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Sci-Fi Books

Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Depressing Sci-fi You've Ever Read? 1365

50000BTU_barbecue writes "Usually sci-fi provides adventure with happy endings for everyone. But what story have you read that resonates years later because of some insight about human nature or society that's basically cynical or pessimistic? For me it's Fred Pohl's Jem, with its sharply divided resource-constrained future world driven by politics, and its conclusion that humans are just too destructive to handle contacting alien life, especially if humans have the technological upper hand. I'm wondering what other stories have stuck in people's minds. It can be a short story, a novel or an entire series of books."
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Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Depressing Sci-fi You've Ever Read?

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  • by Yunzil ( 181064 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:12PM (#40912017) Homepage

    Synopsis: Humans are self-destructive, never learn from their mistakes, and are doomed to destroy themselves over and over again.

  • by Niris ( 1443675 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:13PM (#40912029)
    Very interesting story, but an ending that I still think about.
  • by wonderboss ( 952111 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:36PM (#40912361)


  • by safetyinnumbers ( 1770570 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:00PM (#40912703)
    A lot of the best answers have already been given, so to be different I'll add Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother". Technically it's a more upbeat book than 1984, but it's more relevant to today's society, giving it more impact.

    It seemed to keep hinting towards clever and cute plot twists and resolutions (which you'd expect since it's pitched as a Young Adults book) but things kept resolving more realistically.

    Oh and a some of Bob Shaw's work (particularly short stories) were pretty dark in tone.
  • by safetyinnumbers ( 1770570 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:18PM (#40912899)

    I believe it was called 2439 -- the premise being

    This [], maybe? I still think of it whenever I hear mention of population growth predictions.

  • by lee n. field ( 750817 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:22PM (#40912961)

    S. M. Stirling's Draka novels. The evil of the titular Draka (alternate history South Africa with the branch point in the 1770s, turned relentlessly aggressive slave making fascist master race) is the stuff of nightmares. I could not read any of those straight through.

    More low key, George R. Stewart's 1949 post apocalyptic Earth Abides []. If you've never read it, do.

  • by DamienMcKenna ( 181101 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:23PM (#40912967)

    Donaldson's "Gap" series was pretty depressing too - lots of anti-heros, a leading lady who spends half of the series being raped, etc. Yes, the series did get to a point in the end, but it's like wading through ten miles of sewers just to find an exit.

  • by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:42PM (#40913153)
    I love this quote! But you really ought to attribute it to the correct source, which is John Rogers [].
  • by je ne sais quoi ( 987177 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:44PM (#40913175)
    Oh... and while I'm at it, here's the actual quote:

    There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

    -- John Rogers.

  • Probably (Score:4, Informative)

    by nelsonal ( 549144 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:49PM (#40913245) Journal
    The windup girl. Resource constrained Thailand, miserable existence for what's essentially a genetically engineered sex toy.
  • by ktappe ( 747125 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:16PM (#40913547)

    There are two kinds of people who have read Ayn Rand. Those who understand that individual liberty are not dirty words, and those who like to put dirty words in other people's mouths.

    Your post was confusing until I saw your screen name.

  • by Dr_Banzai ( 111657 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:34PM (#40913705) Homepage
    Forge of God by Greg Bear could be considered depressing as it involves the destruction of Earth by inscrutable aliens. Its sequel Anvil of Stars is also rather dark in mood, involving an army of children on a long-term mission to find and take revenge on the Earth's unknown destructors.

    Also very dark in tone is the thought-provoking short story Hardfought, also by Greg Bear, well worth a read.

  • Re:The Road (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:37PM (#40913751)

    I read that book once. Once is enough.

    Watching the movie made me want to slit my wrists just to see color.

  • Re:Brave New World (Score:5, Informative)

    by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:45PM (#40913821) Homepage

    If I may contribute an addendum, here is the quote to which I was referring, by Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death (pdf) []. It compares Orwell's 1984 to Huxley's Brave New World:

    What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

  • by EvolutionInAction ( 2623513 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:57PM (#40913907)
    Sure, but if I understand 'Randism' at all correctly, the banks shouldn't be regulated because that would interfere with the liberty of the lenders. Somehow the threat of collapse would keep them from making poor choices. Of course, it makes more sense to think that the owners would run it into the ground, make out like bandits, and leave the ashes of a company while they moved on. Because that's what happens now, even with regulation.
  • by Lotana ( 842533 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @02:04AM (#40915097)

    The story is called "The Last Question" and it is in my personal opinion the greatest science fiction short story ever written. I do not believe it is suited to be called "Most Depressing" because it has a really up-lifting ending. I would recomend you read the last part: The whole short story is available free here: []

    Though perhaps some may see the re-birth to still be a downer, it is still much more cheerful than other stories mentioned in this Ask Slashdot.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @03:15AM (#40915455) Journal

    This is an argument for a more localized government (which directly translates to leadership being less removed from normal people), not necessary against a strong government.

    That said, a government is effectively inevitable. By definition, a government is an organization that holds the monopoly on legitimate violence over a given territory. If you remove that, what follows is a struggle for power between various interest groups; the ones that win, become the new government. So, flawed or not, the best thing you can do is shape the government to have the most beneficial effect overall.

  • by Count Fenring ( 669457 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @08:16AM (#40916773) Homepage Journal

    The ideas of social responsibility, duty, innate obligations to "society", "greater good" are the ideas that hold that is reasonable expect individuals to think and act pro-actively in certain ways for the benefit of others. The demand that an individual love everyone equally is making a claim to an individual's most deepest and intimate emotions. That's a sense of entitlement if I've ever heard one.

    Wow, if that in any way actually described social responsibility, you'd really have a zinger there. Unfortunately, social responsibility doesn't remotely mean loving everyone equally - or even loving anyone, particularly. It involves acting responsibly within your wider community, and providing for common infrastructure and safety nets. It's about very practical considerations that deal with external realities. Defining it solely in terms of internal emotional construction is stupid. But, then, as a Rander, you're basically a solipsist anyway - who cares how the external world actually functions, when it can all be about ME ME ME.

    This is not Rand's definition of the word "liberty" but it is one that I think she would have liked: "Liberty, in a political context, is an environment in which all relationships are consensual."

    But somehow all her sex scenes are basically rapes. Hmmm.

  • And if you 'fail because some large corporation lied? Oh too bad the powerful men stepped on you.
    Or they dump all there waste into the water? or take you land so they can have their railroad, or any number of actual real world examples.

    " ruthless objectivist world "
    ah, and there we have a another person who didn't read her entire philosophy.
    Explain to me how you could even have a chance to succeed of large mega corporation controlled everything? hmm? We are talking EITC + Robber barons and turning them up to 11.

    Ayn Rand state that corporation would take care of the people. Do you REALLY believe that? DO you really think BP would have made any effort beyond capping if the government didn't have regulation and forced them to take responsibility for their fuck up?

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky