true, and can't think of many examples before that 1980s, that weren't the dystopian environmental collapse or nuclear war stories of the 1970s, that I largely avoided simply because I have no interest in reading deeply depressing stories, the only exception being the many post-collapse novels set hundreds or thousands of years after some disaster where the world has been reborn in some new and nifty fashion.

I first started noticing the US government being depicted in a villainous fashion in (unsurprisingly) the 1980s - once actual villains took control of the nation. The first SF novels and stories of this sort that I remember were all part of the cyberpunk movement. In any case, although I most definitely consider the US government to be a source of far more bad than good, but it does seem rather sad that the novels that seem most true and appealing to me are those where the government of the nation I live in is villainous. Similarly, given that many such novels clearly sell moderately well in the US, I'm guessing that many geeky US progressives share my tastes. Our flag is a symbol of threat and oppression and the only believable depictions of our government is as a villain. That's honestly tragic, but also true.

[[1]] I linked to an amazon.uk site for Kirinya, because it was only published in Britain, and copies purchased from amazon.uk are vastly cheaper than those purchased in the US.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Current Music: The Shins - New Slang

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Comments:


From:quorpencetta
Date:March 19th, 2007 11:37 pm (UTC)
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I love Ian McDonald! One of my favorite books ever is Terminal Cafe. I think that was my introduction to cyberpunk. Awesome writer. On the other topic, as an anarchist I'm of the opinion that government as a rule is oppressive and (in my personal view) spiritually crippling. I see it as a crutch people use to escape the responsibility inherent in full realization of personal power. It keeps people in a permanent state of childhood, dependant on external authority to keep them from hurting themselves or others. Also, I feel that it would be hard for society to become mature while addicted to such a crutch. I'm not advocating destroying the system, since our society is in a mental state that might lead it to either rebuild the same government, or replace it with a very similar entity. I would rather see a real spiritual change at the grassroots level. Once people realize that the government only exists with their consent, once people become mature enough to make socially responsible decisions on a fairly consistant basis, it will become apparent that gov't has become an outdated concept. At the moment, I think government and society at large are actively fighting this growth process by making people feel as dependant as possible on external regulation. Any move away from this mindset would be a positive one. Yay! - Another rant from Q.
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From:heron61
Date:March 20th, 2007 02:37 am (UTC)
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I'm less fond of his other work, but both these novels are excellent.

As for government, the last 6 years removed all of my interest in anarchism - the potential for abuse is too high. I'm now a dedicated advocate of Scandinavian euro-socialism, largely because, for me, results matter vastly more than any ideologies or theoretical concepts like freedom. Euro-socialism delivers the goods in terms of being the best system I know of for making certain that all citizens have their basic needs met and for keeping these citizens safe and happy. Also, I have no interest in taking charge of most aspects of my life, such as making certain I have safe and pure water to drink or my dwelling is safe to live in, and so I love the idea of having city, state, and national governments for that purpose. If (and I very much hope this comes to pass) nanotechnology delivers the prospect of a post scarcity economy, then I'll reconsider anarchism, but until then, I would vastly prefer a humanely run democratic nanny state.
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From:queerbychoice
Date:March 20th, 2007 12:55 am (UTC)
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"I first started noticing the US government being depicted in a villainous fashion in (unsurprisingly) the 1980s - once actual villains took control of the nation."

Wait, didn't Nixon count as a villain too?
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From:heron61
Date:March 20th, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)
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Yes, but most politically oriented 70s genre fiction was simply dystopian fiction that blamed advanced technology &/or the West for the world's problems, and didn't single out the US. Also, compared to Reagen or Bush^2, Nixon was fairly admirable (which is a deeply pathetic statement in and of itself).
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From:heronheart
Date:March 21st, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)
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It's kind of sad. Nixon may have been evil, but at least he was *intelligent*. Now being an affable idiot is considered polling plus.
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From:alobar
Date:March 20th, 2007 04:05 am (UTC)
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> I first started noticing the US government being depicted
> in a villainous fashion in (unsurprisingly) the 1980s
> - once actual villains took control of the nation.

US has been villanous for far longer than that. Genocide of native Americans, wars to gain land.

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested"
--Smedley Butler
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smedley_Butler
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From:heron61
Date:March 20th, 2007 06:25 am (UTC)
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Most definitely, but I've read lots of speculative fiction from the 1920s to the present, and having the US as specifically a villain didn't really start appearing in SF & fantasy until the 80s.
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From:alobar
Date:March 20th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
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OK, I get your point. When I started going to SF conventions in the 1960s, I noted a lot of people there were older than me (I was in my 20s). Many had 1950s short hair, no beards, and rather right-wing perspectives. Numerous authors were millitary or ex-military men.

I wonder if the change you note in the 1980s could be the result of the ending of the draft. If most young people are no longer inculcated with military "values", might that not have an impact on the way they view the US government?
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From:heron61
Date:March 20th, 2007 07:08 pm (UTC)
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That and some of the authors like Joe Haldeman (who wrote The Forever War in 1975) actually served in Vietnam, and were willing to speak their mind about war and the military. Also, the change might also correlate with the fact that the US has massive problems with racism and you first started having significant numbers of minority SF authors in the 70s & 80s.

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