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What SF Novel Are We Living In?

(45 posts)
  • Started 3 months ago by Dr. Caligari
  • Latest reply from JohnWThiel

  1. Dr. Caligari
    Member

    Things seem increasingly surreal out there. I don't think we're going to reach a mass-extinction situation like in "Earth Abides," but I'm starting to feel like we're in a John Brunner novel ("The Sheep Look Up," maybe?).

    Posted 3 months ago #
  2. Steve R.
    Member

    As to what SF novel we are living in; a lot depends on how one's viewpoint. Environmental degradation of the earth and socioeconomic consequences are one plausible road to take. The "The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi is one such novel though it would be considered near future.

    Basically, I am in the geopolitical realm of "reality" as envisaged in "1984" by Orwell, I find increasingly relevant. We have Newspeak, endless war, erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security, etc. Of course, our society is currently nowhere near as bleak as the "reality" portrayed by Orwell.

    As a way to get our memories jogged, I conducted a brief internet search, this one seemed to contain a list of descent novels, from the ecological perspective: 50 Must-Read Eco Disasters In Fiction.

    From the more political perspective: 21 Books Like '1984' That Will Change How You See The Future

    It's been a long time since I read "The Sheep Look Up", but was interesting is that this book has appeared on many different lists. It appears on both lists that I have cited. So it must be an excellent collection of themes.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  3. Mark Pontin
    Member

    We _were_ living in a cross between a Brunner 'Treaty of Rome' novel -- more 'Stand on Zanzibar' than 'Sheep,' though with elements of both -- and Pohl & Kornbluth's
    'Gladiator-at-Law, which was a pretty prescient picture of a neoliberal, Wall St-dominated society for being written way back when.

    We are _now_ entering the global Recess, the planetary socioeconomic reset in the background of the desert resort society in J.G. Ballard's VERMILION SANDS stories. Except we're the rest of the world that Ballard never showed, not the wealthy folks living in Vermilion Sands.

    As for what comes after this reset, we don't know.

    Hopefully, not the Jackpot of W. Gibson's recent novels, nor (say) the man-eat-dog society of Ballard's HIGH RISE (though that was more Ballard reacting to Thatcherism and the initial neoliberal turn forty years ago). Nor, please God, the world of Tiptree's 'The Last Flight of Doctor Ain' and Frank Herbert's THE WHITE PLAGUE.

    It's a fascinating -- though slightly scary - thing to look at the last sixty years and realize that the SF writer with the track record of making the most successful predictions about where we've actually been going was Ballard. Pity he's not around today (he'd have been ninety) because he'd have something insightful to say.

    As for COVID-19, in terms of its actual lethality, we're getting off light. It's actually a wake-up call. Google some of the microbiology that's been turning up as Siberia's permafrost has started melting thanks to global warming during the last few years -- truly alien giant viruses and fungal spores that haven't been around for tens or hundreds of thousands of years and that are now coming back to life. Then speculate about what some of that stuff might do if it got loose.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  4. Mark Pontin
    Member

    Repeat: this is just a wake-up call. SARS-COV-1 had a death rate of 10 percent. One out of every ten infectees died from it.

    With COVID-19, it's the disease's very high infection and reproductive rates that are what's screwing us.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  5. JohnWThiel
    Member

    YOU NEVER GO BAD AS YOU LIVE ON MARS.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  6. MattHughes
    Member

    Stand on Zanzibar, especially for the fragmented way information comes to us. Plus some Brave New World for the hedonistic, me-oriented consumer culture into which this virus is crashing.

    My hope: the ultimate effect of this pandemic will be to end the age when we were just consumers in a free-market economy and return us to being citizens of societies. That people will realize that some essential parts of life are not transactions and that freedom is more than the capacity to choose among competing brands. There are some things, very necessary things, that only communal cooperation can achieve.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  7. iamnothing
    Member

    MattHughes: Yes!

    Posted 3 months ago #
  8. GusG
    Member

    Matt, I hope I understand your comment correctly. In our free market, we tend to become cogs in the machine that is the economy, which needs vast amounts of wasteful spending each day (each HOUR) to function correctly. I am a great believer in a free market economy, but I also believe that the surpluses, when generated, need to be used thoughtfully for times like this. We don't seem to save up for these events, instead, we borrow more and more on top of what we generate in the name of competition with other economies, or to fund services that we really can't afford.

    Our roles in the economy are de-humanizing to some degree, but we can operate this way and still maintain our humanity and community. We aren't because of two things:

    COMPETITION. We are so obsessed with winning that no one wants to slow down and act responsibly. You can see this in regard to pollution and climate change.

    RATIONAL THOUGHT. No one wants to face the truth. Instead, they want to listen to demagogues and politicians who tell them the lies they want to hear. In times of crisis, truth will get us through. Believing in lies only works in times of prosperity, and those beliefs end the prosperity much sooner than the truth would have sustained them.

    I am an educator, and my two goals for my students are to be rational thinkers who can enjoy competition, but not to the point of obsession. Perhaps this crisis will help those two points. Already our political leaders are trying to act rationally, even though some of them are clearly not accustomed to it.

    With those improvements we can once again be citizens and not cogs.

    Thank you for letting me sound off.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  9. JohnWThiel
    Member

    The government more or less controls the educational system, Gus. Your comment about the lack of rationality in the government is what they've been fighting with colleges about, such as Berkeley College and Kent State, all along.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  10. MattHughes
    Member

    GusG:

    I'm saying what everyone knew until recent times: that there are some things that the free market, driven by the profit motive, can't deliver properly. Police and fire services are the ones we most often encounter. The military remains a public institution.

    Other spheres -- education, health care, social welfare -- need to be run on the basis of service delivered, not profit earned, if they are to serve the public good. Most advanced countries, and certainly those that score highest on the World Happiness Index, are organized to serve the common good.

    America, and the UK under "austerity," have been marching in the opposite direction. Now comes a threat to the common weal, but the public institutions that should be able to respond have been hollowed out and weakened by the forces that have been transitioning us from societies of citizens into an economy of consumers.

    We'll get to see if those institutions can be revived strongly enough, and in time, to prevent catastrophes.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  11. GusG
    Member

    Your points go to the core of our divided society. Personal profit vs. shared wealth and services. Taxation levels. Public vs. private education. As a public school teacher for close to 30 years now, I rely on public funds to keep our schools running, and my job is to deliver instruction equitably among all students, regardless of their family's ability to pay into the tax pool. The socio-economic gap is the hardest of all to bridge by far (gender, age, race, religion...those are relatively simple by comparison). Our new normal, however long it lasts, will make equitable education for our neediest families even more difficult. Online classes are not a good substitute for the traditional face-to-face classroom setting (don't get me started), and if your family does not have a computer, or a smart phone, and high-speed internet, you are going to get left further behind. My classes are especially difficult to deliver by internet or phone (band and orchestra).

    A pandemic is a great equalizer. How we respond will leave a legacy that will contribute to these great classic debates. I am especially interested in how education will be affected. I have had many students contact me who want to know how their musical instruction will be continued. That gives me hope, and I will do my best for them. The free market alone never would have even allowed me to try.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  12. Ron
    Member

    In some ways it is like _The Day of the Triffids_ by John Wyndham.

    I work in downtown Chicago, and there is hardly any activity during a week-day, even much less so than on a typical week-end.

    “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”

    Posted 3 months ago #
  13. GusG
    Member

    Some comparisons are being made to Stephen King's "The Stand." It is a little on the nose, but still interesting to compare our predicament with a novel I read three times in middle school. It was the first time I was allowed out out the Archie and Paddington level, so I may have overdone it.

    Stay healthy and distant everyone. Work together to stay apart. Embrace the irony, not your neighbor.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  14. JohnWThiel
    Member

    I notice "The Puppet Masters" and "Nineteen Eighty Four" more than anything, but there's also "The Buttoned Sky" and "Beware the Usurpers" by Geoff St. Reynard, and take it away! What science fiction novel AREN'T we living in?

    Posted 3 months ago #
  15. Mark Pontin
    Member

    Scenes from the class war in the Hamptons, J.G. Ballard-style (if you've read Late Ballard novels like SUPER-CANNES).

    Year-round residents threaten that “We should blow up the bridges,” as rich Manhattanites, fleeing from the coronavirus pandemic New York to their summer homes, are buying all the fresh groceries, exposing local hospital workers to potential infection, and behaving with the general disregard for anybody else typical of the wealthy.

    https://nypost.com/2020/03/19/we-should-blow-up-the-bridges-coronavirus-leads-to-class-warfare-in-hamptons/

    Posted 3 months ago #
  16. iamnothing
    Member

    Given the physical isolation, how about The Naked Sun?
    "Done viewing."

    Posted 3 months ago #
  17. LukeJackson
    Member

    I think we are in The Time Machine, en route to the distant near future where humans are extinct.

    Maybe Agent Smith was right— humanity is a disease, and another Earth is fighting back?

    Posted 3 months ago #
  18. Marian
    Member

    I'm remembering a quote from Campbell, "History doesn't always repeat itself. Sometimes it yells, 'Can't you remember anything I taught you' and let's fly with a club."

    Posted 3 months ago #
  19. JohnWThiel
    Member

    I don't follow what Campbell was saying there. Perhaps he pulled up an Ace of Clubs for a royal straight.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  20. MattHughes
    Member

    I take it that Campbell was saying that sometimes history doesn't tell you twice. It throws a club at you for not listening well enough the first time.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  21. iamnothing
    Member

    John: I thought it was Horace Gold that had the poker game sessions, not Campbell.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  22. Mark Pontin
    Member

    Badonk! Rimshot ---

    Posted 3 months ago #
  23. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Matt: Ah yes, I was thrown off by there being an apostrophe in "lets", making it "let us" to my regard. I was picturing him and his readers or listeners flying through the air with a club ready to hand.

    iamnothing: Most well known for poker sessions was Wilson Tucker; on one occasion he tempted Bloch into a game.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  24. Marian
    Member

    My bad, John. I'm the one who put the apostrophe in. I am going by memory of over half a century ago of a saying that impressed me in Astounding/Analog. There used to be an occasional saying simply put there and not part of an editorial. The other one I remember is "Behold the tortoise, he maketh no progress unless he sticketh out his neck." That doesn't relate to the current topic but the one about history does. I can imagine the kind of editorial Campbell would have written about the current pandemic! I vaguely recall several editorials on the subject of disease and pandemics and how we are not prepared. Anyway, John, if something I say doesn't make sense to you, assume it's my faulty memory and not Campbell's words.

    Posted 3 months ago #
  25. Steve R.
    Member

    A "1984" style per-cursor of things to come?

    Pine Knoll Shores officials issue self-quarantine, registration orders

    "PINE KNOLL SHORES — Anyone coming to Pine Knoll Shores for an overnight stay or longer will be required to register with town officials and self-quarantine for 14 days, and everyone in town must follow a curfew.

    Additionally, anyone subject to self-quarantine will be required to register by emailing Police Chief Ryan Thompson at rthompson@townofpks.com or by calling the chief at 252-247-2474.

    Those registering will need to provide Chief Thompson with the following information:

    A list of names of everyone arriving in Pine Knoll Shores.
    The address where they will be staying.
    Where they’re coming from.
    The expected length of the stay.
    A phone number where they can be reached.

    Individuals exempt from self-quarantine requirements are those traveling for crucial medical attention, those escaping a life-threatening emergency, those receiving emergency service from first responders and those employed in essential jobs."

    Another "small" surveillance state item. Where we live, Carteret County, North Carolina; expired and unused medications are supposed to be taken to a local police station for disposal.

    Apple and Google are building a coronavirus tracking system into iOS and Android

    Posted 2 months ago #
  26. MattHughes
    Member

    I came across No Blade of Grass by John Christopher in the basement where I'm hiding out from the virus. It's copyrighted to 1956 and I read it sometime in the mid-sixties. I vaguely remembered it as an early apocalyptic novel, like Earth Abides and Day of the Triffids. I started rereading it after I saw that the first couple of pages have scenes set in the little village of Stavely (then in Westmoreland, now in Cumbria), where my wife's stepmom lives.

    The story is about a virus that starts in China then spreads around the world. But instead of killing people, it kills all forms of grass, including rice, wheat, barley, rye -- all the staple grains that have underpinned human existence since the neolithic revolution --leading to mass starvation and social collapse.

    Some eerie parallels: at the beginning, when only rice is affected, the governments of the world put their faith in a miracle antiviral treatment that, at first, appears to work, instead of developing virus-resistant strains. Then the virus mutates and spreads to all forms of grass, wiping out most of the world's food supply in a matter of months.

    There is an effort to plant potatoes and legumes, but it's a late start. Famine looms, yet the governments keep telling their populations that all will be well. Secretly, the UK government plans to seal up the major cities and have the RAF drop atomic and H-bombs on them, to reduce the population to a level for which food supplies will be adequate.

    Now there's a thought that hadn't occurred to me.

    Posted 2 months ago #
  27. JohnWThiel
    Member

    I read a governmental reaction to that novel. A senator said, "The Federal Government does not approve of shooting one's neighbors."

    Posted 2 months ago #
  28. MattHughes
    Member

    A senator said, "The Federal Government does not approve of shooting one's neighbors."

    Yeah, but that was back then, wasn't it?

    Posted 2 months ago #
  29. JohnWThiel
    Member

    Yes, and I never did see any kind of follow-up of it.

    Posted 2 months ago #
  30. Mark Pontin
    Member

    Ho ho Ho! More jolly fun --

    'Ukraine: Forest fire near Chernobyl under control – State Emergency Service'
    --Yesterday
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6Xv_GFS4OE

    'Fires restart in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone'
    --14 hours ago
    https://meduza.io/en/news/2020/04/16/fires-restart-in-chernobyl-exclusion-zone

    'Strong winds exacerbate fire burning near Chernobyl plant'
    --10 hours ago
    https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/04/16/strong-winds-exacerbate-fire-burning-near-chernobyl-plant/

    Posted 2 months ago #

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