Anarchism and science fiction: R


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]


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)

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.

 

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)

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. (author's website)

Jack Robinson

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); The Gold Coast (1988); 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)

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.

    '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 Gold Coast is described as an "exemplary critical dystopia" in Seyferth's 'Anarchism and Utopia'.

    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.

    The marvellous 2312 is included in the Think Galactic reading list, and viewed as "anarchist-themed-sci-fi" by David Agranoff.

    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."

    A personal opinion here: I am increasingly coming round to the view that Kim Stanley Robinson is the best, and most important, writer of science fiction since H.G. Wells.


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.

 

Identified by one contributor to the Anarchism SubReddit as a film advocating anti-capitalism. Described in Red Planets as a "violent, anti-corporate satire."

 

Joel Rosenberg

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 (1984–90), 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." 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)

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.

   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' (publ. 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.

 


photo of front cover of Russell's The Great Explosion

Eric Frank Russell: 'Late Night Final' (1948); Wasp (1957); The Great Explosion (1962)

". . . Russell was motivated by a strong distrust of authority of all kinds, and his own political philosophy was close to anarchism." (James: 155).The Great Explosion incorporates the novella '. . . And Then There Were None' (1948). The novel follows a Terran re-colonising expedition as it encounters various societies, descended from criminals, health faddists, pacifists, etc. The concluding novella describes the encounter with a world of Gands, highly anti-authoritarian followers of Gandhi; virtually the entire expeditionary force deserts to them. It is probably fair to say that 'And Then There Were None' was the nearest sf work to an anarchist utopia prior to Le Guin's The Dispossessed, and was praised as such in the pages of Freedom and Anarchy at the time, starting with a full-length review at the hands of Arthur Uloth in 1954, under the headline "An Anarchist Utopia". He said that "Like William Morris's News from Nowhere it makes an anarchist society not only attractive, but also eminently practical"; this is because "The inhabitants of this libertarian planet are not saints, they are ordinary people, and their system works." (Uloth 1954) John Pilgrim in 1963 speculated on "just how much influence this much anthologised tale has had in forming the political opinions of the fallout generation. " (Pilgrim 1960, 1963; Eagle 1969). NB the work itself never uses the 'A' word.

   "According to James J. Martin's Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827–1908, the society of the gands is very similar to that advocated by American anarcho-individualists such as Josiah Warren. Highly recommended." (Dan Clore) The book tied for the 1985 Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award.

   In 'Late Night Final', "As the crew of an invading spaceship learn to communicate with the anarcho-communist natives, they defect one by one until no one but the captain is left onboard. Recommended." (Dan Clore)

   Wasp features a one-man sabotage campaign against the Sirian Empire. It went down well at the time, but by 1986 was perceived as entertaining, but quaint and sexist. (Uloth 1969, DP 1986).

 

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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