During the 2008 elections, this writer offered a list of science fiction novels that the then candidates for president might profit from reading to prepare himself or herself for the highest office in the land. Here follows a reprint of that article.
Barack Obama likes to claim that he grew up watching Star Trek as a way to sugar coat the fact that he wants to slash spending on space exploration. Clearly the idea of “exploring strange new worlds” didn’t take.
This leads one to ask: What science fiction should the candidates have read? That is to say, which works of the genre would prepare either Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain to lead?
Here’s a (partial) reading list:
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – The novel, published in 1966, concerns a revolt of a lunar colony against a corrupt Earth government. There are lots of fascinating plot elements about “rational anarchy”, artificial intelligence, certain alternative forms of marriage, and the question of what are the responsibilities an individual has toward his/her fellow humans. It’s also a great story with lots of action and snappy dialogue.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein – The book is much mischaracterized by certain people as a polemic for fascism. It’s quite the opposite, of course, as it suggests that the right to vote and hold office might imply as certain responsibility to society. The idea that some kind of national service (which doesn’t just mean in the military) should be a prerequisite for voting and holding office is a provocative one. There are other themes, such as the nature of war, that are also fascinating.
The Man Who Counts by Poul Anderson – This is a Nicolas van Rijn story that should help the candidate/reader discover the nature of capitalism and how an individual can do good by doing well. This and some other Van Rijn stories are shortly to be collected in a volume entitled The Van Rijn Method.
Satan’s World and Mirkheim from the same series also come highly recommended.
Avatar by Poul Anderson — The novel concerns the efforts of a rogue space ship captain and his efforts to discover the secret of mysterious alien “star gates” that have been placed across the universe, apparently for use by any beings who can unlock their secrets. It’s a polemic, in part, about the value of space exploration.
Orion Shall Rise by Poul Anderson – Set a few centuries after a nuclear war, the story is Anderson’s meditation on society and culture. One such depicted, the Mauri, a deeply conservative (small “c”) people who seek sociological and ecological stability. One of the themes is the usefulness of technology as a force for liberation.
The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke – The novel depicts the building of a space elevator, something that might become—in effect—the transcontinental railroad to the heavens.
Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke – The novel depicts the journey of a colonist on Titan to Earth to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the United States. Some of the themes include sexual and racial tolerance, cloning (a new subject when the book first came out, but now very current), and the economics of energy production and distribution.
Fallen Angels by Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and Michael Flynn – The book is someone dates (depicting a Space Station Mir and a “Space Station Freedom” built from a space shuttle external fuel tank. But it does have much to say about the possible consequences of certain proposed social and economic policies. Efforts to fight “global warming”, for example, results in a new ice age.
The Retief Series by Keith Laumer – If there is any better satire about the foibles of diplomacy—and the proper application thereof—this writer is unaware of it. This series should be a must read for any potential Secretary of State.
Dune by Frank Herbert – Probably the best depiction about how a planet’s ecology can affect its inhabitants and visa versa. Also lots of great political intrigue which might have some useful lessons for any US President.
The above should not be approached as text books, to be followed verbatim, but as opportunities to provoke thought. It is also not a comprehensive list, as there are many other works that might prove enlightening and enjoyable for anyone seeking public office.
Eight years later, it is pretty clear that the eventual winner of the 2008 contest, Barack Obama, did not read any of the list or, if he did, declined to take the lessons learned to heart. The list retains a certain relevance, however, and would benefit Sen. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders just as it might have the 2008 candidates.
Are there any additions that have been published since that might prove of benefit? Funny that the gentle reader should ask.
The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey – With most of the first book in the series, Leviathan Awakes, already a series on the SyFy Channel, these books contain everything anyone could want in a space oriented science fiction adventure, including political intrigue, a meditation on the dangers of certain technologies, and a look at a space faring civilization that is at once realistic and awe inspiring.
The Martian by Andy Weir – Besides being a hit movie starring Matt Damon, this book depicts a near future in which NASA has been given the money, leadership, and direction that it needs for the Journey to Mars. The book is also a great adventure of survival and science on the Red Planet.
The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper by Mark R. Whittington – This short novel examine the relationship between the “old space” of NASA and “new space” of commercial enterprises in which the first man to land on Mars joins an asteroid mining company.
The Children of Apollo Trilogy by Mark R. Whittington – The three books in this series is set in an alternate history in which the Apollo program continued with additional missions. It is a must read for anyone who will be making decisions on space policy.
The caveat at the end of the original article applies to the additions on the list as well.