Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Ken Macleod
I just found out that my favorite Scottish, Marxist, hard science fiction writer has a blog. For sometime I’ve wanted to write something about Ken Macleod’s Fall Revolution quartet.

I started reading the Fall Revolution just before the 2000 election and finished the fourth book soon after I was laid off the next year. Macleod’s books amounted to one pleasant surprise in eleven otherwise awful months. The Fall Revolution especially delighted me with its realistic portrayal of left wing politics and people. I’ve always been rather discouraged by the fact that most political content in science fiction (especially by American authors) is little more than right-wing, libertarian, adolescent male fanaticizing. A lot of our science fiction trades in a sort of pre-fascist mythology of superior men of action who make their own rules. This is true of most genre fiction, but the protagonists of mysteries and westerns rarely get to overthrow governments or commit genocide.

But, back to Macleod. The politics in the Fall Revolution are realistic and leftist (which, among other things, means lots of factional squabbling). At the time I read the books I enjoyed the freshness of his history of the early twenty-first century. Macleod breaks with cyberpunk traditions of describing the near future by focusing on culture, economics, and technology by seriously considering diplomacy and ideology. Most cyberpunk deals with power in terms of controlling information and investment. Corporations and innovators are the key players, not governments. Of course, this approach is really just a fusion of the traditional focus of science fiction on powerful men with some of the popular wisdoms of the information age and post Cold War world. Information is king. Ideology is dead. Corporations replace states as the foci of power and influence.

Macleod turns all this on its head. Sure, technological innovation continues and matters, corporations and big money are significant players, but ideology continues. The left, no longer defined by the big, red, Russian-speaking gorilla in the corner, flowers into a hundred new movements. The US, now the only superpower on the planet, throws its weight around becoming increasingly domineering. With more and more of its national effort concentrated on maintaining military might, the US economy withers the US crumbles—with a whimper. Pretty wild stuff. His take on a reflowering of ideology made sense to me. I had come to the same conclusion when I read The End of History. But the US running amok? Possible, I suppose, but not very probable. Yup. Sure glad that can’t happen.

I want to say more about this. Looking back on the last few weeks of my posts. I see I’ve said that about a half-dozen topics. I guess it’s time to pick up some of these threads and finish a thought or two, maybe even bring them together. Stay tuned…

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