I read it for the economics and the unicorns
May 16, 2013 4:10 PM   Subscribe

What are some good scifi / fantasy / horror novels about economics?

Based on this post and previous discussion, I am looking for genre (scifi/fantasy/horror) novels that feature economics as a major, significant theme. Comics are also fine. You can squeeze in movies or TV shows if they're extremely good examples, please.

I do not seek "any book in which characters ever use / need / want / have / discuss money," because that includes basically all books. To simplify things since the definition of economics is subject to debate, I'll mark as "best" only answers that include some brief note on why they're really about economics and/or books that at least 2 people here confirm "Yes, Title Here is totally about economics."

Thank you!
posted by nicebookrack to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (here, I'll start) The Spice & Wolf light fantasy novel series by Isuna Hasekura, about a young merchant and a wolf-goddess who travel together and flirt with financial disaster/financial triumph/each other. Adapted into a manga and gorgeous anime, which spawned a minor "I watch it for the economics" meme. Never has the invention of the stock market been so emotionally epic.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:12 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

A Million Open Doors by John Barnes: the introduction of instantaneous interstellar travel to a planet not only upends it's culture but destroys its economy through the sudden flood of imported goods. The characters actually discuss the economics of the market being flooded and how long it will take the planet's economy to rebuild itself. It's sort of a treatise on globalization. And an OK novel.
posted by GuyZero at 4:41 PM on May 16, 2013

In a similar vein to Spice and Wolf, Maoyū Maō Yūsha is an manga/anime that starts out as a typical "hero fights the demon lord" and quickly becomes a treatise on politics/agriculture/economics. The Demon Lord sees that the war that is fighting has been a way for both sides to put aside differences and come together poltically, and build an economic base, but the end of the war will bring some tensions back. It goes from there.

Streaming available from crunchyroll.
posted by zabuni at 4:44 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

1984 is, in a way, all about economics
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:11 PM on May 16, 2013

Delany's Neveryon cycle has some extended discussion of economics, particularly Neveryona, which is like an extended essay on the gap in symbolic understanding between different social classes with some nice plot interludes. There's a section on the "old" versus "new" market with is ultimately about ideas, but of course money is an idea.

Dhalgren also has a brilliant scene involving money (when the family tries/doesn't try to pay Kidd for helping them move) but that book isn't really about money, but it is about the brief counterculture of a world (ours) that has been twisted, in part, by the language of money/class/power.

Delany's books are really about semiotics instead of economics, but since money is one of the most ubiquitous and varied forms of communication there is, it fits naturally.

(also, I have read some SF books that strive to represent a particular economic or political theory carried to extremity in the laboratory of the mind, and they tend to be 300 pages when 3 paragraphs would do, so it's sometimes best to avoid books that are too narrowly focused)
posted by selfnoise at 5:14 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is ostensibly about economics, but I found it a real slog to read and gave up 3/9 of the way through. Still, there it is. Cryptonomicon is an earlier, and more readable but less economics-focused, book of his along those lines.
posted by hattifattener at 5:16 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're down for satirical fantasy, Terry Pratchett's Making Money is about a former con man tasked with overhauling a city's failed banking system.
posted by eponym at 5:18 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I loved Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and it is totally about economics. Also about math and science and stuff. So, seconding hattifattener, but recommending it and saying the slog is worth it.
posted by xueexueg at 6:57 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

YA-ish but the second in Tamora Pierce's Terrier series is about money-laundering and economics.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:06 PM on May 16, 2013

Greg Costikyan's First Contract deals with the economic ramifications of Earthlings' first contact with aliens turning out to be with hucksters -- and then what happens when an even more rapacious batch of aliens come a'knockin.

(ROT13 SPOILER: Jr ghea vagb cbfg-jne Wncna / 21fg Praghel Puvan, puheavat bhg purnc penc orpnhfr vg'f nyy jr pna znxr.)
posted by Etrigan at 7:29 PM on May 16, 2013

There's a lot of economics in Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series -- cross-world arbitrage and comparative advantage. For that matter, several other of his books have economic themes. There are corporate debt instruments that achieve intelligence in Accelerando, IIRC, and innovative economic crimes in Halting State and Rule 34.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 8:09 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Would you consider Terry Pratchett's Making Money to be about economics?
posted by Lexica at 8:51 PM on May 16, 2013

Ken MacLeod's "Fall Revolution" novels are largely about the global conflict between various socialist and capitalist ideologies, extended into a post-human future. Most of the series is more about politics than economics, but The Stone Canal in particular is a great of anarcho-capitalism. I find it especially interesting because MacLeod's own socialist politics are clear, but he takes anarcho-capitalist thought seriously in this book rather than simply caricaturing or deriding it. You can read the Fall Revolution books in any order, except for The Cassini Division (which is a direct sequel to The Stone Canal).

And speaking of anarcho-capitalism, the somewhat prominent anarcho-capitalist/libertarian economist David D. Friedman wrote a sort-of fantasy novel (no magic or dragons, but it's set in a fictional medieval land) based heavily on the Icelandic history that was a significant part of his academic work. (He also wrote another fantasy novel that does not really involve economics as far as I remember but does involve academia and science.)
posted by mbrubeck at 9:04 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think a case could be made for The Amityville Horror.
posted by Occula at 10:09 PM on May 16, 2013

K. J. Parker's The Folding Knife is a very good fantasy novel with a head of state as its main character, and many sub-plots and situations are resolved via economic strategies. Don't get me wrong--this is a character-driven fast read--but I vaguely recall numerous infodumps about banking, currency debasement, macroeconomics, and so on. It's set in a pseudo-classical world, and the author is pretty clearly inspired by the economic history of Greece and/or Rome.

Richard Wadholm's "At the Money," only partially available online but collected in a couple of places, is an interesting short story about commodity trading / speculation in a "new space opera" sort of setting.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:19 PM on May 16, 2013

Market Forces by Richard Morgan sounds pretty silly (city traders as Mad Max-style road warriors) but it is an interesting critique of capitalism in the midst of stuff blowing up.
posted by ninebelow at 3:03 AM on May 17, 2013

Pratchett has many titles with economic themes. Mvking money, going postal, fifth elephant. Its a consistent satirical theme in most of the discworld books.
posted by BenPens at 3:15 AM on May 17, 2013

The Stone Canal in particular is a great of anarcho-capitalism.

Norlonto maybe, but I maintain that New Mars is closer to a dictatorship/monarchy run by someone who happens to be an anarchist.

You can read the Fall Revolution books in any order, except for The Cassini Division (which is a direct sequel to The Stone Canal)

The Fall Revoution books are weird in that they have alternate fictional futures. The Star Fraction is what it is, but then part way through The Stone Canal the futures diverge. One leads to the rest of The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division, the other leads to The Sky Road.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:52 AM on May 17, 2013

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy features quite a bit of economic philosophy.
posted by General Tonic at 7:24 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not exactly a work of genre fiction, but the manga series Liar Game is very small-economy-oriented; most of the round of the eponymous game encapsulates some sort of economically driven competition between individuals or teams who are trying to secure money or votes or somesuch. Since it's on a small scale, it's more about individual behavior and game theory than about macroeconomic effects.
posted by jackbishop at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2013

"Invaders" by John Kessel, "Mozart in Mirrorshades" by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner, Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel (which is kind of a thematic sequel to the previous two stories.) All of them are about contact between cultures at different levels of power and resultant exploitation; the first is aliens on Earth; the latter two are about dimensional travel.

Gladiator-at-Law and The Space Merchants by C.M. Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl. Capitalism taken to crazy extremes, with organized crime on top in the former and advertising in the latter. "The Midas Plague" by Frederik Pohl is an early idiosyncratic take on post-scarcity economics.

John Varley's 8 Worlds series, particularly Steel Beach, also deal with a relatively near-future post-scarcity world, and what people do with themselves when they can do almost anything.

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp is an early instance of the Connecticut Yankee story, about what a modern person can accomplish having been transported to early 6th century Rome, but it has a strong economics theme throughout -- our hero raises his first stake by selling the ideas of arithmetic-with-zero and double-entry bookkeeping to a money-lender.

"The Last of the Deliverers" by Poul Anderson. The Last Republican and the Last Socialist end up in a Utopia and try to project their ideologies onto it, despite how badly they fit.

"Skulking Permit" by Robert Sheckley. A straight-up played-for-humor post-scarcity utopian planet is making re-contact with humanity, and they don't want to be considered uncivilized hicks, so they want to have all the things civilized places have. Like theft. So they assign a thief. "Cost of Living" by Robert Sheckley. Post-scarcity played for gallows humor this time; the fact that there's almost no need for work doesn't end power or keep the powerful from screwing over the powerless.
posted by Zed at 10:29 AM on May 17, 2013

This is very much Daniel Abraham's thing. The Hugo-nominated "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" is available online. I had problems with his Long Price Quartet, but the books do introduce a unique magic system well-integrated with the world's commerce.
posted by Iridic at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2013

There are some more answers that might fit this question in this new thread about economics in fantasy literature.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2013

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