In The Armchair

Fractured Nations in Sci Fi!

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on May 30, 2009

BlackManRichardMorgan Coincidentally, I read two science fiction books recently that featured a common theme: balkanized countries.  In Black Man by Richard Morgan, a religious backlash splits America into Jesusland and the Rim States.  In River of Gods by Ian McDonald, India is divided into several sub-nations: Bharat (the Hindi hearland), Bangla (West Bengal and Bangladesh), and a bunch of others.

RiverOfGodsScience fiction nowadays is characterized by very intelligent writers who weave together tens of science fiction ideas to create their worlds.  Perhaps the simpler ideas that characterized previous generations of sci fi writers don’t cut it anymore.  Perhaps the complexity is needed to grab the attention of readers who have way too many options.  As I’ve lamented before, this complexity often comes at a price: plot, storytelling suffer.  Charles Stross, for example, writes excellent prose but often doesn’t seem to care about his plot and ending.  Greg Egan’s novels, while tremendously entertaining, are sometimes just outpourings of ideas, having very little to do with storytelling.

The debate about whether India should be a single nation is very common; many people have expressed the idea that India isn’t really a nation.  In River of Gods, the nations that form are relatively geographically and linguistically homogeneous.  Ian McDonald is actually pretty well-informed about things in India, and his 2050 India is very convincing.  He seems to have taken some characteristics of the regions and made that the primary feature of the new nations.  Bengalis, for example, are known for their technical and engineering prowess.  The side by side mix of poverty and high technology mirrors the India of today.  A very interesting bit of speculative fiction on the future of India!

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