Anarchism and science fiction: P

Edgar Pangborn: A Mirror for Observers (1954)

Included in the Think Galactic reading list.


Emile Pataud and Emile Pouget: How We Shall Bring about the Revolution: Syndicalism and the Co-operative Commonwealth (1909; second edition with preface by Peter Kropotkin 1911; original title Comment nous ferons la Révolution)

Plodding but worthy attempt at describing how the syndicalist revolution took place in a near-future France. The clunky English translation doesn't help.

    Kropotkin advises that too much attention should not be given to the detail. Rather, what the book seeks to give is "the general idea of the revolution", to borrow Proudhon's phrase. Also, clearly, "it is not Anarchism that they picture for us." But:

In this book of Pataud's and Pouget's can be felt [ . . . ] the life-giving breath of Anarchism in their conceptions of the future, especially in the pages devoted to Production and Exchange. And what they say on this subject should be seriously considered by every worker who loves Freedom, Justice, and Equality, as well as by everyone anxious to avoid the sanguinary struggles of a coming Revolution. [Preface: xxxiv]

    See also Cohn: 222-5.

Marge Piercy: Woman on the Edge of Time (1976); He, She and It aka Body of Glass (1991)

Woman on the Edge of Time concerns a woman who is confined in a mental hospital whose only escape is into the future, to what Lessa, Takver and Alyx, in Open Road, call "the future-anarchist village" of Matapoisett. Piercy herself doesn't use the term 'anarchist', although there is indeed no government: the closest thing to it are the township and regional planning councils, which are chosen by lot. The book was enthusiastically reviewed in Anarchist Feminist Magazine in 1985. It is included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels.

    He, She and It was recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction", at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009.



John Pilgrim: 'Science Fiction and anarchism' (1963)

This pioneering article was first published by Pilgrim in issue 34 of Anarchy magazine, based on lectures he'd given in 1960 (he'd had an earlier article entitled 'Viewpoint: The Anarchism in Science Fiction' published in Freedom in the year of his lectures). Leaving aside earlier works on utopian fiction, (and not counting anarchist reviews of individual works of sf, in which he'd been preceded by Arthur W. Uloth and others), this seems to have been the first real treatment of anarchism and sf, written years before Moorcock's better known article (which itself was in part prompted by his memory of Pilgrim's take on the subject, which was clearly unfair to Pilgrim).


H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire: A Planet for Texans (1958; a.k.a. Lone Star Planet)

Won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1999.

Edgar Allan Poe

In his writing, but not in his politics, Poe was much influenced by William Godwin. Godwin actually lived long enough for one of his late works (Lives of the Necromancers) to be reviewed by Poe in the Southern Literary Messenger (December 1835). Poe was appreciated by the individualist E. Armand, who instigated the publication of a French translation of Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), and of a collection of his tales, at the turn of the 20th century.

Frederik Pohl: 'The Tunnel Under the World' (1955); The Years of the City (1980)

Vittorio Curtoni called the 1955 story a "great masterpiece", "like a Kafkaesque nightmare transposed to our days." (Curtoni 1978)

   The Years of the City depicts New York in the 21st century. The political system is what is known as 'demarchy', a form of decentralized participatory democracy in which all government offices are filled by average citizens chosen using a form of selective service, with an overall goal of reducing bureaucracy and legislation.

Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1952); Gladiator-at-Law (1955)

One of the best-known of 1950s sf novels, the cynical dystopia of The Space Merchants is a strong attack on advertising and consumerism; for the advertising company boss, "'Power ennobles. Absolute power ennobles absolutely'" (c. 4). For M. Eagle "There can be few more biting (or amusing) satires of capitalism-gone-wild"; and Vittorio Curtoni also found it "a most enjoyable novel which dismantles and overturns [the] mechanisms of cosmic imperialism." (25)

   Gladiator-at-Law features big-business intrigue, in which a house-production monopoly is overthrown by a motley crew of the dispossessed. Pilgrim found it notable, and unusual in that the insurrection is successful. (Pilgrim 1963: 371)

Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr, eds: The Survival of Freedom (1981)

Very dated (Cold War) libertarian anthology of essays and sf short stories. Includes two short essays by the anarcho-capitalist David Friedman, including 'Why Anarchy?', with a lukewarm introductory note by Pournelle. It won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2001.


Terry Pratchett: Night Watch (2002)

A worthy winner of the 2003 Prometheus award, and included in LibraryThing's anarchism, science fiction tagmash. The dark humour is British in flavour.


Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials trilogy—Northern Lights (1995); The Subtle Knife (1997); The Amber Spyglass (2000)

Recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009. The first volume is included in the Think Galactic reading list.

Graham Purchase: My Journey with Aristotle to the Anarchist Utopia (1994)

Yet another sleeper awakes, this time to be given a guided tour of Bear City in the Cat-River bioregion, an eco-anarchist (or green-syndicalist) utopia. (Dan Clore; Killjoy, 2009)

   Worthy and rather laboured, but mercifully short. Killjoy (2013) takes a more charitable view: "Its prose is clumsy but its politics are fascinating" . . . .


Thomas Pynchon: Gravity's Rainbow (1973); Against the Day (2006)

Gravity's Rainbow is long and difficult, with over 400 characters and multiply fractured plots, and has been seen as quintessentially postmodern. Set principally in 1945, the centrality of rocketry and rocket engineering, coupled with reflection on determinism, paranoia and conspiracy, bring it within the purview of science fiction without ever really approaching the genre per se. Compelling, even when (as often) impenetrable. The interest for anarchists is less overt than in Against the Day. Both works were discussed in a session called 'Against the Day: anarchism in the fiction of Pynchon' at the 2012 BASTARD conference.

   Against the Day is an exceptional, and exceptionally long, transgeneric novel steeped in science fictional influences, and heavily laced with anarchists and anarchist activities reflecting the period setting (1893 to just after World War I). There are, in particular, references to Tucker, Bakunin, Stirnerite individualism, the Haymarket martyrs, the IWW, Zapata, Villa and the Mexican revolution, and a number of assassinations: Czolgosz's of McKinley, Bresci's of Umberto I, Sipido's attempted assassination of the Prince of Wales, and Berkman's killing of Henry Clay Frick.

   Some of the novel's characters are themselves anarchists, sympathetically portrayed, as noted in Killjoy (2009 and 2011). Joanna Freer, in Thomas Pynchon and American Counterculture, has noted that "As his literary career has progressed, the author's antipathy to capitalism has become ever more visible, as has his relative sympathy for anarchist solutions, which is fully confirmed by Against the Day (2006)." The novel was reviewed by Michael Moorcock in the Daily Telegraph in November 2006, the review being reprinted in Moorcock (2012: 278-280):


Against the Day is a fine example of a successful marriage between the popular and the intellectual, between fiction and science. [ . . . ] Gloriously, demandingly, daringly, Pynchon has rediscovered vulgarity and continues to proved that the novel has never been more vibrant, more various or better able to represent our complex world.

   Among the top works in LibraryThing's tagmash: anarchism, science fiction, it's the favourite anarchist novel of one contributor to Anarchy101.


See my hotlist, for items particularly recommended by me.


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