Political Science Fiction

Staff PicksMartin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Political Science Fiction

It’s overwhelming sometimes to be in Washington, DC; everyone’s political voices can start to ring in the ears like a cacophony.

But, even with the inundation, it's often still rewarding to seek out books that portray political ideals and ideas in a subtler, even obfuscated way. If you're interested in engaging with political thought, but not necessarily the feedback loops that come with it, the below titles are well considered and may be enjoyable!

Note: All titles are linked to their physical copies unless otherwise noted, and some are available as library e-books and/or e-audiobooks with OverDrive.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Using invented worlds to explore ideology, this book is a classic consideration of the limits of anarchism and liberal society; the book touches on ideals of creative and intellectual freedom, interpersonal connection, and the value of work. Le Guin broaches these topics using the lives of her characters, particularly Shevek, a brilliant physicist who seeks to connect the ideals of his moon planet Anarres with its mother planet Urras but whose limitations are brought into harsh perspective when his political beliefs imperil the ruling class of Urras, forcing him to question what change he is able to bring about, and how.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The first in a trilogy, Oryx and Crake is as romantic a book as could possibly take place in a dystopian future. Part of this
 comes from the lush description of nature throughout the book and part of it comes from the longing that drives the plot forward. Snowman (a.k.a. Jimmy) lives in a world whose population was decimated by a plague. He fears he may be the only human and intensely misses both his best friend Crake and enigmatic Oryx, the woman they both loved. His journey through the book dives deep into the ideology that made the world what it is and speaks to the overwhelming power of corporations as well as the notions of genetic engineering. It is a book that will make you think and feel deeply.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Bordering on the edge of science fiction and politics, Klara and the Sun is as luminous as its title and its charm is just as ubiquitous. In this book, the titular Klara is a sensitive thinking and feeling robot designed to be a companion to children (an "Artificial Friend)." She draws operating power from the sun and spends the beginning of the book with hopes to find a character to love her. The girl she ends up with brings with her a set of complications that are touched on obliquely as they both rely on and evade Klara's understanding. Because the novel takes place from Klara's point of view, the reader is drawn innocently and almost surreptitiously into considering moral and biological notions of what it means to be human and what it means to love.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
As satirical as Klara and the Sun is gentle, Cat's Cradle is a classic science fiction political novel that is as much commentary as it is story. Vonnegut's novel uses the perspective of narrator John who wants to write a book on
Felix Hoennikker, a man who was one of the principle engineers of the atomic bomb. While investigating him, he meets many things: a new religion called Bokononism, a stone angel, a philosophical dwarf, a Hoosier, and a chemical more dangerous than the A-bomb itself. Really, the book touches on the absurdity of any sort of "-ism" that one could try to place faith in. It's a book that has stood at the forefront of its genre for good reason, as to read it is to not soon forget it and all of the razor sharp analysis it provides.

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead can get his point across in any genre. One of his lesser known titles is the 2000 book The Intuitionist which uses science fiction and a world that is like ours, but also not, in order to touch on a perpetual theme of science fiction: the dichotomy between scientific rationalism and empathetic intuition. It questions who is really the holder of acceptable forms of knowledge, how people are given the ability to assert intellectual authority, and what role gatekeepers play in keeping others from success and (by extension) self-actualization. A deeply philosophical novel with an engaging plot, the book follows Lila Mae Watson, the first black female inspector in the history of her department as she navigates political chaos owing to an elevator malfunction that occurred under her watch while the two political factions of her profession move toward an election year for the elevator guild. Almost allegorical, this book demonstrates the incisive mind and great writing that readers now expect from Whitehead.