Anarchism and science fiction: B



Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl (2009)

At worldbuilding.stackexchange.com, 'recognizer' suggests that, leaving aside his environmental and technological themes, in this and other works, Bacigalupi "often addresses the conflicts between state power and private (corporate or individual) power, and how these power relationships affect his protagonists." Andrew Dana Hudson sees The Windup Girl as a vision of "solarpunk-gone-wrong". Teflon includes it in his Essential Novels, where he describes it as "Antiauthoritarian and anti-corporatist, but not specifically anarchist." It was recommended in a panel discussion between Rudy Rucker, Terry Bisson and John Shirley at the 2012 San Francisco anarchist book fair. It's also included in the Think Galactic reading list.

 

Patrick Bair: The Tribunal (1970)

The Tribunal is a lightweight near-future political thriller, involving the declaration of independence of Acquitaine and the attempted destruction of the leaning tower of Pisa; the anarchists, who also smuggle arms into Acquitaine, saw the leaning tower as a symbol of government because, although it will eventually fall, its fall can be accelerated by gunpowder.

 

Ian Ballantine

Founder of the sf publishing company Ballantine Books, Ian Ballantine was the great-nephew of anarchist Emma Goldman.

 

J.G. Ballard: The Wind from Nowhere (1962); The Drowned World (1962); The Drought (1965); The Crystal World (1966); The Atrocity Exhibition (1970); Crash (1973); Millennium People (2003)

Ballard's first four novels centre on elemental disasters and, with the exception of the first, successfully transcend the run-of-the-mill. For Vittorio Curtoni, Ballard, "inspired by pictorial surrealism, preached the investigation of 'inner space, i.e. of those connections at the unconscious level which revealed the mechanisms of the human psyche, and translated the idea in a series of brilliant novels [ . . . ] and stories" (25); he only named these four. For one poster to Facebook's Anarchists and Science Fiction page, "The Drowned World perfectly matches many contemporary ideas regarding what the world might be like after decades of climate change."

   Michael Moorcock's 1978 article in the Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review singles out The Atrocity Exhibition and Crash for inclusion among books which in his view promote libertarian ideas. He comments that they have "brought criticisms of 'nihilism' against him" (43). Both works are innovatory in sf, and have an impersonal and amoral quality which perhaps gives rise to such criticisms. They are libertarian in the sense of challenging orthodoxy, of iconoclasm.

   For Ricardo Feral, The Drought, and The Atrocity Exhibition provide "a haunting, introspective alternative to the the mainstream media vision of society."

   Millennium People features a very British rebellion by the jaded middle class. Darkly humorous, it's included in the Swindon Anarchist Group's list of Anarchist/Resistance Novels.


Iain M. Banks: Culture series—Consider Phlebas (1987), The Player of Games (1988), The State of the Art (1989; expanded as a collection 1991), Use of Weapons (1990), Excession (1996), Inversions (1998); Look to Windward (2000), Matter (2008), Surface Detail (2010), The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

This popular series showcases an implicitly anarchist post-scarcity society, enabled by nanotechnology. Banks himself said, of the Culture, "Essentially, the contention is that our currently dominant power systems cannot long survive in space; beyond a certain technological level a degree of anarchy is arguably inevitable and anyway preferable." More specifically, he argued that "the mutuality of dependence involved in an environment which is inherently hostile would necessitate an internal social coherence which would contrast with the external casualness typifying the relations between such ships/habitats. Succinctly; socialism within, anarchy without." Politically, "one of the few rules the Culture adheres to with any exactitude at all is that a person's access to power should be in inverse proportion to their desire for it." ['A Few Notes on the Culture']

   According to the 2014 Bottled Wasp Pocket Diary "A non-anarchist, he has been one of the few such to approach depicting a real (if imaginary) anarchist society with any conviction or accuracy, although a significant number of anarchists might dispute that statement."

   Of Look to Windward, Wikipedia notes 'This book deals with the themes of exile, bereavement, religious justification of mass violence against humanity/sentience in war, and the mores associated with life within a technologically and energetically unlimited anarchist utopia.'

   All these novels are included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels, though he particularly recommends The Player of Games and Surface Detail. McKay enjoyed all the Culture books, finding only Matter disappointing, with Surface Detail the most fun. In my own view, Inversions is the most unusual, but perhaps the most subtle.

   The title novella forming the greater part of the State of the Art collection is of particular interest, for two reasons: it is in some ways the most accessible of the Culture series, by its explicit contrast with an Earth of the 1970s and, as the SFE puts it, "for the only time, it openly advocates some aspects of the Culture as a model for human behaviour."

for the only time, it openly advocates some aspects of the Culture as a model for human behaviour - See more at: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/banks_iain_m#sthash.Wgev5SBo.dpuf
for the only time, it openly advocates some aspects of the Culture as a model for human behaviour - See more at: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/banks_iain_m#sthash.Wgev5SBo.dpuf
for the only time, it openly advocates some aspects of the Culture as a model for human behaviour - See more at: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/banks_iain_m#sthash.Wgev5SBo.dpuf

   For the anonymous author of 'Beyond Perfection',

 

The point of this anarchist utopia [i.e. the Culture] is not that there’s some ignored power relation at work that compromises its integrity, or even that you can have too much of a good thing. It’s a more subtle and complex message about inertia and entropy, of the nature of power and privilege, and the need for change and development, personal and societal, even in the face of seeming perfection.

   For Martin H., writing in Workers Solidarity in 2000, "Banks clearly knew his anarchism", and the Culture series "flesh out what it might be like to live in an anarchist society."

 

John Barnes: The Man who Pulled down the Sky (1986)

". . . full of crypto-Anarchism', according to a poster to anarchysf. 'The dominant space colony is organized into IWW divisions so to speak. Each group of seven lives together makes communal decisions and lives bisexually with each other as a family unit comprised of seven. The main character is sent back to Earth to start an uprising that is organized along anarcho-communal lines against the Earth Administration."

    This description is nonsense. The book is barely coherent, and has no bearing on anarchism whatsoever.

 

Robert Barr: 'The Chemistry of Anarchy' (in The Face and the Mask, 1899)

Feeble story of cowardly anarchists.

 

Max Barry: Jennifer Government (2003)

A dystopian view of a world entirely run by ruthless global corporations in murderous competition, with government functions privatised and marginalised.

'This isn't freedom, John. It's anarchy.'

'Well,' John said, 'if you're going to split hairs—'

A very entertaining black comedy.

 

John M. Batchelor: A Strange People (1888)

Lost race utopia of atheists and anarchists.

 

Batman (1989, dir. Tim Burton)

Batman is widely believed to be an urban legend until he takes on a rising criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

 

Dan Clore posted Robert Anton Wilson's film review "Have You Ever Danced With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight?" to the anarchy-sf mailing list in 2005; Wilson considered Batman "an anarcho-surrealist attack on the conventions of mass market melodrama".

 

 

Barrington J. Bayley: Annihilation Factor (1964); The Soul of the Robot (1974)

Annihilation Factor includes the character Castor Krakhno, based on Nestor Makhno. (Dan Clore). Included in Killjoy's list of stories that feature sympathetic anarchist characters. The Krakhno character, however, is largely a caricature 19th century villainous anarchist, about whom even the author seems ambivalent. The anarchism, such as it is, is both nihilist and individualist.

    "I admire Barrington J. Bayley, whose stories are often extremely abstract. One of the most enjoyable recently published is The Soul of the Robot which discusses the nature of individual identity." (Moorcock 1978) The novel concerns the quest of the robot Jasperodus for his own identity—is his consciousness real or fake, has he a soul? He has, but not a constructed one. Although the reader takes pleasure in Jasperodus's refusal to take orders and insistence that he alone is the initiator of his deeds, he himself is no more to be admired in his ethical behaviour than his would-be masters; and the excess of palace intrigue detracts from the undoubted interest of some of the book's philosophical discussions.

 

Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward 2000–1887 (1888); Equality (1897)

In Bellamy's influential utopia Looking Backward the economy of the future United States is highly organized, workers being organized in an industrial army. We learn that

 

 

"Almost the sole function of the administration now is that of directing the industries of the country. Most of the purposes for which governments formerly existed no longer remain to be subserved. We have no army or navy, and no military organization. We have no departments of state or treasury, no excise or revenue services, no taxes or tax collectors. The only function proper of government, as known to you, which still remains, is the judiciary and police system." (Signet Classic edn: 143-4)

Bellamy takes this further in Equality:

 

"A government in the sense of a co-ordinating directory of our associated industries we shall always need, but that is practically all the government we have now. It used to be a dream of philosophers that the world would some time enjoy such a reign of reason and justice that men would be able to live together without laws. That condition, so far as concerns punitive and coercive regulations, we have practically attained. As to compulsory laws, we might be said to live almost in a state of anarchy." (1933 Appleton-Century edn: 409)

This sounds well enough; but, as Marie-Louise Berneri put it,

 

"Bellamy's state socialism allows a greater degree of personal freedom than most other utopias based on the same principles. But it is the freedom which might be granted to soldiers one they have been conscripted; no provision is made for 'conscientious objectors' (249).

While Looking Backward and its sequel are not in themselves anarchist, they nevertheless attracted the interest of Peter Kropotkin himself. He reviewed the first at great length (extending over four issues) in Le Révolté at the end of 1889, noting that "Bellamy's ideal is not ours. But he helps to clarify our own ideas; on many points, without intending to, he confirms them." (Pt 1:1). He concluded: "Whatever may be the defects of this little book, it will always have done the immense service of suggesting ideas and giving matter for discussion for those who really wish for the social Revolution." (Pt 4:2). Lest there be any doubt, though, he stated right at the start of his article that "Bellamy n'est pas anarchiste" (Pt 1:1).Kropotkin found Equality certainly not so interesting, but superior in that it analyses "all the vices of the capitalistic system. . . so admirably that I know of no other Socialist work on this subject that equals Bellamy's Equality." These remarks on Equality come from Kropotkin's obituary notice of Bellamy in Freedom, translated from Les Temps Nouveaux. His final considered opinion:

 

What a pity that Bellamy has not lived longer! He would have produced other excellent books. I am positive that were Bellamy to have met an Anarchist who could have explained to him our ideal, he would have accepted it. The authoritarianism which he introduced into his Utopia was useless there and contradictory to the very system. It was simply a survival, a concession, a tribute to the past.

Hilaire Belloc: But Soft—We Are Observed (1928)

This light political satire hangs on a mistaken identity / pursuit story. By 1979 "The parliaments of the Great Powers had long ago settled down into two sober parties, Communist on the right and Anarchist on the left, who between them maintained the Majestic Rotation of Representative Government . . . " (Arrowsmith edn: 57) Lady Caroline Balcombe, the Foreign Secretary, had said in a famous statement of 1952:

 

"I am as profoundly attached to Anarchy, and to all the principles of Anarchy, as any woman or man here present. But the only Anarchy I know is an Anarchy to be achieved by Constitutional Means." (87)

Clearly this shouldn't be taken too seriously; however it is suggestive of the durability of political institutions and their ability to absorb dissent.

 

Gregory Benford

In 1980 Benford said, in an interview with Charles Platt, that

 

. . . many social issues could be solved by simple rational planning—I don't mean top-down planning, but by using the adroitness and competitive spirit of the small scale. In that sense, I'm sort of an unvarnished capitalist, not because I believe in the ownership of things, but because I believe small units are useful. You could as easily call me an anarchist. (Platt 1980: 285)

Donald E. Bensen: And Having Writ . . . (1978)

Alien astronauts crashland on Earth in 1908 causing, in the original universe (ours), the Tungus meteorite phenomenon. They represent themselves as ambassadors from a galactic empire, whilst actually only wishing to speed up technological progress in order to repair their craft, and have various escapades with H.G. Wells, Rasputin, Theodore Roosevelt, etc. And Having Writ . . . is not really in any way anarchist, but it does present a delightful satire of Earthly ways, and it gently mocks a variety of authority figures. All in all, great fun.

 

Marie Louise Berneri: Journey Through Utopia (1950)

Berneri was an Italian-born anarchist, a member of the group centred on the newspaper Freedom and its stable-mates, and one of the four editors of War Commentary tried in 1945 for incitement to disaffection, but acquitted as her husband Vernon Richards was a co-defendant, and legally she couldn't conspire with him. She died in childbirth aged just 31.

   Her notable survey of utopias was published the year after her death. Although much of the survey reviews the familiar historical utopias, she also looked at more recent utopian (and dystopian) works, including Lytton's The Coming Race, Bellamy's Looking Backward, Morris's News from Nowhere, Wells's A Modern Utopia and Men Like Gods, Zamyatin's We, and Huxley's Brave New World (Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four being published too late for inclusion).

 

Louky Bersianik: The Euguélionne (1976)

Part 3 appears to express anarchist sympathies (feministsf.org). Included in Killjoy's list of stories that feature sympathetic anarchist characters.

    It's stretching a point to consider this sf, though. It's a feminist manifesto, objectivised as the viewpoint of a visiting alien.

 

Alfred Bester: The Demolished Man (1953); The Stars My Destination (a.k.a. Tiger! Tiger!) (1956)

John Pilgrim wrote:

 

On a more popular level a libertarian idea is often thrown away casually with no real discussion, nevertheless its presence can alter the slant of the book. Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, for instance. This is a science fiction detective story set at a period when telepathy has become an accepted power for a large part of the population and psychotherapeutic techniques are much further advanced than at present. People like the hero/villain Reich who want a return to the 20th Century system of power politics are regarded as sick people and treated as such. At the end of the book this conversation occurs: "Three or four hundred years ago the cops used to catch people like Reich just to kill them. Capital punishment they called it [. . .] But it doesn't make sense. If a man's got the guts and talent to buck society he's obviously above average . . . You want to turn him into a plus value . . . Why throw him away? Do that enough times and all you have left are the sheep". "I don't know. Maybe in those days they wanted sheep".

This particular novel, a popular entertainment mind, not a philosophical dissertation, ends in an outburst from one of the protagonists in which the following words occur: ". . . there is nothing in man but love and faith and courage, kindness, generosity and sacrifice. All else is but the barrier of your blindness . . ." Such lines may not be brilliant, or new to the readers of this journal [Freedom], perhaps, but they are surely a new thing in popular fiction. (Pilgrim 1963)

   The Demolished Man is not quite the libertarian novel that Pilgrim suggests. The future society shown, though it can redeem 'criminals', still has all the trappings of the state and capitalism; and telepathy, for all its potential to spread sympathy and understanding, is principally shown as just a new weapon in the armoury of repression.

 

   Of The Stars My Destination Moorcock wrote: "This is one of the very few libertarian sf novels I have ever read. That it was the first and turned me on to reading sf is probably the purest accident. [. . .] I know of no other sf book which so thoroughly combines romance with an idealism almost wholly acceptable to me . . ." (Moorcock 1978: 43). He particularly commends the conclusion in which the hero, Gully Foyle, delivers PyrE, the ultimate weapon, to the outcasts of the Earth, for them to repossess their future. Foyle justifies himself: "'Who are we, any of us, to make a decision for the world? Let the world make its own decisions. Who are we to keep secrets from the world? Let the world know and decide for itself.'" (Penguin edn, p. 242) The book won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1988. For Evan Lampe, the book reminds him "of the need, from time to time, to embrace those systemic shocks that may not promise permanent freedom but do create spaces for autonomy."

 

Eando Binder: 'Giants of Anarchy' (1939)

Dire pulp story, originally published in Weird Tales, in the June-July issue of 1939. The principal character travels 10,000 years into the future, and finds that the world has become an Anarchy. But in this case all it means is that, following the release of limitless atomic power, evolution tended in the direction of a diminishing population, as "better minds saw no reason for allowing poorer, duller minds to exist, and warred on them". With the demise of government, the survivors spend all their time duelling in giant battle-machines, apparently for want of anything better to do, while at the same time all concepts of love and friendship have been forgotten. The hero, his girlfriend, and her scientist father have no difficulty in convincing everyone to "forget their differences and live with one another peacefully", claiming that they will "found a new co-operative union here in this mad world of Anarchy!"

 

Terry Bisson: Fire on the Mountain (1988)

Fire on the Mountain is socialist rather than anarchist, but is an astonishingly convincing alternate history predicated on John Brown's success in the raid at Harper's Ferry in 1859. Of very real interest.

    In 2010 Terry Bisson moderated a workshop, and in 2012 spoke on 'The Left Left Behind', at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. Rudy Rucker, Terry Bisson and John Shirley were on a panel on Anarchism and Science Fiction at the 2012 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, which is available as a podcast on Rucker's website.

 

Blade Runner (1982, final cut 2007; dir. Ridley Scott)

Based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the film depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in which genetically engineered android replicants are banned on Earth, but used for dangerous or menial work on off-world colonies. Replicants who defy the ban and come to Earth are hunted down and killed by special police operatives known as 'blade runners'. The plot focuses on a group of recently escaped replicants hiding in LA and a burnt-out expert blade runner who reluctantly agrees to take on one more assignment to hunt them down. Whether or not the blade runner is himself a replicant is uncertain, forcing an evaluation of what it means to be human.

 

 

The 2014 Anarchism SubReddit thread on films advocating anti-capitalism features an interesting discussion between two contributors: one recommending Blade Runner, the other describing the film as "merely dystopian corporatism". The former rejoins that "the dystopian realm of Blade Runner is something which is overwhelmingly repulsive, and it achieves this style by doing nothing but extrapolating the effects of our current society. Surely then, it is at the very least portraying the negatives of capitalism in a subconscious manner?"

 

 

Two contributors to the FB Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum in 2016 included this film among their shortlists of the best sf ever committed to film.

 

James Blish: A Case of Conscience (1953); They Shall Have Stars (1955)

A Case of Conscience was discussed by John Pilgrim in his 1963 Anarchy article, for its ethical dimension. The society portrayed, though described by the author as Christian, beyond which Pilgrim himself doesn't venture, is in many ways anarchistic—an austere kind of Godwinian anarchism, its ethical system rooted in nature, as Godwin argued. For Evan Lampe, "The main anarchist themes in this work seem to revolve around the potential for a working anarchist utopia. Lithia lacks governments and moral codes. They even sustain a scientific and technological society without the rise of a technocracy."

    Pilgrim also looked at They Shall Have Stars: though he found the plot banal, he considered the novel "a powerful attack on authoritarianism, power politics, and the evils of the military mind's concept of security." (p. 365). This is perhaps somewhat overstated.

 

Alexander Bogdanov: Red Star (1908)

Socialist utopia on Mars, written by an early Bolshevik not long after the 1905 revolution.

    Suggested by a couple of contributors to Facebook's Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, one of whom perceives points of similarity to Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Of only peripheral interest here.

 

Born in Flames (1983, dir. Lizzie Borden)

Strongly feminist documentary-style film, cheaply filmed on 16 mm and video, set in a near future social-democratic America. Two women's groups running pirate radio stations turn to direct action after their premises are burned out.

 

Richard Porton, in his Film and the Anarchist Imagination, devotes four pages to an analysis of Born in Flames, finding it, "despite its dystopian scenario, a more optimistic evocation of contemporary currents within anarcho-feminism". He further notes that "From a broader historical vantage point, her fantasia on anarchist themes recapitulates debates between anarchism and social-democratic antagonists such as George Bernard Shaw." Porton found that the film "proved most scandalous, both within the feminist movement and outside it, by resisting the temptation to condemn definitively the use of revolutionary violence." This he sees as a "strategic provocation", in the context of the celebration of the Greenham Common pacifist activism of the time by many radical women who "ascribed to women a state of natural non-violence" which Borden found "dubiously essentialist."

 

Shown at the film festival that formed part of the Boston anarchist bookfair in 2011, the programme for which describes it as exploring racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism. Shown as part of the if I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution exhibition at Haverford, Pennsylvania, curated by Natalie Musteata in 2014, who described it as both "The movie that rocked the foundations of the early Indie film world" and "The film that heralded the arrival of Queer Cinema". Also screened by the Toronto Anarchist Reading Group in July 2016.

 

Brian Bergen-Aurand lists the film as number 3 in his great anarchist movies that are worth your time, saying "The film emphasizes alternative aesthetics, direct (rather than representative) democracy, and women’s roles in what is deemed as 'necessary violence.'"

 

Lizzie Borden, when asked if she was comfortable with being described as an anarcha-feminist, replied:

 

I’m comfortable with it by process of elimination because I never quite figured out what it is, but I feel closer to it than any other political identification. I’m so critical of any kind of organized left wing just because of bureaucracy really becoming another class, and the relationship of women to whatever organized left there is. So, the idea of anarchism has always appealed to me simply because it’s always calling into question that which is. I somehow see anarchism as that. I see it as not necessarily excluding different political identifications. For example, on one issue it might be possible to side with a socialist stance, on another issue a very Western stance. But the thing about anarchism is that it allows you not to have to be over-programmed. The other thing is about feminists. What gets me now is people saying that they’re not feminist anymore. Feminism is such a mild word for how I consider myself, that I’m absolutely a feminist. Anarcha-feminism to me has always been about stirring things up. You try to constantly ask those questions which will prevent stasis from setting in. Even at the expense of sometimes being seen as contradictory or saying things that go against what you said a year before or a minute before. For me it’s a process. We all know what’s wrong with Western capitalism and we all know what’s wrong with the extreme left, so anarcha-feminism—it just seems to be the only viable identification, if one is to identify at all.

 

Pierre Boulle: La Planète des Singes (Monkey Planet / Planet of the Apes, 1963)

A Quora user included this in their list of dystopian novels, in response to a request for 'What are some of the best anarchist fiction novels?' It's also given as an instance of the dystopian sub-genre by Alex R. Knight III, writing on 'Libertarian Anarchism and Speculative Fiction.'

 

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953); Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962)

Fahrenheit 451 was described by Daniel Johnson in Freedom in 2014 as a "dystopian masterpiece". It tied for the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1984. For Jeff Riggenbach this work is "one of the most influential libertarian novels of the 20th century".

    Something Wicked This Way Comes is included in Think Galactic's reading list.

 

Brazil (1985, dir. Terry Gilliam)

Dystopian satire, drawing much from Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but also from Kakfa, with an appealing flavour of steampunk.

 

Recommended by several contributors to the 2014 Anarchism SubReddit discussion on films advocating anti-capitalism, for one of whom—RednBlackSalamander—it is "one of the greatest movies ever made."

 

This is one of the two Gilliam films named by Glenn in his essay 'Film as Subversion', in the 2015 Bastard Chronicles, as subversive, and dealing with individual alienation in a hive society.

 

In 2015 the film also received an enthusiastic 30th anniversary review by Clint Worthington on TheFreeOnline, Mike Gilliland's blog. Worthington described the film as "certainly one of the most fascinating and compelling depictions of Orwellian-esque sci-fascism ever put to screen," and concluding "However you feel, Brazil makes everyone hope for a world in which people are free to live, dream, and dissent."

 

 

 

photo of front cover of Brewer's K-PAX trilogy

Gene Brewer: K-PAX series (1995–2007)

Included in Killjoy's list of stories that explore anarchist societies. Of the four books, the first three were republished as K-PAX The Trilogy. The story centres on a patient in a mental hospital who appears to have a multiple personality disorder, with one of the personalities manifesting as an alien called 'prot' from the planet K-PAX. In some incomprehensible way it appears that prot really is an alien. The world he describes is so attractive in most respects, with its peace, its freedom from government and religion, and its love of harmony and a sustainability, that it is hard not to reach the conclusion that humans have got it all badly wrong. It is no coincidence that prot says, of a book he once read called The Travels of Gulliver, that 'The author got it about right.'

    K-PAX IV (2007), is a disappointing coda.

 

Raymond Briggs: When the Wind Blows (1982)

Graphic novel in which an elderly couple experience the dropping of a nuclear bomb in England. Well received at the time by reviewers (two of them children) in two issues of Freedom. In the later review Julie Southwood wrote:

 

With wit, sympathy and simplicity almost unbearable in its pathos, Briggs illustrates how powerless we all are, once we agree to leave decisions concerning our 'survival' to any self-appointed elite of politicians and 'experts' . . . Whatever one's political views, this book concentrates the mind wonderfully on the real questions: what sort of survival, for whom, at what price? (Julie Southwood 1982)

 

Fredric Brown: 'The Weapon' (1951)

Described by John Pilgrim as "impressive", a "straightforward little morality tale", and an "instance of sf's capacity for healthy scepticism about the ethics of scientific research." (Pilgrim 1963, 1966)

 

Peter Currell Brown: Smallcreep's Day (1965)

Colin Ward's Work (1972) concludes with a long quotation from this book (Ward 1972: 64). Smallcreep is a factory assembly worker, who one day roves through the factory hoping to discover once and for all what he has been making all these years. The work as a whole is a very powerful protest against alienation; chapter Eight in particular contains an anguished confession from the managing director of his comprehension of the hypocrisy and unfairness of the system of authority which he represents. The managing director's devastating demolition of authority, and his vision of what a free society would be, may be presumed to represent Brown's own views: Smallcreep himself fails to understand them, which is Brown's pessimism—he, like the managing director, has no faith in his own visions, and can see no way out.

 

John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar (1968); The Sheep Look Up (1972); The Shockwave Rider (1975)

In his 1964 essay on political attitudes in sf Brunner envisaged an automated anarchistic society as a possibility work exploring in sf (Brunner 1964: 125). Interviewed in 1979, he said that "if you had to classify me, you'd have to put me in some vague area like 'fellow-travelling idealistic anarchist.'" (Platt: 276)

 

Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up are included in Think Galactic's reading list.

 

For Lessa, Takver & Alyx, writing in Open Road in 1978, the "anarchist city Precipice" of The Shockwave Rider "appears like a jewel in a sea of horror". (13) Congenial and professedly anti-authoritarian as Precipice may be, it cannot fairly be described as anarchist, given that it supports sheriff, mayor, courts, lawyers, and a judicial code with mandatory sentences. It is included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels.

 

Tobias S. Buckell: 'Necahual' (2004)

Included in the Think Galactic reading list.

 

Algis Budrys: Who? (1958)

"Who? asked three major questions. How does technology shape who we are? How does technology (and technocracy) undermine our human relations? And, how—in the modern era—do institutions take the role in defining us, undermining our capacity for self-identification?" [Lampe's blog]

 

Lois McMaster Bujold: Falling Free (1988)

Won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2014.

 

Bulwer Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)

William Godwin exerted a degree of influence on Lytton's writing, and Godwin wrote to Lytton admiring his early work Paul Clifford. Godwin even gave support to Lytton when the latter stood for parliament. But George Woodcock notes that though Lytton "had a real admiration for Godwin as a philosopher" he was "most attracted to him as a novelist" (Woodcock 1946:231).The Coming Race is the work by which Lytton is chiefly remembered in science fiction circles. It is a utopia set underground, in which social relations have been drastically modified since the discovery of 'vril', an almost magical source of unlimited energy available to every individual. Political power is thus rendered inoperable: "Man was so completely at the mercy of man, each whom he encountered being able, if so willing, to slay him on the instant, that all notions of government by force gradually vanished from political systems and forms of law." (Steiner pb edn: 56). Marie-Louise Berneri (242) detected Godwin's influence in Lytton's model of a stateless society. Angel Cappelletti (1966:31) additionally hints at some influence from Proudhon. But without suggesting direct influence perhaps Woodcock's suggestion is closest, namely that Lytton's utopia is similar to the world of Stirnerite egoists.

 

Katherine Burdekin (writing as Murray Constantine): Swastika Night (1937)

For Moorcock, the novel "seems to think that Christianity could conquer Hitler but is otherwise a pretty incisive projection of Nazism several hundred years in the future". (Moorcock 1978)

 

Eugene L. Burdick & Harvey Wheeler: Fail-Safe (1962)

Tense thriller in which mechanical failure leads to a US nuclear attack on Moscow; to convince the Soviet leader that it was a mistake, the US president is forced to order the tit-for-tat destruction of New York. John Pilgrim in 1966 considered it to be in the tradition of Chesney's The Battle of Dorking, but its motivation is very different, being passionately opposed to nuclear escalation and the arms war.

 

Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1962); 1985 (1978)

Burgess himself responded in the pages of Freedom to a review by Nicolas Walter of the film of his book. The novel concerns a violent delinquent youth who is forcibly conditioned to non-violent behaviour at the cost of his absorbing pleasure in music; he is eventually reconditioned to his old behaviour patterns. The near-anarchistic moral of the story is made explicit by Burgess in his later work, 1985, which includes comments on A Clockwork Orange:

 

The unintended destruction of Alex's capacity for enjoying music symbolizes the State's imperfect understanding (or volitional ignorance) of the whole nature of man, and of the consequences of its own decisions. We may not be able to trust man—meaning ourselves—very far, but we must trust the State far less. (Arrow edn: 93).

 

'1984'—the first part of Burgess's 1985—displays an extensive knowledge of the anarchist movement, its history and philosophy. References to the Spanish Civil War or to Sacco & Vanzetti are unusual but not unique in sf, but Burgess's mention of an anarchist youth movement in China's Yunan province almost certainly is. A chapter entitled 'Bakunin's Children' actually incorporates a three-page biographical portrait of Bakunin, whom he describes as "the rank meat in a more rational anarchical sandwich, tastier than the dry bread of theory that Proudhon offered before him and Kropotkin after." (69). Burgess argues that Bakunin's temperament, which urges him to destroy all that is old, led anarchists to reject the past, and that "Anarchism, in rejecting the past and assuming that the new is, by a kind of Hegelian necessity, better than the old, opens the way to tyranny." (77) Thus, for Burgess, the world of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has its intellectual origins in nineteenth-century anarchism. "Anarchism is not possible. Bakunin is a dead prophet." (81) Nevertheless, Burgess clearly finds it appealing: though he says "you can almost smell the cordite in the word" (69) he finds its overtones "terrible, and attractive" (71). Essentially it is historical anarchism that Burgess rejects, rather than anarchism's roots in anti-statism and individualism. Having rejected Bakunin and Kropotkin, Burgess opts for Thoreau, "the true patron saint" (82) of the individual. "The individual alone can be a true anarch." (82).

   A Clockwork Orange won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2008.

 

William S. Burroughs: The Naked Lunch (1959); The Soft Machine (1961/6); Nova Express (1966); The Ticket That Exploded (1968); The Wild Boys (1969), Exterminator! (1974); Cities of the Red Night (1981), Ghost of Chance (1991)

Burroughs's work is difficult to describe or classify, but most of his books have some sf interest, and among these all the above titles have been referred to in anarchist publications. The most characteristic and recurrent of his themes is stated succinctly in The Naked Lunch:

" . . . You see control can never be a means to any practical end . . . . It can never be a means to anything but more control . . . . Like junk . . ." (164, Calder & Boyars edn).

Dave Cunliffe, in his 1968 Freedom review of The Soft Machine, summed up Burroughs as "a technological mystic and creative journalist with liberal and reformist tendencies". But "his inspired solipsistiv vision" (Moorcock 1983: 71) represents more than this: his sympathies are libertarian and revolutionary. B.P.D., writing in Freedom in 1972, felt that "To employ the term 'anarchist' to such an individualist thinker as William Burroughs would be to categorise him wrongly and unnecessarily." But that he approached closely to anarchism is shown clearly in his 1969 interview with Daniel Odier, published as The Job. He says he is "very dubious of politics myself" (47), and believes that "all existing governments are control machines" (35); and when asked directly whether he believes in the anarchist solutions for the future he replies

 

I don't really know what they are, although I would say this, that I don't believe in any solution that proposes halfway measures. Unless we can abolish the whole concept of the nation, and the whole concept of the family, we aren't going to get anywhere at all, just nowhere. (65)

He had no illusions about the (then current) hippie challenge to the system of control: "The only way I like to see cops given flowers is in a flower-pot from a high window." (67)

 

   "While Burroughs work is primarily dystopian, a few anarchistic utopian societies do show up. In The Wild Boys, for example, Burroughs portrays an anarchistic society that consists of roving gangs of dope-smoking, homosexual teenage boys who wear nothing but jockstraps and rollerskates. The trilogy that begins with Cities of the Red Night includes material about several attempts to found libertarian societies, including Libertatia . . . and a group of Rimbaud-reading, dope-smoking, homosexual Zen gunslingers in the Wild West. Ghost of Chance stars Captain Mission and his pirate utopia Libertatia." (Dan Clore)

 

Carl Bussjaeger: The Anarchists (2002)

Libertarian sf collection. Readable, and entertaining in parts.

 

Octavia E. Butler: Kindred (1979); Lilith's Brood (1987–1989, aka Xenogenesis; consisting of Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989)); Parable of the Sower (1994); Parable of the Talents (1999); Fledgling (2005)

Kindred is probably Butler's best-known work, and is by now pretty much a standard text, featuring a complex critique of race and power relationships in the ante-bellum South, from the viewpoint of an African-American woman from 1976, who is intermittently pulled back to 1815 whenever her slave-owning white forebear in in danger.

    For Anu Bonobo, in Fifth Estate #373,

 

Dawn's most daring maneuver was not the unattractive aliens on the breathing bio-ship that rescued the xenophobic humans after a human holocaust—nor even the seemingly benevolent freaks' rejection of humanity's apparently inherent hierarchies; rather, Butler busted boundaries with bizarre, kinky, and blissfully psychedelic interspecies sex. Even though the humans cannot help but like it, do they really want it? As one might imagine, the issue of permission is problematic here; do the humans choose to breed with their apparently terrifying and tentacled saviors and captors? Is this patronizing servitude masked as emancipation?

   The Xenogenesis stories have also been recommended on the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum.

   The two Parable books chart the rise of a movement based on mutual aid (or just common human decency) amid the breakdown of society in the United States. Warm and literate, it is unfortunate that the author chose to hang her principles on a new religion.

   Butler's work, and especially the Parable novels, were featured in articles in her memory, by Anu Bonobo and Benjamin Carson, in Fifth Estate in 2006. While Bonobo focuses on her Afrofuturism, Carson, while relishing the mutual aid depicted, finds Butler's orientation towards a future in space "deeply troubling".

   Bonobo, in Fifth Estate #373, speaks of the vampire collectives of Fledgling as "bloodlinked free love communes—of a sort. But since the symbionts need the vampire kiss like a junky needs his needle, it’s difficult to define this as a liberated relationship." Fledgling is included in the Think Galactic reading list as well as the Swindon Anarchist Group's list of anarchist/resistance novels.

 

Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872); Erewhon Revisited (1901)

Erewhon is a satirical utopia with dystopian elements, set in New Zealand. Established Western conventions are overturned—criminals are cured, but sickness punished; churches have become musical banks; machines have been banned because of fears of their possible role as evolutionary successors to Homo sapiens. The satire was familiar reading to a number of anarchists: Marie-Louise Berneri, Angel Cappelletti, Ethel Mannin, Herbert Read, and George Woodcock all refer to it. In this satire, for Cappelletti, "is shown the singular taste of the author for inverting ideas and values commonly accepted, pleasure in turning the world upside down, and a caustic and subversive use of paradox" . . . (Cappelletti 1966: 27)

   Erewhon Revisited was bought and read by Herbert Read in 1915. (Read 1963: 211)

 

 


An beside the title means an item's particularly recommended by me. See my hotlist, for these recommendations only.


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


Bibliography


@sf home, Ben Beck's website home




This page was last revised on 2017-02-080.

© Benjamin S. Beck 2005–2017

joomla site stats