the Little Red Reviewer

Mild Meld at SFSignal!

Posted on: July 3, 2013

I heard this cold war era joke all the time when I was a kid:

Under a totalitarian government, a man is able to smuggle his wife out of the country. He promises to write her a letter every week. He knows the government reads everyone’s mail, so he tells her if the letter is written in black ink, everything is the truth, if the letter is written in red ink, everything is a lie. The weeks progress, and she receives letters in black ink telling her how much he loves her, and discussing the weather, and letters in red ink talking about how wonderful the government is and that he never wants to leave. until one fateful letter arrives in black in:

My beloved wife: My life here is complete,  the government sees to my every need and is taking such good care of me that I can not imagine why anyone would ever want to live somewhere else. Therefore I will not be joining you in your new home. By the way, we have run out of red pens.


I recently had the honor of being on a MindMeld panel at SFSignal, along with Nick Mamatas, Ian Sales, Bob Reiss, and John Stevens, among others. Here’s what we were asked:

 Recent events have caused the resurgence of George Orwell’s classic 1984. Ever since its original publication, however, genre has tackled and wrestled with the themes of dictatorship, totalitarianism, total war, and more. What works of genre since are worthy of exploring these themes?

Here’s what we said

the responses were kicked around twitter a bit this morning, with discussions touching on dystopian war books, and that not all war book are dystopian, and not all dystopian is totalitarian, etc. It’s complicated and fascinating.

Let’s keep the conversation going: tell me about some fictional works you’ve enjoyed that deal with surveillance societies, dictatorship, totalitarian governments, and such.  No one wants to live that way, so why do we so enjoy reading books with those themes? Have we moved so far past George Orwell’s 1984 that we need to start referring to other works as “Orwellian”, or “somebody-else-ian””

All old jokes aside, with all the NSA stuff that’s come out recently do you see the post office suddenly getting much more popular? I do.



4 Responses to "Mild Meld at SFSignal!"

I always think the reason people want to read dystopian fiction is sort of the same reason they read any speculative fiction — that sort of rarefied environment is a good way to explore what it means to be human. You know? I think that’s a thing.

(Meanwhile my mind has gone perfectly blank as to books with surveillance societies and dictatorships. I’ve read a bunch, but I just can’t think of any.)


“that sort of rarefied environment is a good way to explore what it means to be human”

oh, I know exactly what you mean, and I agree 100%! spec fic is a safe place to explore all sorts of things. I’m thankful I had a few days to write that response, had someone just asked me to name a bunch of stuff off the top of my head,i would have been in trouble!


I dunno if this is a proper answer to your question, but I enjoy David Brin’s views on the surveillance society. I can’t think of the non-fic book he wrote about it (something about windows), but I’ve read a lot of his blog posts. The topic also makes its way into the dreaded Existence, though only as a side note.


Sure it’s a proper answer! 😀 If you remember the name of his non-fic book, please let me know, I’d like to read it. Charlie Stross blogs a lot about surveillance and electronic propaganda (they are more like rants sometimes), you might like his blog too.


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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