Worst & Best in scifi
I just finished reading "Into Deepest Space" by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle. It is the worst science fiction book I have ever read. And I have read hundreds.
Mind you, perhaps the translation is to blame for the flat tone and the dreadful dialogue. However, the stupid storyline and the undescribed location and characters surely come from the original.
In this book, there are three aliens, who come from Betelgeuse (although they are genetically almost-humans), and their names are Betelgeuse, Rigel and Alcyone. I have no idea how they got to be named as starts, but anyway, it took me 50 pages to figure out Alcyone was female, and 120 to see a mention of her being romantically linked to the human (called, I kid you not, Dick Warboys).
But enough of that. After I finished this garbage (which is at least short), I started thinking, what was my favourite scifi book, since this one is surely the opposite.
I have to say "The disposessed" by Ursula K. LeGuin.
As I have discussed with Uwe a few times (although we are both fans uf UKLG, so it's no argument :-), the reason her books are so good is that they are about people.
She is one of the biggest humanists writers I know. While some authors write about people who are more than human in some sense, like Heinlein, whose alter ego is usually trivial to recognize, and is super-competent and really, pretty super-human, LeGuin's characters are more human than us.
They are good, or evil, or something in between, but they are what they are for human reasons, with human motivation, for human goals, with human purposes.
You can understand the guys. You can hate them or like them, but you can understand them.
For example, Shevek, the main character in The Dispossessed, is, for human eyes, supremely uninterested in power, wealth, material posessions, which would seem to make him superhuman or inhuman.
After all, we all consider ambition and desire of posession, material or personal as natural, because we experience them, we embrace them!.
But he is not described as a character who simply is like that. He became like that through extensive and deep education, almost brainwashing, although brainwashing with a seemingly positive goal in the described circunstances.
Now, is it good? He seems to be happy. His society, formed of likeminded folks is described as happy, and good, and he even describes the wealthy earth-like capitalist world he visits as "hell".
Would we be better off if we were brainwashed into being good? Aren't we, only inefficiently?
Is there moral value on Shevek's being ethical after he has been educated to be unable to be unethical?
Does it matter?
Those are questions a Heinlein book will not make you ask, and they are worthy questions, and they have no easy anwswers. And they are all deeply human problems.
And although the competent men of scifi are fun to read, and cause me to think of problems of different nature, which are worthwile in themselves, I think Ursula K. LeGuin's books actually make me learn and think about more important things. I learn about people from them.
They are good for you. And they are well written. And they are a fun read. And what more can one ask?
You asked: "Would we be better off if we were brainwashed into being good? Aren't we, only inefficiently?"
The short answer is: "Who does the brainwashing? Is HE to be trusted?"
I tried to write about a "perfect" society in a book I posted on my website back in '99, "Alien Beach." The usual benevolent advanced aliens come to visit Earth, and everyone suspect that they are too good to be true... "What's the catch?"
And there is a catch: turns out one of those kind, civilized aliens is a "reformed" criminal. When it was discovered that he plotted murder, the other aliens had him lobotomized. They claim that this was not a casual decision, but they had to do it for his own good.
Of course lobotomizing people into being socially adjusted is a horrifying prospect. The problem, again, is who does the brainwashing. In my book, the buck is passed on to some vague alien ancestor spirits who do the ultimate judgment. In real life, we can't find a final authority.
Still, I think Saddam would be happier if he was lobotomized... ;-P
Well, if we consider educatin as brainwashing (or viceversa), I have been a professional brainwasher for about 10 years :-)