Anarchism and science fiction: M


P.M.: bolo'bolo (1985) 

This is an interesting speculative utopia, more an extended essay than a work of fiction—but certainly worth reading in this context. Killjoy says it is "considered one of the primary anarchist utopia novels", and in 2013 the same critic wrote that "P.M.'s society is perhaps the one I'm most drawn to" . . .

   Dan Clore describes it as "A full-length attempt to design a libertarian socialist society with enough respect for the diversity of humanity's desires that a community of cyberpunks who live online might be placed next to a community made up of bands of hunter-gatherers. Frequently whimsical but well thought-out; sometimes verges into semi-fictional form."

   For Uri Gordon this "anarchist-inspired vision of an alternative society" makes the point that "the divers and inherently un-enforceable nature of the anarchist project leaves it necessarily open to change and challenge from within." (Gordon 2009: 268)

   P.M. has written articles for Fifth Estate, e.g. 'The next mutiny on the Bounty', in the Spring/Summer issue of 2005.

 

Compton Mackenzie: The Lunatic Republic (1959)

Comically portrays a future utopian society on the Moon, but for Freedom's reviewer it was "another totalitarian-technocratic horror story". (Uloth 1959) It is in fact a light-hearted work, more a skit on 50s Britain than a warning about totalitarianism.

 

Ken Macleod: The Star Fraction (1996), The Stone Canal 1997), The Cassini Division (1999), The Sky Road (1999), Cosmonaut Keep (2000), Dark Light (2001), Learning the World (2005), The Night Sessions (2008)

Distinctive left-wing Scottish take on sf, displaying evidence of the author's own activism.

"Portrays a future that includes both a libertarian socialist society and a libertarian capitalist society." (Dan Clore)

   . . . "while both anarcho-communist and anarcho-capitalist worlds have appeared in science fiction, only The Cassini Division shows them making contact and slowly starting to subvert each other." (Walker)

   In March 2011 Macleod published a review of a new interpretation of the work and influence of the individualist Max Stirner, in issue 1 of the new journal i.

   The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, and Learning the World were Prometheus Award winners.

   All except Learning the World are included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels.


Charles Eric Maine: The Isotope Man (1957), The Tide Went Out (1958), Count-Down (1959), Subterfuge (1959), The Darkest of Nights (1962)

Maine had a particular attraction for Freedom's reviewers of the late '50s and early '60s. Although probably not even among the second tier of sf writers, one can see why: a persistent anti-authoritarian streak runs through his work. Pilgrim regarded The Tide Went Out as Maine's best book, epitomising Maine's preoccupation with the "perfidy of governments".

 

Nick Mamatas: Sensation (2011)

Blurb: When Julia Hernandez leaves her husband, shoots a real estate developer, and then vanishes without a trace, she slips out of the world she knew and into the Simulacrum—a place where human history is both guided and thwarted by the conflict between a species of anarchist wasps and a collective of hyperintelligent spiders.

   Clever and funny, it is disconcertingly narrated by the spiders, collectively using the 'arachnid plural' We. More anarchic than anarchist, though.

 

G.A. Matiasz: End Time (1994)

A near future (2007) in which war and civil war rage across the former Soviet Union and much of the globe. Prosperous, competing regional capitalist blocs have been consolidated in Europe, North America and East Asia under transnational corporate leadership. The US is fighting a sophisticated, high-tech counterinsurgency war in southern Mexico, against a popular libertarian revolution claiming the tradition of Zapata. A military draft has been reinstated, and a strong antiwar movement flourishes on American streets. In a small town north of San Francisco a group of antiwar college students gains possession of enough bomb-grade riemanium to build a nuclear weapon, and Oakland rises in revolution to become the 21st century's Paris Commune.

   Described by Hakim Bey as "a very smart meditation on the near-future of anarchism" (blurb), Randall Barnhart, reviewing the book on Amazon.com, commented: "Yup, this is the greatest piece of anarchist agit-prop since . . . well, since forever. There is nothing better." In the same place Britt A. Green summed it up as "Well-thought out, anarchist, sci-fi."


Anne McCaffrey: To Ride Pegasus (1973)

Reviewed in Freedom in 1975. (Brent 1975)

 

 

Shepherd Mead: The Big Ball of Wax (1954)

"Good entertainment", for Freedom's reviewer, "with the moral 'It might happen here'." (M.G.W. 1955) It is a highly entertaining satire comparing high-pressure advertising with religious evangelism, written by the author of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.

 

Judith Merril

. . . "an ex Trotskyist turned libertarian." (Moorcock 1978)

 

Louise Michel: The Human Microbes (1886), The New World (1888)

Among the literary works of the French anarchist Louise Michel is The Human Microbes, described by Santo Catanuto as "a Jules Verne-style 'science fiction' novel". (Catanuto: 30) An English translation by Brian Stableford was published in 2012, and it now appears that Catanuto's description is wide of the mark. It is in fact a lurid short novel, written while Michel was in solitary confinement in prison, described in the blurb as "like Eugène Sue on speed". Not itself sf at all, it was planned as the first of a six-novel series, of which only one further novel appeared—The New World (also translated by Stableford and published in 2012; there is a passing mention of Bakunin); it seems that the series, as projected, would have developed to depict not just the worldwide transformation of Earth but an expansion to other worlds, which in Stableford's words "would indeed have made it an unparalleled epic of anarchist scientific romance." (introduction to the Black Coat Press edition). Both novels are referred to in the 2014 Bottled Wasp Pocket Diary.

   See also under Jules Verne, for a putative link.


China Miéville: Perdido Street Station (2000), Iron Council (2004), Un Lun Dun (2007)

Recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009.

    Miéville is a Marxist, and a member of the Socialist Workers Party.

 

Victor Milan: The Cybernetic Samurai (1985)

Prometheus Award winner.

 

J. Leslie Mitchell (writing as 'Lewis Grassic Gibbon'): Three Go Back (1932)

"A transatlantic airship goes through a timewarp and crashes into a mountain of Atlantis. The three survivors are found by a tribe of Basque-speaking Cro-Magnons, whose society has no government, property, war, superstition, clothing, or other vices of civilization." (Dan Clore)

   Surprisingly effective, and Mitchell's portrayal of the Cro-Magnon society is sympathetic and passionate.

 

J. Mitchinson: T.A.D.—The Anarchist's Dream (2007)

Although one lead character is cursorily described as a Christian anarchist, the title is entirely misleading. Naïve self-published sf.

 

 


Michael Moorcock: The Black Corridor (1969), Breakfast in the Ruins. A Novel of Inhumanity (1971), The Warlord of the Air (1971), The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century. A Romance (1976), The Cornelius Chronicles (1977) , The Entropy Tango. A Comic Romance (1980), The Steel Tsar (1981), Byzantium Endures (1982), The Opium General and Other Stories (1984), The Dancers at the End of Time (1993—originally publ. in three volumes, 1972–6)

Michael Moorcock, described by Vittorio Curtoni as a "bizarre beatnik figure" (25), has been involved in politics for much of his life, having been first attracted, by his own account, by the anarchist movement of the 1950s (Moorcock 1983: 12). At that time he used to attend anarchist meetings in Brylcreemed hair, blazer, tie and flannels, rather than orthodox bohemian wear; contrariwise he would wear beatnik clothes to a church fete (ibid.: 75). He later joined successively Labour, Liberal, and Labour parties, finally reverting to anarchism.

   In 1978, at Stuart Christie's request, he contributed 'Starship Stormtroopers: Anarchist and Authoritarian Ideas in Science Fiction' to the fourth issue of the Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review; this article is one of the major sources on this theme.

   In 1983 Moorcock published his political testament, The Retreat from Liberty. He speaks knowledgeably of historical anarchism, referring to Proudhon, Kropotkin, Stirner, Berkman, and Voline (his 1982 novel The Brothel in Rosenstrasse, which is not sf, also mentions Bakunin). Among contemporaries he refers to the British anarchists Stuart Christie, Albert Meltzer, and Nicolas Walter, and to the American Noam Chomsky. With the then marginal state of the anarchist movement, he pinned his hopes for the future on the women's movement.

   In The Black Corridor, against the disintegration of British society, a businessman escapes into space; he is, however, progressively shown to be no better than the world he is escaping. A very bitter and pessimistic work, it does however insist on the individual's responsibility for the creation of a decent society, and the necessity for means to correspond to ends.

   Breakfast in the Ruins is a sequence of vignettes of Karl Glogauer at dates from 1871 to 1990—key historical loci, from the Paris Commune to Vietnam, via Auschwitz. He is frequently shown, coldly, as perpetrator as well as victim of atrocities. Chapter 9 features Glogauer with the army of Nestor Makhno, the Ukrainian anarchist of the 1920s. Makhno himself is shown as miserable but reckless and cruel. The novel is shockingly amoral in presentation, but presumably with the intention of forcing a reappraisal of the reader's moral stance.

   The Warlord of the Air is a quasi-Griffithian story of a time-traveller, airships, and a utopian community. Anarchists are prominent, but are not very favourably portrayed—they are the first, for example, to use the atomic bomb. The book slurs over the differences between socialism, communism, and anarchism, but as no more than a potboiler can't be expected to be good propaganda.

   The Cornelius Chronicles constitute some of Moorcock's best work, centring on the attempts of Jerry Cornelius, a sort of transcendental hippie James Bond, to relate to the late twentieth century world. Nestor Makhno's army is again encountered. On this occasion it is in wild alliance with an army of Scottish anarchists and their fleet of a hundred airships painted in black anarchist livery and St Andrew's crosses. The opportunist Cornelius, known as a Makhnovist sympathiser, winds up as governor in Kiev. Andrew Hedgecock, writing in Freedom, saw Cornelius as "a template for Moorcock's ironic attacks on authoritarianism, racism and traditionally defined gender roles"; on this seminal tetralogy the author declines to editorialise, compelling enhanced reader participation—hence the "narrative is consonant with the central notion that self discipline is a necessary condition for freedom." Moorcock confirms this:

 

    The whole point of my fiction is to allow readers to decide for themselves their own moral attitudes. The Jerry Cornelius stories, for instance, are pure anarchism in their refusal to "guide" the reader in any direction. I try to set out the material and let them decide what they think. (Killjoy, 2009)

   In The Entropy Tango Makhno, following the success of his Ukrainian revolution, gallivants around the globe attempting insurrections in Ottawa, Yucatan, Somalia, Bohemia and Queensland, before finally being electrocuted by the Americans after looting San Francisco. Not preachy about anarchism, but the message probably gets across.

   "The Makhnovist uprising was also successful in the parallel universe of The Nomad of Time series; in The Steel Tsar (1981), Makhno once again appears as a character and engages in political arguments with Stalin. Byzantium Endures (1982) also features Nestor Makhno as one of its characters, though in this series the anarchist uprising was unsuccessful." (Dan Clore)

   Nestor Makhno also appears in The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century. The Opium General and Other Stories includes a long Cornelius story and a few essays. Among the latter are the most accessible republication of 'Starship Stormtroopers', and a review of a book on Makhno, whom Moorcock describes as "a martyr to a cause that can never be lost but which the world may never properly understand."

   Of The Dancers at the End of Time a poster on anarchysf wrote: "Theme is an anarchic society where all material needs have been met. There's only a few people but boy are they bored! Could be seen as an attempt to play around with a situationist scenario?"

    For Bruce Sterling, Michael Moorcock is "the gold standard in these matters, if you ask me".

 

Alan Moore & David Lloyd: V for Vendetta (1988, 1989)

Alan Moore first got involved in radical politics in the 1960s. Since his 20s he has seen himself as an anarchist: "it seems to me that anarchy is the state that most naturally obtains when you're talking about ordinary human beings living their lives in a natural way." (Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness, 2007; republished in Mythmakers & Lawbreakers. Anarchist writers on fiction)

    Set in a near future London where a fascist state took over after the Bombs were dropped, with V "the kind of Guy Fawkes style hero who starts blowing up monuments and bases of operation. He basically proclaims himself to be an anarchist in a rather touching scene involving a statue of Lady Justice, where he is lamenting about how she betrayed him and he has found a new lover now, Anarchy. It goes into the whole psychology of being a revolutionary terrorist and what brought him to this point, and they switch to a lot of different POVs. . . . In one part of the comic in a speech, V tells the people how he can only do what he can do to remove the State Apparatus but once they are free they must make their own decisions upon what to do, and if they want to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is pretty brilliant . . .". (posting to anarchysf)

    It won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2006.

 


William Morris: News from Nowhere (1890; revised 1892) ; The Tables Turned; or, Nupkins Awakened: A Socialist Interlude (1887)

In 1886 Morris invited Kropotkin, whom he had recently met, and liked immediately, to write for his paper, The Commonweal, but he declined. It was probably through Morris's early contact with Kropotkin, though, that the Commonweal press facilities were used to print Freedom. That year, in a letter, he spoke of "us semi-anarchists", which is really as close to anarchism as Morris ever admitted to (Mackail 11:149). In a letter the following year, he wrote: "I distinctly disagree with the Anarchist principle, much as I sympathise with many of the anarchists personally, and although I have an Englishman's wholesome horror of government interference and centralisation . . ." (Morris 1951:5). In 'Socialism and Anarchism', a letter in Commonweal on 5th May 1889, Morris wrote: "I will begin by saying that I call myself a Communist, and have no wish to qualify that word by joining any other to it."

    He himself was always well-liked by anarchists. An anonymous commentator in Freedom in 1891 observed that "Like other people, Anarchists admire his artistic genius, but, in addition, there is not an Anarchist worth his salt who, being acquainted with William Morris, does not respect him as a good comrade and an honest man."

    News from Nowhere—"A vision rather than a dream" of a utopian future—was written as a libertarian response to Bellamy's Looking Backward. The polity is described as communist throughout, as one would expect, but the vision parallels closely many people's notions of an ideal anarchist society. No attempt to précis the book could possibly do it justice. Perhaps a single clue to its appeal might be found in Chapter XIII, 'Concerning Politics'—which is just twelve lines long, "because we have none."

    Anarchists have generally taken Morris's tale to their hearts. For an anonymous Freedom writer of 1891, "Comrade Morris is not avowedly an Anarchist by conviction; but in character he is a born-Anarchist, and in very much of his writing—for instance, News from Nowhere—the most hypercritical of Anarchists would have to borrow a pair of spectacles to discover serious points of disagreement." Peter Kropotkin, in his 1896 memorial to Morris, described News from Nowhere as "perhaps the most thoroughly and deeply Anarchistic conception of future society that has ever been written. . . . his ideal society is undoubtedly the one which is most free of all our State and monastic traditions; the most imbued with the feelings of equality and humanitarian love; the most spontaneously growing out of a spirit of free understanding."(109) Much later Jeff Cloves, in Freedom in 1968, summed up the feelings of many: "I'm not bothered by jeers about the impracticality and implausibility of News from Nowhere. All that I know is that when I read it, I think . . . that's what I want, that's how life ought to be." With The Dispossessed, News from Nowhere ranks as one of the two essential texts in the context of this guide.

      In the lightweight satirical playlet The Tables Turned, "the sleeper who awakes in a libertarian-socialist society in Part II is the corrupt judge who presides over the farcical trial of socialists and anarchists in Part I." (The pre-revolution Part 1 is much the longer of the two parts.) "There, he has to face the Council of the Commune (the general assembly of the local population, or folk-mote), who refuse to waste chains by shackling him, or to take care of him in a prison (they have none, anyway), but instead teach him to do useful work farming so that he might become a self-employed individual like everyone else." (Dan Clore)

 

 

Grant Morrison: The Invisibles (1994–2000)

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

 

Pat Murphy: The City, Not Long After (1989); 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' (1989)

. . . "a stateless community wages a non-violent war against invaders" . . . (Cohn: 119). San Francisco, after a plague, is inhabited by artists, who actively and successfully resist an attempt to re-establish governmental order, using creative means that minimise (but don't eliminate) personal violence.

   'How I Spent My Summer Vacation' is the final story in the themed Time Gate anthology, edited by Robert Silverberg with Bill Fawcett; the liberated simulacrum of Mikhail Bakunin (from the earlier Sheckley story) reappears in friendly conversation with Queen Victoria, and is later contemplating his potential future as an anarchist computer virus.

 

Merril Mushroom: 'Darcee's Temptation' (2006)

Short story published in Fifth Estate. In a future dystopia it dawns on a woman that it needn't be the way it was.

 


Text in blue means I haven't personally read the item concerned, so can't vouch for the reliability of the information. An beside the title means an item's particularly recommended by me. See my hotlist, for these recommendations only.

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