Science Fiction novels about society forgetting science
June 21, 2015 12:24 AM   Subscribe

Could anyone help me identify science fiction novels whose central theme is society forgetting science? I was listening to the radio a few weeks ago and I heard a description of a novel about society moving back to pre-enlightenment levels of knowledge and I thought it sounded interesting. I don't remember any details about the book mentioned but I'm open to reading any good books about losing knowledge.
posted by rdr to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think this is a pretty common theme in mid-20th-century Science Fiction with its fears of atomic war combined with respect for science. Books which immediately come to mind are Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, and John Crowley's Engine Summer.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:51 AM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you but to clarify I'm not looking for novels where zombies infections, nuclear war, or some other one time disaster cause society to regress. I'm interested in fiction in which knowledge loss is the main thing happening not a side effect of some other thing.

BTW, having said that, I'm adding Engine Summer to my reading list.
posted by rdr at 1:01 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: Well, not sure if this is what you're looking for, but there is a series of young adult books called "The White Mountains," "The City of Gold & Lead," and "The Pool of Fire" by John Christopher.

In the series, humanity has regressed to a medieval state and is now ruled by aliens in giant metal space ships.

The prequel, called "When the Tripods Came," which I have not read, might shed light on why technology was abandoned.
posted by amy27 at 1:23 AM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't want any precipitating disaster, there's the Pern novels


The planet was populated by a spaceship and the colony doesn't have enough resources to maintain technology so consciously regress from space-faring genetic tech people to feudal farmers.


Or how about the Foundation series from Asimov?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:01 AM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I Would say this is the central theme of foundation, and certainly some of the Empire novel by Asimov
posted by motdiem2 at 2:26 AM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: tvtropes: Lost Common Knowledge (literature section is surprisingly short)
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:15 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: I suspect that the book you heard about is Jeffery Rotter's "The only words that are worth remembering"which came out this year.
posted by pie_seven at 4:14 AM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen - society lost most of its technology/knowledge in 'The Crossing' and now slowly returning to medieval levels of technology. The main character despairs for the lost knowledge and is constatntly trying to aquire books and set up basic education for the people.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:49 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: The Steerswoman Series by Rosemary Kierstein, available in ebooks (OOP paper) do an excellent job of this. The author's detailed description of four books so far.
posted by Jesse the K at 5:13 AM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The "Shannara" series by Terry Brooks has multiple books in this style, with a progression towards re-discovery as they move forward.
posted by alchemist at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: This is present to some extent in Marian Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels (mild spoiler: colonists' spaceship crashes on unintended planet, and the group chooses to destroy advanced technology rather than tie themselves to technology that they won't be able to sustain as the colony establishes itself in insolation; the resulting society is medievalish, with some homegrown "magic" type technology).
posted by devinemissk at 7:04 AM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Two for you:
Mockingbird by Walter Tevis. Depressing. For some yucks, try The Marching Morons by CM Kornbluth.
posted by Rash at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: Also of course, Fahrenheit 451... all three of these concern the general "dumbing down" of future society, not specifically society forgetting technology.
posted by Rash at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: Two YA novels where this happens are Rook by Sharon Cameron (there is some sort of precipitating event that causes them to lose technology, but now things are at around 18th century levels and more progress is forbidden) and the Incarceron books by Catherine Fisher (there is an underworld prison that is run by super advanced AI technology and an overworld that has reverted to enlightenment era levels of tech).
posted by wsquared at 10:34 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: This is a central concept in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and Book of the Long Sun. There's a lot of other stuff going on in them too.
posted by adamrice at 10:46 AM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: This might be a stretch, but look into reviews of Davy by Edgar Pangborn. It might fall into the category I think you are describing.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:49 PM on June 21, 2015

Best answer: If you're interested in movies on this theme, "The Village" is exactly what you're describing. Also, it was alleged that the story was ripped off from a book called "Running Out of Time."
posted by jbickers at 4:11 AM on June 22, 2015

Best answer: Cloud Atlas has a strain of this sort of thing running through it.
posted by cnc at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Doris Lessing seems to have kept this concept in mind when she was doing a lot of her writing. Mara and Dann comes to mind first, and it's an easy read. Very superficially, humanity has had to respond to accelerating climate change over an unknown period (centuries?) by focusing on migration and adaptation, leaving little ability to focus on anything other than immediate survival needs. Durable pieces of technology from our time survive, like some robust but simple solar panels, but no one knows how they work and repair is impossible when an artifact finally breaks. That sort of thing.

In a larger, more mystical sense, books like The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five talk about weird long-distance effects in the universe that can push societies toward or away from science, literacy, and peacefulness. It's a much more abstract book than Mara and Dann, and part of the absolutely massive and dense collection Canopus in Argos.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2015

Best answer: I hope I didn't misunderstand the question, but the first answer that came to mind was Terry Pratchett's Nation.
posted by pimli at 6:32 AM on June 24, 2015

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