My UCLA School of Law colleague Ted Parson asked that I pass along this question, and I’m interested in the answers myself. The law school lets faculty offer one-unit seminars on whatever topics they like, and they tend to be more theoretical than doctrinal. (For nearly all students, the overwhelming majority of the classes they take are primarily about current law, such as the law of torts, business associations, securities, bankruptcy and other practical things, as befits students in a professional school — but there is room for taking a few classes that are more about intellectual stimulation and more theoretical thinking, as well.) Prof. Parson will be teaching one such seminar on “Law in Futurist Social Visions,” and he’s looking for suggestions of works of science fiction (or other futurist fiction) that contain detailed and interesting descriptions of how law or government work in the speculative future world where the story is set. The following is from Prof. Parson (I didn’t want to set it as a block quote because of a formatting glitch with block quotes); if you have some suggestions, please post them in the comments:

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The point of the seminar is to use speculative writing to investigate legal and governmental challenges that may arise, and potential solutions, under plausible societal trends over the next few decades. I can think of three obvious trends driving such challenges: major technology-driven advances in human capabilities and/or longevity (whether of widespread or limited availability); severe environmental deterioration (realized or imminent); and blurring of the boundary between human and non-human consciousness, e.g., through advances in AI, alternative substrates for human consciousness, or encounters with non-human intelligences. No doubt there are others that I’m overlooking.

We’ll ask similar questions about how things work under each of these conditions. What would these changes mean for people’s perennial legal and governmental problems — i.e., how do they organize collective decisions and action; how do they balance individual and collective rights and responsibilities; and how do they resolve their conflicts without resort to violence? We aim to use speculative writing to think in a more disciplined way about current trends and controversies, and the longer-term impact of current decisions.

To prod our thinking on these questions, we read a few science-fictions that include more than usually interesting and detailed specifications of how things work in the future worlds.

When I’ve done this before, I’ve been surprised at how hard it is to find these. In my observation, science fiction tends to be rich in plot and technological speculation, but thin and sketchy on how society is organized. Many works follow a few rather simplistic tropes: e.g., post-apocalyptic anarchy, warring feudal states, and bureaucratic or theocratic totalitarianism (usually with heroic cells of resistance).

The works I used last time I offered this (three years ago) were the following:

  • Charles Stross, “Accelerando” (fabulous treatment of interactions between intellectual property and citizenship once people are getting uploaded as software, individually and collectively);
  • David Brin, “Kiln People” (implications of a cheap, disposable, widely available human self-replication technology);
  • Orson Scott Card, “Speaker for the Dead” (codification of peaceful relationships between three utterly dissimilar intelligent species sharing a planet);
  • A couple of TV episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” on the tensions between democratic government and the need for competent military chain-of-command when human society exists only on one spaceship (I prefer written works over TV and film but am open to suggestions on the latter, too).

Anyone have suggestions of others I should consider that are similarly, or more interesting?

(By the way, we also read a few works of non-fiction futurist speculation, by Francis Fukuyama, Ronald Bailey, Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy. I’m happy to get suggestions of additional readings of this type, too, although getting more and better fictional works is my highest priority.)