Monday, November 14, 2016

Politics and Fiction

I don’t really get too excited about current politics. My view of history is essentially mechanistic, determined by economic forces to which humans in large groups react in predictable manners. This is not to say that politics does not appear in my novels; indeed, the plots are full of it.

But you will not find much in the way of value judgments on the various political systems that appear in the books. I am more concerned with how they work, how they came to be, the forces that change them. All of that does interest me.

More interesting are the individuals who live and act within those systems. Despite what I just said about economic forces, individuals are important. After, ultimately everything is done by individuals!

Never mind that if one individual didn’t do something that changed history, another would come along and do something similar and things would go on about the same. Hitler did not create the conditions in German society that led to Nazism, he harnessed them. If he had not, someone else would have.

Oh, the details would have been different. How different? Well, that’s a job for fiction to explore, maybe. I can not for a moment accept the premise in Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Man in the High Castle’ that a single assassin’s bullet could change the outcome of World War 2 and lead to Nazis dominating the world. It would take far deeper socio-economic forces to make that happen.

To me, exploring those forces would be kind of fun. Maybe not for my readers, however. (Neither one of them!) But I do tuck stuff like that into the novels, the fantasies. Not much room for that sort of thing in the mainstreams — although there is a good bit of local politics (and corruption) in my latest, ‘Waves.’

When it comes to exploring the politics of alternate worlds, I think Ursula K. LeGuin has done this about as well as anyone. The systems in ‘The Dispossessed’ or ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ are both alien and well-conceived. They are believable. They are coherent, not just a jumble of ideas thrown together as backdrop to the action. To some degree, they are the action.

I am a great fan of LeGuin, both her concepts and her writing style. An influence? I suppose, though not an early, formative one. Still, ‘Left Hand’ was one of those books that was a bit of a revelation when I first read it. There are not that many of those.

On the other hand, as much as I love Tolkien, his world does not seem very workable — at least that part of it he shows us. There are some vaguely Distributist ideas there, and Sauron’s realm certainly reflected the totalitarian regimes of his time, but that was not really what he was interested in writing about. Which is alright but one needs to recognize that politics and economics are important components of any world we may create, whether quite fantastic or the everyday one which lies about us.

Most of the time, these things will be in the background. One need not know the politics of Jane Austen’s England to appreciate ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ But those politics were there and informed her world view and, therefor, those of her characters. It is good to be aware of them, as a writer, to know that they matter. They are an essential part of ones back story.

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