Thursday, December 09, 2021

"Be Like Water"

      I have been reading political scare-fiction off and on for years since I was in Junior High, starting with Animal Farm and Fahrenheit 451 (the library didn't have 1984, which I read in High School).  And I read history and biography, too.

      Right now, It Happened Here is on my Kindle, a "near-future" nightmare starting in late 2020 that rapidly goes askew from actual history.  (The author may not be aware of the UK mockumentary of the same title, in which the UK is successfully invaded by Germany.) The book is focused on regular people rather than politicians, a pair of brothers and their families.  No ordinary citizen at any point on the political spectrum comes off very noble or particularly evil, just people trying to get by, and the author deserves credit for that.

      And yet--  The scheming, held-over-in-office villains have A Plan.  The book kept reminding me of Matthew Bracken's "The Enemies" trilogy in some weird way.  I wasn't able to put my finger on it at first.  It hit me a few minutes ago: most of these books (notably not Orwell or Bradbury's), Left, Right or worried centrist, are built around the assumption that the bad guys, onstage or off, have a checklist or a playbook, and they're just working their way through it, one careful step after another.  In the real world, would-be authoritarians have two characteristics that never show up in most political-warning fiction: luck and brilliant ad-hockery.  From Lenin to Hitler to Mao, they (and their organization) are opportunistic, flexible, willing to grab for the main chance no matter how it presents itself.  Only in hindsight do they appear systematic -- and the autocrats themselves would rather be seen as careful planners than gamblers grabbing whatever's grabbable and frantically improvising.  But that's the real story.  "For the want of a nail...."

      So when you sit down to read these books, there's often something, something that seems a little off, no matter if you agree with the message or find it risible.  Real life is twisty.  History is only unsurprising in hindsight, when we already know how the story came out.

      I miss "the end of history."  Dammit, I was looking forward to boring years of space travel and fixing up the planet.


fillyjonk said...

I wonder if the title is a play on Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here" (allegedly an allegory of what he thought might happen if Huey Long (or worse) was elected president.

I read the book about five years ago. It's an interesting story even if you feel at times you're being hit over the head with an ALLEGORY! bat a bit.

I've lost some of my taste for that kind of speculative fiction lately and have tried to seek out what's sometimes called "hopepunk." It's probably no more realistic (and may be even less) but at least I feel better after reading it.

Roberta X said...

The title is very consciously a reference to the Sinclair Lewis book. The contents, well... The political extrapolation is not always well executed.

For "hopepunk," Neal Stephenson's "Termination Shock" holds up well and includes a cast you don't mind spending time with, even the nominal bad guy.