Anarchism and science fiction: A

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series (1979–92)

Suggested as anarchist reading by a poster to libcom.org. Also described as "pretty anarchistic" by a poster to Yahoo Answers.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! (1984, dir. W.D. Richter)

Feeble unfunny sci-fi spoof.

 

Described by Paul Di Filippo at Locus as "High Camp Anarchist SF", it's nothing of the sort, not really even anarchic, as perhaps Di Filippo meant to say.

Aelita (1924, dir. Yakov Protazanov)

Influential early sf film, but more style than substance. An engineer dreams of travelling to Mars by rocket, falling in love with its queen Aelita, then leading an uprising to establish a Union of Soviet Socialist Martian Republics. 'Quaint' might be the word.

 

Included in the Red Planets filmography, and in libcom.org's Working class cinema: a video guide.

Aerial Anarchists (1911, dir. Walter R. Booth)

15 minute short featuring an airship attack on London. Believed to have been based on Fawcett's Hartmann the Anarchist. No footage is known to survive. For Tony Shaw, the film "can be seen as early evidence of film-makers' ability to marry terrorism with images of mass destruction."

Akira (1988, dir. Katsuhiro Otomo)

Classic anime, set in a post-World War III Neo-Tokyo, featuring a teenage biker who develops special psychic powers and eventually liberates the imprisoned Akira, also a psychic, who had been blamed for the war.

 

In a comment on a blog about Akira, John Wiberg said "Akira, to me at least, has always been about power and oppression (It is in essence a highly political film; something rarely discussed considering the film features anarchist revolutionaries, greedy officials dying clutching money and a riot being suppressed by military police). Alex Fitch at Electric Sheep notes, too, that "it is only the interaction of the super-powered with ordinary, albeit anarchist, humans that stops the (complete) destruction of Tokyo for a third time."

 

Brian W. Aldiss: Earthworks (1975); Barefoot in the Head (1969); Intangibles, Inc. (1969); 'Down the Up Escalator' (1970)

"There is Brian Aldiss with his Barefoot in the Head vision of an LSD 'bombed' Europe almost totally liberated and developing bizarre new customs." (Moorcock 1978) There was an interesting exchange concerning the book in Foundation in 1976, between Peter Nicholls and Brian Aldiss. Nicholls felt that, while it is "not fair to say that the novel preaches anarchy, . . . it certainly accepts it", and that it is "somehow more anarchic than one believes Aldiss to be." (Nicholls 1976: 34, 35). Aldiss's reply, in a letter in the following issue, exclaimed indignantly that " . . . the novel is about anarchy; but why claim that I therefore espouse it? Don't I make it look nasty enough?" (Aldiss 1976: 48).

 

Vittorio Curtoni in 1978 singled out the other three titles, probably for the sole reason that they existed in Italian translation; he described them as "inspired parables", modelled with the tools of psychoanalysis (Curtoni 25). Earthworks is an Aldiss potboiler, of minimal interest; 'Down the Up Escalator' is a minor work in which a publisher's sickness is paralleled with the Vietnam war; and Intangibles, Inc. is a good collection of five stories (Curtoni may only have been referring to the title story; it has no special relevance, however).

 

Brian W. Aldiss & Harry Harrison: The Penguin Omnibus of Science Fiction (1973; originally published as three separate anthologies, from 1961–1964)

Remarked on favourably by D.P. in 1986.

 

Brian W. Aldiss, in collaboration with Roger Penrose: White Mars; or, The Mind Set Free. A 21st-Century Utopia (1999)

A Mars colony is cut off from contact with Earth, and seeks to create a new utopian society from scratch; meanwhile there are parallel stories regarding the discovery that the Martian mountain Olympus Mons is actually a gigantic sentient being, the quest for the particle we now know to be the Higgs boson, and the nature of consciousness. As a novel it's a disappointing failure through trying to cram so much into too small a space. Nevertheless, the utopian aspects have definite interest.

 

In 2004 the novel was the subject of a half-page review in Freedom, by David Peers. He notes that it "discusses several topics of interest to anarchists: a small community with few formal structures; a society that works without using money; ways of discarding previously learned habits of thought and so on", as well as "How do we deal with crime and punishment?" Peers concludes: "The obvious science fiction comparison is with Ursula Le Guin's novel, The Dispossessed. In that book the anarchy was established and congealing. Here, it's struggling to begin."

 

Fiona Harrington, in a posting to the Anarchy-SF mailing list in 2009, found it "a bit disappointing in that it was overly didactic at the expense of narrative", but "interesting as a novel of ideas and exploration of how an alternative society would or could work. It is more or less anarchistic, no formal government but a few authoritarian personalities wield a degree of influence, also no money!"

 

Matthew Bruce Alexander: Wĭthûr Wē (2010)

Overlong and not terribly coherent, with a dislikeable lead character and a cast of cardboard cut-outs, this nevertheless has a degree of interest for its discussion of free market anarchism, and some worked examples of how 'criminal justice' might work in this situation.

Alien (1979, dir. Ridley Scott)

Ferocious scary alien stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship.

 

Categorised as subversive by Glenn in his 2015 essay 'Film as Subversion', in the BASTARD Chronicles. In his view, "The real horror of the film was not the multi-mandibled, slathering lizard, it was discovering that the crew's bosses intentionally sent them to collect the alien and then serve as its meal for the journey home, forcing the viewer to reevaluate his relationship with his own employers."

 

Three contributors to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, in November 2016, listed this film as among the best sf ever committed to film.

Aliens (1986, dir. James Cameron)

Second instalment in the Alien franchise, the film follows the lead character Ripley as she returns to the planet where her crew first encountered the hostile alien, this time accompanied by a unit of space marines.

 

One of Rich Dana's candidates for best sci-fi ever committed to film, on the Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum.

Alongside Night (2014, dir. J. Neil Schulman)

Film version of the novel, directed by the author.

 

Distinctly poor, and really only for the agorist converted.

Alphaville (1965, dir. Jean-Luc Godard)

French New Wave pulp sf, but shot in black and white in a hard-boiled film noir style, with a surrealist streak. An intergalactic secret agent goes to Alphaville, a city run by a computer busy eradicating emotion from its occupants, defeats the computer's logic, kills its creator, and departs with the latter's daughter. Plenty of thoughtful dialogue along the way.

 

Described in Red Planets as a "Dystopian satire on bureaucracy and commodification, betraying a genuine affection for popular culture.

 

Included in Stuart Christie's filmography.

 

Zainab Amadahy: The Moons of Palmares (1998)

Recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009.

 

L'An 01 (The Year 01; 1973, dirs Jacques Doillon, Alain Resnais and Jean Rouch)

A joyful spontaneous world-wide rebellion in which everyone decides we got it wrong and need to start again: no bosses, no jails, no private property, free love. Year 01 of the new order.

 

Anarchy Comics (1978–1987)

Just four issues were published, but all are still entertaining. There are comic strips with sf content in three of the four, most notably by Paul Mavrides and Jay Kinney.

 

In 1981 #3 received a long and enthusiastic review by Cliff Harper, for whom this issue was "the best one so far." He further said:

 

'Anarchy Comix', over its 3 years existence has reached a readership that in numbers outstrips that of the US and English anarchist press together, and what's more most of these readers are not already committed to anarchist or radical perspectives. So 'Anarchy Comix' must be seen as a major success in anarchist propaganda and in anarchist art. I believe the main reason for this success is that it is a visual form, relying not on endless words and dry theory, but rather on pictures (and humour).

Harper had earlier reviewed #2 in 1980.

 

M.T. Anderson: Feed (2004)

Recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009. Also on Think Galactic's reading list.

 

A fine and timely view of a future in which corporations have direct access to consumers' minds and purchasing behaviours, via an implanted net feed, viewed from the perspective of two young people with different takes on this dystopian vision.

 

Poul Anderson: 'The Star Beast' (1950); 'Security Risk' (1957); 'For the Duration' (1957); 'The Last of the Deliverers' (1958; revised version 1976); 'No Truce with Kings' (1963); Trader to the Stars (1964); The Star Fox (1965); The Stars Are Also Fire (1994)

In 'The Star Beast' a future earth has a social system resembling a form of anarchy, though not so described; it is presented as typical of decadence.

 

"It was a short story called Security Risk, in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION a monthly American magazine, that had in fact, first interested me in ideas that I later found to be embodied in anarchism." (Pilgrim 1963)

 

In 'For the Duration' an authoritarian future US government is overthrown, but the revolutionary forces quickly proved just as bad. The obvious anarchist moral is only implicitly drawn.

 

'The Last of the Deliverers' is a creaky, cold-war yarn with some attractive post-consumerism and a tinge of green. Dan Clore's summation: 'In a world where the US and USSR have become decentralized, libertarian socialist townships, the last capitalist debates the last Communist, and everyone else is bored by their irrelevance.' 

 

In 'No Truce with Kings', Earth's states have broken into small, feudal realms; alien invaders attempt to reintroduce civilization to the "starveling anarchs" of the planet, who prefer the relative freedom offered by a choice of masters.' (Dan Clore) The story won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2010.

 

Trader to the Stars tied for the 1985 Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award, which was won by The Star Fox in 1995. The Stars Are Also Fire won the 1995 Prometheus Award.

The Animatrix (2003, dirs Koji Morimoto, Shinichiro Watanabe, Mahiro Maeda, Peter Chung, Andy Jones, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and Takeshi Koike)

American-Japanese anime anthology loosely based on the Matrix trilogy: a compilation of nine short films, including the back story of the original war between man and machines which led to the creation of the Matrix. Surprisingly successful, and more interesting than the final two of the Matrix trilogy.

 

anon: 'Visit Port Watson!' (in Rucker, Wilson & Wilson, eds: Semiotext(e) SF, 1985)

Spoof travel-guide to the utopian island of Sonsorol, combining ideas from various libertarian strands.

Apollo 13 (1995, dir. Ron Howard)

Dramatisation of the near disaster of the Apollo 13 lunar mission. Convincing and suspenseful, even though the ending's so familiar.

 

A comment on reason.com's The libertarian film festival says "Yes, I know that NASA is a tax-funded bureaucracy; nevertheless, A13 is the only movie I've ever seen in which the main protagonist is human intelligence."

Armageddon (1998, dir. Michael Bay)

Drilling workers are sent by NASA to deflect an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, their mission being to bury a nuclear device deep enough to blow the asteroid apart.

 

 

Jon Osborne includes a review of this film, saying:

 

There are several aspects of this story that will appeal to libertarians. First, it has something of the creator-as-hero theme. [. . .] Second, there are numerous small conflicts between his skilled workers and their government handlers, in which the workers are always right. [. . .] And finally, when the team agrees to save the planet, the chief compensation they demand is that they be free of taxation for the rest of their lives!

E. Armand: 'The Nightmare' (1931)

This short story, published in Freedom in two parts in March and April 1935, recounts a dream of a prisoner at the bar defending his throwing a bomb at an Anarchist Committee in the 1980s. He did it to attack the hypocrisy of those who profess anarchism but fail to live as anarchists. A moral tale, it just scrapes in here as, by its future setting, marginal sf.

 

Claudie Arsenault: Viral Airwaves (2016)

Solarpunk first novel by a writer from Quebec, who describes it as "a standalone novel sitting firmly between dystopia and solarpunk and centering LGBTQIAP+ characters", and a hopeful story "about overcoming desperate odds, nemesis working together, and larger-than-life characters". It was plugged by Facebook's Solarpunk Anarchist in December 2017.

 

Claudie Arsenault and Brenda J. Pierson, eds: Wings of Renewal. A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology (2015)

Pretty much what the title says, the anthology is overwhelmingly fantasy, though with a solarpunk cast.

 

T.X. Watson, interviewed for Obsolete, found the mix "really cool".

 

John Ashcroft: 'Stone and Crystal' (1954)

In this obscure story from Science Fantasy an individual rebels against the destruction of an alien city by earth colonists; he is "stabilized". Pilgrim in 1963 saw it as "a horribly effective warning against a too enthusiastic worship of science."

 

Isaac Asimov: Foundation trilogy (1952–1953); 'The Dead Past' (1956)

Anarchist opinions on the Foundation trilogy have been divided: Pilgrim wrote in 1963 that "The theme of Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, Violence is the last resort of the incompetent, is indicative of the general science fiction writer's attitude to war." (Pilgrim 1963: 369)

It 'rams home repeatedly the argument that "violence is the last resort of the incompetent." In Peace News in 1966 he added: "Readers of this paper may well argue that violence is the first resort of the incompetent too, but the fact remains that Asimov is adopting an anti-war attitude.' (Pilgrim 1966) Eagle, too, was less than impressed: "Isaac Asimov, in his several novels about Galactic civilisation (the Foundation series and others) can think of nothing better than a depressing Galactic Empire." (Eagle 1969: 2) There is some truth in this—the two Foundations, opposed to the Empire, themselves constitute a scientific elite, the nucleus of the next ruling class. The near-mythic Hari Seldon, whose Plan the Foundations act out, had no doubt of his position:

 

"Even if the Empire were admitted to be a bad thing (an admission I do not make), the state of anarchy which would follow its fall would be worse. It is that state of anarchy which my project is pledged to fight." (Foundation: 27, Panther edn)

'The Dead Past' is Asimov's most notable treatment of 'intellectual anarchy'; it involves a discussion of the ethics of suppressing a 'chronoscope', a device for viewing the past, and the political control of research. The reader is initially encouraged to side with Potterley and Foster, both repeatedly described as "intellectual anarchists", against the government; but Asimov finally sides with Araman, for the government—

 

. . . "you all just took it for granted that the government was stupidly bureaucratic, vicious, tyrannical, given to suppressing research for the hell of it. It never occurred to any of you that we were trying to protect mankind as best we could." (The Best of Isaac Asimov: 246)

All in all it is a strong statist, and specifically anti-anarchist, parable.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I (2011, dir. Paul Johansson)

Adaptation of the 1957 Ayn Rand novel; parts II and III were released in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

 

Brian Doherty, of Reason magazine, noted that while "the early reactions from Randians has been positive, with adulation from Rand’s closest friends and disciples during the years she wrote Atlas", by the same token, "some people who don’t care for Rand have also hated the film." This is entirely to be expected, given the way Rand divides opinion. I suspect that many readers of this page will be in the latter camp.

Attack the Block (2011, dir. Joe Cornish)

Centres on members of a teenage street gang who have to defend themselves from a Guy Fawkes Night attack by predatory alien invaders on a council estate tower block in south London.

 

Reviewed by Tom Jennings in Freedom in November 2011, who enjoyed this "witty, engaging homage to cult alien invasion films", and appreciated its "intensive local research and an impressive ensemble of street-cast youngsters," but felt that ". . . the chances for deeper meaningful connections to be made between contemporary class stratification and the predicaments which dominate impoverished urban existence are obliterated in Ali G-style comic relief, scoffing at stereotypically clichéd tentative self-criticisms which are never followed up. Strictly segregating which and whose understandings have import and practical significance rather than entertainment value, Attack the Block thus has far more in common with the safe conservatism of Spielbergian spectacle . . . "

 

Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale (1985); Oryx and Crake (2003)

The Handmaid's Tale is included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels, though he describes it as "More speculative social fiction than science fiction." Zakk Flash, on the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, considers it a "Wonderful, wonderful book."

 

Oryx and Crake is on the Think Galactic reading list, and is also recommended by Left Bank Books.

Avatar (2009, dir. James Cameron)

Set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon in the Alpha Centauri system, in order to mine the mineral 'unobtanium', a room-temperature superconductor. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of the Na'vi, a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. Jake Sully is part of a team seeking to establish contact with the Na'vi and, in avatar form, is inducted into a local tribe. But when his corporate handlers use his information in a violent campaign of clearance he leads a successful resistance movement, with the help of a handful of human defectors, and uploads his consciousness to reside permanently in his avatar body.

 

The film has been of particular interest to anarcho-primitivists. Layla AbdelRahim entitled her 2009 review 'Avatar: An Anarcho-Primitivist Picture of the History of the World'. For her "the film’s logic has anarcho-primitivism stamped in every scene", but she sees as a problem "that to relate the story, Cameron uses the same machines, technologies and money that devastate the wilderness he tells us we need to save." John Zerzan recommended AbdelRahim's review in his 2009-12-29 Anarcho Radio TV video, and the film was under discussion again during each of Zerzan's next five weekly broadcasts.

 

For Red River Radical Avatar is "hardly more than a remixed Dances With Wolves; a watered down anti-colonization story in which a white male is still the hero after his remake into the indigenous other. Avatar’s story revolves around a typical teenage American romance; same gender roles, heteronormative and weirdly middle class." The article author sees it as another example of Hollywood dumbing down.

 

In Glenn's 'Film as Subversion', his essay in the 2015 BASTARD Chronicles, he argues that "What makes a film subversive is determined by how well it challenges a narrative; what makes a film propaganda is reinforcing a narrative." For Glenn, Avatar is propaganda, as it "simply celebrates a Green/Indigenous narrative."

 


See my hotlist, for items particularly recommended by me.


Authors by surname, films by title: 0 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Possibles


Anarchists on the genre of sf

 

Bibliography


@sf home, Ben Beck's website home




This page was last revised on 2018-06-18.

© Benjamin S. Beck 2005–2018

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