Here are a few things I’m not at all inclined toward reading: books with extended battle scenes, books that detail law enforcement and/or court procedures in depth, and books wherein long political struggles are outlined. Generally speaking, if a novel contains any of these things, I’ll more than likely miss a great deal of whatever the hell is going on. Even if I like the book overall, I’m often appallingly unclear about which legendary warrior died in which battle and which side he or she fought for, which space pirates got arrested and how they were prosecuted, and how many sorcerous dissenters were in whatever campaign to unseat the king or queen or president and what their names and political associations were.
It’s the whole process, honestly — of war, of criminal justice, of politics — that aggravates me and simultaneously puts me to sleep. I hate all the maneuvering, the counter- and counter-counter moves. I read science fiction and fantasy to get to know unique characters, to get to know mindbogglingly cool worlds and cultures, to become emotionally and intellectually invested in speculation, and though these aims can be achieved through any event, I strongly prefer events that are not so… protracted. Also, though I like intrigue and drama and all that, I find warring, policing, and politicking to bring out the most contemptibly aggressive (or passive-aggressive) in characters. No, I’m not much for the hardened-but-honorable soldier or the psychotically plotting general, the crooked cop or the disillusioned DA, and I’m particularly unsympathetic toward any character scheming for political advancement.
Yes: you’d be safe in assuming I’ve never even been tempted to begin A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m sure it’s good — I know too many awesome people who love it to discount it — but I’m pretty sure a great deal of the series is involved with political scheming. (And wars, and criminals…)
Of course, I’m not trying to be simplistic: there is more to politics than obvious political action. There are overt tracts of whatever political stripe one can imagine in sff, many of which have been mentioned this week. There are also more subtle works whose political content is harder to discern — whose persuasion is best grasped holistically, and often seems to stand at odds with the words and actions of the characters. This latter kind of narrative, which I think requires more of the reader, which often feels (or in reality is) ambiguous, which does not argue with the reader but suggests interpretations, is by far my favorite form of political work.
What’s funny/sad is that, because of my general simple-mindedness and disinclination toward political content, it’s safe to say I’ve read a great many books and barely noticed there was something political going on. I think I’m far better at examining relationships than I am at understanding the economic structures that surely inform them. I know that China Mieville, for instance, is a socialist of a particular stripe (as am I), but I couldn’t have told you that from my reading of his work. Though I’m glad to know his political convictions are informing his work, I just don’t have the mind for easily eeking out such content.
Hmm. Thinking on this, a few questions slowly occur to me…
Could I call No Return (my debut novel, which you should totally buy) a political work? If so, what is the message? Does it reflect my (perpetually inchoate) socialistic leanings?
Well, yeah, I suppose — to the first question. (Though that’s not saying much. Is there such a thing as an unpolitical work? Probably not.) I certainly don’t think I hit the reader over the head with it, but there’s no denying that my choice not to concern myself with royalty or other political leaders, and to only touch lightly upon matters of advancement within the ranks of the Outbound Mages (a group of astronauts who use alchemical means to reach orbit), says something about my priorities. No Return, clearly, is not a work wherein I concerned myself with the stratagems of leaders. If anything, I avoided making definitive statements about leadership, either benevolent or malevolent.
This, of course, doesn’t mean I have no political message to convey. I am writing, very consciously, a form of moral fiction — a narrative that attempts to show the wages of uncompassionate acts. For me, this is a fundamental part of my fiction; I hope it is an unavoidable takeaway of reading the words I’ve written. I’m not engaged, at least in my own mind, in conveying an adventure, first and foremost. I’m trying to get at the core of how individuals contribute to society in a positive way. It is not enough, in this life and in my fiction, for a person to assume they are good people. It must be questioned, again and again, proven and disproven and proven again. I’d like to think I demand much of my characters — just as much is demanded of every person in a free society.
As to whether it reflects my own political ideology, I’d hope that it doesn’t say much more than what I’ve outlined above: that individuals are a part of society, and that it is important to be engaged in the process of bettering it, first and foremost by guaranteeing that people are not crushed under anyone’s boot or iron fist.Read More...