Ayn Rand: Anthem (1938; abridged 1946); Atlas Shrugged (1957)
Rand was far from being an anarchist (she once describe anarchy, as a political concept, as "a naive floating abstraction"), but her immense influence on the libertarian right and the anarcho-capitalists can't be denied. (Rand 1963) Murray Rothbard, a leading influence on the development of anarcho-capitalism, asserted in his 1973 work For a New Liberty that "her philosophical influence remains prodigious on the great bulk of libertarian youth" (15).
Anthem is a dystopia set after a future war, in which the only crime punishable by death is the speaking of the word 'I'; inevitably the hero rebels, and comes to regard the very word as a god. In its exaltation of egoism, and to some extent in its style, it is reminiscent of Stirner's The Ego and His Own. It tied for the 1987 Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award.
Atlas Shrugged is Rand's most influential book, a sustained diatribe against socialism, in which the great industrialists withdraw their 'services' to society as civilisation collapses, with a view to rebuilding capitalism on the ruins. John Galt, Rand's messiah-figure, makes clear that there is no question of being opposed to the state as such; he regards police, army, and courts as the "proper functions of a government" (Signet pb edn: 987), and only opposes government initiation of force. It tied for the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1983.
Herbert Read: The Green Child (1935)
Utopian fantasy, meriting inclusion by virtue of Read's importance in the history of anarchism in Britain. George Woodcock found this novel to be "a parable illuminating the dialectic that runs through all of Read's works: the necessary interplay between freedom and order, between reason and instinct, on which the organic reality of life as well as of art depends." (Woodcock 1972a:77)
Read invited Emma Goldman to tea in 1938, and became (with Ethel Mannin) one of the only two "real comrades and friends" that she made during her three years in London [Goodway: 129, 132]
Red Dawn (1984, dir. John Milius)
After the USA is invaded by the Soviet Union, with support from Cuba and Nicaragua, a group of high school students fight a guerrilla resistance. Heinleinian stuff, probably intended as what is these days referred to as YA, but in this case the old word 'juvenile' seems more appropriate.
Libertarian Movies says that "for libertarians, it's certainly pro-Second-Amendment and anti-socialism". Osborne's review further describes it as a "red-blooded, patriotic movie". But don't let me put you off . . . .
Philip Reeve: Mortal Engines (2001)
YA novel set in a post-apocalyptic world in which cities have been mounted on wheels and are roaming the world predating on each other; London is the featured 'traction city'.
Included in the Think Galactic reading list.
Repo Man (1984, dir. Alex Cox)
Increasingly improbable adventures of a repo man in Los Angeles involving government agents and, apparently, aliens. Full of "punk aesthetics and black humour", as SFE puts it.
Categorised by Glenn in his essay 'Film as Subversion', in the 2015 BASTARD Chronicles, as a subversive comedy, and "A hysterically funny, savage attack on religion, family values, the American way, and punk itself." A 2015 showing at the Liverpool Small Cinema described it as a "Genre-busting mash-up of atomic-age science fiction, post-punk anarchism, and conspiracy paranoia"; this description is lifted from Eureka Video's blurb, which adds that Repo Man is "Arguably the defining cult film of the Reagan era".
Recommended by three contributors to the Anarchism SubReddit as a film advocating anti-capitalism, though the third (Peppermint Pig) qualifies this: "It questions authority as much as it questions self purpose, but there's really no anti-capitalist argument being made as an underlying theme."
Quoted as an epigraph in David Graeber's Debt. The First 5,000 Years.
Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000); Chasm City (2001)
Both are included in Teflon's list of Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels, where Revelation Space is described as "Antiauthoritarian but not specifically anarchist"; Chasm City is set in the same universe. Revelation Space is also suggested by pharm on MetaFilter. Both are also recommended by Clark on Popehat; both are over-long space operas.
Mack Reynolds: Planetary Agent X (1965); Commune 2000 A.D. (1974); Amazon Planet (1975); Lagrange Five (1979)
John Pilgrim found the Ultima Thule of Planetary Agent X to be "delightful". (Pilgrim 1963) In the United Planets there are said to be several run on an anarchistic basis. One is a planet called Kropotkin, with Bakunin the capital.
In Commune 2000 A.D.:
The government, through technocratic means, has eliminated the need for most individuals to work, and has instituted a Universal Guaranteed Income. Only those who come out on top when taking tests to determine their Ability Quotient are able to obtain jobs. More and more, jobless individuals join communes and pursue their own interests—there are communes for homosexuals, lesbians, artists, nudists, kids who hate everyone over thirty, swinging singles, and many others. A government official objects that "An increasing number of the communards don't participate in even the civil elections. Most aren't eligible to participate in the guild elections, because they hold no jobs, but they don't bother to vote in the civil elections, either. To put it bluntly, they're anarchists." After the main character, who has been assigned to investigate the communes, discovers that the communards are in a conspiracy to institute anarchism by eliminating the political state and transferring democracy to the economic sphere, one member tells him that they prefer the term libertarians. Say anarchist to most people and they think in terms of bomb-throwing fanatics. (Reynolds was an activist with the syndicalist Socialist Labor Party.) (Dan Clore)
Amazon Planet received favourable mention from Lessa, Takver & Alyx, in 1978.
Lagrange Five is set on a space colony run on broadly syndicalist lines, though with a population consisting only of Earth's intellectual elite. China Miéville included it in his list of Fifty Fantasy & Science Fiction Works That Socialists Should Read (which was also copied to the anarchysf mailing list in 2002), describing it as "examining a quasi-utopia without sentimentalism". It's also listed in the Red Planets reading list.
Maurice Richardson: The Exploits of Engelbrecht: Abstracted from the Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club (1950)
For Michael Moorcock this was "one of the best examples of imaginative fiction to appear in England since the war" . . . (Moorcock 1978). According to the SFE Richardson was also an influence on Spike Milligan.
Wm Harrison Riley: 'A Visitor from Luna' (August 1901)
Short published in Freedom. The lunar visitor is disappointed with Earth, and moves on.
I have heard of a country in which the people live naked and unashamed; where there is no hypocrisy, no usurer, no spirit-dealer, no prison, and where there are no locks or bolts; a country in which all men and women do their share of the little work that is needed, where there is no war or usury and all work and share equitably. I am going to that country, and I hope I may be permitted to live and die there.
Obviously written under the influence of Samuel Butler, the story has a very considerable charm of its own.
Adam Roberts: Salt (2000); Gradisil (2006); New Model Army (2010)
Salt features two planetary colonist communities in ideological conflict, one of which is explicitly anarchistic in flavour. An intelligent and well-written debut novel. The author himself—a British academic and historian of sf—says:
I think I'm
on safer ground when I mention the political and ideological issues that the
book rehearses; questions of political affiliation, of the negotiations between
cultural and personal difference, of the relationship to (patriarchal) authority
and of the limits of control. That the book is also a self-conscious exercise in intertextuality is, I hope, equally clear: it draws on Herbert's
Dune and on
Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed as well as Vladimir Nabokov's Bend Sinister
and the poetry of Robert Browning. I hope, in saying this, that I am only saying
what is obvious from the novel itself. It remains the bleakest of my books, but
I continue to find an austere and strangely uplifting beauty in certain aspects
of bleakness, so I say this with no suggestion of apology.
Gradisil tells of three generations of a family central to the history of the Uplands, a low Earth orbit settlement predominantly of the super-rich, from 2059 to 2131. While initially the Uplands is an anarchy of sorts, it soon becomes a quasi-republic. Farah Mendlesohn, in Callow & McFarlane, notes that the first part "is a not untypical tale of libertarian colonialism in which rather a lot of incorrect assumptions about 'how the west was won' are transported into space," which "is a very twentieth-century interpretation of how western expansion, or even the founding of America, worked." "The belief that colonial (and other expansionist) enterprises are the actions of individuals resisting the state, is a form of institutionalized sociopathy that has infected the American body politic and the genre of science fiction." She also observes, in an endnote, that "One political issue I have with most SF, and Roberts's in particular, is that historically communalist societies are better at surviving." Gradisil is included in the list of 'Stories that explore anarchist societies' in Killjoy's Mythmakers and Lawbreakers.
New Model Army posits a kind of mercenary army, in a fracturing near-future UK, that dispenses with feudal hierarchy through moment to moment decision-making by wiki: what is put forward as 'real democracy'. The work is discussed at length by Thomas Wellman, in Callow & McFarlane, who concludes that it "invites us to call two visions of modern Europe into question that have become institutionalized in real-life: the narrative of the peaceful (and ever closer) union, and the war-inducing concept of the nation-state", and that it is "far from a simple thought experiment conducted in guerrilla warfare, but a highly relevant and sceptical treatment of two fundamental principles of modernity." In the same collection of critical essays, a Borgesian piece by Paul Graham Raven draws out explicitly the anarchism of the novel, comparing it, as a utopia, to Le Guin's The Dispossessed; he notes that the peer-to-peer capabilities of the wiki "allow individuals to circumvent state-dominated media and organize effective collective action against the state, and – possibly, as Roberts's slingshot ending implies – transcend to a higher order of collectivity: the paradoxical post-geographical state, an atomised collective to whom borders are mere fictions, false maps superimposed upon the one, true, free territory." Andrew M. Butler's essay, immediately following, also notes "the anarchistic, leaderless structure" of the eponymous NMA.
Among Jack Robinson's many articles for Freedom and Anarchy are a couple of minor items: 'The Noble Experiment' (Anarchy 1967) is a satirical tale of the prohibition of the smoking of tobacco in 1993–4; 'After 1984—What?' (Freedom, May 1970, as by Jack Spratt) is a 200-word short-short on the replacement of voting by opinion polls and the computerisation of parliament. Both are very slight.
Kim Stanley Robinson: 'The Lucky Strike' (1984); Three Californias trilogy: The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988), and Pacific Edge (1990); Mars trilogy: Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), Blue Mars (1996); Antarctica (1997); The Years of Rice and Salt (2002); Capital Code trilogy: Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), Sixty Days and Counting (2007); 2312 (2012); Aurora (2015); New York 2140 (2017)
From an on-line interview:
Faliol: Are you a libertarian anarchist?
KSRobinson: No, I am a green socialist, roughly. A utopian. I don't like libertarianism as I understand it because it seems to keep private property, police, and other aspects of the current system, indeed it seems to keep capitalism.
Faliol: I myself agree with Chomsky's ideas.
KSRobinson: I like Chomsky's writing very much. He should be more represented in mainstream American press; it's a sign of how bad they are that he isn't. But I still don't like libertarianism. Nor anarchism either, though at least that one has a nice idea at its heart.
Faliol: Have you read Bakunin?
KSRobinson: Yes, I have read Bakunin, maitre'd of anarchism. (Dan Clore)
Robinson is sufficiently sympathetic to anarchism, however, to have written the introduction to the 2009 Mythmakers & Lawbreakers. Anarchist writers on fiction. Here he describes himself as "a leftist, interested in opposing capitalism and to changing it to something more just and sustainable", who has "once or twice tried to depict societies with anarchist aspects or roots". He spoke on 'The Politics of Science' at the 2010 Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, and again on 'Science and Capitalism' at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair in 2013.
In a 2018 interview Robinson again gave his views on anarchism:
KSR I’m a statist; I don’t believe anarchism is a way to get through the next couple of centuries. I thoroughly approve of anarchism’s ultimate goal of the total horizontalisation of power but, to me, anarchism is a horizon that is centuries out.
HF At least one literary critic has coupled your name with Murray Bookchin.
KSR I’ve read Bookchin and I admire his work. I’m thinking more of anarchisms that conflate capitalism and the state. I separate them, just as I separate capitalism and science. I’m also thinking of the anti-humanism of certain anarchisms, those that turn into libertarianism very easily in an ugly way, those that say it doesn’t matter if six billion people die because then we’d have a sustainable number. What’s good in anarchism is the idea of a complete horizontalisation of power and prosperity. It’s a great long-term horizon to aim for. It’s like utopia itself. I’m a utopian, but I wouldn’t say I’m an anarchist because I don’t think a state monopoly on violence is a bad thing at this point in history. It’s better than the alternatives, better than chaos, better than the freedom to burn as much carbon as I want. I think that carbon use should be legislated and controlled and priced, and anarchy doesn’t provide a way of doing that.
'Lucky Strike' is included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels, where it is described as "A fine if short parallel-universes novella on the morality of 'just following orders.'" It's also included in the Think Galactic reading list. The slim PM Press edition includes an additional essay on historical determinism and alternate histories, and a useful interview with the author by Terry Bisson; this edition was "very highly recommended" in Teflon's review.
The Three Californias trilogy depicts three different futures for Orange County; for B.A. Mahrab "This series delves into the different types of future scenarios we may very well face as a species—each one completely within mankind’s ability to create now, and none of which fall outside the realm of plausible possibilities." The Gold Coast is described as an "exemplary critical dystopia" in Seyferth's 'Anarchism and Utopia'. See also Canavan, Klarr, and Vu, and Heer.
The Mars trilogy represents "Basically an anarchist revolution & construction of society" (posting to anarchysf). For Lewis Call the trilogy is "Robinson's vision of an anarchistic Mars"; Robinson's gift economy is "the most interesting anarchistic element of Robinson's meticulously detailed Martian society", "the articulation of a way of thinking about politics and economics which is radically new, and yet also profoundly old." (Call, 2002
Antarctica was recommended by Common Action at the panel 'Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction' at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009. Set in Antarctica in the near future, environmentalism and sustainable living are central, with much interest shown in the formation of cooperative and anarchic social systems. From the same mould as the Mars trilogy, it has been nicknamed 'White Mars'. A vivid and unforgettable paean to the cold wilderness of the continent.
According to one reviewer, Robinson's alternate history The Years of Rice and Salt includes a discussion of anarchist ideas of a post-scarcity economy.
For Maeve66, writing for the US Solidarity, Robinson's Capital Code trilogy, on the theme of climate change, is "well worth reading, for the science, and the potentials and limitations on electoral reform as a solution to anthropogenic climate change." MB.A. Mahrab sees this trilogy, among other Robinson works, as central to the developing sub-genre of solarpunk.
Aurora is a generation starship novel with a powerful message from the author, namely that "Earth is the only home, and fixing our relationship with it is the only possible solution to the anthropogenic mass extinction event that we are in the process of starting." [Robinson, interviewed by Dave Haeselin]; escaping Earth's problems in this way he sees as an "impossible transcendence". Teflon's response, however, was a best lukewarm: "worth reading", and "Recommended (barely) for its political and ecological points."
New York 2140 is set in a water-logged New York post-climate change. Perhaps not his strongest work, but "Unfettered capitalism and the practices that led to the 2008 economic meltdown are squarely in Robinson’s crosshairs in New York 2140, where the future is no less unscrupulous than the present" [Singularity Hub]. Facebook's Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, and Solarpunk Anarchists, drew attention to its publication.
Kim Stanley Robinson, ed.: Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias (1994)
Anthology of 'notable short works of utopian fiction and dystopian fiction, incorporating elements of primitivism and of eco-anarchism.' (Wikipedia)
Interesting and readable, and unusual for including a worthwhile 5-page
bibliography—but not especially anarchist.
RoboCop (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven)
Set in a near-future crime-ridden Detroit, the film concerns a police officer who is shot dead by a criminal gang but subsequently revived by a megacorporation as a superhuman cyborg law enforcer.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, dir. Jim Sharman)
Cult transgressive musical affectionately referencing classic sf and horror movies for comic effect.
Red Planets says this film "Unlocks the queerness of popular SF."
One comment on the Libertarian Film Festival blog says "Now... the Rocky Horror Picture Show... THAT's libertarian! (j/k... or am I?)"
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, dir. Gareth Edwards)
Set immediately before the original film, Rogue One follows a group of rebels on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star from the Empire's military Keep.
Notable in the contemporary world for apparently upsetting the so-called 'alt-right', sensitive to any suggestion of a parallel between the evil Empire and the 2017 US political scene. [Romano, Preza] As much as anything this is because of the ethnic diversity of the cast: Facebook's Solarpunk Anarchists commented "More of this in our speculative fiction please." But even in this latest incarnation, it appears the universe remains overwhelmingly male.
Rollerball (1975, dir. Norman Jewison)
In a megacorporate future the masses are distracted by a brutal gladiatorial sport played on rollerskates and motorbikes, designed to show up the futility of individual effort, so keeping the proles in their place. A superstar of the sport breaks the game by winning against the odds, even when the game has been fixed to end his career.
Included in the Red Planets filmography.
Libertarian Utopias and Dystopias describes the film as a good example of how Hollywood "finds the idea of corporations more powerful than government to be quite scary."
From a 1985 convention report online:
Rosenberg said he and Mike McGarry are writing a novel, in which all the Earth's libertarians are dumped on an alien planet, and the history of the planet followed for the next 150 years. He described it as a thought experiment—but then couldn't resist telling us how it comes out: feudalism. Joel, if you've predetermined the conclusion (I remarked), it's not an experiment! One might also question the the wisdom of someone who knows so little about a subject writing a book about it. (Rosenberg was uncomprehending, even contemptuous of the distinction between the anarchist and the limited government libertarian. Most if not all of the Founding Fathers were libertarians in the latter sense.)
Unless the reference is in fact to Rosenberg's Thousand Worlds sequence (1984–1990), which according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction features mercantile libertarians, but for which McGarry is not also credited, it would appear that this novel never appeared, and is now unlikely to, given Rosenberg's death in 2011.
Mordecai Roshwald: Level 7 (1959)
Level 7 is the deepest layer in a bomb shelter, and the novel describes the feelings of a military officer closeted there as the world disintegrates above him in nuclear holocaust.
For John Pilgrim this was a "horrifying picture" of the all too probable future. Later anarchist reviewers welcomed its republication, and called it "The Finest Novel yet written on Nuclear War in its aftermath". (Pilgrim 1963, Bates 1981, anon. 1983)
J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (2003)
Included in Anders Monsen's 50 works of fiction libertarians should read; Monsen sees it as embodying well the lessons of questioning authority. It's not actually sf, but the whole Harry Potter series is recommended by Charlotte Diana in a post to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, as featuring "an increasingly libertarian message as the story progresses." Mo Moseley, reviewing for Freedom in 2013, found the anti-authoritarian beginning to the series "promising," and the series "good fun," Moseley anticipating that the anti-authoritarianism would ultimately disappear. A recent academic study has confirmed that "Despite differing perceptions of the books’ prevailing ideology, there is a consensus surrounding at least three themes. These include 1) the value of tolerance and respect for difference; 2) opposition to violence and punitiveness; and 3) the dangers of authoritarianism."
Rudy Rucker: Spacetime Donuts (1981); Software (1982); Wetware (1988); Freeware (1997); Postsingular (2007); Hylozoic (2009); Surfing the Gnarl plus (2012)
Spacetime Donuts is a dystopian story involving the psychological liberation of a supercomputer leading to the breakdown of authoritarian society. Rucker is on record as saying "What I wanted to do with that book was to make a strong anarchist statement" (Vernon: 25). There is a decent amount of hip talk of smashing the government, and the book is certainly good anarchic entertainment, but the whole is not very profound, and not as strong as Rucker evidently intended.
In Software the main character, who gave robots free will, leading to their rebellion and creation of an anarchist society on the moon, is offered immortality by them, in the form of a replication of his software; he proves to be dependent on the computer for the use of his new hardware. The novel refreshingly overturns the Asimov priorities, and the robot anarchy is attractive, but it's worrying that the author suggests that robots with free will might evolve towards power-seeking. Wetware and Freeware have the same backdrop, and all three are included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels.
According to the author, Postsingular and Hylozoic have some anarchist elements.
Surfing the Gnarl plus is a short collection of two stories, an essay, an interview, and a bibliography. Reviewed by Cory Doctorow on boingboing.
Rudy Rucker, Terry Bisson and John Shirley were on a panel on Anarchism and Science Fiction at the March 2012 San Francisco Anarchist Book Fair, which is available as a podcast on Rucker's website.
Rudy Rucker, Peter Lambourn Wilson, & Robert Anton Wilson, eds: Semiotext(e) SF (1985)
The Semiotext(e) anthology was reviewed in the New Anarchist Review in July 1990. Rich Dana, in 2014, described this "wonderful book" as "perhaps the quintessential Anarcho-SF anthology".
Joanna Russ: 'When It Changed' (1972); The Female Man (1975); The Two of Them (1978)
'When it Changed' is included in the Think Galactic reading list.
The Female Man depicts three parallel versions of the female experience and what it might be, from a radical feminist stance. Whileaway, which is apparently Russ's utopia, is decentralised, and perhaps without government as such, but the verdict of the Open Road critics was that "The book's feminism is apparently not consistent with an anti-authoritarian structure" (13).
The Two of Them was a recommendation made during the panel discussion at the 2009 Seattle Anarchist Bookfair.
Bertrand Russell: 'Zahatopolk'; 'Faith and Mountains'; 'The Infra-redioscope' (published in The Collected Stories of Bertrand Russell 1972)
Russell wrote sympathetically of anarchism in his Roads to Freedom (1918), was familiar with its theorists, knew personally Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, worked alongside anarchists in various campaigns, and for decades exercised a libertarian and liberating influence on his contemporaries. Among his less earnest activities was the writing of a small body of fiction, some of which is sf or near-sf. These three stories have some (though only slight) interest to anarchists.
Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow (1996)
Included in the Think Galactic reading list.
Geoff Ryman: Air (or Have Not Have) (2004)
Included in the Think Galactic reading list.
'Han Ryner' (Jacques Élie Henri Ambroise Ner): Les Pacifiques (1914)
. . . "the tale of an anti-civilization, pacifist anarchist utopia" (Killjoy, 2009) on an uncharted island, written by a French individualist-anarchist. See Granier (in French). Referenced in the 2014 Bottled Wasp Pocket Diary. Also see Cohn: 180-1.
An beside the title means an item's particularly recommended by me. See my hotlist, for these recommendations only.
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This page was last revised on 2018-06-08.
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