- Yield-curve inversion and the agony of central banking David Glasner, Uneasy Money
- Ossian’s Ride: wild Irish science fiction I’d never heard of Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
- The pioneers of cultural relativism did a lot of good, too Patrick Iber, New Republic
- Umberto Eco: Champion of popular culture Paul Cobley, Footnotes to Plato
- The Dark Forest theory: why aliens haven’t contacted us yet Scotty Hendricks, Big Think
- China’s “Dark Forest” answer to Star Wars optimism Jeremy Hsu, Lovesick Cyborg
- On the tradition of “Chinese unity” in geopolitical thought Nick Nielsen, The View from Oregon
- Rice Peter Miller, Views of the Kamakura
I wish fantasy novels offered more political diversity. I adore fantasy, but I’ve begun to chafe at the ironic lack of creativity when it comes to political regimes. The genre may be missing a great opportunity. Or maybe I’m reading the wrong books.
While I don’t really mean this as a criticism so much as an observation, monarchy and feudalism abound in most other-world fantasies. Or the politics are indistinct. Despite my deep love for Tolkien, he falls into this category as well–either political control is unclear in regions like the Shire, or the region is ruled by an absolute ruler. His most well-known series culminates with the return of the benevolent dictator to the throne, Aragorn King of all the Dunedain (granted, there is intentional Christian symbolism here).
Modern fantasists follow a similar trend. Brandon Sanderson’s books, while wonderful, tend to involve worlds replete with absolute rulers. In fact, in the original Mistborn trilogy, a naive emperor tries to impose a more representative system of government, fails, and then decides that a firm hand is what’s called for. He and other authors like Robert Jordan dabble with some interesting political ideas and do provide a great deal of political detail, but they ultimately tend toward absolutism of some variety. Terry Pratchett’s main city-state on Discworld, Ankh-Morkpork, is ruled over by an absolute ruler, but Pratchett at least takes plenty of opportunity to poke fun at the masses’ constant yearning for a noble king to tell them what to do. Really, all these books are splendid, and politics are typically not their centerpiece–I just think some more variety may be valuable to the genre. (I’m not pointing fingers, as I’m guilty of the same problem–my forthcoming fantasy novel takes place in an empire with an absolute ruler and a largely meaningless parliament).
Fantasists could perhaps take a page from their science fiction comrades, where experiments with politics seem more common. Fantasy authors could do more than tinker with small tweaks to the monarchy and mercantilism of a pre-enlightenment age. I can’t help but roll my eyes when I hear Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones gushing about how Daenaerys Targaryen is the only person who can swoop in and save the Seven Kingdoms from itself. That’s remedial polisci–surely we can do better. Who wouldn’t want to read about an anarcho-capitalist Iron Islands or a post-communist King’s Landing?
If you have any good recommendations for other-world fantasies that take up this challenge, I’d love to hear them!
The Doctor has always had a special preference for the Brits. They flit in and out of the wondrous and often alien-infested towns of England, woo them with their British (briefly Scottish) accent and manage to introduce to the kids (it was originally intended to be an educational program for the kids) some moral propositions. The last few seasons have been famously against war and violence of any sort. The regenerated Doctor retains the abhorrence for violence as a means for conflict resolution. And it is conflict resolution that the Doctor sees as their purpose of life. To find out who, in the big, vast universe, needs help and to give help whenever asked for.
The latest season is iconic. The Doctor is a female for the first time. The Doctor has reached the end of their regeneration cycles. This is to be the last and final life of the alien problem solver who seems to love humanity more than they ever will. But in the two episodes that have been released, the Doctor has also thrown sufficient shade at Brexit and the events that have unfolded since. The first episode contains a superbly written but not so subtle speech about evolving while retaining past identities. With their signature kindness, they try to convince the villain that change is possible, and it does not require jettisoning who we were to become a better version of ourselves. The second episode reinforces the importance of sticking together. The moment where the Doctor triumphantly yells ‘Stronger Together!’ is especially noticeable. Many see the message of diversity in the inclusion of a female ethnic companion (although the Doctor has previously had POCs as companions), the dynamic between the two male companions (a white male step-grandfather and a black male step-grandson) mirrors the generation gap that was evident in the Brexit vote.
The symbolism is relevant for two reasons. Firstly, the Doctor has not displayed political undertones previously. The change reflects how the creators and possibly the entertainment industry views their jobs. Perhaps the seepage is unintentional. It must be difficult to disentangle oneself from the events unfolding all around you. Secondly, and most importantly, as a series that has come to be a part of the British culture, the Doctor wields considerable power. The Doctor represents England in science fiction. The Doctor promoting teamwork sends a powerful message about inclusion (albeit with not much debate, but we have a season left for that!).
The timelessness of the series is both a gift and a curse. Just like the chauvinist Doctors of the past have been judged harshly (by the new-age Doctor them self), the latest Doctor too runs the risk of judgment from future generation. Or maybe they will be revered and celebrated for being so sure of their position. Just like Brexit, we won’t know. For now, let us travel across time and relative dimension in space and hope for the best, just like the Doctor.
- Reclaiming Full-Throttle Luxury Space Communism Aaron Winslow, Los Angeles Review of Books
- Elves and Aliens Nick Richardson, London Review of Books
- Imperialism, American-style Michael Auslin, Claremont Review of Books
- The Congo reform project: Too dark altogether Angus Mitchell, Dublin Review of Books
- The Polity is libertarian space opera done right Neal Asher (interview), Wired
- Cultural appropriation and the children of Shōgun Kevin Mims, Quillette
- Valuing differences and reinforcing them: Multiculturalism increases race essentialism Wilton, Apfelbaum, and Good, Social Psychological and Personality Science
- The forgotten success of Skylab Rick Brownell, Historiat
- Science fiction from China is epic AF Nick Richardson, London Review of Books
- What is the proper role of galactic government? Michelangelo Landgrave, NOL
- Science fiction & alternate realities in the Arab World Perwana Nazif, the Quietus
- Algorithmic wilderness: can techno-ecology heal our world? Henry Mance, Aeon
- Holy shit! (great news)
- Hayek’s rapid rise to stardom | misunderstanding Hayek
- great write-up on Catalonia | a philosophical case for secession
- if colonialism was the apocalypse, what comes next? | should UNM replace its seal?
- do trees fall in cyberspace? | how to use Facebook better
- a pretty shallow deep throat | vulvæ in pornography and culture
- the Reformation’s controversies are as relevant as ever
- who stole Burma’s royal rubies?
- the Madras Observatory: from Jesuit cooperation to British rule
- “There are few better illustrations of how a whole host of people can manage to understand absolutely nothing, act in an impulsive and idiotic way, and still drastically change the course of history.“
- MacLean’s new book is bad news for the political Left
- fascism explained via 90-year-old sci-fi film (are you using hyphens correctly?)
- bawdry in the bloodstream (Bohemian nonsense)
Mordanicus of Fascinating Future, a sci-fi blog, is musing over the purpose of galactic government. As Mordanicus points out, galactic empires are a staple of science fiction. They can be found in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Firefly and Foundation universes.
…the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.
In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.
The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?
What is the purpose of these empires though? In those sci-fi universes with aliens these empires serve some defensive role for our Milky Way galaxy, but in many sci-fi universes there is no clear visible external threat. What is the purpose of the empire then? Or is it simply a way for wealth distribution by those living in the Saturn beltway?
I personally view merit in a galactic empire if it were able to maintain internal peace. I have no doubt that in a space faring civilization there will be pirates and I believe that there are economies of scale in galactic trade route policing.
There is also merit in an empire that can keep rogue planetary governments in check. A galactic empire would be restrained in its ability to govern on its own given the largess of space and would need to delegate many functions to different layers of government. An empire would however still serve as a last layer of resort for those petitioning against their planetary government.
What about NOL readers? Are you convinced that space piracy warrants an empire? Or would a space faring civilization be better government by planetary or sub-planetary governments?
Read the full post from Mordanicus here.
Guillermo’s recent post has inspired me. Here:
I spent the next couple of days walking the streets of Havana, not only looking for Yoss’ bookseller friend but also finding other antiquarian bookstores and book stands that might have copies of de Rojas’s Espiral, Una leyenda del futuro, and El año 200. I could only put my hands on an old copy of the second one. I called Yoss again and asked for help. I also invited him out again, this time to the hotel’s tourist bar.
Cuba has two economies with their own currencies; one is for its citizens, the majority of whom live quite modestly, and the other is for tourists. Cubans aren’t welcome in the tourist establishments unless someone brings them in.
That was Yoss’s case. The bouncers at the hotel door stopped him flat, saying wearing a vest without a shirt wasn’t appropriate. I needed to go find him and say he was my guest. The bouncers complied.
It was on this occasion when Yoss gave me details about the Cuban Sci-Fi tradition. He told me it dated back to before the Communist regime but that it had flourished in the seventies as a result of the cultural exchange the country had with Russia and the Soviet Bloc.
Read the rest. It’s by Ilan Stavans, a Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. It comes as no surprise to readers here, I’m sure, that books are hard to find in Cuba (and science fiction books at that!). I have just three comments. First, notice that cultural exchange was responsible for the introduction of something new. Second, be sure to check out the photos of Yoss. He sports a t-shirt with the Batman logo in one pic, and a t-shirt with the Punisher logo in another. (The Punisher is a bad ass Marvel Comics character.) Lastly, the author could not help but insult US culture (of which he is a part of).