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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

China Mieville Selects 50 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels That Socialists Must Read

Posted by on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 at 7:35 AM

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This is what the great fantasy writer has to say about it:
This is not a list of the “best” fantasy or SF. There are huge numbers of superb works not on the list. Those below are chosen not just because of their quality—which though mostly good, is variable—but because the politics they embed (deliberately or not) are of particular interest to socialists. Of course, other works—by the same or other writers—could have been chosen: disagreement and alternative suggestions are welcomed. I change my own mind hour to hour on this anyway.

The list has its surprises:

Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Know your enemy. This panoply of portentous Nietzcheanism lite has had a huge influence on American SF. Rand was an obsessive “objectivist” (libertarian pro-capitalist individualist) whose hatred of socialism and any form of “collectivism” is visible in this important an influential—though vile and ponderous—novel.

And its delights...

Mikhail Bulgakov—The Master and Margarita (1938; trans. 1967)

Astonishing fantasy set in ’30s Moscow, featuring the Devil, Pontius Pilate, The Wandering Jew, and a satire and critique of Stalinist Russia so cutting it is unbelievable that it got past the censors. Utterly brilliant.

 

Comments (21) RSS

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1
Can't fucking stand China Mieville. I find his works pretentious, dull, and full of characters I wouldn't waste piss on if they were on fire. They're not even protagonists I love to hate; they're only hateworthy. Why am I not surprised he's got a hard on for socialism?
Posted by NateMan on February 20, 2013 at 8:51 AM · Report this
2
I'm a huge fan of the Master and Margarita... don't remember the Wandering Jew being in it.
Posted by Didn't bother to register on February 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM · Report this
loopback 3
I imagine NateMan has a shelf full of Robert Heinlein novels.
Posted by loopback on February 20, 2013 at 9:17 AM · Report this
4
Nobody will see this since I'm posting anon, but Le Guin's The Dispossessed is the most radically socialist (communist?) book on this list. A must read for those that have missed it.
Posted by anonymoose coward on February 20, 2013 at 9:17 AM · Report this
CATSPAW666 5
Good list. Glad he included the Macleod, the Banks, and the Robinson. A little heavy on the pre first world war stuff, if you ask me, but as a cat myself, I cant say enough good about the Master and Margarita, natch.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on February 20, 2013 at 9:29 AM · Report this
6
@1 I kind of agree with you, except in the case of The City The City. That is such a great book.
Posted by sisyphusgal on February 20, 2013 at 9:34 AM · Report this
7
@3: I have shelves full of hundreds of novels. The only Heinlein ones I can think that I own are Glory Road and Sixth Column. Neither one precludes the fact that Mieville is a pretentious twit incapable of writing a sympathetic character to save his fucking life.
Posted by NateMan on February 20, 2013 at 9:36 AM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 8
Atlas Shrugged? Ouch. Couldn't we just substitute The Fountainhead and suffer 500 fewer pages? One amphetamine-fueled turd should be as good as another.
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on February 20, 2013 at 9:39 AM · Report this
yelahneb 9
Wow - exactly 50! What are the chances?
Posted by yelahneb http://www.strangebutharmless.com on February 20, 2013 at 9:57 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
Just read The Door Into Summer by Heinlein and the Foundation series and you've got enough proto-Randian thought done by far better authors to get you by.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 20, 2013 at 11:09 AM · Report this
Julie in Eugene 11
Hmm. I just read Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and I probably would've put that on the list.
Posted by Julie in Eugene on February 20, 2013 at 11:23 AM · Report this
12
The fact that Mieville thinks Master and Margarita "got past the censors" reveals that he is a complete idiot. Like, total fucking moron.
Posted by minderbender on February 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 13
Most of the fantasy and sci-fi novels I enjoy reading are the ones opposite my own beliefs (they're supposed to be fantasy and fiction, after all).

So, The Fountainhead is up there for me, but Atlas Shrugged was way too long and, really, if you've read one Ayn Rand novel, you've read them all. Plenty of Heinlein novels are on my list (e.g., Starship Troopers, Red Planet, and Starman Jones are some of my favorites). But I also really enjoy Vonnegut's novels; (Player Piano,and Sirens of Titan, are tops.

People who are only capable of reading novels that conform to their pre-held beliefs seem closed-minded to me. But to each his/her own.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on February 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 14
I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see the Gormenghast books on the list, since Mieville and Peake share a love of the grotesque, but it's only in the third book where one encounters meaty politics. Mieville's wrong, it is a disappointment. You can easily tell which parts Peake had finished and where it was getting filled in by the editors. It's still interesting but after the minute intensity and polish of the first too books it was a real let down.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings http://www.reddit.com/r/spaceclop on February 20, 2013 at 12:20 PM · Report this
DeaconBlues 15
his comment about "making it past the censors" is pretty silly

the USSR didn't really have a crackdown on expression until after WWII

(with the exception of Trotskyist publications)
Posted by DeaconBlues http://radzillas.blogspot.com/ on February 20, 2013 at 3:09 PM · Report this
DeaconBlues 16
also, reminder that Heinlein wrote fascist stuff as thought experimentation

you can't seriously think he was a fascist after reading Stranger in a Strange Land

his hero starts a free-love hippie commune, for fuck's sake
Posted by DeaconBlues http://radzillas.blogspot.com/ on February 20, 2013 at 3:12 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 17
@16- A free loving hippie commune...with a leader who erases people from existence if he thinks they can't fit in.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings http://www.reddit.com/r/spaceclop on February 20, 2013 at 3:42 PM · Report this
Urgutha Forka 18
@17,
Naw, he only erased people who were direct, immediate threats (and even that isn't completely true, at the end). M.V. Smith was pretty open and accepting of the odd types who challenged the status quo. You should re-read it. Good book. Weird, but good. I'm not even sure I grokked it completely.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on February 20, 2013 at 8:54 PM · Report this
19
I've been reading all kinds of fiction for decades, and think Mieville is wonderful. His intelligence and humor are a delight, and his philosophy in support of economic underdogs is thought provoking.
Posted by betsio on February 21, 2013 at 12:26 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 20
@18- I've read it a half dozen times, I loved it in high school. Then I thought about it more.

The idea presented in the book is that the Perfect Man can guide people to an ideal existence, and those who can't fit in will be eliminated. It's fascist hippy messianism. It beats Nazism, but it's no freedom loving democracy, it's a light-handed authoritarianism. It's just assumed that after being exposed to the Man From Mars's message, society will eventually conform.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings http://www.reddit.com/r/spaceclop on February 21, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
21
Master & Margarita wasn't published anywhere until 1966-67; soviet censors removed some bits of it (the complete text circulated as samizdat). Part of Bulgakov's brilliance is that he managed to write enough of that book cleverly enough to get 90% of it past the censors; there are enough layers of meaning and metonyms and metaphors and trickery to fool a lot of readers.
I think dismissing Mieville out-of-hand is poor judgment; I can see why he doesn't appeal to everyone (though I *can't* see why anyone would dislike Un Lun Dun), but disliking his prose style and/or his politics doesn't make him either pretentious or terrible. And I'm keen to sift through his list and see what I can add to my to-read list.
Posted by kbryna on February 22, 2013 at 11:02 PM · Report this

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