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mark211SFF books that privilege a political agenda over story – worst offenders?2016-03-13 07:09:42
mark211In last week's discussion on what people find most attractive about our beloved genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy, two comments from QM contributors Wesson and Ironspider caught my eye (A quick digression - I'll include Horror as a sub-branch of both of these – never let it be said I don't know how to do controversial ; - )) – in any case all three are arguably descendants of the Gothic tradition but that's a discussion we can have another time). The comments in question were: "There are some people including myself who don't like SFF that pushes a socio-political agenda too hard or waves a finger at mankind." from Wesson to which Ironspider added: "I'm no fan of any book or film that shoves an agenda way too hard - I don't mind being educated, but I don't like being preached at."2016-03-13 07:09:53
mark211I have to say I concur with both these views – fiction (in any genre not just our favourites) has real power to inspire not only people's imagination but also effect political changes in the real world. However, in my humble opinion I think it is always a mistake to assume that just because a work of fiction can inspire political change that political change can therefore be created solely through a work of fiction. Some of the most awful novels ever written have this hectoring didactic quality – so then people: what do we think? Who are the worst offenders in this arena? What are the worst novels or novelists of this type? Don't be shy! Share your thoughts below.2016-03-13 07:10:07
John David RoseThe Female Man by Joanna Russ The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin The Forever War by Joe Haldeman Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card Wait, maybe these are some of the "best" offenders... maybe I don't understand the point of this discussion prompt... or maybe I just disagree with original points of view that prompted it. I.e. I think some of the best examples of science fiction out there have strong political agendas embedded in them. Whether you agree or disagree with these writers' politics, those views are very prominent in their works. Maybe we just have an aversion to the writers who have political views that are different from our own.2016-03-13 13:26:53
WessonUh-oh, another chance for me to stir the pot. I do enjoy causing chaos, lol. I think mark211 said it better than I could; it would be a mistake to think fiction alone can inspire political change and it’s also a mistake to think that it should. No man can give another man the ability to think, we’re perfectly capable of finding knowledge on our own. I know there are artists who try to “educate” their audiences but that kind of altruism comes at a price: he who brings you information also controls it. 2016-03-13 22:50:22
WessonWe’re stepping into subjective territory, not that that’s a bad thing. It’s impossible to write a perfectly a-political story because we’ve all experienced the world in unique ways and this is reflected our work even if we don’t want to admit it. An author has the right to create whatever he wants to create but an audience has the right to not like it as well. You can dislike a story for many reasons: boring main character, bad grammar or a message you disagree with. They’re all legitimate criticisms. I think the reason that last one offends so many writers is because many of them seem to adhere to the same thought process (I’m speaking strictly from my own experience). Too often find myself reading stories or watching movies with the same old themes: Bad humans invading the homes of good aliens (like “Avatar”), civilization destroying the planet (like “The Day After Tomorrow”) or villains driven by financial gain or greed (but aren’t we all greedy?). Notice I’m avoiding the term “Liberal Bias” because I think that’s an unfair assessment; there is anti-liberal SFF, for lack of a better term, out there. You have bad aliens invading the homes of good humans (like “Independence Day”) and the anti-government stories like “1984” and “Atlas Shrugged”. Still, of these two teams, I think one has a clear advantage over the other right now. 2016-03-13 22:51:43
WessonThe only thing I look for is this: write with your heart and if your heart happens to fall into a social-political theme, have the guts to admit it and face disapproval. Its true many great stories have strong political agendas in them but controversy doesn’t automatically equal intelligence. 2016-03-13 22:55:22
IronspiderCan't say I can remember any. Probably because if a book annoys or offends me I don't finish it. The most overtly political books I've read are '1984' and 'Animal Farm' and I enjoyed both - the political aspects were embedded within the narratives to great effect and I wouldn't consider the latter to be 'preaching' socialism. That '1984' is about the perils of fascism is the whole central concept of the book, and I don't find its message in any way offensive. Still haven't finished 'Atlas Shrugged' and I'm not sure I ever will... 2016-03-14 00:48:57
mark211@John David Rose:"I think some of the best examples of science fiction out there have strong political agendas embedded in them." I think possibly it's the term'(political) agenda' that may be causing a bit of confusion. Orwell's '1984' is a prime example of an absolutely extraordinary novel that was driven by the politics of the time (and the times to come for that matter), but - and even taking into account the length of O'Brien's monologue towards the end - would you say it had a "hectoring didactic quality"? I wouldn't as '1984' is clearly a powerful novel built around a very powerful critique of Totalitarian societies. I could make similar points about Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels' and many of the novels you list. So what I'm trying to say is irrespective of what the politics are that are being pushed I think the question is more: Is the politics driving the story or is the story a fig leaf for someone to try and impose a particular point of view? "Maybe we just have an aversion to the writers who have political views that are different from our own." Ah, well yes, this is almost certainly the case. But I don't think that's a problem to be honest as we're not obliged to like everything. 2016-03-14 10:43:00
mark211@Wesson: "It’s impossible to write a perfectly a-political story" Yes, that is very true of course. And even sometimes a story can be inspired by a particular political or social event in History; Frank Herbert's 'Dune' was in part inspired by fears over environmental disaster apparently - though someone would be hard pushed to describe that as novel with an 'agenda' as such. 2016-03-14 10:46:29
mark211@Ironspider: "Can't say I can remember any. Probably because if a book annoys or offends me I don't finish it." Ah yes, very good point! That certainly describes my experience of China Mieville - a writer who I'm convinced gets better reviews and accolades than he strictly speaking deserves on the basis of his political activities outside of writing fiction rather than in it. So perhaps the complain is as much about the hype such-and-such a writer might receive as it is about their having an agenda or not? 2016-03-14 10:48:50
Ironspider@Mark211: I do try and avoid learning anything about a writer's political interests or ambitions. I know that both the late Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod are socialists at heart (apparently), and both the Culture novels and the Fall Revolution series do feature examples of possible socialist societies, but as there isn't any overt political posturing in the books - yes, I know Moh Kohn works for a communist mercenary collective - it doesn't feel preachy. I guess you can bury political messages in the words and actions of your characters, or have a bad guy/organisation with a specific political agenda; how that's handled is probably down to the skill of the writer and whether their particular politics get in the way of their writing.2016-03-15 00:50:19
God of WarMost good SCI FI has some social commentary embedded to greater or lesser degrees.2016-03-15 08:03:14
mark211@God of War: True enough, yes, though I was interested in people's feelings about when the greater becomes so great as to become "preachy" as Ironspider has it. Even quite possibly my favourite SFF author, Jack Vance, has unambiguous statements about society and how it works (or doesn't!). It's clearest in the Cadwal series of novels, but it's just as evident in his very earliest published works as well (The Dying Earth series). SFF is especially suitable for satire - distant realms and worlds in which we can see the absurdities of our own reflected - but that seems to me no excuse for treating the story as a mere 'add on' to the main purpose. 2016-03-17 09:09:14
mark211@Ironspider: "how that's handled is probably down to the skill of the writer and whether their particular politics get in the way of their writing." Pretty much spot on there, I'd say.2016-03-17 09:09:56
Wessonmark211 made a good point, there is a lot of satire in SFF but that's no reason to treat the story as just an add-on. If a writer has a bone to pick with the world, sometimes it's better if they write an op-ed in the newspaper rather than a story. Everyone's got an opinion and just because a writer (or for that matter an actor, musician, etc.) has more exposure than an ordinary person, that doesn't mean their opinion is more important. 2016-03-18 07:42:21

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