SF stories to make one's blood pressure rise.
August 10, 2014 6:28 AM   Subscribe

I recently had the displeasure of encountering Philip K. Dick's "The Pre-Persons" for the first time. What other SF stories or novels by name authors are waiting to affront my political sensibilities?

While I'm a leftist and a feminist, any political story adequately hamfisted and crude would qualify as a good answer for this question. Like "The Pre-Persons," the ideal story will give a radically unfair caricature of a political enemy and be an incredibly clumsy and transparently propagandistic story.

For instance, "The Pre-Persons" is about a society where children can be "aborted" up until age 12. The protagonist spends time fantasizing about firebombing the trucks that pick up kids to be killed. Another protagonist tells his son, "It's a certain kind of woman advocating this all. They used to call them 'castrating females.' Maybe that was once the right term, except that these women, these hard cold women, didn't just want to - well, they want to do in the whole boy or man, make all of them dead, not just the part that makes him a man." Dick clearly favors this view, and the story presents a society where evil women conspire to kill children (at one point a woman suggests to her husband that they get pregnant so that she can have an abortion) and good but somewhat powerless men try to save them.

Something like Michael Crichton's novel about environmentalists staging "natural disasters" to promote an anti-global warming agenda would be another good example.

Less extreme examples are also great, as long as they remain patently unfair to the author's political enemies.
posted by vathek to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not actually really sure that it's fair to lump it in the same category, because I don't know if I'd call it deliberately political, but Farnham's Freehold is much the same kind of WTF reading experience.
posted by Sequence at 6:52 AM on August 10, 2014

You're basically describing Ayn Rand. Whether your irritation will keep you reading for >1000pages of breathless melodrama is another matter.
posted by tinkletown at 7:00 AM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sheri S. Tepper's work is pretty preachy and strawmanny, and also occupies an idisyncratic enough corner of environmentalism that even fellow-travellers often have a "get off my side!" reaction to it. Here's a particularly detailed takedown of The Waters Rising; in the comments others get in on the game and point out the problems in Beauty as well, and shine some light on exactly what particular viewpoints underlie her writing.
posted by jackbishop at 7:34 AM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing! Although she did predict the importance of bees...
posted by viggorlijah at 7:39 AM on August 10, 2014

Many of Robert Heinlen's works, especially his "middle period" stuff sets up caricatures of women and political systems and then creates pat solutions for them. I can barely read it anymore but a lot of it is really foundational for some other sci fi that I enjoy. Harlan Ellison is another guy who has written stuff like this. Approaching Oblivion is a good place to start.
posted by jessamyn at 7:43 AM on August 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

F Paul Wilson's short story "Buckets" is a creepy but clumsy anti-abortion caricature, which came as a surprise after reading his Repairman Jack horror-thrillers.
posted by nicwolff at 7:51 AM on August 10, 2014

If you're a feminist, James Howard Kunstler's dystopian novel, World Made by Hand, might bother you more than a tad. In his view, women in what's left of society in the oil-less future aren't going to fare well unless they're okay with their roles reverting back to some amalgam of the 1950s and the Victorian age.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:53 AM on August 10, 2014

I think that the classic example of this is Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold, which not only contains Heinlein's usual misogyny and sexual creepiness, but also involves a post-apocalyptic world in which oppressed whites are ruled over by a cannibalistic black elite.

There's some suggestion that maybe Heinlein was trying a too-clever-by-half inversion of racial oppression, but the result was described in The New Republic as "an anti-racist novel that only a Klansman could love."
posted by firechicago at 7:56 AM on August 10, 2014

Oh I have some choice recommendations.

City of Pearl by Karen Traviss is about a Mary Sue policeman trying to save a bunch of reckless disrespectful scientists from themselves.

the Neanderthal Parallax series starts with an interesting premise (Neanderthal physicist!) but slowly devolves into some kind of fascist fantasy land, plus it has a gratuitous rape subplot.
posted by bq at 8:55 AM on August 10, 2014

The Probability Broach by libertarianism enthusiast L Neil Smith. Less burning of straw men and more breathless discussions of how being libertarian is totally awesome. Features characters getting misty eyed as they relate how utterly great it is to bring a gun to your house. Also chimps and maybe dolphins and suchlike will become sentient if only we're libertarian and respect their rights because reasons.

Cradle of Saturn by James F. Hogan; one of the saddest examples of the dreaded Brain Eater. Velikovskian nonsense about how Venus is about 5,000 years old and Earth used to be a moon of Saturn which is why dino-sours got so big -- their necks were pulled up by Saturn. Starts with Jupiter horking out a new planet like a furball. Long-winded discussions of the evils of Big Science, similar in spirit to the black-wearing corporate-sellout storm chasers led by Evil Westley in Twister.

The "Owner" books by Neal Asher starting with The Departure. One man's escape from a world-spanning totalitarian government that's pretty much the Daily Mail's version of a Labour government. Moustache-twirling villains internally monologuing about how awesome it is to kill humans for mother nature, etc etc, lots of blether about government inefficiency and the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeevuls of the nanny state.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:00 AM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things I haven't read but have read about:

Watch on the Rhine by John Ringo and Tom Kratman. Mil-sf about how what awesome guys the Waffen-SS were, at least relative to liberal pansies.

A State of Disobedience by Tom Kratman. A man-hating lesbian whose name might as well be Schmillary Schminton becomes president and surprisingly bad things happen as a result.

Alternatively, just pick out a random Baen title.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:06 AM on August 10, 2014

If you really want to drive yourself a little batty with political SF, what you want is Ken MacLeod's Fall Revolution books. Written by a Trotskyist, they sort of argue for anarcho-capitalism and sort of for system-spanning communism under the banner of the True Knowledge and sort of for green politics, maybe kinda. Sort of. But not really.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:09 AM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

"My Son, Max" by Ray Bradbury makes me want to dig up Bradbury's grave and punch him in the face. It's about a man who walks out on his wife and son because the son is *gasp* gay, so the man is going to go have a real family with a real son by his pregnant secretary.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:18 AM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just finished rereading Heinleins "The Moon is a harsh mistress" a few weeks ago. I think it fits the bill. The chosen few very ordinary but very intelligent persons revolutionizes society by applying pure rationality as dispensed by sentient computer in the face of corrupt government stooges and autocrats. Oh, and freeish sex and violence, because.
Fun, really.
posted by Thug at 9:54 AM on August 10, 2014

Norman Spinrad's Iron Dream.
posted by Rash at 10:03 AM on August 10, 2014

Read Huxley's "Brave New World" if you haven't already. He presents a free n' librul society while also painting it as vapid and soulless, but the 'natural' character is no better. The obvious madonna/whore complexing made me want to punch everyone. I can't tell if Huxley is just trying to make a point or (since it was written in the 30s) believes it himself.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:45 AM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can handle the basically infinite series of triggers that are these books, John Norman's Gor series might fit the bill. (Fair warning: I sure can't. I'm actually kind of grossed out that the Wikipedia article is so fleshed out and the whole gender relations thing is relegated to the bottom of the page.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2014

Starship Troopers. You only get to be a citizen if you served in the armed forces. Whipping is a legal punishment. Women pilot the ships because they have faster reaction times. Men fight the ground battles.

BTW, Dick was schizophrenic, so that plays into this.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:51 AM on August 10, 2014

Came here to say Heinlein! I really liked Stranger in a Strange Land until I realized that we're supposed to find Jubal Harshaw a deeply compelling, heroic figure instead of a twisted parody of a petulant man-child.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:22 PM on August 10, 2014

Yeah anything by John Ringo. You'll really get into it if you like thinly plotted military sci fi where the author, sorry the hero, is somehow an expert in every topic in history and runs around shooting all those weak liberals and aliens. Really dreadful stuff, but can be quite funny in a way that wasn't intended.
posted by deadwax at 4:01 PM on August 10, 2014

posted by nicebookrack at 4:06 PM on August 10, 2014

I just read Starship Troopers and was appalled about the views put forth. In addition to the rah-rah military stuff people up thread mention, he literally advocates for beating children for misbehaving.
posted by yeti at 6:51 PM on August 10, 2014

Very few of the answers so far sound like they are responses to your question, which is "what are axe-grindy SF stories that bash on strawman political enemies?" Farnham's Freehold definitely isn't an example.

Even Ursula Le Guin admits that The Word For World Is Forest was a bad-tempered anti-Vietnam-War shriek.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:01 PM on August 10, 2014

I assure you that John Ringo writes nothing but "axe-grindy SF stories that bash on strawman political enemies".
posted by deadwax at 4:29 AM on August 11, 2014

Ooh, David Weber (actually, mil-SF is generally pretty bad about having strawman political opponents). On Basilik Station was enjoyable enough, and The Honor of the Queen worked except for the irksome presence of a cowardly, appeasing diplomat whose "we should just try to get along" philosophy is shown to be wrong, wrong, wrong and you can't negotiate with zealots &c.

That warning sign of an axe being ground ramps up to intolerability in the third book, The Short Victorious War. For a start, we finally get a look at life in the society of the series' designated villains, and it is of course a nightmarish welfare state where the existence of the dole has led to rather than mitigated socioeconomic inequality. More annoyingly, though, we get the return of Ambassador Jackass and his cousin, who conspires with an attempted rapist in an irrelevant plot thread whose whole purpose seems to be to shout, "Hey, you know that guy from the last book with the bad diplomatic idea? He's not just misguided, he's evil!"
posted by jackbishop at 5:01 AM on August 11, 2014

I'm a feminist, but I found The Handmaid's Tale extremely irritating, and think it satisfies the criterion of being patently unfair to the author's political enemies. It's not a popular opinion among my liberal friends, though, so YMMV.
posted by redlines at 6:20 AM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

YMMV, but Fahrenheit 451 offended my political sensibilities:

"Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog lovers, the cat lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!... Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did."

And of course, comic books and television are naturally inferior to books in every way.

(The writing is atrocious, too).
posted by joethefob at 6:28 AM on August 11, 2014

Anything written after the 70's by Heinlein will be filled with objectification of women and heavy strands of Nietzschean libertarianism.

The aforementioned Farnham's Freehold.
I Will Fear No Evil
To Sail Beyond the Sunset
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
The Number of the Beast

The thing with Heinlein is his depictions of women can be frustrating. Unlike other authors of the time, he chose to place women in the forefront of many of his novels and pushed the idea that they were equal to if not better than the men around them. They all had agency, and weren't necessarily subservient or dumb/incompetent. But man, he objectified the hell out of them.

His young adult books do a much better job with female characters, though. The Rolling Stones in particular.
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on August 11, 2014

Starship Troopers. You only get to be a citizen if you served in the armed forces.

Just want to add a correction here. You get to be a citizen of the Federation in Starship Troopers if you have shown the ability to unselfishly and responsibly serve the greater good. Which means that any civil service position qualifies, as does teaching and military service. Military service (described at one point as putting one's life between one's country and its enemies) is only lauded as the best way to prove it.

The novel explicitly says this, and one of its biggest overarching themes is that improvement of society as a whole is positive, and pure self-interest is negative. The novel is weirdly anti-libertarian and pro at the same time.

Whipping is a legal punishment.

It's also presented as essential to civilizing children. The line "But why didn't their parents discipline (beat) their children. Didn't they love them?" is actually shocking in this day and age.

Women pilot the ships because they have faster reaction times. Men fight the ground battles.

There's actually some interesting fridge logic there, if you think about it. Women captain and pilot Navy ships. There are no women in the Army. To become a supreme commander of the armed forces, one has to rise through the ranks of both fighting forces. Therefore, women cannot become a supreme commander.
posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Handmaid's Tale. I liked it, but it certainly doesn't paint a good portrait of independent women.

I haven't read anything by him, but Orson Scott Card is a hardcore homophobe.
posted by Brittanie at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

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