Anarchism and science fiction: P

Edgar Pangborn: A Mirror for Observers (1954)

Included in the Think Galactic reading list.

Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979, dir. Robert S. Fiveson)

At a secret facility where clones of politicians are being farmed for their organs, a clone discovers the truth of his situation.


Described by Osborne as "the only libertarian horror movie of which I am aware."


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.


Laurie Penny (2016) Everything Belongs to the Future

The author describes the novella as "a near-future quasi-dystopian anarchist fable about biotechnology, surveillance, state violence, love and time." [interview] Activists (nowhere described as anarchists or anarcho-syndicalists, notwithstanding the advance publicity) steal anti-aging pills from gerontocrats to distribute them freely to the local dispossessed, but are betrayed by a police nark. Though described on the Facebook Solarpunk Anarchists page as an anarcha-feminist, Penny refers to herself as "a pinko queer feminist social justice warrior" (though on her Twitter feed in 2018 she does indeed describe herself as anarcha-feminist).


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. In the novel, 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. However, in her introduction to the 2016 edition she says: "Like most women’s utopias, the novel is profoundly anarchist and aimed at integrating people back into the natural world and eliminating power relationships." 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.


Of her own politics, Piercy has said "I learned a lot from Marxism but probably lean more toward syndicalist anarchism."


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).


Pilgrim himself was a journalist, as well as playing washboard with the skiffle group The Vipers, who had a residency at the famous 2i's coffee bar; and playing blues with Big Bill Broonzy, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.


H. Beam Piper: Little Fuzzy (1962)

Revolves around determining whether or not a small furry species discovered on an alien planet is sapient. In the words of Wikipedia, it "features a mild libertarianism that emphasizes sincerity and honesty."


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 Émile 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) Red Planets lists this story and 'The Midas Plague' as "Among the very best 1950s SF satires."


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.




Primer (2004, dir. Shane Carruth)

Complex and cerebral, the film concerns the accidental discovery of limited time travel, the storyline unravelling with recursive iterations. Technically slick, especially considering its phenomenally low budget ($7000).


Included in the Red Planets filmography, where it's described as a "Dystopian vision of the inescapable here-and-now."


Recommended on one of the Anarchism sub-Reddit's discussions; and shortlisted as Best sci-fi ever committed to film, by one contributor to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction forum.


The Prisoner (1967/1968; TV series, 17 episodes, principal creator Patrick McGoohan)

"I am not a number. I am a free man!"


Anyone not yet familiar with this TV masterpiece is behind on their homework. I don't propose to describe it or offer plot summaries here, but restrict myself to its reception by libertarians of the left as well as the right, both camps sharing common ground in the defiant individualism and refusal to conform of the central character, Number Six, not to mention the brilliant realisation of the micro-dystopia that is The Village. has shown its approval of The Prisoner on a number of occasions: it was the only sf series listed among the site's "five television shows all libertarians should watch", and shortlisted as libertarian sci-fi, as well as being dubbed libertarian for both featuring individualist heroes and "incredibly oppressive systems that crush the human spirit."


But the most extended libertarian critique is Chris R. Tame's 6-page article Different Values. An Analysis of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner, first published in New Libertarian Review in 1974. For Tame "The theme of The Prisoner was strikingly clear, then: the Man versus the State, Autonomy and Individualism versus Regimentation and Conformity, the Individual versus the Collective." [Tane's emphasis]


McGoohan's basic theme throughout The Prisoner was surely that responsibility for our lives and our society resides within ourselves—within the self. In other words, it is the 'sanction of the victim' upon which the despotism of State and Society ultimately rests. The individual can resist and question authority and the dominant social values, or he can, as most people in fact do, abdicate the responsibility, abdicate autonomy and individuality, and succumb to Society. It is within 'Number 1', one's self, that the decision is made as to whether one is a 'prisoner' of Society or not.

For Tane, too, "Technically, The Prisoner was brilliant, certainly the most imaginative and dazzling television series ever executed."


He concluded: "The Prisoner will always remain an inspiration to those involved in the struggle for individualism and liberty, to those who will "not be pushed, filed, indexed, stamped, briefed, debriefed, or numbered" and who wish to make their life their own."


The series won a Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2002, so far the only TV series ever to have achieved this distinction.


In 2017, fully 50 years since the series' first broadcast, it still seems reasonable that the entry in SFE should conclude that The Prisoner "is in the opinion of many—often those discontented with Space Opera—the finest sf television series to date."


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.



Punishment Park (1970, dir. Peter Watkins)

Vietnam-era near-future 'documentary', with hand-held 16mm filming, and heavily reliant on improvisation by amateurs, in which US dissidents are given a choice of a long prison sentence or 'Punishment Park', in which they face a three-day ordeal in the California desert while being hunted by police and national guard troops.


Listed among Brian Bergen-Aurand's 20 Great Anarchist Movies That Are Worth Your Time. Bergen-Aurand says "The roughness and direct address of issues of race, class, gender, and imperialism mark Punishment Park as an extremely valuable relentless, didactic composition. This film is a raw version of The Hunger Games, without the fairytale disguise."


Included by Glenn in his essay 'Film as Subversion', in the 2015 BASTARD Chronicles, as a subversive drama. Glenn says "One of the most incendiary films produced during the Vietnam period, this film was effectively banned in the USA after opening for four days in an obscure Manhattan theater. It has never played in a major US cinema house nor has ever appeared on National TV."


Listed as a dystopian film at Black Flag Blog's Anarchism and film.


On a personal note, as a British exchange student in the US in 1970, I found this an astonishingly truthful reflection of my recollections of that period, after Kent State and the invasion of Cambodia.


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" . . . .

The Purge (2013, dir. James DeMonaco)

On Purge Night, when the near-future US government legalises crime for 12 hours in the hope of reducing the numbers of proles, a wealthy family find themselves the focus of attention of a group of marauding resentful neighbours.


Reviewed by Margaret Killjoy at The Anarcho-Geek Review, who noted that "the filmmakers actually took the themes of the movie in interesting directions," one theme being class war, though as a whole the film is essentially "a liberal parable," indeed "terribly liberal." Killjoy points out, too, that the focus on violent killing is unrealistic, as during a temporary suspension of law enforcement people are much more likely to indulge in looting than in revenge murder.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014, dir. James DeMonaco)

Sequel to The Purge. On Purge Night a mother and daughter, a young couple, and a purger bent on revenge join forces after finding themselves on the city streets, trying to survive the chaos and violence that ensues.


The film received, reluctantly, a surprisingly positive review from D. Markotin, at the Anarcho-Geek Review. Finding it "rather excellent", Markotin writes that "The Purge: Anarchy hits on three themes quite dear to my heart: the evils of class society; the evils of government; and how revenge usually makes everything worse but that revolutionary violence is okay." "Strangely, one of the themes of this film is that without government, we won't just run around killing one another. Which I find to be a very defensible position. And it strikes a fascinating, and I would argue anarchistic, balance between pacifism and the glorification of violence." In conclusion, "The movie is definitely not above critique. But I'm incredibly impressed at how the film created an enjoyable, plot-driven action film (not really a horror film) out of a rather intense class war parable. And maybe I'll even forgive them for using the name anarchy in the title."


The Anarchism subReddit has a long discussion of this film under the title Anti-anarchist propaganda from Hollywood: The Purge: Anarchy. This shows a considerable diversity of opinion on the film's merits or otherwise.


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 attempted murder of industrialist 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.


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

Anarchists on the genre of sf



@sf home, Ben Beck's website home

This page was last revised on 2018-05-19.

© Benjamin S. Beck 2005–2018

joomla site stats