Rick Dakan: Geek Mafia (2008)
Dakan is described by Killjoy, in one of his featured interviews, as an 'anarchist geek'. This entertaining caper story was taken as 'certainly' science fiction by a contributor to the Anarchysf mailing list, but can't really be seen as sf at all, though it's still likely to be of interest to sf readers.
Anthology of original short fiction, poetry, and a couple of essays, as well as two classic tales featured in this reading list, Dick's 'The Last of the Masters' and Forster's 'The Machine Stops'. Rich Dana's introduction is particularly useful: an updated version of his 2013 essay on the Daily Anarchist (as by Ricardo Feral).
Samuel Delany: Babel-17 (1966); 'Aye, and Gomorrah' (1967); The Einstein Intersection (1967); Dhalgren (1974); Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia; or, Some Informal Remarks toward the Modular Calculus (1976; originally entitled Triton); Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984)
Babel-17, 'Aye and Gomorrah', and The Einstein Intersection are included in the Think Galactic reading list. Babel-17 is quoted in The BASTARD Chronicles 2015.
Dhalgren has been described as presenting a world which is 'anarchist in all but name' (Moore 95). Although this is questionable, this is a stimulating and thought-provoking novel that bears inclusion here.
Trouble on Triton was recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009. Delany has said that the novel was written partly in dialogue with Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed, his ambiguous heterotopia a response to her ambiguous utopia. His own perspective is that SF can't really be utopian. More pretentious than Dhalgren, Trouble on Triton hasn't aged as well. The interview with Delany published in 1990 as "On Triton and Other Matters" is actually more interesting than the novel.
Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand is discussed and quoted in The BASTARD Chronicles 2015, and has been recommended by a contributor to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum. Another, on Ask Metafilter, considered that "I don't think that Delany describes the society of Morgre as anarchist, but it definitely has anarchist-style social organization." In fact he almost does: he describes the most common form of government on Velm (the planet) as "an efficient bureaucratic anarchy". Later he says that of the 6000 worlds only 30% have a world government, but in the same paragraph describes Velm's bureaucratic anarchy as a world government. It isn't really an anarchy in anarchist terms: his definition says that "Bureaucratic anarchy means a socialist world government in which small sections are always reverting to some form of feudal capitalism for anywhere from a week to two years standard—the longest we'll allow it to last."
James de Mille: A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888)
A Strange Manuscript is a lost-race story, set in Antarctica. In 1969 George Woodcock discussed the work as a "solitary successful Canadian utopian novel" (97), deciding that it is not so much utopia as Butlerian satire: its moral vision, "perhaps . . . characteristic of Canada", he finds to be "that of the Middle way—moderation in all things." (98) In 1980 he found the novel "an effective satire on the hypocritical Victorian world" de Mille lived in (Woodcock 1980: 24).
Demolition Man (1993, dir. Marco Brambilla)
A violent criminal and a maverick cop are cryogenically frozen in 1996, being revived in 2032 to find the culture homogenised and risk-free, the cop finding some sympathy with a radical underground. Much action and a limited amount of comic book satire.
One comment at the libertarian film festival describes the film as "a parable about the nanny state", with "a nice minarchist bit as the anarchists are told to clean up a bit, the government to dirty up a bit, and then to figure the rest out for themselves."
Destination Moon (1950, dir. Irving Pichel)
Historically important as the first serious attempt at portraying a mission to the moon, a major difference from what eventually happened in the 1960s being that in the film it was private enterprise that ran the show. Loosely based on Rocketship Galileo, by Robert Heinlein, who acted as technical advisor to the film
In 2007 an article copied to the Anarchy-SF mailing list, on the occasion of the centenary of Heinlein's birth, described this as "the first sober space travel movie".
Philip K. Dick: 'The Last of the Masters' (1954) ; Solar Lottery (1955); Eye in the Sky (1957); Galactic Pot-Healer (1959); Time Out of Joint (1959); The Man in the High Castle (1962); The Penultimate Truth (1964); The Simulacra (1964); The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965); Counter-Clock World (1967); The Zap Gun (1967); Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968); Ubik (1969); Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974); Valis (1981)
In 'The Last of the Masters' Dick took anarchism itself for its explicit theme. Two hundred years after the triumph of the Anarchist League by overthrowing the world's governments, a pocket state is discovered, ruled by a still-surviving government robot. An Anarchist League agent destroys the robot. The League itself is a voluntary club of unorganised individuals whose task it is to patrol the world scotching any attempts to restore government. It is made clear at the end of the story that, while there are disadvantages to global anarchism, they are more than outweighed by the effective abolition of war that has followed from its adoption. The tale is included in Dana's AnarchoSF V.1. For Margaret Killjoy "This story, by my reading, is neither libel nor advocacy, just a thought experiment by someone only peripherally versed in anarchism. Which frankly doesn’t make it feel all that valuable to the conversation."
Dick's works constituted for Vittorio Curtoni a "violent fresco of social schizophrenia" (25). All his works show a high degree of humanity and identification with the underdog.
The three novels of the 1950s are referred to by Curtoni as exemplary of his style and concerns. Solar Lottery is Dick's first, in which the top political position is chosen by lot, but subject to popularly condoned assassination; a parallel plot concerns a quasi-religious quest outside the solar system. The novel was described in Marzia Rubega's 1996 article on Dick in A-Rivista Anarchica, and is cited in The BASTARD Chronicles 2015. In Eye in the Sky an accident in a particle accelerator causes a number of individuals to live successively through each other's versions of the normal world, none of which is particularly normal. In Time Out of Joint the central character believes he is living in the 1950s, as a competition expert; in reality he is living in the 1990s, helping plan the bombing of the moon; his fantasy is a withdrawal psychosis, the only way he can continue this work, having been converted to the 'lunatic' cause.
The society of Galactic Pot-Healer has been described as "the ultimate Communist denial of personal consciousness." (Riggenbach)
The Man in the High Castle, Ubik, and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, among Dick's best, are listed in Curtoni's essential bibliography, but not discussed by him. The Man in the High Castle is a complex alternate history of America after losing World War II, set in the Japanese Pacific States of America; it is a superb sf classic, high on compassion and having much to say, indirectly, about power relationships. Ubik recounts the involuted existences of a group of people living in 'half-life' after being killed by a bomb on the moon; in many ways similar to Eye in the Sky, it has perhaps been overrated, though Rubega describes it as both "fascinating" and a "masterpiece". Reality is out of joint for the protagonist of Flow My Tears, who finds himself briefly living in an alternate world created by another character's drug trip; the figure of Police General Buckman, although disagreeable, is presented as human—there are no human baddies, for such antagonist as may be discerned is the abstract one of drugs-as-control. For Evan Lampe "The novel is incredibly powerful and in my view his greatest work."
The Simulacra "portrays a world in which government is evil, duplicitous, and bent on concealing the truth from the public." (Riggenbach) The novel is cited in The BASTARD Chronicles 2015, as is The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.
In Counter-Clock World a black religious leader, round whom much of the book revolves, is referred to throughout as the 'Anarch' Peak; but the reason for this is obscure.
The Zap Gun depicts an America divided between those who believe the government is protecting them with ever more elaborate weaponry and those who know that none of the weaponry works, except in simulations; both parties are in on the fraud, which they perpetrate in order to prop up a permanent Cold War economy. (Riggenbach)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—famously adapted as the film Bladerunner—was singled out for mention by Walker Lane, of the Fifth Estate collective, for a Summer 2012 anarchist reading list.
In The Penultimate Truth members of the elite program an android politician which/who keeps the underground masses properly stirred up and misinformed. (Riggenbach) For Lampe a clear moral is that "It does not matter if power if justifiable on some level. It is nonetheless, sociopathic."
A proponent of governmental decentralisation and opponent of organised religion, it is perhaps unfortunate that some of Dick's later, delusional, work has had a posthumous influence in the emergence of anarcho-gnostics. Among these later works is Valis, briefly mentioned in a quotation in The BASTARD Chronicles 2015.
Evan Lampe has individual blog entries for each of 30 Dick novels, including one not sf.
Denis Diderot: 'A Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage' (1796; written in 1777)
Short utopian account of society in Tahiti which, according to SFE, "prefigures much Anthropological sf in its debate on Natural Man."
Marie Louise Berneri, for whom it was "a description of a free, primitive society which knows neither governments nor laws", yet which described "a primitive society, not perhaps as it was, but as it should be," included a four-page extract in her classic 1950 Journey Through Utopia. Colin Ward, in his 1991 Unesco Courier article 'Ideal Community', found the tale "delightful."
Paul DiFilippo: 'Any Major Dude' (1991)
The whole of North Africa has become a political isolate thanks to its controversial use of anti-entropic free energy from nanotechnology. Money is increasingly pointless, and guns won't function, as a consequence of "a local accumulation of anti-entropy". A pre-utopian sidelong glimpse of the state in the very act of withering away.
Thomas M. Disch: Camp Concentration (1968); 'Mutability' (1978)
Vittorio Curtoni, writing in 1978, considered Camp Concentration to be "very fine". It concerns the experimental treatment of American concentration-camp inmates with a syphilis-derived drug which enhances intelligence but accelerates death.
'Mutability' is set in the free university city of Tübingen at the end of the 21st century. Tübingen is said to have been declared a free city by the UN in 2039, after the faculty and students of the university had spearheaded the pan-Germanic Anarchist movement. It is said to have a uniquely democratic government, but American observers seem to be unimpressed.
Divergent (2014, dir. Neil Burger)
In a post-apocalyptic Chicago everyone is pigeon-holed as one of five factions, based on personality testing; the central character is found 'divergent', as she straddles several factions.
Recommended by starrychloe at Good movies for libertarians and anarchists.
Doctor Who (TV series, 1963/1989, 1996, 2005→, created by Sydney Newman, C.E. Webber, and Donald Wilson)
The adventures of a time-travelling renegade Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia "It is the most successful Space Opera in the history of television, not excluding Star Trek."
St John Karp, in The Anarchist Doctor Who, while a "massive fan" of the show, identifies two contradictions: "One is the Doctor's xenophilia vs. Doctor Who's xenophobia. The other is the Doctor's status as both a rebel against and a symbol of the status quo. El problemo." But also "it's a show about libertarianism; a love of strange things; a love of exploration; a love of eccentricity; and the defence of the rights of the individual against the establishment."
For Kasimir Urbanski the Doctor is a "libertarian superhero":
He hated the stifling bureaucracy of his own people that he ran away in a broken time machine just to be his own person. He has a complete distaste for authority, particularly corrupt government and warmongering military. He’s always ready to fight anyone who wants to force their will on anyone else.
And he’s pretty much always been that way.
Most importantly, he's always been about the power of the Individual—not the ideals of some Federation, or even specifically about things like justice, fairness or even good. But more than anything, about the power that any one person has, as themselves, to change the world.
A contributor to libcom.org's forum on Science fiction and fantasy with anarchist themes noted that a 2005 episode called 'The Long Game' included "an undercover Anarchist posing as a journalist from a group called 'Freedom 15' 200,000 years into the future on a space station above Earth." "My impression was that while the episode did not go into any depth into the political philosophy of Anarchism the anarchist was portrayed in a positive anti-straw man like way."
Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003); Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (2005); Little Brother (2008); Makers (2009); For the Win (2010); The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (2011); Pirate Cinema (2013); Homeland (2013); Walkaway (2017)
The two earlier novels were both recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009.
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom features a post-scarcity future in which money has been replaced by personal reputation ratings, or 'Whuffie'. It was the subject of a retrospective review by Jason Rodgers in the Summer 2018 Fifth Estate.
Someone Comes to Town is an unusual fantasy novel, which if it wasn't by Doctorow I would probably not include, though it's well worth a read. Killjoy (Fall 2011) includes it among some examples of books in which anarchists appear as "sympathetic (though often misguided or idealized characters").
Little Brother won the 2009 Prometheus Award. A stirring novel for young adults, it features a hackers' fightback against the paranoid surveillance society of the US Department of Homeland Security. Reviewed and commended by andywelshman of the Glasgow Anarchist Federation, for whom "This book is a must read for everyone and should be required reading for everyone under 25, if you read it you’ll find out why."
The sequel, Homeland, was published in February 2013, and was joint winner of the 2014 Prometheus award.
Makers—described by the author as "a book about people who hack hardware, business-models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy even when the economy is falling down the toilet"—isn't one of Doctorow's best, but was nominated for the 2010 Prometheus award. It was suggested by one contributor to reddit as a possible example of agorist fiction, and is listed at the GoodReads Anarchist & Radical Book Club.
For the Win features an interesting combination of militant international labour activism and the world of online gaming, in which game-workers join the IWWWW (Industrial Workers of the World Wide Web), known as the Webblies, by analogy with the Wobblies (a concept borrowed from Ken Macleod). While some readers have not appreciated the moralising, for me the gaming angle was a bit heavy-going, but it's a YA book, and doubtless this would be fine for its intended readership.
Zeke Teflon's 2014 review of the PM Press edition of The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow plus found the novella disappointingly short, and not quite fulfilling its promising potential.
Pirate Cinema won the 2013 Prometheus Award. Another YA novel, it's a rousing subversive attack on attempts to stifle creativity by controlling Internet downloads. One of the protagonists is explicitly anarchist, and works in an anarchist bookshop off Brick Lane, London—named "Dancing Emma's" after Emma Goldman, but the location more than coincidentally close to the Freedom Bookshop in Whitechapel; Doctorow personally contributed to Freedom Bookshop's repair and rebuilding fund after it was firebombed in January 2013.
For Ricardo Feral Doctorow's YA novels are "particularly important for introducing the ideas of personal freedom and opposition to State control to younger readers." Margaret Killjoy has said "I've never met a Cory Doctorow book I don't love."
Walkaway tells of walking away from work and the dominance of a mega-rich oligarchy, the development of a post-scarcity gift economy, and the near-conquest of death. Described by the author as "a utopian novel", with credit given to David Graeber in the acknowledgments, the novel is recommended in the Sharp and Pointed review by Zeke Teflon as "quite possibly the best fictional description of a post-scarcity society ever written."
In an August 2018 interview Doctorow states explicitly that he's not an anarchist, but that he doesn't know what he is.
Jane Doe: Anarchist Farm (1995)
Very entertaining animal fable sequel to Orwell's Animal Farm; not actually sf.
Francis Donovan: 'The Short Life' (1960)
This rather minor story concerns an alien stranded on earth, living telepathically in a dog but through a mentally-challenged child: it seeks understanding from a sympathetic human. Pilgrim, in 1963, rated the story highly, but rather overstated the case for considering the society of the aliens, as described as "anarchic" and their reaction to human coercion and competition as "very much that of the anarchist" (Pilgrim 1963: 365).
Henry Shipton Drayton: In Oudemon: Reminiscences of an Unknown People by an Occasional Traveller (1901)
Futuristic utopia set in South America. "It is anarchistic in that there is no authority except an advisory board, and communistic in that the land is communally owned and there is little personal property." [Bleiler: 209]
Guy du Maurier: An Englishman's Home (1909)
An invasion from "the Empire of the North" succeeds. This play is referred to by Pilgrim in his 1966 Peace News review, without particular comment.
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
Anarchists on the genre of sf
@sf home, Ben Beck's website home
This page was last revised on 2018-08-07.
© Benjamin S. Beck 2005–2018