Anarchism and science fiction: K


K-PAX (2001, dir. Iain Softley)

A good film treatment of Gene Brewer's Swiftian novel of the same name. Not as well-received generally as it might have been, perhaps because of a perceived naivety, which I would prefer to see as intentional innocence, as counterweight to worldly cynicism. The society of the (real or delusional) planet K-PAX is clearly both anarchist and pacifist.

 

Franz Kafka: The Trial (Der Process / Der Prozeß, 1925; 1st English translation 1937)

Kafka's best-known novel isn't obviously science fiction, but Kafka's influence is sufficiently pervasive that John Clute has a long entry on him at SFE, concluding that "His work is a Baedeker to where we live now."

 

Current anarchist writers are clearly familiar with The Trial: David Graeber, for instance, sees it as paradigmatic of all great literature on bureaucracy, in taking the form of horror-comedy (p53); while for Saul Newman "Kafka's The Trial might be understood in part as a meditation on voluntary servitude: rather than escaping the clasp of the law, which does not forcibly entrap him—on the contrary, it tries to repel and elude him—Joseph K persistently seeks his place within it, and in doing so constitutes the law's domination over him." (p145).

 

Kafka himself was evidently familiar with anarchism and anarchists, though the extent of his interest and degree of his activity are contested. A comprehensive account is given by Michael Löwy, in his 'Franz Kafka and Libertarian Socialism', concluding that "With his libertarian sensibility, Kafka has succeeded marvellously in capturing the oppressive and absurd nature of the bureaucratic nightmare, the opacity, the impenetrable and incomprehensible character of the rules of the state hierarchy as they are seen from below and the outside."

 

David Karp: One (1953)

Dystopian novel in which dissidents are not punished but "adjusted". The protagonist has such doubts, even about the value of the state itself ("What if there is a collective madness of a State?"—Penguin edn: 158), that he is ultimately given a whole new personality—but even then his individuality starts to show through. John Pilgrim found it "really brilliant". "Since this book was written," he says, "we have perceptibly advanced towards the type of society portrayed in it and therefore its message, that only death can destroy the personality completely, is a little more cheering than appears at first sight." (Pilgrim 1963)

 

James Keilty: 'The People of Prashad' (1971)

This is simply an old-fashioned utopia, with much emphasis on an entire language constructed by the author. In Prashad there is no institutionalised government or religion, no police or criminal law, no formal authority of any kind; there is, however, much emphasis on the family as the base element of their society, 'family' being interpreted loosely. The only accepted rule of behaviour is that if you see something that needs doing, you do it. The utopia of Prashad, in other words, is essentially anarchic.

 

Although it has twice been published in an sf context, this story is itself not really sf.

 

Ken: 'Fable for the Future' (1985)

Short tale published in The Green Anarchist in 1985. In a future anarchist community a visitor is spurned for his authoritarianism. The tale is Morris-derivative and very naïve—government had been weakened by proportional representation, allowing in five anarchist MPs!

 

Daniel Keyes: 'Flowers for Algernon' (1959)

This famous story is written as the diary of Charlie Gordon, the subject of an experiment in which his IQ of 68 is trebled, but subsequently declines again. It was praised by John Pilgrim for its concern for the human condition. (Pilgrim 1963)

 

Margaret Killjoy: A Country of Ghosts (2014); The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (2017)

A Country of Ghosts isn't sf, but Killjoy's contemporary take on an anarchist utopia has to be welcomed here. For Nick Mamatas, in The BASTARD Chronicles 2015, the book is "pretty interesting", but gets "really good" in the final third, when war comes to the stateless utopia.

 

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion is also more a gothic fantasy novella, but anarchists and anarchism are central to the story.

 


photo of front cover of Killjoy's Mythmakers and Lawbreakers

Margaret Killjoy, ed.: Mythmakers & Lawbreakers. Anarchist writers on fiction (2009)

A fascinating collection of interviews with anarchist authors, including sf authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Michael Moorcock, with an introduction by Kim Stanley Robinson. It has a series of really useful appendices, too: 'Anarchist fiction writers'—potted bios; 'Also of note'—other authors worthy of notice, though not necessarily identifying as anarchists themselves; and 'Lists'—simple lists categorised as 'Stories that explore anarchist societies', 'Stories that fictionalise anarchist history', 'Stories that feature sympathetic anarchist characters', and 'Stories that feature anarchists as villains'.

 

King Kong (1933, dirs Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

Included in Bould's Red Planets filmography as a "Powerful—if accidental—fantasy of colonial revolt."

 

Donald Kingsbury (2001) Psychohistorical Crisis

Winner of the 2002 Prometheus Award.

 

Rudyard Kipling: 'With the Night Mail' (1905); 'As Easy as A.B.C.' (1912)

"Effective but reactionary" . . . (Moorcock 1978)

 

The first story introduced the Aerial Board of Control, and is an air drama followed by long magazine extracts; it is highly realistic, and first-rate early sf. It's also superior to its sequel, in which the ABC are called in to suppress mob-making in Chicago.

 

Damon Knight: 'Rule Golden' (1954)

An envoy from the galactic community converts Earth to nonviolence by means of a chemical agent that causes pain to be felt by the perpetrator as much as by the victim of a violent act. The alien spells out how governments exist for war, and how nothing they do could not be done without them. "Government," it says, "builds nothing but more government." (1975 Pan edn of Natural State and other Stories: 70) Since "all governments were based on violence, as currency was based on metal," (68-9) all the world's governments in due course collapse.

 

Victor Koman: The Jehovah Contract (1987); Soloman's Knife (1989); Kings of the High Frontier (1996)

All were Prometheus Award winners. The Jehovah Contract is a bold (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to tackle religion head-on, the storyline concerning an assassin's mission to kill God. Though God and the Devil both end up dead, the magickal Goddess survives, apparently with the author's approval.

 

Cyril M. Kornbluth: Not This August (1955; aka Christmas Eve); The Syndic (1963)

Arthur Maglin contrasted Not This August with The Syndic, finding the former "reactionary" and tainted by "race prejudice and fear of communism", while the latter "outlines a working, socialistic society".

 

Moorcock has a soft spot for Kornbluth, who "to my mind had a stronger political conscience than he allowed himself, so that his stories are sometimes confused as he tried to mesh middle-American ideas with his own radicalism. One of my favourites (though structurally it is a bit weak) is The Syndic . . ." (Moorcock 1978)

 

The novel is set in a future USA now ruled jointly by the Mob and the Syndic (i.e. the Mafia), and the Government of North America, so-called, is now no more than a pirate band making sporadic raids from western Ireland. Government is attacked in scathing terms: one of the Syndic chiefs says:

 

"Let me point out what the so-called Government stands for: brutal 'taxation,' extirpation of gambling, denial of life's simple pleasures to the poor and severe limitation of them to all but the wealthy, sexual prudery viciously enforced by penal laws of appalling barbarity, endless regulation and coercion governing every waking minute of the day. That was its record during the days of its power and that would be its record if it is returned to power" (Sphere edn: 39).

The Syndic insists that it is not itself a government, but it's hard to see what else it is—this is the weakness of the book: the attack on government is serious, but only a comic Mafia is put in its place.

 

Tied for the 1986 Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award.

 

Nancy Kress: Beggars in Spain (1993);  'Migration' (2013)

Beggars in Spain is included in Think Galactic's reading list.

 

In 'Migration', a libertarian planet, imaginatively called Freedom, is the only place where gene modification is allowed; the story features animal liberation. Thanks to Lise Andreasen for suggesting this one.

 


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Anarchists on the genre of sf

 

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This page was last revised on 2018-04-03.

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