Recommend fiction featuring the decline of a global superpower, please!
October 16, 2013 10:31 PM   Subscribe

What novels or short stories grapple with the decline of a superpower? I'm thinking waning-British-Empire stuff, primariy, but the decline of other global powerhouses is fine too. Must be fiction. Decline-of-Empire can either be primary to the plot or a backdrop against which other key aspects of the story unfold.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lady Chatterly's Lover sort of applies, weirdly enough. It's got a lot of symbolism in there about how emasculated the British Empire felt after the first (2nd? Shoot, it's been a while since I've read it) world war. Also, it's super porny which is kind of hilarious. YMMV.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 10:42 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Definitely under the "other global powerhouses" heading, and it grapples with a scenario that hasn't come to pass (yet), but: Super Sad True Love Story.

Paul Scott's Raj Quartet (The Jewel in the Crown, The Day of the Scorpion, The Towers of Silence, and A Division of the Spoils) is about the waning of the British Empire in India, in particular.
posted by Austenite at 10:51 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Robert Ferrigno's Assassin novels are set in a post-united America, but it's mostly after the decline has already taken place.
posted by Bruce H. at 10:54 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: Anthony Burgess' Long Day Wanes, also known as the Malayan Trilogy, is set in Malaya at the very end of the British colonial period, during the Emergency. It was among his first books, long before Clockwork Orange. Decline of Empire is a theme.
posted by BinGregory at 11:29 PM on October 16, 2013

Best answer: I'm about halfway through Super Sad True Love Story, fits your bill. I was just reading the part where the protagonist is basically pretty sure that the American government won't default on all their debt, but is too busy with his iPhone to really worry about it.
posted by mibo at 11:37 PM on October 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: For the Austro-Hungarian Empire:

Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities (Der Mann Ohne Eigenschaften)
Joseph Roth's Radetzky March (Radetzkymarsch)
Jaroslav Hašek's The Good Soldier Schweik (Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války)
Although I can't recall that many of his short stories addressing it quite so explicitly, some of Stefan Zweig's novellas do have the decline and fall (or aftermath) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the background (e.g. the role of monarchism in The Royal Game/Schachnovelle). (His autobiography is rather more directly about the decline of the empire, but is, of course, not fictional.)
posted by ubersturm at 12:43 AM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To ubersturm's excellent list of works about the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I would also add Joseph Roth's The Emperor's Tomb.
posted by scody at 12:50 AM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: I would enthusiastically second Super Sad True Love Story as a book, but just to be clear it's satirical and set in the future, not historical. If a bizarrely (but cleverly) extrapolated USA suffering economic and military humiliation fits your requirement, go for it.
posted by Segundus at 1:02 AM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: Implicitly, The Remains of the Day beautifully fits this theme.
posted by third rail at 4:07 AM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think An Ice-Cream War by William Boyd touches on this. It's about two (white) farmers in British and German East Africa, during WWI.

Gormenghast evokes the theme rather strongly.
posted by Drexen at 8:46 AM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: Here's a weird idea...

Foundation trilogy by Isaac Azimov. It starts with the fall of the Galactic Empire with all the momentum and problems of managing something big (like a large Earth empire) followed by a small group of scientists trying to rebuild the empire and eventually meeting the pathetic remains of the old empire in a final conflict. Yeah, it is futuristic science fiction, but it does try to capture a lot of human psychology around empires and growth/decline.
posted by BearClaw6 at 9:46 AM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: "2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America" by Albert Brooks
posted by aerosolkid at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Some of these books aren't quite what I had in mind, but they'll all help me explore situations and ideas that interest me, regardless of whether they grapple with an actual decline or just a theoretical one.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:07 PM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: Brideshead Revisited, of course.

John Masters did the Loss of Day trilogy
posted by IndigoJones at 3:52 PM on October 17, 2013

Best answer: Almost everything by John le Carré, but especially the earlier books.

JG Farrell wrote several novels about the British empire of which Troubles is about Ireland around 1920 and The Singapore Grip is about the fall of Singapore during the second world war—this was arguably the moment when the British empire had its back permanently broken, strategically speaking, but the book is as interested in its moral bankruptcy and political and economic decay. The Siege of Krishnapur is about an earlier crisis of the empire (1857).

Linda Grant's When I lived in modern times is about the last few months of British rule in Palestine.

Louis de Bernières's Birds without wings takes place during the last twenty-odd years of the Ottoman empire and traces the impact of the forces that tore it apart.

I'm embarrassed not to be able to think of more, and especially not to be able to think of more that approach this subject from the perspective of people who were ruled by, rather than ruling, the empire. When I lived in modern times is a partial exception—the narrator is a young British woman, but she's Jewish, and committed to ending British rule over Jews in Palestine. (Arabs don't feature so much, which is a different question.)

Very different from all of these is Waguih Ghali's Beer in the snooker club (bad title, great novel), which is about Egypt before and after the British departure. It has a complex attitude to the end of empire: the narrator, Ram, opposed British rule, but he belongs to a class that benefited from it and knows that there's no place for him in the new Egypt; he also spent his happiest days in 1950s London. It's a wonderful book, piercingly funny and piercingly unhappy at the same time. It's not very well known but has a devoted following on the internet (I wrote a blog post about it here), and enough people care about it that it is in print again for the third time since it was published in 1964.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents tell a story set in the US during a slow decline due to climate change, from the perspective of the poverty-stricken underclass.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:50 PM on March 24, 2014

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