Anarchism and science fiction: C


C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004, dir. Kevin Willmott)

Effective mockumentary, purporting to be a cable-TV-style account—complete with fake archive footage and even commercial breaks—of the alternate history of the establishment of a Confederate empire across most of the Americas, where slavery has remained the norm until the present day, after Confederate victory in the American Civil War.

 

Mark Bould's Red Planets filmography says it "reveals how deeply the tendrils of racism extend into the present." The film was one of those selected by Joe Jordan, of Anarchist People of Color, for inclusion in events for black history month in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2013.

 

Ernest Callenbach: Ecotopia (1975)

Ecotopia drew mixed responses from anarchists. For Lessa, Takver & Alyx it was "an environmentalist's dream come true", but for Milligan "Ecotopia is a shoddy amalgam of Swedish social democracy, Swiss neutrality, and Yugoslav workers' co-ops cobbled together with the authoritarianism of Blueprint for Survival. [ . . . ] Ecotopia is a flawed vision of a flawed future." For A.B. "This is an important book which should not be taken seriously", but is "unconvincing on the political plane".

 

John W. Campbell, Jr: 'Constitution for Utopia' (1961)

This is a typically controversial editorial by Analog's most influential editor. Characteristically, he says the creation of utopia is "an engineering problem, and should be approached as such." (5)

   Campbell argues that "Since it can be pretty fairly shown that any form of government—from pure anarchy through absolute tyranny, with every possible shading in between—will yield Utopia provided the rulers are wise, benevolent, and competent, the place to start engineering of Utopia is with the method of selecting rulers" (6). This he suggests should be done by restricting the franchise to the top 20% income bracket, irrespective of how such income may have been earned, which in Campbell's view should at least ensure competence, which is really the only criterion which concerns him.

   Anarchism is pretty summarily dismissed:

 

Anarchy is government-that-is-no-government. In other words, each individual citizen is his own ruler. Given that all the citizens are wise, benevolent, and competent, anarchy will produce a Utopia. Unfortunately, this requires that each citizen be in fact, not simply in his own perfectly sincere convictions, actually wise, benevolent and competent.

It is therefore clearly impossible. Campbell spells this out in a reply to a letter in a subsequent issue (UK edition, Oct 1961): "the usual trouble is that some individual exercises his right as an Anarchist, to live the way he wants to by enslaving his neighbours." (125)

 

Karel Čapek: R.U.R. (1920); War with the Newts (1936)

It has been said that Čapek had to leave school "when it was discovered that he was a member of a secret anarchist society". (Gale) He has also been quoted as saying (but at what date is unknown) "I think I am slowly becoming an anarchist, that this is only another label for my privateness, and I think that you will understand this in the sense of being against collectivity." (Wikiquote)

   Berneri, Read, and Woodcock were all familiar with R.U.R., in which the word 'robot' first became common parlance. Read felt that maybe the robot "is no longer an appropriate symbol for an age of automation. Capek saw men transformed into a machine; we see machines transformed into men." (Read 1966)

   Čapek's satiric novel War with the Newts ridicules Nazi-Germany and fascism in general, while conveying the author's ideas that technology can become a threat to mankind and that capitalism unrestrained also poses a serious danger. It's included in the Think Galactic reading list.

Captain America: Civil War (2016, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Lots of action and some pretty good effects, but basically a silly story of too many superheroes fighting each other.

 

The Anarcho-Geek Review's Sadie the Goat was rather more enthusiastic with a review entitled 'Captain America is a big screen anarchist superhero, how fucking weird is that?', saying "Steve's [Captain America's] perspective [ . . . ] fits nicely with an anarchist outlook; he is fighting to keep his actions his own. He refuses to put himself in a position of taking orders simply to avoid the possibility that he might have to feel guilty for his own mistakes later. That’s anarchist as hell" . . . .

 

Connor Owens, at solarpunkanarchists.com, gives 'A Social Anarchist Take on Captain America: Civil War', which—while still enjoying the film—gives a rather more in-depth analysis of the film from this perspective. And I fully concur with a key point he makes:

 

Built on a legacy of slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and ecocide, from a social anarchist perspective the best thing superheroes could do, if they’re going to exist at all, would be to use their enhanced abilities to help inspire a planetary popular uprising against capitalist-statism—then use their powers constructively to help build a post-scarcity economy of the commons. This would effectively eliminate about 90% of the things they beat people up for.

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game (1985)

Included in the Think Galactic reading list.

 

Chris Carlsson: After the Deluge (2004)

Explores an attractive anarchist society in a post-collapse 22nd century San Francisco. Anu Bonobo, in Fifth Estate, described it as "more an imaginary treasure map than utopia-by-the-numbers blueprint . . .". Carlsson, in the acknowledgments, depicts the novel simply: "a stab at describing the world I'd like to wake up into."

 

John Carnell, ed.: New Writings in SF–1 (1964)

The first of a long series of original anthologies, it was briefly reviewed in Freedom in 1965, where it was described as "a well balanced collection" (anon. 1965). It is actually mediocre sf.

 

Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

So much a part of our cultural heritage that for years I didn't include it in this listing. But it has been as familiar to anarchists as to other readers, and was commented on by, for instance, Alex Comfort, Herbert Read, and George Woodcock.

   The poet W.H. Auden considered Wonderland to be "a place of complete anarchy" (Auden 1962: 35).

 

Angela Carter: Heroes and Villains (1969)

For Arthur Wardo, writing in Freedom, this was "Yet another fantasy of what things will be like after a nuclear war. Angela Carter's novel is one of the more realistic visions however."

 

Michael Chabon: The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007)

Noted by Teflon as a "fine alternate history novel". Recommended by Ursula Le Guin as "Crazy like a genius."

 

A. Bertram Chandler: The Anarch Lords (1981)

A space opera concerning a planet named Liberia, which had been settled by anarchists. The extent to which the colony had stuck to anarchist principles had varied much over the years. There is now an Original Anarchist Party, which favours a return to basic principles. These, however, are opposed by the entrenched anarchist establishment, "the cream of Liberian society, the black-and-scarlet-clad Anarchist grandees and their ladies" (50, DAW edition). Bakunin has become a demi-god, 'Holy Bakunin' is used as an expletive (139), and the central figure even wonders if anarchists pray to him!

   Not only does Chandler's knowledge of anarchism tend towards zero, the novel is forgettable third-rate sf.


A.V. Chayanov: The Journey of my Brother Alexei to the Land of Peasant Utopia (1920)

Alexei dozes off while reading Herzen, and wakes in a peasants' utopia, which is described with some charm; if it was all a dream remains uncertain, as the work is unfinished.

   Geoffrey Ostergaard reviewed this work at length in Freedom in 1978, describing it as ". . . probably the only and only peasant utopian romance ever written . . .". (9) ". . . Chayanov's vision of Russia was not an anarchist one, "the marvellous anarchy of Prince Kropotkin". But it may fairly be described as "libertarian socialist". In its distrust of the State, in its concern for individual freedom, in its hostility to the values typical of industrial urbanised society, and in many other ways, it expresses an ideology that is miles nearer to anarchism than it is to bolshevik Marxism." (13)

 

Nikolai Chernyshevsky: What is to be Done? (Что делать, 1863)

Marginal to science fiction, and of marginal anarchist interest, but a minor utopian socialist work of major historical significance, especially in Russia. The novel was translated by Benjamin Tucker and serialised in Liberty from 1884 to 1886. Both Tolstoy and Lenin borrowed the title for works of their own. Kropotkin himself wrote of this novel that "It became the watchword of Young Russia, and the influence of the ideas it propagated has never ceased to be apparent since." (Kropotkin 1889)

 

C.J. Cherryh: Cyteen (1988)

Suggested by a respondent to a Metafilter query looking for left-anarchist SF.

 

George T. Chesney: The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer (1871)

For John Pilgrim, in 1966, this story "gave a military twist to the popular conception of the survival of the fittest".

 

G.K. Chesterton: The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904); The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

George Woodcock, discussing Orwell's view on nationalism in 1966, used The Napoleon of Notting Hill as the extreme example of how local patriotism could be, when ". . . every parish is its own patria" (p203). This work of Conservative romanticism has a degree of charm that may appeal, but is really of only slight interest for anarchists. It may have been more than chance that suggested this comparison to Woodcock, as Napoleon is set in 1984.

   The Man Who Was Thursday is included here on the strength of Brian Aldiss's comment (in Billion Year Spree, 1973) that it is "Not science fiction, perhaps, yet nearer to science and rationality than the science fantasy which is the hallmark of the period."

   Jack Robinson, in Freedom in 1977, described this work as "a parable . . . in which the anarchist gang all turn out to be policemen (not so improbable) but this idea evaporated in gaseous Catholic mystic flummery." John Quail, in his 1978 history of British anarchism, The Slow-Burning Fuse, referred to it as a variation of a stereotype developed in the 1890s. Although the novel is entirely about anarchists, not a single character actually is one, so it's particularly unjust that the book has become one of the sources of the stock anarchist slander. Chesterton's only authorial comment on real anarchists comes in chapter IV where, speaking of Syme ('Thursday') he writes that "He did not regard anarchists, as most of us do, as a handful of morbid men, combining ignorance with intellectualism." It is an entertaining novel, but basically rubbish.

The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer - See more at: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/chesney_george_t#sthash.O2g8tn5v.dpuf
The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer - See more at: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/chesney_george_t#sthash.O2g8tn5v.dpuf

Children of Men (2006, dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

Set in England in 2027, two decades of human infertility have left society on the brink of collapse, with illegal migrants corralled in camps. Miraculously, a 'fugee' is found to be pregnant, and is helped to find sanctuary with the 'Human Project'.

 

The film was reviewed by Tom Jennings in Freedom when it came out, in typically acerbic manner. While finding the set design and cinematography "magnificent", and the action sequences "superb", he concludes:

 

So, opposition to the fascist state from the urban guerrilla 'Fishes' [ . . . ] signposts the messianic underbelly of moral politics. This rainbow coalition of former anti-war, civil rights and green activists is riven with 'broad front' contradictions—only demanding human rights for refugees; yet launching armed insurrection! Utterly lacking the sociopolitical underpinnings to wring interesting speculation from its pandemic/police state scenario, Children of Men's naff nativity parable crumbles into faith in scientific progress—the mythical 'Human Project' run by "the best brains in the world" on the good ship Tomorrow. [ . . . ] The redemptive convergence of rationalist wishful-thinking with pseudo-religious ethical superiority, promising salvation from the jackboot, is instead its shoehorn—with the blind liberal management of capitalism actively fostering disaster. Theo's death delivering (Black refugee) madonna and (female) child to safety then merely finesses the conclusion that middle-class heroism (physical or philosophical)—like this film—can suggest no solutions.

But for David Ehrlich at IndieWire, ten years after its release Children of Men has become not only the "best and bleakest sci-fi movie of the 21st Century", but also the most prescient: "Children of Men may be set in 2027, but when Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States, it suddenly became clear that its time had come."

 

John Christopher: The World in Winter (1962); The Lotus Caves (1969)

In The World in Winter Europeans retreat to Africa at the onset of a new ice age. Arthur W. Uloth, writing in Anarchy, suggested that the survival of this novel's leading characters is sufficiently improbable (as whites who deserve a come-uppance), as to verge on racism on the part of the author.

   The Lotus Caves, a juvenile, concerns the discovery by two boys of an exotic world of alien life beneath the surface of the moon. Colin Ward, in his 1974 educational book on utopias, used the drabness of existence in the moon colony to demonstrate that even escape to other worlds can't ensure the attainment of utopia. Seemingly this example was selected at random, as it doesn't seem particularly pertinent.

 

 

The City of Lost Children (1995, dirs Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Demented scientist kidnaps children to steal their dreams, but finds inevitably that they only have nightmares. Surreal, oneiric steampunk.

 

Included in Glenn's 'Film as Subversion', in The BASTARD Chronicles, where it is described as "a dadaist steam-punk fantasy [. . .]" which "leaves the viewer wondering, 'What is Normal'?"

Curt Clark (pseud. Donald E. Westlake): Anarchaos (1967)

Third-rate western, set on an alien planet, of which the social system had been designed by anarchists, described as followers of Bakunin, "an obscure Russian nihilist". Society, of course, has collapsed, anarchism being "not entirely realistic". The planet appears to harbour a society in a Hobbesian state of nature. The hero describes anarchy as "absurd", and the planet as "the longest-running planet-wide madhouse in the history of the human race." (Ace pb edn: 20).

   A Freedom contributor in 1976 found the novel "horrendous". Albert Meltzer, in the same year, went further: "It is anarchism as seen through Fascist eyes. Maybe Clark is not a Fascist and has just picked up the arguments [. . . .] But the arguments are a perfect example of the Nazi views on anarchism, and fairly presented."

   Anarchaos is probably the nastiest representation of anarchism in the genre.


Arthur C. Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)

Fondly remembered by a couple of posters to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum (and by myself).

 

Ernest Cline: Ready Player One (2011)

Joint winner of the 2012 Prometheus Award, but for Neil Easterbrook, though antiauthoritarian, it falls short of being libertarian; he found it charming, nevertheless.

A Clockwork Orange (1971, dir. Stanley Kubrick)

A teenage thug in a a dystopian near-future Britain is cured of his violent ways by aversion therapy, the moral being an inversion of the Frankenstein story, namely that it is as wrong to unmake a monster, by taking away his free will, as to make one. Aurally and visually intense, and challenging to watch.

 

Included in the Libertarian Movies list. Described as a "good anarchist movie" in a comment on Bergen-Aurand's great anarchist movies that are worth your time.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, dir. Steven Spielberg)

The life of an ordinary blue-collar work changes forever after an encounter with a UFO, leading eventually to first contact with the aliens.

 

Joe Schembrie's 'Science Fiction and Libertarianism' notes the film's anti-government aspect, in that "the aliens turn from government attempts to contact them and instead embrace a group of private citizens". Tim Cavanaugh, who in general would exclude all Spielberg and Lucas movies from consideration as libertarian, wrote in 2004 that "I'm tempted to give a pass to Close Encounters because it popularized black helicopter culture".

Cloud Atlas (2012, dirs The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)

Complex story set at six points in time, from 1849 through 2321, with the same six actors playing different roles in different threads, the stories and characters having tenuous and serendipitous connections across all timelines. Bold and engaging, despite its length.

 

Reviewed at length by Cat Woods, at peaceandfreedom.org, for whom the film "takes on the unlikeliest of themes for a major mainstream film: the politics of justice, including, most importantly, justice for workers." As an independent film, when set against the Hollywood backdrop "the film is completely ground-breaking, a victory of the interests of the people over those of the ruling class, and a source of inspiration and spiritual nourishment for those of us endeavoring to work toward greater social justice." Woods concludes:

 

I do not know whether Cloud Atlas will move people or whether it will be received and responded to appropriately. I do know that it should change the world. By all rights, it should usher in a whole new genre of socio-political films exploring the nature of justice as well as the various possible avenues for achieving it. May it be so.

 

Recommended by starrychloe on Liberty.me's Good movies for libertarians and anarchists.

 

Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games (2008)

Dystopian action, very readable. Included in the Think Galactic reading list. The only book of the trilogy read by Margaret Killjoy before reviewing the third part of the film series.

 

Alex Comfort: Come Out to Play (1961)

Comfort—renowned sexologist and gerontologist—was at one time better known as an anarchist. The novel concerns the discovery of a sexually-liberating drug, and the havoc it wreaks on an uptight society. It is not explicitly anarchist, though it tends that way.

   Harold Drasdo, discussing Comfort's work in Anarchy in November 1963, wrote:

 

Humour is a notoriously erratic weapon but most readers without insuperable sexual barriers ought to enjoy this book thoroughly. [ . . . ] it presents serious and humane ideas about sexual and personal relationships and about modern science and politics." (Drasdo: 352)

Coneheads (1993, dir. Steve Barron)

Ludicrous tale of cone-headed aliens stranded on earth. What humour there is is very American.

 

Listed at Libertarian Movies. Osborne's guide considers it "upbeat", "hilarious", and "a terrific pro-immigrant, anti-INS film!"

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972, dir. J. Lee Thompson)

Apes in revolt against their human masters.

 

Listed in the Red Planets filmography, which notes that "The studio neutered the conclusion of worker/slave revolt, which resonated too strongly with Black Power."

 

One contributor to the anarchysf mailing list, back in 2004, admitted (rather improbably) that "I love that movie. I've probably seen it dozens of times."

 

Murray Constantine—see Katherine Burdekin

Elizabeth B. Corbett: New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future (1889)

New Amazonia was reviewed, briefly and scornfully, by an anonymous writer for Commonweal in its anarchist phase, in 1890. It is a feminist utopia, set in Ireland in 2472; domestic service still exists, but servants are state-trained; the museum has on exhibition "an instrument of torture . . . called a corset" (Tower edn: 44); and so on—all rather quaint.

 

Paul Cornell: Timewyrm: Revelation (1991), Love and War (1992), No Future (1994), and Human Nature (1995)

Thematic four book quartet. Love and War and No Future portray anarchists in the form of neo-pagan anarchist travellers in an interstellar travel era and a Black Star militant group (described in No Future as "probably remnants of the Angry Brigade") in the background of a possibly alternate version of the 1976 London milieu. These portray anarchists favourably. Part of the DOCTOR WHO New Adventures sequence. (mailing to anarchysf)

 

CQ (2001, dir. Roman Coppola)

Included in the Red Planets filmography, which says "The spirit of May 1968 lurks somewhere between an aspiring director's Godardian short and the camp Italian SF movie he is hired to complete." It's not in itself sf, though, and rather comes across as filmic navel-gazing.

 

Edmund Crispin: Best SF series (1955–70)

"Finally I must make some acknowledgement to Mr Edmund Crispin, whose anthologies of science fiction for Faber and Faber are still the finest of their kind, and whose introductory essays I have shamelessly pillaged." (Pilgrim 1963)

   Crispin seems to have admired sf for its anti-authoritarianism, or at least its capacity for scepticism of authority, which he saw as healthy, "for only by perennial widespread mistrust can the power of rulers of any kind—politicians, ecclesiastics, scientists, managers, trade unions, bureaucrats, bankers or commissars—be kept restricted within tolerable bounds" (Introduction to Best SF Two, Faber pb edn: 9). Pilgrim quotes this passage approvingly; he does not, however, quote a passage in the introduction to Best SF Four (1961) which perhaps spurred Pilgrim to write his essay, in which Crispin states that "the political leanings of the genre . . . are overwhelmingly democratic, with a strong tendency to anarchism" (Faber pb edn: 7)

Cube (1997, dir. Vincenzo Natali)

Kafkaesque allegory of a group of people who mysteriously find themselves trapped within industrialized cubic rooms, with hatchways on all six faces leading into similar rooms, some being rigged with lethal traps, and all apparently contained within another vast cube, within which the compartments move about.

 

For Mark Bould, in his Red Planets filmography, the "Eponymous device models the logic of capital for those trapped within it."

 

Facebook's Sci-Fi Libertarian Socialist, in August 2016, described this film as "Easily one of the best low-budget sci-fi flicks out there."

 

(1997,

photo of front cover of Cullen's The Last Capitalist

Steve Cullen: The Last Capitalist: A Dream of a New Utopia (1996)

Published by London's anarchist Freedom Press, this short book is essentially an anarchist utopia set in a future Britain. The story involves a quest for the eponymous capitalist, and contributes greatly to the book's readability. England has been renamed 'Atopia', and is explicitly anarchist, but the state and capitalism have pretty much crumbled world-wide. Alternative polities exist, to reflect local conditions and aspirations; among these is a republic on the Isle of Man, based on delegate democracy. In Atopia everything is voluntary, education is through free schools, and the economy is based on barter. Informed by green principles, technology is nevertheless sufficiently sophisticated to include high-altitude remote-controlled airships, to maintain satellite communications. Social life is fuelled by plenty of real ale (with an explicit admiring nod to CAMRA) and an easy attitude to sex. The book is joyful and optimistic.

 

 

Thursday Czolgosz, Margaret Killjoy, and The Catastrophone Orchestra: White is the Color of Death (2011)

Extremely short collection of three linked stories (40 pages in total) of post-apocalyptic steampunk. The anarchist influence is clearest in The Catastrophone Orchestra's "The Mushers," the longest of the three.

 

 


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


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