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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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @07:56PM (#40911787)


  • by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:01PM (#40911829)

    I've found the literary branch of steampunk to be generally depressing, with very few bright spots. It's interesting because most expressions of the culture are very Jules Verne / Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp influenced, particularly on the costuming side where steampunk really started. But the literary side is almost entirely Dickens with zeppelins.

  • inane subject here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:01PM (#40911833)

    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Absolutely nothing good happens to anyone ever.

  • by Roarkk ( 303058 ) * on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:02PM (#40911859) Homepage Journal
    What do you get when youo combine manic depression, schizophrenia, bigotry, and leprosy, then add in a little literal and figurative rape?

    In the end, a pretty good series, but more than anything else I"ve read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has the darkest, most depressing prose I've ever read.
  • The Road (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:05PM (#40911901)

    The Road

  • by ChrisKnight ( 16039 ) <merlin@ghostwhe[ ]com ['el.' in gap]> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:07PM (#40911929) Homepage

    Do you make a distinction between depressing and sad? Make Room! Make Room! made me depressed about the future, but Flowers for Algernon made me cry; and yet I think they were two different things.

  • Re:Heinlein! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Elgonn ( 921934 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:09PM (#40911955)
    I'm not sure I'd consider The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as depressing. I'm still sad for Mike but I'm not sure how you'd find the story depressing.
  • Harrison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crow_t_robot ( 528562 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:17PM (#40912105)
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:32PM (#40912309) Journal

    There are two kinds of people who have read Ayn Rand. Those who misguidedly think that they're entirely self-sufficient, and those who understand that human individuality can only exist and prosper in a healthy society.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:33PM (#40912323)

    No, I agree: Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" is utterly depressing. I was thinking about it when I read the summary and then was surprised that someone else thought about it as well.

    The story depicts mankind's end. No, it's not a new beginning. Our individuality makes us what we are. Humanity ends right there, in some sort of stupid dance. No other Clarke story I know is as dark and depressing. Mankind comes to this pathetic end, not even with some sort of bang, it just gets absorbed, overcome, assimilated.

    Stories ending in all out nuclear war or complete annihilation of Earth or mankind are not as depressing as this.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:33PM (#40912325)

    There are two kinds of people who have read Ayn Rand... Those who understand her ideas and see them as value to society... and those who are too stupid to understand.

    There are two novels that can transform a bookish 14-year-kld’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.

  • or Brazil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by twoallbeefpatties ( 615632 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:36PM (#40912359)
    You know, I read 1984 when I was in junior high (which was in the early 90s), and it was a dark and frightening read. But it didn't really hit me that hard. Then as an adult a few years ago, I watched Terry Gilliam's Brazil for the first time, and it depressed the hell out of me.

    1984 is a story about an ultra-competent government that manages to run everything just the way it wants to and convince people to act and think how it wants. Brazil was a story about an amazingly incompetent government that so much fails at it's job as to take society down with it. Guess which one I find more relevant to the current state of affairs?
  • Yep, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:37PM (#40912371)
    and her ideas worked so well that she died penniless and living off the socialism she so despised (look it up, she did).

    Come off it. Ayn was just a scared little woman frightened by dictators. I could spend hours recounting the holes in her philosophy, but others [] have done it much better than I ever could.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:45PM (#40912497) Homepage Journal

    1. On the Beach all life killed by a nuclear war with the last people on earth just waiting for the radiation cloud to come and kill them or commiting suicide. No escape just a dead earth.
    2. 1984. No hope you can not win, nobody can win, there is no hope. []
    3. The The Forge of God. [] Only a few humans are saved, the earth is turned to rubble.

  • Earth Abides (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:49PM (#40912547) Homepage

    Low-key, and yet just deeply terrified me. Seemed pretty concrete and realistic. It's all downhill. Every hope is dashed.

  • by cowtamer ( 311087 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:52PM (#40912595) Journal

    Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley followed by a short story I read which I can't locate right now.

    I believe it was called 2439 -- the premise being that in the year 2439 (I might be wrong about the year), the Earth is covered in its entirety with a 700 story building in order to provide for the almost 1 trillion humans that live in it (with only algae left to supply them). The story was about the last man to actually have animals, and the authorities plight to convince him to euthanize them in order to make room for the trillionth human, so that 'perfection' can be achieved. The claim of the authorities was that there was enough color microfiche of all the animals that ever lived so that the actual ones need no longer be around to consume resources.

    My paraphrase may seem very silly, but the actual story had enough of an impact on me when I was 15 to change my outlook on our relationship with the environment for good. It'd be great if anyone could point me to the actual story/author.

  • Brave New World (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darth Muffin ( 781947 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:52PM (#40912599) Homepage
    Brave New World, Aldus Huxley. Perfectly horrible. Stranger in a Strange land was also pretty depressing.
  • Re:or Brazil (Score:3, Insightful)

    by marcosdumay ( 620877 ) <marcosdumay@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:52PM (#40912603) Homepage Journal

    Brazil was a story about an amazingly incompetent government that so much fails at it's job as to take society down with it.

    Doesn't matter what is more depressing. The question was about fiction, your book is out of scope. The judge is still out about 1984, but Brazil clearly can't participate on this contest.

  • Re:Easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:01PM (#40912725)

    "Arthur C. Clakes Childhood's End, that wasn't depressing, certainly not up there with the most obvious example 1984"

    1984 is depressing just till you read Huxley' s Brave New World. And the fact that nobody has even mentioned it after well over 100 comments shows exactly why it's so depressing.

  • by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:06PM (#40912775)

    Nope. We are living Brave New World much more than 1984.

  • by Leomania ( 137289 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:09PM (#40912805) Homepage

    The future world she envisioned felt so much like an obvious extrapolation from the world of today. It affected me for awhile afterwards; just kept thinking about it...

  • by RightwingNutjob ( 1302813 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:12PM (#40912839)
    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.
  • by Vaphell ( 1489021 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:53PM (#40913291)

    I value people who care only about their family and friends more than the compassionate types loving everybody. The former are honest, the latter usually are easy to pin down as stinking hypocrites.
    People are not wired to care about the whole world. Your brain can track up to 150 people at once. If you claim you can't sleep because children in Africa are dying, you are lying. If you say are worried about the living conditions of the guy who assembled your iphone, you are lying.
    The only way to make sure nobody is left behind is to follow the rule 'Everyone looks after oneself = everyone is looked after'

    we have a decent proxy to determine self-sufficiency score - money. If you are paid a good coin that means you are a valuable member of society. If your score is above 0, you are a net gain for society. Yeah yeah, the rich are mostly worthless but have a high score - nobody said the proxy was perfect (besides the rich were bad guys in the book)
    The whole point is that the healthy society you speak of doesn't necessarily mean inducing guilt trips in individuals to look after everybody and their dog. On the contrary, they should be free to excel without being bogged down by mediocrity all around them.
    I bet this is one of the reasons why the upward mobility is at all time low - people who are bright enough to bring value to the table are paying through the nose instead of expanding, because everybody is entitled to something and it ain't free. They also can't temporarily cut corners in their own wellbeing to bet everything they have on their ideas, because most likely the govt will say it's illegal in 10 different ways and will find 100 ways to punish them.

  • by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:53PM (#40913293)

    There are two kinds of people who have read Ayn Rand. Those who understood it and those (such as yourself) who have not. Capitalism is the greatest example of voluntary human cooperation in history (remember the Freedman's story of the pencil - look it up on youtube). The difference is not between cooperation and no cooperation, but between voluntary and forced cooperation.

  • by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:59PM (#40913351) Journal

    The problem is where to draw the line between my individual liberty and yours. My fist should experience all the freedom it wants, right up to the edge of your noses freedom to not be bloody. Sadly when people begin assuming that their freedom is a Gawd given right, and continue to take a little more, grab a little more, nudge a little more, we end up with a lot of people who honestly believe that they are entitled. suddenly your continued breathing is interfering with their freedom to use that space you're taking up. This is how wars large and small begin. If you think I'm exaggerating, I would only have to point at the near cratering of the global economy in 2008, and the next one which will be even larger if we don't start limiting the freedom of those who now control our economies. So with individual liberty, must also come personal responsibility, and social accountability. You/They are not the only sentient being(s) on the planet, taking freedom isn't an excuse for not playing well with others.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:10PM (#40913485) Journal

    I value people who care only about their family and friends more than the compassionate types loving everybody. The former are honest, the latter usually are easy to pin down as stinking hypocrites.

    There's nothing wrong with valuing your family and friends more than other people. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't put zero value to other people, however.

    People are not wired to care about the whole world.

    Actually, yes, they are. Well, not about the whole world, but their community (which is certainly bigger than family). Humans are social primates, with all that entails. If you read up on human ethology, you'll find out that a lot of "basic decency" things, and altruism in general, are actually evolved intrinsic behavior, rather than conditioning.

    Again, this doesn't contradict caring about yourself/family/friends. In fact, it rather complements it - if the society as a whole takes care about you as a member, it makes sense to ensure its continual existence. That's precisely why these things evolved in the first place - they benefit not only the group as a whole, but (on average) individual members of that group as well.

  • by Nyder ( 754090 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:30PM (#40913665) Journal

    This is about Science Fiction. Most depressing SCIENCE FICTION books/stories you've read.

    Yet, most of you idiots are going on about non science fiction books.

    There is a difference between science fiction and non science fiction, yet most of you do NOT understand that.

    This is depressing because I came here to hopefully learn about some new books that would be good to read, and I get stupid peeps talking about normal fiction books.

    seriously peeps, science fiction. not fucking fiction.

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

    by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:31PM (#40913679) Homepage

    Yes, Brave New World. Especially since Brave New World seems to reflect our current cultural situation in much of the west.

    I have heard Huxley's Brave New World compared and contrasted with Orwell's 1984. In 1984, the powers that be manipulate the public's opinions to believe that, in essence black is white and 2 + 2 = 5. In Huxley's Brave New World, the public simply doesn't care about the reality of the world. Most people are simply interested in what is in front of them, their desires, their fears, without any real concern about society as a whole. That sounds a lot like the current corporate state.

  • by garett_spencley ( 193892 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @11:58PM (#40914413) Journal

    You don't need to care for all the other people individually - that much is, of course, impossible. You can, however, care for the aggregate, especially when you yourself are also a part of it, and its well-being directly reflects on yours.

    That's a selfish idea if I've ever heard one ;)

    I am absolutely convinced that the majority of Rand's opponents have never read a single of her books. Rand was once asked to clarify the whole "selfish" controversy on a talk show in the 70's and she said, paraphrasing: "How about I use a different word: self-esteem, would you be more comfortable with that?"

    What most people miss is that Rand was just as much against pop-philosophies that she called "altruist" as she was promoting an alternative, particularly the ideas contained within "altruist philosophies" of using selfishness as a scapegoat for all of humanity's ills. Because she saw that most of the prevailing philosophies were not just advocating for benevolence and kindness but were teaching people that they were essentially worthless and needed to submit themselves entirely to something greater than themselves. As evidence I submit any story where the main protagonist achieves hero status by killing himself at the end to save others.

    You kind of hit the nail on the head without even realizing it. To care about your family, your society, your country, your environment is a selfish act because you are acting for your own individual preservation. It is selfish to love someone because their existence, their virtues, their company gives you personal, selfish joy. It is rational to want your family, your friends and your peers to flourish and prosper because it means a higher standard of living, not just for them but for everyone, yourself included. And Rand promoted rational self-interest (and clarified that all the time: source []).

    It's altruist philosophies that have equivocated the idea of having your own selfish interests at heart with being incompatible with the interests of others. Rand was very careful to clarify this and the fact that so many people openly attack her using a complete lack of understanding of what she meant when she promoted the idea of selfishness as a virtue is as close to proof as you can get that these people have never actually studied anything she wrote.

  • Re:or Brazil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dadioflex ( 854298 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @02:19AM (#40915161)

    Not really much science in those fictional stories.

    When I think of SciFi, I think of stories where science plays the dominate role, like space travel, advance techonology, and of course, shit with science in it.

    By your definition most SF wouldn't be SF then. In fact very little SF would be SF because most of the "science" in Science Fiction is inaccurate and thus not actually science. 1984 and Brave New World do in fact both include plenty of science, in the background. Pervasive surveillance, socio-political engineering, pharmaceutical engineering, artificial birth - it's all there. I would assume you never actually read either book.

  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @02:38AM (#40915267) Homepage

    The problem with all this Randism is that it doesn't account for failure. If the bank where I put my savings fail, my savings are gone, even though I didn't made an error in judgement when I put my money there long ago. If I don't have the resources to diversify my savings enough to put them into different banks, and if not only a single bank but a whole system of banks fails, I lose. Regulation is not primarily about infringment on individual freedom and trade, it is about limiting the effect an error, a fraud, or a failure have on innocent bystanders. Regulations are not primarily about control, they are about the containment of catastrophical events. And moreso: Disincentives are also just another type of regulation. Laws forbidding fraud, murder or theft are regulation. And courts upholding contracts and a police enforcing the court decisions are the judictive and the executive branch of those laws and regulations.

  • Evidence abounds (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @03:00AM (#40915375)

    "Heroes" who single-handedly guided and caused progress by act of their sheer will and ingenuity, pretty much regardless of the environment, and in fact often directly against it. That is essentially what the book is all about. The problem, again, is that there's no evidence really backing that premise.

    Are you serious?

    The history we learn is chock full of such people. Joan of Arc, Einstein, Roosevelt, Churchill, Steve Jobs, Darwin, etc. etc. etc.

    The list is endless. There are countless individuals who have affected how the whole world turns, for better or worse... in fact if anything history shows us progress does not really happen until such people come along, because otherwise the world simply sits forever in a plodding state of status quo, or in fact slips backward into chaos.

    The other oft repeated mistake is that such "selfish altruism" is solely a product of rational thought in the first place.

    Of course it's not, but the innate sense of wrong is not powerful enough to really stop people from doing the wrong thing. It's only discipline to reinforce that natural instinct that makes it powerful enough a force to have real impact.

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

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:38AM (#40916539)
    In fact I don't find BNW scary at all. It is a utopia. Most people are happy and well-adjusted, there is no crime, very little illness. When people emerge who don't fit and are intelligent, they simply get sent off to a community of other intelligent people so they don't upset the sheep. If you're a Bernard Marx, you'd really like to live in a world like that. The prize for not fitting in is to be sent to the equivalent of an Ivy League university. As Mustafa Mond points out to Helmholtz, Marx thinks he's being punished but in fact he is being rewarded. The rulers of BNW, in fact, are Platonic philosopher-kings, and they recognise that they must allow the gene pool to throw up exceptions because it is from those exceptional people that the rulers of the world will be drawn. They are altruistic, and the system is designed to ensure that they stay that way. It is only depressing if you believe that there are sky fairies who make rules for humankind.
  • Re:Easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VAXcat ( 674775 ) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @09:53AM (#40917517)
    I dunno why everyone thinks Brave New World was depressing. It sounds like a utopia to me. I figure I'd at least be a Beta, which means I'd get some easy office job. Plenty of casual sex and drugs, none of conventional society's problems - what's not to like? A gram IS better than a damn. Everyone belongs to everybody else - paradise!

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington