Friday, April 17, 2009

An Addition To the Reading List

So far, in this blog, I've recommended two books for those who want the properly cynical footing to cope with the cynical political landscape – if you can't keep up, you can at least keep an eye on things.

I've decided to add two books to the assigned reading in this course. The complete list is:

  1. Dune, by Frank Herbert
  2. Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
  3. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
  4. Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
Each is important for diffferent reasons. Dune matters because Herbert had immense insights into power blocs and power struggles, and what might tilt things one way or the other – and that a random chaotic event can cause amazing results. Also, Herbert understood, perhaps better than any popular author, the explosive mix that religion and politics can make – and this, is the most important message, because he does it without making it a preachy cautionary tale.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is important for all the obvious reasons – the cynical manipulation of the population by a power elite, the evil deleterious effect on the zeitgeist and the human animal that opression can bring. But the real lesson I want people to take away from it, and the source of my sarcastic caption on the cover picture, is the effects of a power elite for whom power is the only object. They speak of addictive substances, nicotine, methamphetamine, what have you. Kissinger glibly commented that power is the ultimate aphrodesiac (not without reason). But more than that, power is the most addictive substance known to man and woman. You can't have it without wanting more, you can't have more without wanting to keep it all for one's self, and you can't keep it without greedily scheming to order affairs so that you never lose it.

When I say the Republican Party's main platform can be found there, it's the addiction to power and the need to get it for its own sake, at any cost. They would kill our country for it if they had to, and events suggest to me, they are still trying.

Stranger In A Strange Land was suggested by reader Phil. He recommends it highly, and my review of the plot suggests it has much to say about community and power. I've not read it yet, because I've never been much of a Heinlein fan, to be quite frank. But it's on my list now.

Stand on Zanzibar is a challenging book to read. John Brunner's visionary classic challenges the reader with a layered structure, an army of intertwining characters, and the strife of what was then the distant future time of the 2010s to paint a picture of a planet going crazy under the strain of overpopulation and technology that's zooming ahead of Man's capacity to reason with it all. With its piercing insights on what makes man tick, it's not predictive, but it does have Mankind's number, and is as relevant now as when it was written back in the 1960s.

Those are your assignments, if you care to take up the challenge. Since my topical work is being done over at Preemptive Karma for the nonce, we can use this area as a sort of reading and book discussion club. I'm going to go back through Dune soon and make public notes. Everyone is welcome to come along.

I think we can all learn something from each other. I believe this.

1 comment:

  1. Because . . .

    "Christ, Marx, Woods and Wei
    Led us to 'This Perfect Day' . . ."

    I suggest adding Ira Levin's classic to your reading list, as well. Another story well worth reading is Heinlein's short story, "Coventry." I'm sure that there are many other books and stories I could propose, if only I could remember their titles.

    All fiction contains elements of truth, and many stories present ideas worthy of further exploration. Ideas are the seeds of reality; sci-fi writers, in particular, cast those seeds far and wide to help shape the world in which we live. (For instance, few people realize that it was Heinlein, in his story "Stranger in a Strange Land," who gave us the water bed.)