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Author Topic: Favorite books that tackle social issues?  (Read 4900 times)

Offline CaitSpivey

Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« on: March 30, 2015, 10:29:02 PM »
Hey everyone!

I channeled my love of books into an english literature degree when I was in college, and I'm looking to get back into doing more literary analysis on my personal website. I'm excited about my first work, which is going to focus on questions of beauty, disability, and monstrosity in Robin Hobb's Rain Wilds Chronicles.

SFF is a genre that provides lots of innovative opportunities to explore issues like these, so I'd like to hear what your favorites are! I'm open to anything from classics to new releases, though I'd prefer to focus on newer (last decade or so) novels.

Can't wait to see your recommendations!
"Realism, in so far as it means reality to life, is always bad art." -Sherwood Anderson

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Offline Elfy

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #1 on: March 30, 2015, 11:33:23 PM »
I guess they're more political than social, but I find it hard to go past Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is another very good one.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline CaitSpivey

Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2015, 11:57:35 PM »
I guess they're more political than social, but I find it hard to go past Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is another very good one.

I love Animal Farm and 1984! It's funny, though, I've never thought of Animal Farm as being speculative fiction, because it's always come up in conversations about classics--but I wonder if it might fall under magical realism's definition.

Politics and social issues very frequently go hand in hand, so recs in that area are fine too! Fiction is a great way to explore the consequences of laws or policies--Fahrenheit 451 being the example that comes to my mind.

I've not heard of The Master and Margarita, so I'll look it up. Thanks, Elfy!
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Offline JMack

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2015, 12:19:23 AM »
We've discussed Ancillary Justice on this site off and in, and I seem to be in the minority who really liked it a lot. It doesn't address social issues directly but sideways and uses feminine pronouns for everything in order to indicate a society without gender distinctions.
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2015, 12:52:58 AM »
I guess they're more political than social, but I find it hard to go past Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is another very good one.

I love Animal Farm and 1984! It's funny, though, I've never thought of Animal Farm as being speculative fiction, because it's always come up in conversations about classics--but I wonder if it might fall under magical realism's definition.

Politics and social issues very frequently go hand in hand, so recs in that area are fine too! Fiction is a great way to explore the consequences of laws or policies--Fahrenheit 451 being the example that comes to my mind.

I've not heard of The Master and Margarita, so I'll look it up. Thanks, Elfy!
It is speculative, though, or at least I see it that way and probably will until I meet a talking pig. The Master and Margarita is a classic of the genre. It inspired Mick Jagger to write Sympathy for the Devil. I'm a doing a series on my blog (http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com) on my favourite fantasy books and authors from A - Z. Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita are there under the B's.
A lot of Pratchett's work contained social commentary in amongst all the hilarity.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline CaitSpivey

Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2015, 02:02:05 AM »

I love Animal Farm and 1984! It's funny, though, I've never thought of Animal Farm as being speculative fiction, because it's always come up in conversations about classics--but I wonder if it might fall under magical realism's definition.
It is speculative, though, or at least I see it that way and probably will until I meet a talking pig. The Master and Margarita is a classic of the genre. It inspired Mick Jagger to write Sympathy for the Devil. I'm a doing a series on my blog (http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com) on my favourite fantasy books and authors from A - Z. Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita are there under the B's.
A lot of Pratchett's work contained social commentary in amongst all the hilarity.

Love Pratchett, RIP. I finally got my husband to start reading Good Omens the other night.

We've discussed Ancillary Justice on this site off and in, and I seem to be in the minority who really liked it a lot. It doesn't address social issues directly but sideways and uses feminine pronouns for everything in order to indicate a society without gender distinctions.

Ancillary Justice has definitely been on my radar for awhile! I'm hoping to get to it soon. My father-in-law really liked it, and he's a huge sci-fi fan.
"Realism, in so far as it means reality to life, is always bad art." -Sherwood Anderson

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Offline Elfy

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2015, 03:20:49 AM »
We've discussed Ancillary Justice on this site off and in, and I seem to be in the minority who really liked it a lot. It doesn't address social issues directly but sideways and uses feminine pronouns for everything in order to indicate a society without gender distinctions.
Ancillary Justice largely swept the awards pool last year, so I don't think you're in the minority with your enjoyment of it as a book, and the sequel Ancillary Sword has also been very well received. There's another book driven by similar issues, and I preferred it more to Anne Leckie's debut, and that was Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire. I didn't put it down, because while I really liked it, and it made my favourites for 2014, I suspect it won't be a favourite book of mine over a longer period of time.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Offline Doctor_Chill

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2015, 03:22:36 AM »
We've discussed Ancillary Justice on this site off and in, and I seem to be in the minority who really liked it a lot. It doesn't address social issues directly but sideways and uses feminine pronouns for everything in order to indicate a society without gender distinctions.

Ancillary Justice is a curious case. For one, the author didn't intend for much focus to be on the gender pronouns. You can say the book says many things from this assumption, in that we were possibly looking for some thematic value or that she's lying and there really is a good bit to discover. Loads could be said, though, about the nonchalance she has about the pronouns and the outcry many people made against it. I found the book to barely scratch the surface on any gender ideas, but to each their own. I'm probably not the best to cite when it comes to gender issues. I'd like to read Ancillary Sword to see if she goes farther with some of these thoughts, specifically the effects of colonialism.

I much prefer class-ism. Rjurik Davidson's Unwrapped Sky takes a good look at different philosophical ideas presented in a post-industrial society such as elite v. working class, effects of industry and overexpansion, some colonialism, and a hard look at revolutions. Although, I'd wage Mievelle's Bas Lag books do a better job at tackling these ideas than the former author.

Zachary Jernigan's No Return looks at religious problems (I forget, would they be considered social problems or not?), especially when it comes to violent religions being contained and looking for converts in that same vein. It also tackles (well, leaves ambiguous for now) the interpretation of a big floating object in the sky said to be controlled on the whim of a powerful deity and what people do based on that fear.
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Offline JMack

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2015, 03:33:00 AM »
Not really on topic, but the idea of the big object in the sky and what people do... Way back in the (late?) '70s, Lester Del Ray edited a book of three novellas called the Day the Sun Stood Still, with each novella by a different prominent SF author, and all off the theme: What would happen if God made the sun stand still in the sky for one day?

The only one if the three I remember had the key points: A religious figure gets almost all humanity to pray for the sun to stand still on a certain day as a sign. Everyone goes out to their roofs, streets, country side that day to see. It does stand still. The next day, almost everyone comes up with rationalizations or denials that it ever happened.

Loved that story. And it introduced me the wonderful song:

There was a rich man, and he lived in Jerusalem,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
He wore a silk hat, and his coat was very sprucium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
Hirojerum, hirojerum,
Skinna malinka toolium, skinna malinka toolium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.

One day to his door there came a human wreckium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
He wore a bowler hat, and the brim was round his neckium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
Hirojerum, hirojerum,
Skinna malinka toolium, skinna malinka toolium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.

The poor man begged for a piece of bread and cheesium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
The rich man said he’d call for a policium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
Hirojerum, hirojerum,
Skinna malinka toolium, skinna malinka toolium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.

The poor man died and his soul went to Heavium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
He danced with the angles till quarter past elevium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
Hirojerum, hirojerum,
Skinna malinka toolium, skinna malinka toolium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.

The rich man died, but he didn’t fare so wellium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
He couldn’t go to Heaven, so he has to go to Hellium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
Hirojerum, hirojerum,
Skinna malinka toolium, skinna malinka toolium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
The moral of this story is: “Riches are no jokium.”
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.

We’ll all go to Heaven ’cause we’re all stony brokium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.
Hirojerum, hirojerum,
Skinna malinka toolium, skinna malinka toolium,
Glory hallelujah, hirojerum.

Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline cupiscent

Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2015, 09:32:21 AM »
What an interesting idea! I'm looking forward to seeing that analysis, Cait. (Though I'm not sure which part of your website/blog to add to my reader/feed to make sure I get to see it... :-\)

I cannot sing the praises of Max Gladstone enough when it comes to writing tremendously interesting and creative speculative fiction with great diversity and issue engagement. For instance, his lady POC main character in first book Three Parts Dead is a necromancer lawyer who also has to deal with classism and sexism in settings highly reminiscent of corporate and STEM environments.

NK Jemisin always does great work in looking at power, prejudice and fearing the Other within her wonderful work.

And I thought Rachel Hartman's Seraphina dealt with wonderful subtlety and complexity with themes of deeply ingrained and long-standing prejudice/resentment. I can't wait to see what the sequel is like.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2015, 09:39:49 AM »
I always thought His Dark Materials would be a really interesting series to analyse back when I was doing English in school. So much going on there. Another couple of good ones would be A Canticle for Leibowitz and Flowers for Algernon, both of which are great books which cover interesting themes. Flowers for Algernon happens to deal with mental disabilities as well, and does a brilliant job of highlighting it through the style and tone of the prose.
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Offline wakarimasen

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #11 on: March 31, 2015, 01:46:36 PM »
I'm another one that rates Pratchett as being great social commentary in places. The best one for that aspect of his work I think was dealing with race and ethnic conflicts in Thud! (yes, it has an exclamation mark in the title).
In terms of amusement I think his take on Hollywood in Moving Pictures was funny as hell. It had a cast of thousands... with elephants.

Offline Yora

Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2015, 03:55:52 PM »
Pigeons from Hell is a neat story. The social aspect is part of the mystery, so I won't say too much about it.

Offline xiagan

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Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #13 on: March 31, 2015, 04:32:30 PM »
Yep, Pratchett. Besides Thud!, Jingo is a great book.
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Offline CaitSpivey

Re: Favorite books that tackle social issues?
« Reply #14 on: March 31, 2015, 11:12:43 PM »
Wow, this topic kind of exploded! Thanks for all the recs, everyone. Some I have read and adore (like His Dark Materials and Flowers for Algernon), others are on my TBR (NK Jemisin), and the others I will look into. One thing I'm sure of, I'll never run out of worthwhile fiction to analyze.

It'll probably be a few weeks until my first post (on beauty, monstrosity, and disability) goes up because I have some supplemental research to do, but for those who are interested, I'll be posting it for sure on my tumblr. I'm currently building a new official website (the one listed in my sig is a Wordpress.com site, which only allows so much flexibility), so I'm not sure what the blog situation there will be yet.
"Realism, in so far as it means reality to life, is always bad art." -Sherwood Anderson

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