Anarchism and science fiction: K


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)

Not 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.

 


photo of front cover of Killjoy's Mythmakers and Lawbreakers

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

The only non-fiction work with its own entry in this reading list. 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'.

 

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 is 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.

 


See my hotlist, for items particularly recommended by me.

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This page was last revised on 2015-05-29.

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