Political Fiction: Reviews

I've divided these reviews into a spectrum from political tracts, where the fiction is a thin veneer over a speculation about how society is or could be, through political thrillers, where the politics is far more important than the characters but the aim is to entertain, to political novels. Political novels I define as where the political drama and the personal drama are balanced and interact with neither dominating the other. Beyond that are political soaps where the politics just form a back drop to the personal drama - these I ignore. These are all books I've read so I don't pretend it is a balanced mix

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Political Tracts

News From Nowhere by William Morris, describes how a socialist goes to sleep and wakes up many years later to find the revolution has won and the England is now a free collection of villages where people freely work at crafts for the love of it.

Political Thrillers.

State of the Nation by Michael Shea. Scottish independence has gone badly wrong but behind the unemployment and civil unrest lies the hand of a megalomaniac multinational boss, Fulton. The political drama is excellent with you never being quite sure whether the good guys will wake up to the danger of what Fulton is up to in time to stop him. Though it is the politics that drives the drama the characters are well drawn and thus real enough for you to care what happens to them. The exception is the bad guy, James Fulton, who is the kind of one-dimensional psychopathic killer you find in police procedural crime novels. Because he is so unbelievably evil you can end up by putting down the novel at the end safe in the knowledge that in the real world things are not like that. Had Shea made Fulton more sympathetic and so more believable ... that would have made this story real scary.

A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin. A similar plot to 'The State of the Nation'. A left wing leader of the Labour party is elected as British PM. The British establishment is out to stop him. Will they succeed? This is well paced but the characters are not as well drawn as those of Shea's. However the bad guys are less unredeemably evil and so more believable. Hence the result is much more disturbing.

The Last Days of America and The Crash of 79 by Paul Erdman. Erdman is excellent in creating alternative future histories which are believable even when stray into the improbable. They are still believable even when with hindsight we know history went a different way. The first involves complicated plots and corruption concerning arms deals in Europe. The second involves the machinations of the Shah of Iran (read this book and realise what we were saved by the Shah being overthrown in 79). Where his books fail is that all the characters are one-dimensional but the pace is fast enough that you almost don't notice that you don't care a monkey's what happens to these people.

The Dangerous Edge by Tim Renton. Two aid workers are taken hostage but this novel focuses not on Beirut but the political infighting back in London over what should be done to resolve the crisis. Tim Renton is a former Conservative Chief Whip and is able to go into almost excessive detail and I soon began to get confused by all the minor characters. Any yet that seems to be Renton's point - in a confused situation it can be the detail that is more important than the big picture. Jock Meldrum-Ross is a junior minister and a nonentity. It seems curious that Renton makes him the focus of this story yet it is on him that the outcome turns. There are few likeable characters in this book but they are believable.

Political Novels

The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin. This is the tale of scientist Shevek's journey from half barren anarchist run moon of Anares to the capitalist Uras. This has a much slower pace than most of the other stories but makes up for it by developing Shevek as a far deeper character. Interesting in that the anarchist Anares is shown sympathetically but having severe internal problems - it is no utopia.

Woman on the Edge of Time Marge Piercy. The heroine finding herself dumped in a mental hospital finds refuge in dreams about a future in which an egalitarian society lives in real harmony with nature. Slowly she realises this future is facing grave dangers and that her problems of surviving in a brutalising institution are intimately connected to thwarting that danger. Moves with a good pace and has a well developed main character.