Reading about Personal Sovereignty
March 24, 2017 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Looking for book recs (preferably fiction) that are along the lines of 1984, but with a few caveats. Looking for specific plot lines or scenes involving forced medical procedures.

Looking for book recs that will foster a larger conversation about power or authority overstepping the boundaries of personal sovereignty.

Would like to keep the conversation in the direction of medical procedures, as opposed to a discussion of prison, for example, although procedures that take place in a lockdown (prison or mental institution) setting would be okay.

Think forced sterilization, forced abortion, RIC (ritual infant circumcision), genital mutilation, forced medications, forced immunizations, forced treatments for mental illness, medical kidnap, or even cosmetic procedures on babies (ear piercing), hell, even cosmetic procedures on dogs (cropping ears / docking tails).

Any era, any country / continent / culture is welcome.

Rec's will be presented to a book club, one of which will (hopefully) be chosen. Doesn't have to be fiction but this group finds topics more palatable to read about / discuss when it is presented as fiction. Ideally the selection will induce a thought-provoking discussion, but not a brawl.
posted by vignettist to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If it fits at all, I really liked L Timmel DuChamp's The Red Rose Rages, Bleeding. It's a near-future prison narrative in which prisoners in a private prison receive privileges both for gender compliance and for organ donation, but it's way better written, more plausible and more complex than this suggests. It's a novella, and a very gripping read. Much of the story is told from the perspective of a prison doctor, who herself experiences medical coercion as a condition of employment.

The coercion that prisoners experience is an intensified version of what "normal" people experience - in this near-future, data tracking and regular visits to "spas" are used to track people's health, fitness and compliance with a health regime at a very individual level, and maintenance of a certain weight and degree of fitness is required for most insurance-bearing employment. What's more, better compliance is required for better employment and itself generates "better" spas and better care. Basically, it's about how political and labor coercion are brought together in the shape of medical coercion - how a rhetoric of "health" and "donation" is used to conceal a really horrible system.

The whole thing flows very naturally from current trends in workplace wellness and prison labor - it sounds like it would be super heavy-handed but while the future world is a deeply unpleasant one, it isn't actually especially disconnected from ours.
posted by Frowner at 9:55 AM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh you should read the short story "The Use of Force" by William Carlos Williams. It's about a man who has to check a young girl's throat for diptheria. Very unnerving. One one hand, he really does need to check her, on the other hand, his reference to the girl as "the savage brat" he's fallen in love with is problematic and weirdly violating.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:03 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Never Let Me Go would seem to fit the bill.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:21 AM on March 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Came in to say Never Let Me Go

Would also suggest Geek Love, though it's a family imposing the body-mutilation, not the government.
posted by Mchelly at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2017

"We" is a dystopian novel by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921. the final act deals with citizens being forced to have their concept of individuality removed by surgery. including the narrator.
posted by evilmonk at 10:28 AM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sarah Hall's Daughters of the North takes place in a dystopian England where global warming has wrecked the economy and environment, childbearing is on a lottery system, and all other women are forced to have IUDs. The book isn't built just from that premise, but it contributes significantly to the narrator's motivations.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:35 AM on March 24, 2017

Clockwork Orange
posted by aniola at 10:45 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe too obvious, but Brave New World definitely does this (though pharmaceutically rather than surgically).

I'd also include Vonnegut's short story Harrison Bergeron
posted by Mchelly at 10:48 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's got to be Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.
posted by Ted Maul at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a popular theme in speculative literature. What comes to my mind is Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress.

Also - it's a short story, not a novel (and it also goes off in directions that your book club probably won't appreciate) , but Philip K. Dick's Faith of our Fathers is a fast, fun, and grim read.

"And I will tell you this: there are things worse than I."
posted by doctor tough love at 11:48 AM on March 24, 2017

Kallocain by Karin Boye is about a totalitarian state and a guy that invents a truth drug. It's pretty good and not very well known.
posted by gregr at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2017

This is the premise of the YA novel Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, where surgery to make you pretty is universal as a teenager, and is almost universally seen as positive. The series later goes into other kinds of enhancements in the third book, Specials.

Jo Walton's The Just City involves a place where everyone's sexual partners for the purpose of procreation are chosen by lottery, and citizens are expected to comply willingly.

Nnedi Okorafor's The Book of Phoenix is about individuals with supernatural powers--some lab-born, some natural, some enhanced--who are the property of a corporation for the purposes of being experimented on.

Elizabeth Wein's Rose Under Fire, about (in part) medical experiments on prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.

Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy is her classic book about ritual female circumcision, though that is also touched on in The Color Purple.

Would foot binding count? The Binding Chair, by Kathryn Harrison, is the one I've read about this.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:56 PM on March 24, 2017

Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron
Saramago has the flip of this premise in Blindness
posted by childofTethys at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2017

Atwood's Oryx & Crake
Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower

I want to say Ayn Rand's Anthem, but other than recalling that she drew from her hatred of living in the Soviet Union, it's been too
posted by childofTethys at 2:18 PM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cordwainer Smith's Scanners Live in Vain involves a dehumanizing voluntary procedure (for the good of the collective, or so it seems)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:09 PM on March 24, 2017

Oh god, Man Plus is exactly what you're after, I think. The Wikipedia summary really underplays how... not particularly voluntary the guy's participation in the project is.
posted by Acheman at 8:11 AM on March 25, 2017

It's a relatively minor plot point but adolescents in the universe of The Giver are given compulsory medical therapy to suppress sexual urges.
posted by telegraph at 11:47 AM on March 25, 2017

The rediscovery of man - cordwainer smith
posted by xammerboy at 9:29 PM on April 8, 2017

As a follow-up, thank you everyone for all of the input. I presented several of these as options; many in our group had already read Never Let Me Go (I haven't, yet) and apparently it's very good. No one wanted to take on The Handmaid's Tale, as they are either already or preparing to watch the series.

We went with Daughters of the North and as far as my goals for the group, well, the plot point that was supposed to foster this conversation was so minor that it really didn't take the conversation in that direction at all. Overall, the book was a disappointment and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, really. But I am comforted that there are lots of good suggestions here that I will be following up on, and may recommend to the group in the future.

The one relevant take-away from Daughters of the North is I've discovered the true name of Crone Island: Carhullan. See you there.
posted by vignettist at 1:17 PM on May 24, 2017

I felt like Daughters of the North is much more satisfying if you are reading it as part of a larger set of feminist SF stories about women's communities. I wasn't absolutely wild about it as a standalone, but I found it interesting taken as part of a discourse by feminist SF writers - I read it against The Wanderground, Walk To The End of the World, Zoe Fairbairns's novel Benefits, Candas Jane Dorsey's several eighties short stories about the riding women, Niccola Griffith's novel Ammonite, Sherri Tepper's The Gate To Women's Country, The Female Man, etc. (Note that I'm not saying that the politics of all those books are totally awesome - several are extremely gender-essentialist, the racial politics of several are well-meaning but ignorant, etc...but they are in discourse with each other and are an interesting group of books to read from a "themes in feminist SF" standpoint.)

If it interested you or your group at all, now that you've read it you might want to read a few related books to compare. From an "is it gripping, engaging and swashbuckling" standpoint, you might try Ammonite. I think "Benefits" offers an interesting portrait of feminist concerns in the UK in the early eighties but the plot is a little lumpy. Walk To the End of the World is a difficult novel, IMO, and well worth a look.
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on May 24, 2017

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