Anarchism and science fiction: L


photo of front cover of Large's Dawn in Andromeda

Ernest C. Large: Dawn in Andromeda (1956)

A new society without priest or politician is built from scratch on an uninhabited planet. The book is a rationalist delight, suffused with anarchist spirit, though never by name.

 

Philip Latham (pseud. of Robert S. Richardson): 'The Xi Effect' (1950)

For John Pilgrim this is "a nice example" of sf cutting the scientist down to size. (Pilgrim 1963)

 

photo of front cover of LeGuin's The Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin: Rocannon's World (1966); The Left Hand of Darkness (1969); The Lathe of Heaven (1971); 'Vaster than Empires and More Slow' (1971); 'The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas' (1973); The Dispossessed. An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) ; 'The Day before the Revolution' (1974); 'The New Atlantis' (1975); The Word for World is Forest (1972/1976); The Eye of the Heron (1978); The Compass Rose (1982); Always Coming Home (1985); A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (1994); 'Solitude' (1994); Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995); The Telling (2000); The Birthday of the World, and Other Stories (2002); 'Notes from the Inner City' (2006)

In a 2008 interview Ursula Le Guin stated that she does not consider herself an anarchist, because "I entirely lack the activist element". But when asked if she minded that a lot of anarchists claimed her, in approximately the same way they claimed Tolstoy, her response was "Of course I don't mind! I am touched and feel unworthy." (strangers, 2008; and republished in Mythmakers & Lawbreakers. Anarchist writers on fiction) Asked, in 2011, if she would describe herself as an anarchist (politically), her reply was "Politically, no; I vote, I'm a Democrat. But I find pacificist anarchist thought fascinating, stimulating, endlessly fruitful." ("A Lovely Art", p91) Jamie Heckert, writing in Fifth Estate in 2010, reflected:

 

In recent interviews, you suggested that perhaps you don't qualify for the label anarchist because you are middle-class or because what you do isn't activism. I invite you to reconsider. Who needs activism when you have wu wei? And why not be a middle-class anarchist? This is no contradiction in my book—and your own books have never shied away from life's apparent contradictions. They are embraced, queered.

. . . Whether or not you call yourself an anarchist, you've helped me to deepen my own understanding of what an anarchist can be, can do. Of what I can do. Of who I can become. [online]

   Reviewing Le Guin's science fictional oeuvre as a whole, Max Haiven's exceptionally perceptive 2015 essay on Le Guin concludes that it exemplifies prefigurative fiction, which "invites us to both imagine, cultivate and critique the dynamic tension between authority and responsibility as it exists in our own hearts, our communities, our struggles and our movements."

   Rocannon's World is among the works discussed by Haiven; he find that it "demonstrates many anarchistic themes", among which he includes critical anthropology and a humanism of possibility.

   For George Woodcock The Left Hand of Darkness was Le Guin's "strangest and most successful novel". (Woodcock 1976)

   For Oshee Eagleheart in 2010 'Vaster than Empires and More Slow' "accurately and hilariously portrays the interactions within groups of 'crazy' characters who dare to explore the far reaches of the social universe in search of workable ways of living."

  The Dispossessed concerns two worlds, one moon to the other, with vastly differing political systems. One of these is 'Odonianism', a form of Taoist anarchist communism. For Le Guin, anarchism "is the most idealist, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories." (Le Guin, 'Introduction' to The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975)). She is well-versed in the historical anarchist tradition (especially Kropotkin, the Goodman brothers, and Bookchin), and this shows. The utopia itself is 'ambiguous' because flawed and mutable. The novel succeeds in presenting the most believable, and perhaps the best, exploration of anarchism in a science fiction context, of any yet written. For John P. Clark, "what is most notable about the work is the protagonist's ruthlessly anarchistic critique of Annares itself. It is, in effect, an anarchist critique of anarchism and a utopian critique of the dangers of utopia." (Clark 2009: 22) Uri Gordon describes it as "perhaps the most honest attempt at portraying a functioning anarchist society". (Gordon 2009: 267) The novel won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1993. For Paul J. Comeau, in 2010, "The novel is one of the best, if not the best, fictional realization of an anarchist society as it might be practiced, and remains one of the most influential modern utopian novels written." In the 2010 online Anarchist Survey, when asked "What is your favourite anarchist book?", of single books The Dispossessed received the third highest number of hits, only surpassed by two works by Peter Kropotkin. The anonymous reviewer in Organise! magazine in 2013 concluded that

 

Like the anarchist ideals the book so deftly explores, the story itself does not leave us with an ending so much as a staging point for our own journey. To use the ideas of the books, it comes to you like a beggar man, relying on you for all that it requires and leaving you enriched by realising you would be better with nothing but what you carry as long as all needs are met. By the end of reading it I was stood at the wall between two worlds with the choice over whether I help to dismantle it, and by choosing to do so build a greater whole.

  The influence of this novel hasn't always been welcomed: Ken Macleod said of it, in his 2002 article on 'Anarchism and Science Fiction', that it "has probably put more people off Anarchism than any other." Bob Black concurs with Michael Moorcock's view that the book is "dull and journalistic" (Black 2015). He continues: "There is little indication that Le Guin is very familiar with anarchist or utopian literature. Contrary to legend, Le Guin is no anarchist. If she is, then where has she been, politically [ . . . ] for the last forty years? Writing stories and making money." Noting that in 2015 she wrote an introduction to a collection of some of Bookchin's old essays (The Next Revolution), he finds further cause in this for attacking her:

 

Le Guin now claims that Bookchin's "Post-Scarcity Anarchism" inspired The Dispossessed. That's ridiculous, since her "ambiguous utopia" Anarres is scarcity anarchism, not post-scarcity anarchism, and even its anarchism is compromised. If Bookchin inspired Le Guin, her inspiration was based on a misunderstanding. Taking her at her own word, she concealed her debt to Bookchin (and undoubtedly concealed it from Bookchin himself) until long after she had collected her Hugo and Nebula awards [ . . . ]. (Black 2015: 227–228)

  According to Neil Easterbrook (p588) both The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness were frequently cited by Occupy Wall Street organizers and websites and, with Le Guin's approval, some marchers at Occupy Oakland carried placards depicting the cover of The Dispossessed. (The Millions)

 (A study guide to The Dispossessed is available online; see also The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed.)

   'The Day before the Revolution' tells of Laia Odo herself, the founder of Odonianism. Odo is also one of 'The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas', refusing to benefit from a system in which some gain at the expense of another. Andy Sunfrog, in 2010, concluded: "Thinking of Laia Odo and Ursula K. Le Guin in our day, at the dawn of yet another decade, the day after many past revolutions and the day before many future ones, let's be like the anarchists of these stories, always seeking and questioning, never owning much more than our ideals and practicing them the day before, the day after, and most of all, today." The story is included in the Think Galactic reading list.

   Josh Gosicak, writing in Fifth Estate in 2010, reflected on The Lathe of Heaven as a prescient "post-neoliberal parable", a "potent and unforgiving critique" of both liberalism and neoliberalism. Lewis Call, in 2007, saw the novel as "creating the possibility of an ontological anarchy" and "a major contribution to postmodern anarchism", creating "the possibility of an anarchism that will be highly spiritual, deeply personal and yet also intimately engaged with the world." For Jesse Cohn this "technocratic nightmare" is "an authentically anarchist anti-utopia" (p. 158). This work had also been sympathetically treated by George Woodcock in 1976.

   For Eagleheart, in the same issue of Fifth Estate, "The Word for World is Forest articulated the indigenous worldview of the interdependence of humans and "nature" in a way that I could immediately grok." [Fifth Estate #382 was a special issue, "a Tribute to the Radical Imagination of Ursula K. Le Guin", in honour of her 80th birthday.]

   The Eye of the Heron concerns "a society of pacifists inspired by the life and writings of Gandhi." (Comeau)

   The Compass Rose was favourably reviewed in Freedom (Murtagh 183). Of the included story 'The New Atlantis' the Open Road writers wrote that Le Guin's character "knows his Bookchin". (Lessa, Takver & Alyx 1978)

    In Always Coming Home the Kesh, a far-flung future people, are, in their absence of formal hierarchy, "fundamentally anarchistic"; "LeGuin offers a significant challenge to the outrageous (yet all too common) claim that capitalism represents the unalterable destiny of humanity" (Call, 2002). Contrasted with the aggressive Condor people who live in the mountains, the two peoples "present vividly aspects of how the world is and how it could be." (Peter Marshall, 1992/2008). Admirable as Le Guin generally is, this work—heavily influenced by romantic views of Native American culture—comes across as earnest but perhaps a little self-indulgent. She herself described it in 2010 as "more deeply anarchist than The Dispossessed. [ . . . ] it's more subversive than the other one." [Le Guin] Eagleheart found Always Coming Home "still the most complete and believable vision I've found of a practical, possible, sustainable culture." For John P. Clark this work is Le Guin's "masterpiece and, indeed, what is perhaps the masterpiece of utopian literature to date"; he had earlier (2006) gone even further, calling it "the greatest work of utopian fiction ever written."

    For the anonymous author of 'Beyond Perfection', 'Solitude' is "a strange, sad, beautiful story that consistently challenges gut responses and judgements on the nature of power and community. I highly recommend giving it a read, not as a model for an anarchist society but as a challenge to some of our ideas on interpersonal relationships and social duty."

    The Telling is Le Guin's first Hainish novel after The Dispossessed. It is a further presentation of her anti-authoritarian and anti-fundamentalist views, not explicitly anarchist, but more credible than Always Coming Home, perhaps not least by drawing on her lead character's Terran upbringing. Christian Mattheis, at the Anarres Project is prompted by short extracts from this novel to muse on binaries and dichotomies for the liberated radical.

    Four Ways to Forgiveness was recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009; it had also been recommended by a poster to the anarchysf mailing list, in 2000. It's also included in the Swindon Anarchist Group's list of Anarchist/Resistance Novels.

    The short stories in the two late collections, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea and The Birthday of the World, and Other Stories, are discussed at some length by Max Haiven. He says:

 

While these stories do not explicitly address anarchism or even touch on obviously anarchist themes, it is my argument that they are possessed of a distinctly anarchistic tenor and that they stand as anarchist interventions. This, to the extent that they offer sites of reflection, provocation and meditation for anarchists and non-anarchists alike that challenge us to think and rethink resistance, gender, relationships, ideas and, perhaps most importantly, authority.

    Heckert notes The Birthday of the World, and Other Stories, for its "tales of love and resistance in a bisexual polyamorous culture". One of the stories, 'Coming of Age in Karhide', is included in the Think Galactic reading list.

    Le Guin's poem 'Notes from the Inner City' was first published in Fifth Estate #373 in Fall 2006.

 

William Le Queux: The Invasion of 1910 (1906)

This reactionary and militaristic future-war story, a well-known example of the kind, was referred to in Pilgrim's 1966 review, but without comment. It is similar in tone and style to a more modern example, Hackett's The Third World War.

 

Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice (2013)

Included in the Think Galactic reading list.

 

The Lego Movie (2014, dirs Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

Lego minifigure winds up involved in a resistance against a tyrannical businessman who plans to glue everything in the Lego worlds; quite a bit of SF and comic-book type action.

 

Recommended by several contributors on the Anarchism subreddit as a film advocating anti-capitalism. Also recommended by two others on Liberty.me, as a good movie for libertarians and anarchists.

 

Fritz Leiber: Gather, Darkness! (1943)

For Moorcock, writing in 1978,  "Fritz Leiber is probably the best of all the American sf writers for his prose-style, his wit and his humanity, as well as his abiding contempt for authoritarianism, and Gather, Darkness is one of the best sf books to relate political power to religious power" . . . .

   The book concerns an underground witch conspiracy against establishment theocracy, all founded on scientific gadgetry. Though commendably irreligious, it is lightweight.

 

Stanisław Lem: The Star Diaries (1957/1971); Solaris (1961); The Futurological Congress (1971)

The Star Diaries is referenced by Clore, without comment.

   A poster to the anarchysf mailing list in 2006 considered Solaris to be "insufferably slow, pretentious, incomprehensible and non-entertaining". Nevertheless, it is included in the Think Galactic reading list.

   For another poster to anarchysf mailing list the same year The Futurological Congress "was incredibly fun, fairly easy to read, deeply insightful, and even having read it more than a decade ago, I still find my memory of it profoundly enlightening."

 

'Lessa, Takver and Alyx': 'Daily Life in Revolutionary Utopia: Feminism, Anarchism & Science Fiction' (1978)

A notable centre-page spread in the Canadian anarchist paper Open Road. The unidentified pseudonymous author(s) look(s) at the expected works by Le Guin, Piercy, and Russ, but also Brunner, Callenbach, Garskof, Reynolds, and Wittig. Only available on the Internet in the Italian translation that appeared in A-Rivista Anarchica.

 

Doris Lessing: The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974); Shikasta (1979)

In Memoirs, an observer watches passively the collapse around her of urban life and the reversion to tribalism. Though there are occasional suggestions that the community is becoming anarchistic rather than merely anarchic, the dominant tendency is towards primitive patriarchy.

    Shikasta  is included in the Think Galactic reading list.

 

Ira Levin: This Perfect Day (1970)

A classic and very readable dystopia, in which the protagonist rebels against a future totalitarian world. Somewhat reminiscent of The Prisoner. Winner of the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1992. Jeff Riggenbach regards it as "one of the top half-dozen libertarian novels ever published in our language."

 

C.S. Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet (1938); That Hideous Strength (1945)

Out of the Silent Planet is the first part in Lewis's theological space trilogy. For Justin Fowler there are "hints of a subtle anarchist philosophy threaded throughout", and the novel is "a simply delicious work of literature that libertarians may treasure forever."

   That Hideous Strength is the final part. It is included in Monsen's 50 works of fiction libertarians should read, and in Goodreads' Popular libertarian science fiction books.

 

Sinclair Lewis: Arrowsmith (1925); It Can't Happen Here (1935)

Paul Goodman drew attention to Arrowsmith in his 1971 New Reformation, but found the idealised figure of the dedicated scientific researcher "no longer believable". The book is almost fanatically pro-science, and its uncritical attitude to vivisection is alienating.

   Ethel Mannin refers to It Can't Happen Here as "excellent", and "proving that it can" [i.e. Fascism]. (Mannin 1938:31) It tells of the rise of a home-grown fascist dictatorship in the USA, from the viewpoint of a New England liberal. There are a number of references to anarchists and anarchism, and the protagonist had earlier established his dissident credentials by questioning the guilt of Sacco and Vanzetti. Though dated, the book is still quite powerful, and is strong on libertarian New England values.

   The novel tied for the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2007.

 

Brad Linaweaver: Moon of Ice (1988)

Alternate history in which Germany won World War II, and a daughter of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, has become a renowned revolutionary anarchist. Hilda Goebbels likens her own disillusionment with Germany with Emma Goldman's Disillusionment with Russia. Well-written, but the story-line is disappointing. The author is prone to suggesting that as an anarchist Goebbels should share his romantic view of the American dream.

   Prometheus Award winner.

 

Brad Linaweaver and Edward E. Kramer, eds: Free Space (1997)

"An anthology of (mostly original) libertarian capitalist short stories." (Dan Clore) Better than it sounds; in particular Victor Koman's 'Demokratus' is an enjoyably retro take on democracy extended ad absurdum. The anthology won a Special Award from the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1998.

 

 

photo of front cover of Linaweaver and Hastings's Anarquia

Brad Linaweaver and J. Kent Hastings: Anarquía. An Alternate History of the Spanish Civil War (2004)

This is something genuinely new, and without real precedent that I know of. The premise is that, instead of being squeezed out of the equation, the Spanish anarchists prevail, thanks to an alternate Wernher von Braun, who—with Hedy Lamarr—designs a rocket-based weapon which he puts in their hands. Prominent in the novel, too, are George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Konrad Zuse, and an imaginary pulp science fiction writer. The book is so well-researched, and the mise-en-scène so comparatively unfamiliar, that it is easy to suspend disbelief, in uncertainty as to what relates to our history and what to the alternate history presented.

   In the course of the narrative there is much discussion of the various flavours of anarchism active in Spain of the 1930s, not to mention the agorism that hadn't yet been invented in our history.

   The book ends all too quickly—almost before it's really got going—but there is a suggestion of a sequel in the offing, which is definitely something to look forward to.

   Take a look at the official website, for more on this.

 


Saab Lofton: A.D. (1996)

An inhabitant of a dystopia ruled by the Nation of Islam and the White Aryan Resistance becomes a sleeper who wakes in a Libertarian Socialist Democracy (LSD). 'What a libertarian socialist democracy means is that we have the social policies of a libertarian, the fiscal policies of a socialist, and everything is decided by direct democracy.' (135)


Logan's Run (1976, dir. Michael Anderson)

Depicts a hedonistic future society, in reality a dystopia where population and resources are kept in equilibrium by killing people when they turn 30. At the dénouement the fraud is exposed.

 

Listed at Libertarian Movies, which says "The film explains in the beginning that this society was created in order to protect mankind from war, pollution and overpopulation, and shows dramatically how authoritarian control over independent individuals creates a society with its own problems."

 

Jack London: The Iron Heel (1907); 'The Enemy of All the World' (1908) 

London had knowledge of the anarchist movement of his time, writing sympathetically here of the Haymarket martyrs ("ferocious and wanton judicial murder"—Penguin edn: 163), greatly admiring Louise Michel, and encountering Emma Goldman in person in 1897 and 1909. Goldman wrote that "As the artist he did not fail to see the beauties of anarchism, even if he did insist that society would have to pass through socialism before reaching the higher stage of anarchism." (Goldman 1931: 468) He was asked to write a preface for Alexander Berkman's Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, which he did, though it was then refused, as he had taken the opportunity to propound the superiority of his own views over those of the anarchists. According to Goldman,

 

His argument was summarized in his dictum: "The man who can't shoot straight can't think straight." Evidently Jack assumed that the world's best thinkers were also the best shots. (506)

   The Iron Heel is written as a contemporary account of the abortive coming revolution and the oligarchy that suppresses it, with a commentary by a supposed historian 700 years hence, written after the triumph of socialism. It has attracted and irritated anarchist critics in roughly equal measure. Vigné d'Octon, in 1922, for example, wrote that "There are, one could say, pages of Jack London which could have been signed by Kropotkin, others which evoke the generous spirit, ardent and clairvoyant at the same time, of Reclus, of Bakunin, of Proudhon, of all those who, disgusted and indignant at the cruelties of capitalist and bourgeois society, engaged in the implacable struggle against the bosses and gods which are its incarnation. It was worth being read and re-read." (Vigné d'Octon 1922 II:57). That said, "Certainly, The Iron Heel is a fine and powerful book, worthy in all respects of Jack London, but I prefer his others." (Vigné d'Octon 1924: 63) Other anarchist critics, including Jack Robinson and S.E. Parker, were dismissive of the view that London had foreseen the rise of fascism, and condemned him for his racism and leader-worship.

   'The Enemy of All the World' is a trivial revenge against the world story, featuring a violent anarchist—though London acknowledges that "Perhaps the word is misused, and he is better described as a nihilist or an annihilist."


Barry Longyear: Circus World (1980)

Included in the science fiction reading list on the R.A. Forum website by contributor Ronald Creagh. Momus—the world in question—was settled by circus performers, and has no government.

 

Looper (2012, dir. Rian Johnson)

Time travel tale with initial promise, marred by spurious and unnecessary telekinesis and irrelevant sentimentality.

 

Shortlisted for best sci-fi ever committed to film by one contributor to Facebook's Anarchy and Science Fiction Forum in 2016.

 

There is a whole thread about Looper on the Anarchism subReddit, dating from the year of release. The original poster said (among other things) "I hate how movies set in the future so often assume a Hobbesian nightmare world of all against all in the absence of law and order and reinforce this assumption for average moviegoers," getting a response ". . . I think you missed the theme. I think the point was the elite were basically plundering a sinking ship. The poor still had last century's technology." The last but one post in the discussion, by the OP, noted "I just always fantasize about people with libertarian ideas getting access to a hollywood budget and offering people a different kind of vision to a wide audience, since, for obvious reasons, people are more likely to watch a movie than read a book." Don't we all!

 

Simon Louvish: The Resurrections: A Novel (1994; aka Resurrections from the Dustbin of History)

"A political thriller set in a parallel universe in which the libertarian Marxist Rosa Luxemburg has led a successful communist revolution." (Dan Clore) There are in fact numerous other major divergences, dating back at least as far as Napoleon. There are also a number of explicit anarchist references, including one in which a character speculates about the possibility of alternate universes, one much like our own, but another in which Bakunin succeeded in having Marx expelled from the First International.


Grey Lynn: The Return of Karl Marx (1941)

Sf satire in which Karl Marx returns from the grave and is expelled from the Communist Party for political deviation. The foreword was written by Herbert Read, who also commissioned Lynn to illustrate the 1946 edition of his own novel, The Green Child.

 

 

 



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


Bibliography


@sf home, Ben Beck's website home




This page was last revised on 2017-02-14.

© Benjamin S. Beck 2005–2017

joomla site stats