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Literary Saturday
The Novelist of Diplomacy
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  • bobro

    Thank you for the insight from a neglected niche of literature. An addition to your argument is the distressing lack of any reading of the millennials much less the scorned genre of speculative fiction. I might add the Heinlein had a great insight into human/alien behavior.

    • Jim__L

      Science fiction these days has turned into the province of SJW’s, which is a bit of a turnoff.

      • Tom

        Not entirely. Even Tor still publishes Brandon Sanderson and David Weber (although largely, I suspect, because publishing them is a license to print money), while Baen Books has an unmistakable right-wing bent among its authors.
        And if you want to go with the “Trump doesn’t go far enough” crowd, there’s always Castalia House.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I’ve been reading the “Foreigner” series as well, and have enjoyed them all.

  • Anthony

    Refreshing WRM and reminiscent of your nascent Blogging Days. And, yes, literature has always availed wonderful opportunities (if one is disposed) to acquire a valuable perspective from which we can both understand and critique our human interfacing.

    Dr. Johnson’s Maxim: “Books that you may…hold readily in your hand are the most useful after all.” I’m sure C.J. Cherryh agrees.

  • Jim__L

    “Yet to be effective you have to be able to do this without losing touch
    with the assumptions and ideas that shape the people it is your job to

    It’s amazing how often Multicultists assume that if you understand other cultures, you somehow must abandon your own. It’s so ubiquitous as to be expected among Ivy Leaguers these days.

    No wonder these “leaders” of America, after a long and triumphant march, have turned to look behind them and noted that their people are no longer following.

  • At shorter length, her story “The Scapegoat” teaches the same lesson. She has long been renowned among SF readers for being able to create aliens who are truly alien (though frankly I hear echoes of Earth in both kif and atevi).

  • f1b0nacc1

    Of course the problem is that once you become too deeply immersed in your target culture, you tend to ‘go native’, a problem that the foreign ministries of most Western nations (including the US) have had to confront quite often. An excellent example of this are the ‘arabists’ in the State Department, though they are hardly the only ones.

  • Felix R Savage

    Long-time TAI reader here. What a delightful surprise to see a review of CJ Cherryh’s books! Had no idea WRM was a science fiction fan. Now I want to see WRM’S take on the Culture books of Iain M. Banks. Banks (RIP) held strong leftwing opinions, but these are absent from his books–great art transcends ideology. And to those who complain that SF has been “SJWized,” I would argue that it’s actually one of the few genres where one is still free to explore absolutely any social/technological speculation without fear. I should know: I wrote a series of science fiction thrillers about pious Catholics in space, among other things! And have not been anathematized for it. In fact I think the freedom to depict the entire spectrum of human experience is the secret of SF’s ongoing popularity, vs. other genres which have constrained themselves into increasingly narrow sets of stylistic gestures.

    • Henry Vanderbilt

      I wouldn’t say Banks’ politics are absent from his books, but it is true he didn’t let his ideology interfere with telling extremely good stories.

      I have had one seriously amusing thought RE his “Culture” universe: In order to make his pan-galactic small-c communist human society plausible, he invokes “Minds” – extremely potent yet still (mostly) altruistic artificial intelligences – to actually run things.

      In other words, to make communism work, the old lefty had to reinvent angels… I wonder if he ever noticed? Too late to ask him now, unfortunately.

      • Felix R Savage

        I always took the Minds to be gods in the Olympian mould! But you’re correct that they (mostly) aren’t as nasty as the pre-Christian pantheon. Their altruism echoes the Christian-derived “I don’t need a Supreme Being to know right from wrong” morality espoused by many today.

        • Henry Vanderbilt

          Mostly, they’re selflessly dedicated to the good of humanity for no reason ever (as best I recall after reading every Culture novel) explicitly given. Some few lose that selfless dedication and do considerable evil, again for no reason ever explained. (You might even call these “Fallen”…) So, created beings hugely more powerful than humans, apparently created with a built-in tendency toward good, yet capable of falling away to evil. It does seem to me the obvious model is angels, albeit in the awesome and puissant Old Testament sense rather than the modern effete bird-winged harpist image. (Tolkien’s Maiar are another old-school model that avoids the modern gloss on the concept.)

          As for ‘their altruism echoes the Christian-derived “I don’t need a Supreme Being to know right from wrong” morality espoused by many today’, it’s entirely possible Banks had that in mind as the source of their general goodness. Another interesting discussion alas no longer possible – to me that would beg the question, how many post-christian generations does such morality last? How much is truly logical, versus how much “it seems logical because I was raised that way” habits that absent actual christianity fade with every generation? We’re conducting the experiment, and I’m not optimistic.

          I do keep coming back to, the old lefty had to reinvent angels to make communism work. That’s always good for a smile even as a given day’s iteration of the experiment produces fresh awfulness.

          • Felix R Savage

            Another comparison that comes to mind is Lewis’s eldila from the Space Trilogy–of course they explicitly WERE angels πŸ™‚

            I concur with your pessimism regarding the persistence of Christian-derived morality, in the absence of Christianity itself. I’d give it about two generations. Cardinal George’s comment seems apt: “”I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

            But an alternative model is the Japanese. (I live in Japan.) Altruism and civic morality have persisted here for many generations past the country’s Christian moment due to very high social cohesion. It could be that the Culture is modelled on Japanese society in this regard. They do have a very strong sense of themselves as being right and good! It’s almost as if Banks also had to reinvent nationalism πŸ™‚

          • Henry Vanderbilt

            My impression is that Japan’s civic morality isn’t christian in origin in the first place. Christianity has never been more than a minority influence there, not so? An interesting question what does maintain it, but not one I can speak to particularly usefully.

            Bringing things back around to the original topic, if Cherryh is the novelist of diplomacy, I’d say Ian Banks was the novelist of subversion (at least in his “Culture” books.) The Culture’s mostly-successful covert manipulation of other societies, aimed at defeating its few direct competitors and shaping its many potential recruits, is a constant theme.

          • Felix R Savage

            “The novelist of subversion” would be a good title for the Banks review I hope WRM will write at some point!

            The Christian core of Japanese morality (today as opposed to in the medieval era) is an involved topic and a bit of a pet theory of mine. Without getting into too much detail, I believe the brief efflorescence of Christianity in the 16th century–and the extraordinary numbers of martyrs created then–have had a profound and lasting influence in changing the culture from a vicious honor-based one to a culture of mutual uplift, civility, and respect. To find this theory fully convincing, however, one probably needs to believe in the power of the prayers of martyrs!

          • Jim__L

            If you don’t mind a foray into the animated fringes of Japanese SciFi / Fantasy, a series called “Gate” might be illuminating.

            According to the friend of mine who’s watched it, it shows idealized modern Japanese soldiers behaving like… idealized American WWII-era soldiers, or the idealized “British tar is a soaring soul” of the 19th century.

            My friend, who is a die-hard supporter of American patriotic values, was not entirely happy with the series’ depiction of Americans as opportunistic commercial Yankee types. When I pointed out to him that their depiction of their idealized selves matched up a lot better with our own traditional ideals than the ideals and reality of the Japanese soldier of WWII (depicted in Clavell’s novels), and that that’s probably because we beat the negative behavior out of them in WWII, he derived a lot of satisfaction from that.

            Your interpretation may vary (and mine may be off, because it’s second-hand), but I really do think that as well as beating the militarism out of the Japanese 70 years ago, America can be credited with replacing it with something a lot more positive. And if we have to endure their pointing out modern America’s real faults, that’s a small price to pay (if price it is) for watching them embrace our best ideals for their own,

          • Jim__L

            “how many post-christian generations does such morality last?”

            How many generations between the strains of thought Nietzsche noticed (and encouraged) and the mainstreaming of Nazi thought?

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