Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Sociological Fantasy

So, all those posts about sociological SF made me think about fantasy novels that have a sociological emphasis. Because some of them do! Sometimes it’s not just an emphasis on worldbuilding and developing the culture; sometimes a fantasy novel really uses the genre to consider social behavior and social development.

I’m not sure I can come up with a list of ten titles I think do this — though I bet you all can help fill in a top ten list — but I can think of some. In no order:

  1. The City and the City by Mieville. This is a great police procedural plus this weird social construct? aspect of reality? by which two cities overlap in space but, somehow, people in one city “unsee” features of the other city. This leads to strange social phenomena.
  2. Terry Pratchett’s social satire fantasy; ie Going Postal and Making Money and many others. No modern author was as successful at writing satire as Pratchett. If you consider satire about social norms to be sociological, well, there you go.
  3. The Dead River trilogy by Naomi Kritzer, which does SO MUCH with questions about the role of women and also slaves in society. Kritzer is dealing with questions like: is it right to demand that slaves seize their own freedom before welcoming them, as the Alashi do? What about freeing slaves who don’t want to be free? How do you define freedom anyway? What about killing a lot of people in order to free slaves, is that okay? This is a superb trilogy in every way, and also I think it fits to call it sociological fantasy.
  4. The Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce. This is such a good look at a society that is just developing ideas about the organization and role of police in society. Also the emphasis on forgery and how bad currency impacts society is interesting and unusual.
  5. The Inda series by Sherwood Smith. In some ways Smith is cheating here, by changing certain aspects of human nature and then building her societies and world. In other ways, it is just very interesting to see the kind of societies she builds after changing human nature. Plus, this is a great epic fantasy series, one of my favorites.

That’s five! What do you all think of the category “sociological fantasy?” Is that a thing? Should it be a thing? If it should, what are some other candidates for this sub-subgenre?

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6 Comments Sociological Fantasy

  1. SarahZ

    The Dinotopia books came to mind – there was just enough plot to allow them to visit the whole island, it’s mostly about documenting the human/dino culture.

  2. Pete Mack

    In that case,I will nominate Mary Gentle’s “Grunts” for the list. Additionally, I’d put James P Tiptree (sic) on the list for sociological SF.

  3. Meera

    I like Martha Wells Raksura novels here – the world building of the Raksura culture/biology is really interested in who does what, and how that reacts under stress and change

  4. Rachel

    Meera, I thought of the Raksura series and perhaps should have added those. I like how the Raksura’s instincts are really not the same as human instincts and how that influences their society. There’s not a whole lot of exploration of the sociology of other species … the Fell, a little … there’s tons of worldbuilding, certainly.

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