Anarchism and science fiction: D


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.

 

Rich Dana, ed.: AnarchoSF V.1: Science Fiction and the Stateless Society (2014)

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).

 

 

photo of front cover of Danvers's The Watch

Dennis Danvers: The Fourth World (2000); The Watch: Being the Unauthorized Sequel to Peter A. Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist—as Imparted to Dennis Danvers by Anchee Mahur, Traveler from a Distant Future; or, A Science Fiction Novel (2002) 

Although it will be The Watch that is of most interest to anarchists, Danvers's previous novel, The Fourth World, is also a refreshing left-libertarian take on a possible future, in which Chiapas and the Zapatistas are centre-stage. For Teflon, the novel "deserves to have sold better than it did."

    The Watch is supposedly written in the first person by Peter Kropotkin, who has been plucked from his deathbed, rejuvenated, into a future in which he has the opportunity to foster anarchism once more. The plot is on the weak side, but the writing is first rate, and the Kropotkin character thoroughly researched, as is historical anarchism itself (with references to more recent figures such as Bookchin and Chomsky). Anarchism is integral to the book, and is presented with the utmost sympathy. Very readable, and a wonderful introduction to anarchist ideas for anyone not familiar with them.

    For Magpie Killjoy, whose favourite anarchist fiction novel this is, "The book tells a low-key and beautiful story with compelling characters, yet introduces the reader to some of the most basic of anarchist political and philosophical concepts." (Killjoy, Fall 2011)

 

photo of front cover of Déjacque's L'Humanisphère

Joseph Déjacque: L'Humanisphère: utopie anarchique (The Humanisphere: An Anarchistic Utopia) (1858–61; first unexpurgated edition 1971)

"A walk-through description of the world in the year 2858, after the abolition of the state, religion, property, and the family." (Dan Clore) Described by Kropotkin himself as an anarchist-communist utopia, and by Max Nettlau as "L'utopie anarchiste par excellence". Editor of the New York anarchist paper Le Libertaire, he "let his utopian imagination run riot" in L'Humanisphère. "Each is his own representative in a 'parliament of anarchy'. Déjacque's 'humanispheres' resemble Fourier's 'phalansteries' and while based on the principle of complete freedom reflect a similarly rigid planning." (Peter Marshall:435) For George Woodcock Déjacque's vision was "Fourier modified by his opposite, Proudhon." He also felt that it "in some remarkable ways anticipates the vision of the future which H.G. Wells projected in Men Like Gods." (Woodcock [1975]: ch. 10)

    L'Humanisphère was first serialised in Le Libertaire, the US's first anarcho-communist journal, of which Déjacque was editor. (Killjoy, 2009) Déjacque is said to have exercised an influence on the anarchist movement in Latin America through the intermediary figure of journalist Sebastian Faure. (Heffes 2009: 129)

 

Samuel Delany: Dhalgren (1974); Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia; or, Some Informal Remarks toward the Modular Calculus (1976; originally entitled Triton)

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.


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).

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); Counter-Clock World (1967); The Zap Gun (1967); Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968); Ubik (1969); Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)

   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 Curtonia 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. 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. 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)

   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 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 devote 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.

   Evan Lampe has individual blog entries for each of 30 Dick novels, including one not sf.


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.


Cory Doctorow: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (2003), Little Brother (2008), Pirate Cinema (2013), Homeland (2013)

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'.

   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.

   The sequel, Homeland, was published in February 2013, and was joint winner of the 2014 Prometheus award.

   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."

 

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.

 

 

photo of front cover of Duchamp's Blood in the Fruit

L. Timmel Duchamp: The Marq'ssan Cycle Alanya to Alanya (2005), Renegade (2006), Tsunami (2007), Blood in the Fruit (2007), Stretto (2007)

Included in Killjoy's list of stories that explore anarchist societies. Also recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009.

   In the strongly feminist Alanya to Alanya Earth women, including some anarchists, are actively supported by the Marq'ssan aliens, who, with technological superiority on their side, vigorously promote "non-authoritarian self-governance". Blood in the Fruit includes a sequence in which the North West Free Zone celebrates Emma Goldman Day; three Goldman quotations serve as epigraph to the novel, and the front cover features a photograph of Goldman speaking in Union Square, at Duchamp's own suggestion—she has said that "Most of the Free Zone activists are working-class women who embrace a philosophy of life and politics very close to Goldman's . . .".

 

SM: So anarchism, or negotiation, is possible not only on a small scale but also a large scale?

LTD: Yes, I believe it is. But it would require major changes in our educational system, in the distribution of information, and in how we live as active, responsible subjects in the world. It would require, in short, that as a species, we mature and leave childhood behind (i.e., that we metaphorically speaking develop the part of our pre-frontal cortex that is able to see past the moment and think beyond impulse, as the medical literature tells us happens when individuals mature into adults).

 [interview by Sean Melican]

The Marq'ssan Cycle as a whole is a significant work, looking at relationships of power at many levels, especially the interpersonal. Duchamp has said:

 

I wanted this to be a story charting an on-going process of change, not one in which a tabula-rasa utopia is created in the wake of an apocalypse allowing everyone to "start over" without significant institutional baggage. In the course of writing the first novel, I soon realized that getting rid of a repressive regime is the easy part. The characters in these books are as resistant to changing ingrained patterns of political and social behavior as any living person is. Which is why the series spans two decades and comprises five long novels. 

[interview by Cheryl Morgan]

 

 

 


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