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Lockdown Book Club: Sci-Fi for Unionists Edition

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Science fiction, like the union, is the realm of True Believers. We imagine different worlds just as we imagine a better one for ourselves and then fight for it. 

So, True Believers, are you looking for something to reinvigorate the imagination? Or maybe just something to escape for a little while during this difficult time?

Either way, we’ve got you sorted!

Iron Council, China Miéville

Iron Council is the capstone of Miéville’s Bas Lag trilogy, which means I have some good news for you: you might have to do some pre-reading before even getting to Iron Council. Perdido Street Station, the first instalment is a must-read in order to understand the world of Bas Lag, but part two, The Scar, can be skipped if you really want to get to the climax. We recommend all three, but one and three can make for a complete experience. 

Iron Council is Miéville’s revolution, plain and simple. A lifelong activist and committed socialist, Miéville writes it into existence with a passion and a lust for upheaval that you can’t help but feel. Iron Council sees a workers’ collective take control of their employer’s train and reroute its tracks, sleeper by sleeper, through the desert as they seek liberation from the system before turning their attention toward bringing it down. 

Luckily for us, however, he doesn’t fall into the trap of getting so caught up in politics that the author forgets to tell a good story. His mind is truly warped. The world of Bas Lag and the city of New Crobuzon is inhabited by anthropomorphised cacti, transdimensional spiders and at least one omnipotent cleaning robot. Demons reside underneath and bird-like humanoids fill the skies above. Politics aside, these novels are just a lot of fun. 

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin

Yes, it has probably appeared on every socially-conscious sci-fi list since it was published (and subsequently won the Nebula Award for Best Novel) in 1974, but there’s a reason for it. And what better time to read some of those classics you’ve always wanted to read?

The Dispossessed is a giant in science-fiction’s tradition of imagining worlds and political systems other than our own. The planet of Anarres is an anarchist colony founded by expatriates of Urras, its capitalist counterpart. The two planets orbit each other with very little contact, until a renowned physicist seeks a bridge between the two worlds. Through his eyes we see the illogical excesses of capitalism, as well as the unwillingness of the powers that be to suffer threats to the status quo. 

There’s something comforting about classic sci-fi like The Dispossessed, but also something incredibly enraging. When a social critique rings true in 2021 just as it did in 1974 it reveals a frustrating lack of progress. However, LeGuin’s optimistic masterpiece will always be with us to show us the way towards a more peaceful and more equitable way of building our society. 

The Old Lie, Claire G. Coleman

Science fiction, long the domain of white dudes, has undergone a transformation and a democratisation in recent years. Women are winning all the awards, and women of colour have finally claimed their rightful place among the giants of genre fiction. 

Claire G. Coleman, an Aboriginal woman, has become one of Australia’s most prominent voices in science fiction. The Old Lie (as well as her first novel, Terra Nullius) shows why.

When the intergalactic war that Shane Daniels and Romany Zetz lost so many friends to is over, they find that their government has betrayed them. Unable to return to Earth, their country taken from them and given to officers, this is the futuristic retelling of Australia’s shameful past. As their families back home are ravaged by a blight on the land, the testing of a new weapon to end the war, Shane and Romany come to grips with the lie they were told and the government that only wishes they had fulfilled their purpose of laying down their lives for Crown and Country. 

The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin

Remember when we said that women of colour were winning all the awards? N.K. Jemisin has, quite literally, won all the awards. Her Broken Earth Trilogy, which was showered in praise and gold, is a masterpiece of worldbuilding and storytelling that will see it go down in history with the likes of The Lord of the Rings. We strongly recommend it here as a bonus to this list. 

Her latest offering is something different. Jemisin hasn’t created a new world; this time she’s fighting for the one she knows. The City We Became is a story about fighting back against gentrification and corporatisation. 

New York City is facing a threat to its very existence. Having only recently learned to stand on its feet (literally; the city’s spirit has finally inhabited an avatar) it quickly becomes the target of dark forces seeking to put an end to its vibrancy and its sense of community. Only by banding together can the avatars of the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island) save their sum of their parts from annihilation. 

Do you hate the new faux-luxury developments going up in your neighbourhood? Prefer locally-owned to large chains? Do you *love* public transport? Then this is the novel for you.

(And good news: it’s part one in a series with more instalments to come!)

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