Escapist but political fiction
September 24, 2020 6:34 PM   Subscribe

OK, I like reading political books, but I'm trying to feel better in life and my diet of books about apocalypse and plagues and despair are not helping. I want escapist, page-turner fiction, that is a) well written and b) political. Some examples of what I mean inside [yup, another question about page-turners - that's the age we're living through!]

Some examples of what I've enjoyed:

Record of a Spaceborn Few. Fun, not stressful, well written. I read it as an examination of what one socialist society might be like.
Dread Nation: a novel about slavery and white supremacy but also an action adventure about zombies.
Fire on the Mountain: fun utopian futurism mixed with a really satisfying alternative Civil War history where John Brown wins.

I'm open to any genre. As long as I will be compelled to turn the pages, there's some kind of political questions being addressed within, and I close the book feeling some kind of good or satisfied feeling.
posted by latkes to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I just bought Priory of the Orange Tree as an 800 page coping device. I’m not typically a fantasy reader, but it got great reviews. So far, it has politics and dragons, and no electoral college, so it is perfect.
posted by chuke at 6:49 PM on September 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Dispossessed.

The Dagger and the Coin series is more about economics, but how those intertwine with politics and power.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:02 PM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Walter Jon William’s Dread Empire’s Fall is a proper brick-shaped trilogy with space battles! and skullduggery! Which, especially if you keep going into the associated novellas, is also making some points about the reproduction of power. He was a historian first, IIRC.

CJ Cherryh was an anthropologist first, also a good grounding for pulp forms. I love the Chanur series, but it’s Foreigner that’s really storing up the pages.

The Three Californias are histories alternate to each other, but if you read the happiest one last it feels like a non-grim ending.

The Thief of Attolia, politics and gods.
posted by clew at 7:11 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire won the Hugo in 2019, is science fiction written by a political historian, and it shows.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:18 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Nthing Priory of the Orange Tree and A Memory Called Empire and adding The Goblin Emperor.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:39 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America. It basically takes the story of Julian the Apostate -- the last pagan emperor of Rome, who struggled against the rise of Christianity -- and sets it in America a century after the collapse of modern civilization. It's not grimdark -- the world muddles along at a roughly 19th-century level of technology, and society has become weirdly baroque, with hereditary government, an overbearing state church, and a flourishing of old-fashioned diction. The narrator, a very naive aspiring adventure writer, tags along with the titular Julian on his rise from unknown farmboy to war hero to presidential contender on a mission to restore science and reason; his quaint understanding of the world and of the past that Julian idolizes is really amusing. The worldbuilding and voice is top-notch, and I love how it portrays a realistically post-apocalyptic world that isn't just a wasteland devoid of hope.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:05 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series may be worth a try.
posted by eotvos at 8:08 PM on September 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks so far all! Just to chime in, and I know this is extremely subjective, but although I love The Dispossessed, it was not, for me, a page turner. So just to be clear I'm not just looking for speculative or genre fiction with politics, I also want something that's relatively quick and easy to read. Thanks so much!
posted by latkes at 8:22 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Infomocracy and the rest of the Centenal Cycle by Malka Older
posted by esoterrica at 10:17 PM on September 24, 2020

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette.

Approximately steampunk, excluded member of the royal family is the only one who survives a zeppelin accident, an opposite of Game of Thrones story where cooperation is rewarded.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 11:33 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Vorkosigan saga! Page turners, delightful characters, some books are thoroughly political and some are lighter on politics, but they all involve a lot of intrigue and space opera and people peopling at each other.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 11:54 PM on September 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Robert Harris’s Cicero trilogy — imperium, lustrum and dictator — springs to mind. Super gripping reads set in the last days of the Roman republic, lots of twisty plotting and political shenanigans without too much heaviness.
posted by tomp at 12:04 AM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

John Scalzi's Interdependency trilogy, starting with The Collapsing Empire. It's a space opera with lots of shooting, deft prose, good characters. It also operates as an analogy for climate change, although in these books powerful people actually do something about it. (Disclaimer: I haven't read the last one yet.)
posted by Countess Elena at 8:15 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Spy stuff scratches this itch for me. It's inherently political, but also inherently exciting, and usually not apocalyptic or depressing (though there are often darker elements to it, so depends on your tolerance for that). Try The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:59 AM on September 25, 2020

Justin Robinson's stuff does this for me. I'd start with City of Devils and go on from there. Justin's stuff involves a lot of complex plotting and good character development, he takes you on a fun and intriguing adventure, and then you realize that he's spent the whole book addressing a political issue.

Note: I know about Justin because he's a friend, but I'm recommending him here because what he writes fits what you're looking for.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:58 PM on September 25, 2020

Allen Drury’s 1959 novel Advise and Consent, about behind-the-scenes intrigue in the U.S. Senate when a controversial figure is nominated for Secretary of State, is not only a good read but a pleasant look back at a time when Senators who belonged to the same party as the President didn’t obey his every whim. This one won the Pulitzer Prize a year before To Kill a Mockingbird. There were five more books in what would become a series, but they’re not worth your while.

Hardly anyone remembers Irving Wallace these days, but his books were bestsellers in their day. The Man, from 1964, is about the first black President (and was made into a movie starring James Earl Jones). The Plot, from 1967, is about more behind-the-scenes intrigue, this time at a five-nuclear-power summit conference. His style is often inelegant, but you likely won’t have to force yourself to keep reading.

You can take these as alternate-history novels, since they’re set in near futures that never came to be — Advise and Consent, from internal evidence, appears to be set in 1967, and The Man and The Plot in the mid-1970s.
posted by Epixonti at 3:08 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Double Star by Robert Heinlein is like the movie Dave but in space.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card has a decent amount of geopolitics. The Ender's Shadow sequels have even more.
Dune by Frank Herbert.
World War Z by Max Brooks has some dark parts, but it is overall hopeful.
posted by catquas at 3:10 PM on September 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's been decades, but I've enjoyed reading Marge Piercy's novels. Vida is a classic about 70's radical leftists in the US.

On Bookshop
posted by 6thsense at 9:06 AM on September 26, 2020

Alyssa Cole's latest book, When No One Is Watching, has been described as "Rear Window meets Get Out".
posted by Lexica at 9:20 AM on September 26, 2020

Alexis Gilliland's Rosinante trilogy. C.C. Cantrell is project manager building a space colony. There's a depression and everyone dumps their stocks until he has 51% of 51% and so on until he owns a majority of something nobody wants. The North American Union is controlled by thugs who want to stamp out the idea of evolution, and Cantrell has a computer that researched genetic modifications. He has to deal with the stranded union workers who built the habitat, the US government, nuclear terrorists, and the Japanese government, even though he's completely non-political and just wants to get his project finished. It's a steep learning curve.
I think these books are excellent, but I'll add a caveat - people who don't like political fiction hate them.
I'd also recommend L. Neill Smith's The Probability Broach. The hero falls into another reality where government works, falls in love and gets into a private war with the government from this world, who'd really like to take over the new one.
I can wholeheartedly recommend this - I've never given it to anyone who didn't love it.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 7:07 PM on September 26, 2020

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