Tue
Apr 5 2011 4:11pm

Come and see the violence inherent in the system!

If you tried to think of a list of books that didn’t contain any violence, it wouldn’t be a very long one, and if you limited yourself to science fiction and fantasy it would be even shorter. It’s possible to argue that we need violence to make things interesting, or to provide tension—and obviously everybody loves a duel or a murder or a space battle. It’s even possible to argue that you can’t have a plot without violence, or anyway not the sort of plot we like in genre. Science fiction goes head on into changing the world, and how can you do that without breaking a few heads? Would a dark lord feel dangerous without violence? In discussing this with Alter Reiss he said that reimagining The Lord of the Rings without fighting was the same order of thing as reimagining Pride and Prejudice with zombies.

But it isn’t impossible to have books with no violence—Jane Austen wrote half a dozen books in which the most violent thing that happens is somebody carelessly falling down a flight of stairs. When I think of Austenesque books in genre, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Nebula nominated Shades of Milk and Honey (2010) lacks violence in exactly the same way—and it has a plot like an Austen plot, where the resolution is small scale and personal but the world hasn’t changed. Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer do the same thing, introducing battling wizards, threats, and violence in Regency England in Sorcery and Cecelia (1988) (post). I did the same myself with Tooth and Claw. The model is Trollope’s Framley Parsonage, which contains no violence but my version is full of cannibalism and violence because by writing a Victorian novel where the Victorians were dragons I was deliberately highlighting and externalising the violence inherent in the system... in making it a genre book I also made it a violent book.

Which would actually seem like a worse threat to you, if somebody threatened to chop off your head unless you did something, or if they threatened to expose the fact you hadn’t done it to all of your family and friends? It isn’t necessary to use violence to have a plot—shame is a huge motivator, and sometimes it can be a lot more real, especially if the characters always overcome the threats and violence. It’s much more likely that you the reader has been ashamed and embarrassed than that you’ve been assassinated by ninjas, so it’s easier to identify with. Also, you as a reader know that the writer isn’t going to kill off the protagonist half way through the volume, but you don’t know the protagonist won’t be put through agonies of shame and embarrassment. In that situation violence can be actually boring—to me anyway. I know they’re going to triumph and the tension is slackened rather than increased because I just want to get on with it.

You can say it’s not so interesting and what you want isn’t real violence but the stylised violence of fiction, and that’s fine. There’s definitely a place for it. Nobody wants to read books about fluffy kittens making friends with flying unicorns and living without conflict ever after. I just wonder if it’s always necessary to give violence as central a place as it usually gets. Violence can be necessary, but it can also be a cheap way of moving things on by having a man come through the door with a gun, violence in place of plot arising from character.

When trying to think of genre books without violence by the method of looking along my bookshelves and saying “No, no, no...” I noticed the works of Connie Willis. I will not say that she never has an act of violence in any of her fiction, but it’s hard to think of where. (“All My Darling Daughters.” But that’s directly about violence, and boy is it not the fun kind.) Most of her novels are free of the kind of violence you usually get in genre novels. They contain plagues and pandemics that kill people, and it would be hard to say that WWII wasn’t inherently violent, but they are deeply lacking in fights between characters. None of her books have enemies. Bellwether (1996) (post) has some very silly management practices, and To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997) (post) has a bullying organizer. Nobody gets stabbed, shot, or even thumped, yet there’s plenty of tension and people like these books a lot. They tend to have big historical events—the Black Death, WWII, the sinking of the Titanic—as antagonists, and they also tend to have a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding driving the plot along.

Asimov said “violence is the last resort of the incompetent” and he managed to write quite a few stories without it. The Foundation books have the Mule, but The End of Eternity (1955) (post) doesn’t have any violence. And some of Clarke’s “man versus canal” stories like A Fall of Moondust (1961) (post) are also lacking in violence. I can think of a lot of classic short stories that are problem solving and without violence. In these the conflict comes from problem solving, and the antagonist is the universe. I wonder if that’s the same with Willis—when you have the Black Death or a vacuum leak, human squabbles seem petty.

You don’t always need violence to make things happen. But even so, it’s surprising how few things there are that manage without it. Can you think of any more?


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

56 comments
PhoenixFalls
1. PhoenixFalls
Maybe A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold? There's the Vor twit grabbing Ekaterin's arm, and there's Ekaterin's relatives being unnecessarily afraid that the capital is going to break out into rioting, but other than that. . . oh, there's the bug butter fight, so maybe not.

I believe The Fox Woman, by Kij Johnson would qualify. . . there is a moment when a fox is shot that would depend on your perspective though -- the fox, obviously, feels it's a violent attack, but the human is just hunting. . . but other than that no violence at all, all the conflict coming from the universe and society.

It's been a little while since I read it and my memory's hazy, but maybe Catherynne M. Valente's Palimpsest. I can't think of anywhere violence fit into that narrative, but for some reason I hesitate to say for sure it wasn't there.

I think Sheri S. Tepper's Six Moon Dance is lacking in violence. . . the world was very much formed by violence, but in terms of the actual present-day plot I think it's completely lacking.

Perhaps Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, though my memories of the book are so inextricably entwined with my memories from the movie that it's hard to say. . .

And maybe also John Crowley's Little, Big, though I was bored enough in the New York sections that I could've forgotten something there. . .

That's all I've got though, beyond the ones you mentioned. I find that. . . rather disheartening.
PhoenixFalls
2. BeauW
Nina Kiriki Hoffman. That is exactly what first amazed me about her writing. No epic violence. No Evil. But tons of action and tension and bad decisions leading to consequences.
F Shelley
3. FSS
I'm thinking hard about what I learned at one point in high school (or was it jr high?). There are 4 types of plots:

man vs man
man vs nature
man vs society
man vs himself

the nice about sci fi (more than fantasy) is that it does allow an exploration of the last 3 without violence, perhaps even the first.

Heinlein wrote some short stories like that. I, Robot has some as well. And quite a few Star Trek episodes as well.

Fantasy, however, seems destined to include some type of violence. It seems inherent in the whole good vs evil thing. I'd be interested if someone could point out a (good) fantasy book that didn't contain any violence.
PhoenixFalls
4. PhoenixFalls
Fantasy, however, seems destined to include some type of violence. It
seems inherent in the whole good vs evil thing. I'd be interested if
someone could point out a (good) fantasy book that didn't contain any
violence.

Well, of the ones I listed in my first post, The Fox Woman, Palimpsest, and Little, Big are fantasy; the first helped get Kij Johnson the Crawford Award, the second was nominated for a Hugo, and the third won the World Fantasy Award. It's true none are high fantasy -- the first is historical (set in medieval Japan), while the other two are urban fantasy (in the de Lint/Windling vein, not the PNR vein).
PhoenixFalls
5. zvi999
Unless I'm misremembering, Silverberg's Dying Inside just has some shoving and maybe a punch or two, not genre-level violence.

Delany is an interesting case... he has managed a fair bit of action without violence -- both Stars in My Pocket... and Triton have backdrop scenes of horrific violence (cultural fugue in Stars..., war between the satellites and Earth in Triton) but the violence experienced by the characters is small-scale -- in Triton, the beating that Bron takes under Earth security focus is seen as the traumatic event that it is -- Bron isn't a genre hero. In Stars... I don't think Marq experiences any personal violence (though Rat Korga does, being a slave), but does experience shame and humiliation in an almost Austenian sense (at the dinner party for the Thants).
PhoenixFalls
6. (still) Steve Morrison
Flowers for Algernon didn’t have too much violence.
PhoenixFalls
7. RedAmbit
Sharon Shinn's Safe-Keeper series is fantasy, though mildly so, and has very little violence--and what little there was happened off screen, if I recall correctly.
PhoenixFalls
8. reaeverywhereelse
A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold?

You forget the attempted street reversal of Lord Dono's sex change surgery.
PhoenixFalls
9. PhoenixFalls
You forget the attempted street reversal of Lord Dono's sex change surgery.

Oh, d'oh! You're absolutely right. Scratch that.
Joel Cunningham
10. jec81
Jo - just popping by to say that I loved Tooth & Claw.

I jotted down some thoughts here. Needless to say, it quickly inspired the purchase of two more of your books.
Michael Grosberg
11. Michael_GR
Stanislaw Lem, Return from the Stars. It's about a space explorer returning to a much-changed earth after spending a long time in space. The future Earth is a safe utopia and the hero has difficulties finding a place in a completely tranquil society.

Also, what about Tanith Lee's Don't Bite the Sun? I don't remember the novel that well but it was at least *mostly* violence-free. Unless you count suicide.
Amit Kotwal
12. amitkotwal
How about Clarke's "The City and the Stars"? There was an (unsuccessful) attempt to detain Alvin by mind-control, and the history of the Mad Mind, but no physical violence I can recall.
PhoenixFalls
13. Jon Lennox
It's been a while in both cases, so there may be some scenes I'm forgetting, but:

Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke
Pacific Edge, Kim Stanley Robinson
PhoenixFalls
14. Lynnet1
I'm surprised by how few I see as I'm going through my shelves, but here are a few more for your list, although some are questionable. I'm choosing to include books where violence shapes the world and lives of the characters, but doesn't occur onscreen, because after all, how many soldiers are there in Austen?

The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker

Memory by Bujold (I'm classifying the incident with the legs as an accident). For that matter, there's no onscreen violence in Cetaganda, either.

The Worthing Saga by Card (although it's been a long time since I've read it. It is certainly a novel about pain and the worst impulses of human nature, so there probably is some violence) Also, possibly the Earth series by Card, but it's been even longer since I read it, so I can't say for certain.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's/Philosopher's Stone (My memories might be confused by the movie, but I don't think the final confrontation scene was particularly violent, although it was scary)

Away is a Strange Place to Be by H.M. Hoover

Child of a Rainless Year by Jane Lindskold

Beauty and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

The Circle of Magic series (with the exception of Tris's Book) by Tamora Pierce

Mairelon the Magician, Magician's Ward, and Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede
PhoenixFalls
15. Rowanmdm
The only books I can think of that don't use violence (of the human/thinking being variety) as a main source of conflict are a couple of Tamora Pierce's Magic Circle books that deal with plagues and forest fires. I think McCaffrey's Coelura also fits the bill.

I'll have to comb through my library when I get home and see if I can find any others.
Jo Walton
16. bluejo
FSS: My son summarised those three plots as Man vs Man, Man vs Plan, and Man vs Canal. It's possible to divide all SF into these three useful categories. A Fall of Moondust is a Man vs Canal book, where the enemy is technology and the universe. Most Miles books are Man vs Plan.

jec81: So glad you liked it. It was definitely my most fun book to write.
larry shirk
17. lorenzo
Most recently, Patricia McKillip's The Bards of Bone Plain has conflict, but no violence. Many of McKillip's works do not resort to violence, and are of high quality.
PhoenixFalls
18. N. Mamatas
A couple of the books I published via Haikasoru contain no violence:

The Next Continent by Issui Ogawa is basically a civil engineering project—the plot is about politics and resources, and the jeopardy the characters face come from the environment. Rocket Girls and Rocket Girls: The Last Planet by Housuke Nojiri are similar.
PhoenixFalls
19. PhoenixFalls
Lynnet1 @14:
The Worthing Saga has some on-screen violence; for sure in one of the short stories included in my edition a character is stoned to death, but I think in the novel proper the main character (Worthing, not the kid in the framing story) is beaten up.

I had totally overlooked McKinley though -- you're right, no violence I can recall in either of the Beauty and the Beast adaptations. There's also none in Spindle's End, nor, I think, in Dragonhaven though I've only read that one once so I'm not positive.
E M
20. herewiss13
While going through my library catalog, I found that this is harder than I would have thought. Even if the main plot is non-violent, the author will still throw in one or two incidents as spice (Hellspark by Janet Kagan has an off-screen murder and one minor street fight just at the start).

Here's a sampling. It's been a while, so hopefully I'm not forgetting too many minor incidents:

Anything by Douglas Adams (apart from the initial destruction of the earth and/or murder). Mind you, the only reason there's no violence is because his protagonists would be crap at it.

Blood Music by Greg Bear

Pretty much all of the Sector General series by James White (xeno-medicine)

Incandesence & Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan ('man' against cosmological forces)
Lauren James
21. LaurenJ
I remember a lot of SF books low on violence, but--I don't
think--any completely without it, or at lesat the threat of it. Though I
do think it's really interesting how often we're having to qualify
these as only having a little violence, or only background violence--it really shows how prevalent this is as a plot element.
PhoenixFalls
22. M. Soddy
Howl's Moving Castle, which I am re-reading again right now, really has no on screen violence, save for the very end, and even that I am hesitant to call violence. I can't really remember any violence in its sequel, Castle in the Air, but it has been a long time since I read that, and I read it only once. I don't really trust my memory.

Aside from that, though, I really struggle to think of anything else, that is SFF, at least. That's not something I had really thought about before, but violence really does permeate the genre.
PhoenixFalls
23. Diane D.
This is a fascinating discussion topic! I can fully enjoy a book (incl. JA!) about which some gripe "But nothing much HAPPENS," as long as it has well-developed and sympathetic protagonists, so surely I can come up with at least a few candidates. I'll have to skim my booklists and think about this! ...

@herewiss13: James White's consciously pacifist, but never boring, SECTOR GENERAL series is a *practically* perfect example, but there was one book where a govt. manipulated its people into declaring war on SG!

Along the lines of FSS's post, Lois McMaster Bujold commented re. THE SHARING KNIFE (a series of hers not yet mentioned here) that she deliberately created a race of foes more like a force of nature, i.e., deadly dangerous, but ironically w/o human "malice"! These books are not completely free of "man vs. man" conflict (esp. in #3, taking out the river bandits) but, e.g., when the superstitious local farmboys came after Dag in #1, his self-defense weapons of choice were evasion and a nest full of wasps! LMB's focus here is clearly on the growth of interpersonal and intercultural ("man society") understanding.

In fact, many first-contact-themed stories are about the growth AWAY from initial violent interaction.
PhoenixFalls
24. etranger
A lot of books by Philip K. Dick aren't too heavy on violence. It's been a while since I read it, but I don't seem to remember any in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.
René Walling
25. cybernetic_nomad
Whether a character gets smashed by a troll's club, or an avalanche, the result is probebly the same from the character's point of view -- reader experience will vary. I will assume violence enacted by a human (or other sentient) towards another with the intention to cause harm (as opposed to, say, a naturally occuring violent storm causing harm).

That said, here are a few books from my shelves I don't recall reading violence in (my memory may be faulty):

Still River by Hal Clement
Psychohistorial Crisis by Don Kingsbury
Shadows of Ashland by Terrence Green
Mars by Ben Bova
The Fountains of Paradise and Rendez Vous With Rama by A.C. Clarke
Also, IMS several of Zenna Henderson's stories of the People
PhoenixFalls
26. (still) Steve Morrison
Imperial Earth doesn’t really have violence, either, unless you count Karl’s accidental death, or the bruises he gave Calindy off stage. But then, it would be easier to list the Clarke novels which do contain violence than those which don’t!
Andrew Barton
27. MadLogician
Connie Willis's Passage contains a serious and shocking act of violence, and the consequences subvert our expectations.

22. M. Soddy: Howl's Moving Castle starts with a major act of magical violence which drives the whole plot. The sequel begins with one of the protagonists killing people for profit - he retains our sympathy because he's entrapping robbers who had every intention of killing him.

A major war occurs between the two books.
Michael Burke
28. Ludon
@ Diane D #23
@herewiss13: James White's consciously pacifist, but never boring,
SECTOR GENERAL series is a *practically* perfect example, but there was one book where a govt. manipulated its people into declaring war on SG!

True, but this series is still worth mentioning because of his twists. In the story you are talking about the war does take place but we experience it through the healers at Sector General. Additionally, the war's resolution is brought about because of a character's action which most people would call a sign of weakness.

In another story, Major Operation, the twist is that a patient's treatment is administered through the controlled application of brute military force which on the scale of the patient has about the same effect as that of a doctor using a scalpel.

While White did write about violent characters and situations, rarely was that violence a part of the solution to the problem - Dogfight, Occupation : Warrior, Tableau, Federation World and The Silent Stars Go By.

I'd like to suggest three of his short stories which are fun without violence. Countercharm, The Apprentice and Custom Fitting.
Clark Myers
29. ClarkEMyers
Which would actually seem like a worse threat to you, if somebody threatened to chop off your head unless you did something, or if they threatened to expose the fact you hadn’t done it to all of your family and friends?


There's a twist on that by Pierre Boule (sometime genre writer?)
in A Noble Profession (Un métier de seigneur) in which a man is easily induced to do despicable things but later endures torments to keep the secret of his earlier easy betrayal. From a contemporary review:

But Cousin fails, and at the first threat of torture, he sells out to the Germans. He also kills his accomplice, who survived torture but had the bad luck to witness Cousin's cowardice.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,938720,00.html#ixzz1Ii9kH9F7

For non-violence in genre I think first of Lloyd Biggle and Clifford Simak.
PhoenixFalls
30. peachy
I see that people got to Clarke before me - but now that I think on it, there's probably some reference to violence even in Fountains, in the sound-and-light show about the long dead tyrant who lived on the Sigiriya analogue. And there's of course the one incident in Imperial Earth. Haven't read City and the Stars in forever, but I don't recall much if any there...

His short stories are definitely light on the violence, but yeah - I guess it's a lot easier to build sufficient conflict without violence to sustain twenty or thirty pages than two or three hundred.

What about Foundation's Edge? Offhand, I only recall the occasional threat of violence. (Whatsisname wasn't actually roughed up by the farmers, right?)
PhoenixFalls
31. adler
Some thoughts:
To me, it seemed that the central theme here wasn't "Does violence happen too often in genre books,” so much as it was "Is physical conflict too heavily relied upon in genre books?' The difference to me then is the use of violence as a plot device-a sort of dramatic cheat, instead of a meaningful part of the plot. We use a fight scene because we’re too lazy to think outside the box for conflict or plot obstacles and fights are inherently cool. So is gratuitous violence just violence that only serves to heighten tension, the hanging blade that produces a hero’s actions? In SF/F’s obsession with actually having plots, has it relied too heavily on short cuts to raise the stakes? Certainly there’s a lot of crap SF/F out there. And quality is always harder come by, no matter the measure. So to me the question of who quality genre written incorporates violence is how well the author makes whatever type of conflict he’s created serve a better purpose rather than ‘oh no! Peril! What will our protagonist do?’ The ending of Harry Potter (the biggest selling quest fantasy since Tolkien) is violent, but the way that violence redeems itself is that he wins not with death, but with disarmament. The point of all that violence wraps neatly into ‘violence will never be the solution to the problem.’ To go outside genre, I look at Mothernight and Slaughterhouse 5; both books are extremely violent. But the violence isn’t a just a plot device, it not only reveals character, it’s the motivation to ask questions about how we are human. And isn’t this the most potent question that SF\F ever asks?
*Physical conflict, it should be noted, is not nesc. quest violence only. Abuse, bullying, death, and repression are still very-at times intimately-physical. And to discount genre books dealing with these themes as tainted by violence seems to miss the point-or at least a point.
PhoenixFalls
32. aebriol
There's not much violence in elizabeth moon's "the speed of dark". Too long since I read it, so can't remember what it was, but ... and part of the plot is conflict between people, and an inclination towards violence to solve it. Just doesn't turn out that way.
Rob Munnelly
33. RobMRobM
Shiras's novella In Hiding - story is about a boy talking to a psychiatrist (they even spend a chunk of the story talking about kittens!). The drama arises arises from what is really going on with the boy. One of my favorites.

Second Connie Willis, especially To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Sanderson's Alcatraz books don't really have on screen violence as I recall. (But I might be forgetting some, especially where Bastille is involved.)

Re Bujold, I don't have a memory of much violence in Falling Free. That might be her best example.

Recall that in Memory, the central dramatic issue is an attack on a person with serious physical consequences, so there's violence of a kind. (There is also Miles blowing up the fish with handmade explosives. ) And in Cetaganda one of the central precipitating events is a murder in a very public place.



Rob
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
34. tnh
James White (whom I miss) was not unacquainted with violence. He lived in a Catholic neighborhood of Belfast until his retirement in the mid-80s. What he had was a clear sense of how much damage violence does, and how little it accomplishes.

I'm not sure there's a writer in the field who was or is better at writing about goodness.
Brian R
35. Mayhem
@31
Thats pretty much the point I wanted to make - physical violence isn't necessary to drive a plot, but *conflict* is. Its the whole underlying concept of protagonist vs antagonist, without that you don't have a story, you just have a statement.
As FSS said back in #3, there are very few basic plots, and they all involve conflict.

And the problem with genre fiction is reflected in wider society - there is very little fiction at all without some form of conflict going on, and what there is is most likely deliberately written thus, and unlikely to sell well.
Or are you saying that physical violence is bad, but emotional or mental conflict is acceptable? I fail to see the difference.

Consider the struggle against an unyielding universe, as in The Cold Equations. A great story, but one that polarises every reader as it doesn't end as people feel it should.
There is also the divide between male and female in society - both can be violent, but while male culture tends towards short bursts of physical interaction, female culture tends towards mental and emotional stress, with scathing remarks and disdain the order of the day. Possibly the proliferation of physical violence in genre works is also split according to gender roles as we know them, so female writers may tend to avoid physical attacks and male writers to avoid exclusion and social scorn.
Jo Walton
36. bluejo
Mayhem: That turns out not to be the case. There isn't a split along gender lines the way you suggest. If you look at the books I mention and the books other people have been mentioning, you'll see they split pretty evenly into male and female -- Simak and White and Clarke are male, and McKinley and Willis are female. You may note the Bujold example somebody offered -- Bujold's female -- and then the way others point out the visible violence in Bujold. So I think you have a gendered theory there that's simple and obvious and supported by no evidence whatsoever.
Jonathan Levy
37. JonathanLevy
"Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

I can't believe nobody's written that yet. 36 comments should be enough!
PhoenixFalls
38. Lynnet1
Rob, but the attack in Memory is not a violent attack. In fact, that's what makes it so appealing to Haroche, and (I think) so horrifying to everyone else.
I included Cetaganda because the murder doesn't occur onstage, by the time we get to the scene, the violence has already occurred. I decided to include books where the story is shaped by violence, even if it doesn't occur onscreen because, as I said, the story in Austen's novels is shaped by violence, even though it doesn't occur onscreen.
Rob Munnelly
39. RobMRobM
@37. Bloody peasant!

@38. I'd differ with your first sentence - not violent in administration but violent in effect. H's clueless about that is horrifying. But I'd agree that violence in both Memory and Cetaganda is relatively low but still there (Miles in Ceta gets leg burned and tasered, etc.)
PhoenixFalls
40. Lynnet1
I'd say it's more psychologically violent than physically violent in effect. Just as, say, threatening to reveal someone's deepest, darkest secret would likely produce a violent psychological reaction in the person thus threatened.

I think, essentially, the problem with this whole discussion is that (a) we haven't defined violence and (b) we haven't defined how much violence is acceptable just as part of the human condition. We all live in a world fundamentally shaped by violence, how much of that can bleed through before the book is no longer a book without violence.

I agree that Cetaganda is a harder argument, but I was, I think, mentally separating violence of the "prank" variety from, um, violence of the "violent" variety. Hence my inclusion of Harry Potter despite the fight with the troll. And, naturally, there might be some disagreement as to whether a particular incidence of violence falls into one category or the other.
Dave Thompson
41. DKT
Wow. What an awesome post. It's made me look at my bookshelves and at the books I've read in the past couple years and made me think. Thanks!

Shades of Milk and Honey is the only one I can think of, but that had the threat of violence in the end, (though the violence was pretty much averted).

Did Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell have any violence in it? I remember there was a lot of conflict, and bad things happened through magic. (And also, IIRC, violence was averted on the battlefield because the magicians kept vanishing troops, etc.) I'm probably totally missing something, but I can't remember if there was any actual violence on the page?
PhoenixFalls
42. PhoenixFalls
I was using a definition something like violence = one human being deliberately (for various shades of deliberate) physically harming another being, whatever the motive. The examples of non-violent books in the OP don't have any scenes of that occurring.

I was viewing the whole exercise as sort of like the Bechdel Test or the Johnson Test -- designed to examine a pattern in fiction that usually goes unexamined. So there will be works that have interesting and wonderful things to say about any of those issues -- gender, race, violence -- that nonetheless do not pass whichever test applies, and that's fine and probably necessary in some cases. I don't think the intention is to say books should have zero physical violence; just to point out that very few in our favorite genre do have zero physical violence.

On some of the examples -- The Speed of Dark has an assault in the parking lot of a grocery store, and Falling Free has one incident of off-screen assault and one on-screen shooting.
PhoenixFalls
43. ninjapenguin
No Ursula K. LeGuin? I can't help but feel there must be some example from her works, if only a short story, but my mind is blanking.
PhoenixFalls
44. Kvon
I'll throw in here Among Others, I don't recall it having any violence. (Partly depending on your definition of violence? There was the magical fight at the end that wasn't physical, and the hotel room scene.)

Also some of the Terry Pratchett's, especially the Tiffany Aching books. (Are YA books less likely to have violence? Probably not, thinking of the Mockingjay series.)
Steve Taylor
45. teapot7
> Fantasy, however, seems destined to include some type of violence. It
seems inherent in the whole good vs evil thing.

But Fantasy isn't necessarily about good vs. evil any more than it's necessarily about stable boys who turn out to be the king on a quest to dethrone the dark lord. And stew.
Rob Munnelly
46. RobMRobM
@44 - I think you're forgetting about the car crash.
PhoenixFalls
47. OtterB
There wasn't any violence in A Dazzle of Day, was there?

Just wanted to second PhoenixFalls @42. It's not that there should never be violence in books, or that violence can't be integral to the plot and characters and well-handled. It's that it's notable that it's so hard to think of genre books without violence.

Also seconding lorenzo @17 on Patricia McKillip. I don't remember any violence in The Bell at Sealey Head either.
PhoenixFalls
48. a1ay
Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, like quite a few of his juveniles, doesn't have serious violence inflicted by humans on humans (though a few people get chewed on by local wildlife). I think there's a scuffle between two of the characters at one point but no injuries caused.
2001? I suppose there's the ape-men fighting, but they aren't really human yet...

I was using a definition something like violence = one human being
deliberately (for various shades of deliberate) physically harming
another being, whatever the motive.

Well, Memory definitely counts, in that case, because Miles and Illyan go fishing.

Are we talking about human-on-human violence specifically here? Because, if so, then Aliens is a non-violent film and that seems... wrong somehow.
Clark Myers
49. ClarkEMyers
#48 - Doesn't the presumably overconfident boy with his fancy gun and his dog get chopped very early on by another homo sap? Perhaps to highlight the advantages of going in thinking as prey - a stranger and afraid not feeling pretty cocky? Raises the tension I think.
bex
50. somewheresouth
a1ay - 2001's violence will, I think, depend on your definition - and is an examination of unintentional or "necessary" violence - Clarke, like Asimov, seems never to include violence without an examination of the motivations involved.

The major scenes of violence in the book/movie/text/whatever of 2001 are the first bit in the movie with the proto-human monkey-people, the gut-wrenching impact of Dave pulling out sectors of the "brain" of Hal9000 the computer, and the sequence in which the computer intentionally kills Frank by cutting off his air supply and letting him drift off quietly into space.

I generally find violence in Clarke's work much more meaningful than the usual charge-up-and-down-with-some-form-of-offensive weapon violence.. it seems as if he has a better understanding of what it actually is than most, in that it never seems to be an afterthought, but is always consequential, and even the small violent acts are emotionally powerful. Not that killing someone or something is small, but many books/movies manage to thresh whole armies without acknowledging the human costs of doing so.

Maybe the question is not "which books are non-violent?", but "which books are less violent?" or even "which books understand violence?"...

Anyway, I ramble. I'd like to nominate anything by Scarlett Thomas, not because they're books without violence, but because they're books I remember for the ideas, not the violence in them, and I can't remember any of the violent incidences.
Chris Palmer
51. cmpalmer
Actually, given the Python related title, most of these comments remind me more of:

Wife: Have you got anything without spam?
Waitress: Well, there's spam egg sausage and spam, that's not got much spam in it.
Wife: I don't want ANY spam!
Man :Why can't she have egg bacon spam and sausage?
Wife: THAT'S got spam in it!
Man: Hasn't got as much spam in it as spam egg sausage and spam, has it?

But substitute 'violence' for 'spam'...
Nancy Lebovitz
52. NancyLebovitz
If I remember correctly, Heinlein's The Rolling Stones doesn't have any violence. Also his "The Man Who Travelled in Elephants" and possibly "Waldo".
Alayne McGregor
53. alaynem
There's at least one Arthur C Clarke story that contains violence: "The Defenestration of Ermintrude Inch" (in Tales from the White Hart).

In Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones, at least one character intends violence by magic & trickery, but is notably unsuccessful. The only violent scene in the book (that I can remember) is when Conrad tries to escape a ravening witch by taking her photograph and accidently captures her soul. And all he's trying to do is escape and not hurt anyone and feels dreadfully guilty when he thinks he might have killed her...
Alayne McGregor
54. alaynem
@45 re Tiffany Aching: I think hitting someone with a frying pan qualifies as violence. But I would also agree that that series is low on violence, on the whole.
PhoenixFalls
55. M Schmidt
I second Patricia McKillip -- she tends to be non-violent in general but fantastic nonetheless.

On a more specific note, I think the most frequently used crutch in the sf/fantasy genres is sexual violence. Apparently the easiest and cheapest way to create a diabolical villain is to make him a rapist, preferably of the heroine or of the protagonist's family member. Also much-loved is the "he saved me from atttempted rape" method to bring the heroine and hero together (see, e.g., Bujold's The Sharing Knife). While general violence does serve at least some purpose of adding conflict/resolution to the story, all the rape is getting threadbare. To the burgeoning sf/f authors out there: Come up with some new villainy!

Some quality non-sexual violence sf/f:
Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay
Elantris, Brandon Sanderson
Neuromancer / Pattern Recognition / etc., William Gibson
Name of the Wind, Rothfuss (not even very violent in general)
Lies of Locke Lamora, Lynch (violent, but no sexual violence)
PhoenixFalls
56. Gabe Ragland
House Without Windows, Barbara Newhall Follett.
Islandia, Austin Tappan Wright.

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