Anarchism and science fiction: S


Sandy Sandfort, Scott Bieser, and Lee Oaks: Escape from Terra (2008–2012)

Web comic, now in a three-volume printed version, which "examines a market anarchy based on Ceres and its interaction with the aggressive statist society on Terra" [Wikipedia, on anarcho-capitalism]

 

Hans Stefan Santesson: Crime Prevention in the 30th Century (1969)

This very poor thematic anthology receives a mention in John Brent's 1975 Freedom review of McCaffrey's To Ride Pegasus.

 

José Saramago: Seeing (2004)

Included in Killjoy's list of stories that explore anarchist societies. Explores the consequences of an election in which the majority cast blank votes. Not really sf, though.

 

Pamela Sargent, ed.: Women of Wonder. Science-fiction Stories by Women about Women (1974)

Sargent's important thematic anthology was referred to by Curtoni as "the first women's (and feminist) anthology of sf" (Curtoni 1978: 26); but he obviously knew the work only by repute, since he attributed it to Joanna Russ. Sargent's long and interesting introduction was quoted from in Lessa, Takver & Alyx's 1978 Open Road article (8).

 

John Scalzi, ed.: METAtropolis (2009)

Included in Killjoy's list of stories that explore anarchist societies. See also Killjoy's review at The Anvil, which sees this as a work of 'outsider anarchism'; and a response by Paul Raven at futurismic.

 

Nat Schachner: 'The Shining One' (1976)

A future war Angel of Mons story, in which war is vetoed by means of electronic gimmickry. A minor character, Valverde, declares himself "An anarchist—an individualist! I wish for no State to regiment, me, to tell me what to do." (Roger Elwood, ed.: Visions of Tomorrow, 1976, Pocket Books pb edn 284)

 

J. Neil Schulman: Alongside Night (1979); The Rainbow Cadenza (1983)

Alongside Night "features an agorist-anarchist underground that eventually supplants the state." (posting to anarchysf). Intentionally promoting the agorism of Samuel Edward Konkin III, it won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1989.

   The Rainbow Cadenza won the 1984 Prometheus Award.


Serenity (2005, dir. Joss Whedon)

Space Western; a repackaging of what had been intended as the second series of TV's Firefly.

 

Formerly listed as libertarian science fiction at Examiner.com [dead link]. Winner of a Special Prometheus Award in 2006.

 

Ilan Shalif: Glimpses into the Year 2100

Novella-length old-style utopia about a future world community, 50 years after the 2050 revolution: anarchistic, albeit systematically regulated, and drawing on the author's background as an active Israeli libertarian communist with 16 years experience of living in a kibbutz.

 

George Bernard Shaw: Back to Methuselah (1921)

Shaw was familiar with anarchist literature—references to Godwin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin, Tucker, and Tolstoy abound in his work; among these he was on fairly close personal terms with Kropotkin and Tucker; and in the 1880s he was familiar with British anarchists such as Charlotte Wilson, Henry Seymour and Joseph Lane.

    Several times he contributed articles to anarchist publications: 'What's in a Name? (How an Anarchist Might Put It)' in 1885 to The Anarchist, Britain's first anarchist paper; 'Strikes. (From the State Socialist Point of View)' in 1890 to Freedom; 'The Quintessence of Ibsenism' in 1891 to the American Liberty and 'Why I Am a Social-Democrat' in 1894 to the British Liberty.

    The first of these appeared to be pro-anarchist, and was later published by anarchists as 'Anarchism versus State Socialism'; Shaw always subsequently claimed that the views he had described were not his own. By 1888 he was firmly entrenched in his own brand of Fabianism—he wrote in a letter that "I am no anarchist: I am a practical politician" (Shaw 1965: 184); and in the same year he gave a lecture at the Communist Club on 'Anarchism refuted' (Amalric 1977). In 1891 he published 'The Impossibilities of Anarchism', his definitive denunciation; in this work he found individualist anarchism unacceptable because it failed to tackle the problem of inequitable distribution, and communist anarchism also unacceptable since it failed to offer an incentive to labour without coercion. His opinions of anarchism received no later substantial revision.

    Back to Methuselah is an episodic dream of human evolution from Genesis to the 32nd millennium; humanity by 31920 had outgrown corporeal life and exists on a spiritual plane only. It has been suggested that some of the Lamarckian ideas used here by Shaw may have been suggested by Kropotkin, who had published a number of articles on the inheritance of acquired characteristics in The Nineteenth Century and After in 1910 (Hulse). Woodcock considered that the theme Shaw chose for development in this play was Godwinian (Woodcock 1962: 86).


Nisi Shawl: Filter House (2008)

Recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009, where Shawl herself was a panellist. See her own 'Armchair anarchy list'.

 

Robert Shea

Co-author, with Robert Anton Wilson, of the Illuminatus trilogy. A member of the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, for several years Shea edited an anarchist zine, No Governor.

 

Robert Sheckley: 'The Seventh Victim' (1953); 'Skulking Permit' (1954) ; 'A Ticket to Tranai' (1955); Untouched by Human Hands (1955); 'Pilgrimage to Earth' (1956); 'The Prize of Peril' (1958); 'The People Trap' (1968); 'The Resurrection Machine' (1989); 'Simul City' (1990)

'The Seventh Victim' is among those cited in Curtoni's bibliography. It concerns a society in which murder has been institutionalised as, paradoxically, a means of reducing crime. The 1966 novelisation (The Tenth Victim), instanced by Curtoni, is distinctly inferior.

   In 'Skulking Permit' a backwater planet is re-contacted by Imperial Earth; the inhabitants attempt to revive old Earth customs—crime, police, etc.—but fail by misunderstanding the (lack of) Point Of It All; Earth abandons the attempt to conscript colonists. It is a splendid anarchic story: the colonists have lived without authority so long that there's manifestly no need for it.

   'A Ticket to Tranai' features an exotic utopia in a remote corner of the galaxy; an Earth visitor is suitably freaked out. Society on Tranai is minimal-statist or anarcho-capitalist, though in distinctive ways: government is restricted to minor matters like care of the aged and beautifying the landscape, and is financed by tax collectors who are literally robbers in black silk masks; government officials wear explosive badges which will be detonated on a majority vote in favour of assassination. Though the story has attractive elements, it is vitiated by sexism—married women are kept in a stasis-field purdah, a state which is subject to only token criticism.

   Untouched by Human Hands—Sheckley's first short-story collection—is listed in Curtoni's bibliography. As well as 'The Seventh Victim', 'Keep Your Shape' is noteworthy as a nice parable of liberation and the throwing off of formalist shackles. In general, it is a good collection.

   'Pilgrimage to Earth' is referred to in Curtoni's article. Love is purveyed to tourists as a commodity, which not surprisingly proves disillusioning.

   "The television quiz becomes the occasion for the release of that cruelty which is so functional to the system"—such is Curtoni's succinct description of 'The Prize of Peril'.

   In 'The People Trap' possession of land becomes the reward of successful competition in a ritual race. The bandit leader Steinmetz declares, with Sheckley's tongue in his cheek, that "Rules is rules, even in an anarchy."

   The two later stories include Bakunin as a character. Both are included in Killjoy,'s list of stories that feature sympathetic anarchist characters. 'The Resurrection Machine' features the resurrection of simulacra of Bakunin and Cicero; the virtual Bakunin is mistreated by one of the experimenters, whose colleague retaliates by 'freeing' him within the computer network. The story is part of the themed Time Gate anthology, edited by Robert Silverberg with Bill Fawcett, and Bakunin reappears later in the volume in Pat Murphy's 'How I Spent My Summer Vacation.' 'Simul City' appears in the sequel volume Time Gate, Vol. 2, Dangerous Interfaces, where Bakunin plays a lesser role; in other stories in this volume, by Anne McCaffrey ('Pedigreed Stallion') and Karen Haber ('Simbody to Love') Bakunin has little more than a walk-on role; McCaffrey's story must be unique in including an encounter between Bakunin and Margaret Thatcher . . . .


Mary Shelley: Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818, rev. 1831); The Last Man (1826)

In one respect Mary Shelley is the prime example of association between sf and anarchism: for the mother of science fiction was daughter to the father of anarchism, William Godwin, and wife to the Godwinian Percy B. Shelley. Critical opinions differ, however, as to how much Godwin's philosophy influenced her works, or for that matter P.B. Shelley's own brand of Godwinism. Though the influence on her upbringing must have been considerable, she chose to keep her distance from radicalism. As she wrote in her journal, "I believe we are sent here to educate ourselves, and that self-denial, and disappointment, and self-control, are a part of our education; that it is not by taking away all restraining law that our improvement is to be achieved; and, though many things need great amendment, I can by no means go so far as my friends would have me." (quoted in Spark 1952: 5)

   Frankenstein, now widely regarded as the first work of modern science fiction, is too well-known to need description here. On its appearance it bore a dedication to Godwin; and it's noteworthy that Shelley had been re-reading her father's great work Political Justice in 1817, whilst writing Frankenstein: one entry in her journal (1817-04-13) actually reads "Correct Frankenstein; read Political Justice" (Shelley 1947: 78). Godwin himself praised Frankenstein in his letters to his daughter. On 1822-11-15 he described the novel as "a fine thing; it was compressed, muscular, and firm; nothing relaxed and weak; no proud flesh." (Marshall 1889: II.52) And by 1823-02-14 he could write that "Frankenstein is universally known, and though it can never be a book for vulgar reading, is everywhere respected." (ibid.: II.68). Most recently (2013), John Zerzan has described Frankenstein as "a classic warning about the hubris of technology's combat against nature".

   The Last Man, though historically important in sf as a very early post-catastrophe story, is overwhelmingly tedious, and was understandably out of print for over a century. The character of Lionel's father, as described in the novel's opening pages, has been seen as a portrait of William Godwin (Luke 1965: xii). In an 1824 letter from Godwin to the author he gave at best lukewarm opinions on the extracts she had sent him.

 

Lewis Shiner: Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988); Slam (1990)

Characters in Deserted Cities of the Heart have been seen as "perfect anarchists, demanding no pattern or meaning but accepting what is—in fact, they are working to make their version of acceptance a reality. [ . . . ] Shiner sees anarchy as a cleansing force necessary for the destruction of decaying social structures that are no longer viable, so that a newer, more functional society can evolve." (Donahoo and Etheridge, 1992: 'Lewis Shiner and the "Good" Anarchist').

    Slam is explicitly influenced by Bob Black's The Abolition of Work, as acknowledged by Black. "Shiner says: 'In fact, I was at a cyberpunk conference in Leeds this summer and one of the participants gave a paper on my stuff. It was not a terribly theoretical paper; his point was that all my books involve anarchy to one degree or another. The anarchist is perceived as a positive force to reawaken a stagnant society. He found this in a great number of my works. I'll buy into that, particularly since the novel I'd already finished—Slam, which he hadn't seen—is a blatant novel about anarchy. Genre distinctions or the presence or absence of certain tropes in a work is a very minor detail compared to the other stuff.'"

    Shiner is reluctant to self-identify as anarchist, but he is a paid-up member of the IWW, and has stated that "I look to anarchists for inspiration, for those gestures of defiance that I can use in my work" (interview in Killjoy, 2009).

    Although Shiner wrote one of the first cyberpunk novels (Frontera, 1984), Slam itself isn't actually sf. But it's hugely enjoyable, so I'm happy to include it here.


John Shirley: Transmaniacon (1979); Three-Ring Psychus (1980)

The protagonist of Transmaniacon is described as "punk, anarchic, exorbitant, his mind evacuated of normal constraints, death-loving." (SFE)

    Three-Ring Psychus is a real curiosity, with a vision of 'The Great Unweighting', in which Jung's collective unconscious asserts itself and allows people control over their own gravitation, flitting about in a surreal vision reminiscent of Magritte's Golconda. A metaphor for freedom, this 'Upping' leads to a complete revisioning of society with thousands of micro-polities; the lead character explicitly feels "an increasing kinship with the anarchist viewpoint" (Zebra edn, p150).

    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.

 

Nevil Shute: On the Beach (1957)

With most of the world already dead from the nuclear holocaust, Australians await the fallout; the central characters end up taking suicide pills.

   Referred to by a number of anarchist writers, Freedom's 1958 reviewer Arthur Uloth wrote of this famous World War III novel "After reading this book I felt a desire to lose my temper and throw things about." (Uloth 1958)

 

Alan Sillitoe: Travels in Nihilon (1971)

According to Sargent (153), this is a satire on anarchism (nihilism). Actually, it's nothing at all to do with anarchism, but is rather a satirical utopia (not really sf) about a nation of self-styled nihilists. Its perverse logic can nevertheless be quite beguiling.


Robert Silverberg: 'The Songs of Summer' (1956); Hawksbill Station (1968); Dying Inside (1972)

In The Songs of Summer a man from the present is projected into a far-future post-holocaust world, and attempts to reinstate government. The community psychically isolates him in his own fantasy. The future society is very sparse and individualistic; this and the far-future setting imply no belief on Silverberg's part in either the practicality or the desirability of anarchism.

   Hawksbill Station is a penal colony for political dissidents from a future Syndicalist USA, located a billion years in the past. With a change of government, and the discovery of a method of sending people forward in time, it becomes possible for them to return. A couple of the dissidents were anarchists before their exile. One of these, the man who profoundly believed in individualism and the abolition of all political institutions (c. 7), has ironically been obliged to swallow his theory and acknowledge the value of team work. This individualist version of anarchism is the only one presented. Anarchists are shown in a fairly positive light in the novel, but this appears to be despite their beliefs.

   For Zeke Teflon, Dying Inside is "a masterpiece of description and character development. It’s depressing, but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless".

 

Clifford D. Simak: 'Beachhead' (1951); City (1952)

In 'Beachhead', members of a human survey party perceive as a threat the warning from aliens that they will never leave the planet; they soon learn that it was merely factual, as an unknown factor destroys all alloyed metals on the planet—which is why the aliens had not developed a technology. The humans' smug faith in their own faith is of no avail. For John Pilgrim this was a nice example of an SF writer cutting the scientist down to size. (Pilgrim 1963)

    According to Darren Jorgensen, writing in Bould & Miéville, eds: Red Planets (201-2), Marxist Henri Lefebvre discussed a translation of City with the situationists, prior to the events of May 1968. Jorgensen writes:

 

There is no causal relation between situationist praxis and City, and yet the two resonate with each other. City's description of a posthuman utopia run by machines and the actions of the situationists both realise a world without work. Thus the situationists allow us to read City literally, rather than metaphorically, as a realisation of that liberated consciousness that lies beyond capitalism. In playing a part in the situationist milieu, in informing the situationist experiments for re-imagining the city, Simak's City was part of a different continuum by which to think through the relationship of revolution to SF. This is a relationship of reciprocal exchange between text and revolution, as a novel informs a revolution that, in turn, enables a reading of the novel as revolutionary possibility.

 

B.F. Skinner: Walden Two (1958)

Walden Two is a provocative utopia based on experimentation in behavioural engineering. It's provocative because it's presented as a eutopia, to be admired, whereas many people, and most anarchists, would regard behavioural engineering as nightmarish totalitarian control. Frazier, Skinner's mouthpiece, denies "that freedom exists at all" (Macmillan pb edn, New York, 1962: 257). In 1980 Skinner explained that

 

If acting for the good of the group is positively reinforced, people will feel as free and worthy as possible. I am in favour of that. It is the best way to promote government by the people for the people." (Skinner 1980: 5)

   Despite this apparent opinion of Skinner's that freedom itself is just a weapon in the behaviourist's armoury, Walden Two presents arguments that anarchists need to be able to answer, and should be read with this in mind.

 

John Sladek: 'Heavens Below: Fifteen Utopias' (1975)

One of the fifteen is the one-page 'Utopia: A Financial Report', in which the four planned nations of Fascesia, Commund, Capitalia and Anarche are the subject of an experiment on the social institutions of Homo sapiens; it is successfully completed, Utopia closed, the inhabitants destroyed, and the experimenters move on to the social behaviour of armadillos. Anarche had not proved viable: it was found that "Anarchers are evidently unstable, and frequently migrate to the other three nations."

   'Heavens Below' is an entertaining mixture: 'Utopia: A Financial Report' is too short to establish anything much, especially given the overall satirical/ironic cast of the story as a whole.


Brian Francis Slattery: Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America (2008)

Included in Killjoy's list of stories that feature sympathetic anarchist characters.

 

William M. Sloane: Stories for Tomorrow (1954)

Referred to in Pilgrim's 1963 Anarchy article, it's a good anthology for the period.

 

Joan Sloncewski: A Door into Ocean (1986)

It's been suggested that this novel's hidden anarchism is very much in harmony with Murray Bookchin's social ecology (Sobstyl: 128).


Clark Ashton Smith

"He says: 'One other observation: Communism, as practised in the insect world, is a poor recommendation for its possible effect on humanity. Nothing sickens me more than to watch the mechanistic activities of ants, who have certainly achieved the ultimate in regimentization and co-operation. I guess I must be an anarchist myself; and I am sure I would be strictly non-assimilable in any sort of co-operative society, and would speedily end up in a concentration camp.'" (Dan Clore)


Cordwainer Smith: Instrumentality series

Smith's series, most recently assembled in two volumes (Norstrilia, and The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Fiction of Cordwainer Smith), is an unfinished future history, mainly featuring 'underpeople'—humans made from animal stock—in an unusual Chinese-influenced quasi-mythic narrative style. The stories are variable in quality, but some are superlative sf; nevertheless, they are basically right-wing in political orientation.

   M. Eagle, in Freedom, found Smith's stories "somewhat odd" . . . (Eagle 1969) This is perhaps not surprising given the author's real identity as Paul M.A. Linebarger, godson to Sun Yat-sen, close confidant of Chiang Kai-shek, and an expert on psychological warfare, known to have done undocumented work for the CIA.

 

L. Neil Smith: The Probability Broach (1980); Pallas (1993); Forge of the Elders (2000)

The Probability Broach is a Parallel Earth story of an anarcho-capitalist society trying to influence our Earth, involving a Chandlerian cop. American free-market anarchism is integral to the work, involving informed discussion of the relative merits of minarchy and anarcho-capitalism; the general message is that "A free, unregulated laissez-faire market should, and can take care of everything government claims to do, only better, cheaper, and without wrecking individual lives in the process: national defense, adjudication, pollution control, fire protection, and police . . . " (del Rey edn: 3). There are bizarre aspects to the alternate history: the list of Presidents of the North American Confederacy include Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker and Ayn Rand; the former king of the UK now has among his titles Anarch of the Commonwealth; Peter Kropotkin became a wealthy uranium miner in Antarctica (his alternate world widow is a principal character in the novel). The author seems obsessed with hardware—Lucy Kropotkin claims that "freedom always calls for a little hardware" (del Rey edn: 98); this may have something to do with Smith being an ex-police reservist, gunsmith and self-defence consultant.

    Prometheus Award winners.

Snowpiercer (2013, dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Set aboard the globe-spanning Snowpiercer train which holds the last remnants of humanity after an attempt at engineering an end to climate change has reversed the warming too far and created a new ice age. The train is stratified on class lines, front to back, and the under-class tail-section passengers rebel against the privileged few at the front of the train.

 

Eoin O'Connor, writing on the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum in 2015, summed it up as "Probably the most expensive film made recently which is pretty explicitly anti-capitalist (confirmed by the film's director), concerning class struggle, environmental collapse, and the ideological manipulation of the lower orders by the ruling elite."

 

Recommended at 'Good movies for libertarians and anarchists', where for one contributor "The whole movie is one giant metaphor for the Leviathan." Also noted by Jeet Heer.

Solaris (1972, dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)

Soviet adaptation of Stanisław Lem's novel of the same name; a meditative psychological drama mostly taking place aboard a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The scientific mission has stalled because the three scientists of the crew have succumbed to separate emotional crises. A psychologist travels to the space station to evaluate the situation only to encounter the same mysterious phenomena as the others.

 

With Stalker, categorised by Glenn in his essay 'Film as Subversion', in the 2015 Bastard Chronicles, as subversive, but "almost unwatchable for an American audience." "Both force the viewer to examine their own desires and interpersonal relationships."

 

Two contributors to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum include this film among their shortlists of the best sf ever committed to film. "Super good and surrealist", but on the slow side, was the opinion of a poster to the FB Anarchists and Science Fiction page in 2016.

 

Solaris (2002, dir. Steven Soderbergh)

Not a remake of Tarkovsky's version, but a new version of the Lem novel on which both are based.

 

One contributor to the anarchysf mailing list, after Lem's death, "rather liked" the Soderbergh version. Layla AbdelRahim in 2009, however, "strongly disliked the trashy love-line of the re-make".

 

S.P. Somtow

Based a tetralogy on the premise of Sturgeon's 'The Skills of Xanadu'. The tetralogy concerned was probably Inquestor, the four books being published as by Somtow Sucharitkul (Light on the Sound, 1980, The Throne of Madness, 1983, Utopia Hunters, 1984, The Darkling Wind, 1985).

 

Norman Spinrad: Agent of Chaos (1967); Bug Jack Barron (1969);  'Heirloom' (1972); The Iron Dream (1972); The Void Captain's Tale (1983); Child of Fortune (1985); Little Heroes (1987); Greenhouse Summer (1999)

Agent of Chaos concerns an underground movement which ideologises entropy as leading to chaos, and fights against the total control of the Hegemony over the solar system. Said to have influenced young American radical-anarchists in the 1970s (Platt:70), though it's hard to see why; there is, however, a passage in chapter 11 in which the concept of freedom is linked to that of the infinity of the universe, which equation is perhaps at the root of the attractiveness of sf for many anarchists and libertarians.

   'Heirloom' is a minor anarchistic story, wholly derivative of Russell's '. . . And Then There Were None.'

   For Michael Moorcock The Iron Dream—a heroic fantasy novel supposedly written by Adolf Hitler—was "intended to display the fascist elements inherent to the form." (Moorcock 1978) But for P.S., the same year, "Taken in small doses it is very funny. But the parody of fascism repeated over and over again numbs the mind and becomes a subliminal play for fascism." Zeke Teflon, however, considers it one of his favourite anarchist science fiction novels, describing it as "Alternately chilling and darkly funny. [ . . . ] An excellent illustration of the ugliness of the authoritarian psyche."

   For Moorcock Spinrad used Bug Jack Barron to "display the abuse of democracy and the media in America." (Moorcock 1978)

   "Spinrad says: 'Child of Fortune is another anarchist novel, because there's no government.'" (Dan Clore) The message of the book is unequivocal:

 

"True Children of Fortune have no chairmen of the board or kings. True Children of Fortune seek not after chairmen of the board or kings. Certainement, no true Child of Fortune would wish to be a chairman of the board or king!" (Bantam edn: 495)

   The Void Captain's Tale is also set in a society with no government. (Lise Andreasen, posting to anarchysf mailing list, 2010)

   Little Heroes and Greenhouse Summer are included in Killjoy's list of stories that feature sympathetic anarchist characters. Spinrad has said that his model, in Greenhouse Summer, "is some form of syndicalist anarchism—'anarchism that knows how to do business'—no national governments per se." (Shirley) Greenhouse Summer is also included in Teflon's list.

   In a 1999 interview Spinrad confirmed that he was "an anarchist—but I'm a syndicalist. You have to have organized anarchy, because otherwise it doesn't work.' (Killjoy, 2009)

The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973, dir. Ivan Dixon)

In the then near future, the lead character is enlisted into an elite CIA training programme, and is subsequently recruited as its token black agent, but in reality consigned to a sub-basement where he is in charge of the photocopier. He quits, returning to his home stamping ground, where he uses his CIA training to develop an effective cadre of black guerrilla fighters. Black uprisings ensue across eight major US cities. Very much a product of its time, but despite its technical weakness now seen as culturally and historically significant.

 

Its 2004 release on DVD was welcomed on the Anarchy-SF mailing list. Included in the Red Planets filmography.

Stalker (1979, dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)

Screenplay by Arkady and Boris Strugatski, based on their 1972 novel Roadside Picnic. Depicts an expedition led by a professional guide known as the 'Stalker' to take his two clients, a melancholic writer fearing loss of inspiration and a professor conducting research but with a covert agenda, to a site known simply as the 'Zone', which has a Room within it with the supposed ability to fulfil a person's innermost desires. The trio travels through unnerving areas filled with sundry debris and traps while engaging in arguments, facing the fact that the 'Zone' itself appears sentient, while their path through it can be sensed but not seen. In the original novel it's made clear that the Zone contains abandoned debris from a visit by aliens, like picnic litter.

 

With Solaris, categorised by Glenn in his essay 'Film as Subversion', in the 2015 Bastard Chronicles, as subversive, but "almost unwatchable for an American audience." "Both force the viewer to examine their own desires and interpersonal relationships."

 

"Super good and surrealist", but on the slow side, was the opinion of a poster to the Facebook Anarchists and Science Fiction page in 2016. Later the same year one contributor to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum listed it as their sole contender for 'best sci-fi ever committed to film'. At the end of the year another link from the Forum indicates that "Stalker is a strange and intellectual movie that is challenging on a first viewing. It is also pretty damn weird."

 

SFE gives a political reading, taking the film as "perhaps the grimmest metaphor for Russia produced by a Russian in our generation."

 

Olaf Stapledon: Last and First Men (1930); Star Maker (1937)

One of the most important figures in the history of science fiction, Stapledon (like H.G. Wells) was a democratic socialist, who believed (also like Wells) that state socialism would and should develop into a stateless society. In Last and First Men and StarMaker this development is briefly portrayed. (Dan Clore)

Star Trek: First Contact (1996, dir. Jonathan Frakes)

The crew of the 6th incarnation of the starship Enterprise travel back in time to the mid-21st century to stop the Borg from conquering Earth, by preventing the invention of the warp drive and so changing the past.

 

The film is the subject of an academic essay in the October 1999 issue of Anarchist Studies: Paul-F. Tremlett's 'Borg: A Critical Encounter' (Anarchist Studies 7 (1999): 171–183). His abstract says [text in square brackets is mine]:

 

I begin by elaborating a critical anarchist hermeneutic that understands interpretation as praxis and meaning(s) as mutable and unstable. I suggest that the film can be understood as an effort to mediate a crisis in human relations with technology (a potential 'other'). I argue that the principal element or relation through which this crisis is posed and then resolved is that between Picard, Data and the Borg 'queen'. [The hybridity of the Borg signifies a descent into disorder, and] Disorder, as the absence of any organising principle of knowledge or experience, is further linked to the post-structuralist critique of 'foundationalism' and the anarchist critique of government.

In his conclusion, he further says that the film suggests

 

[ . . . ] that 'the real' must be preserved at all costs, and, if possible, through the continual redeployment of a single paradigmatic relationship. Ironically, this is not a father-son relation [Picard and Data], but that held to exist between man and woman [Picard/Data and the Borg queen], as elaborated in the Biblical account of the creation of the world. Technology, like Eve, is derivative of man, and should therefore serve man as an ally and a helpmate. In anarchist terms, this signifies the hegemony of a particular strand of Western philosophy that has been a dominant founding principle in the organisation of contemporary knowledge and experience. The critique of foundations and organising principles is the task of our times.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, dir. Nicholas Meyer)

When the genetically engineered Khan escapes from a 15-year exile to pursue his adversary Admiral Kirk, like Ahab and the whale, the crew of the Enterprise must prevent him acquiring a terraforming device named Genesis. Closer to the spirit of the original TV series than the first movie of the series.

 

Seen  by one contributor to the libertarian film festival blog as one of the Star Trek films nearer to having a libertarian theme, "for having common people work together to beat a superman". But another found this doubtful: ". . . classic, but come on: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one? Says who?"

Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope; 1977, dir. George Lucas)

The Rebel Alliance, led by Princess Leia, attempts to destroy the Galactic Empire's space station, the Death Star.

 

Although appreciative of the film, Jon Osborne wrote that:

 

Many libertarians like this film because the good guys here are explicitly trying to 'restore freedom to the galaxy.' [ . . . ] However, the concept of 'freedom' is left conveniently undefined and the only form of government mentioned on the side of good is a (presumably beneficent) monarchy. This is really just a war between relative virtue and certain evil, not a war of ideas.

Libertarian Movies also notes that "there's no overtly libertarian political message".

 

Stephen Carson concludes "That two generations have grown up with these films teaching them to hate the 'Empire' and it's plans to 'bring order to the galaxy' bodes well for our future."

Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back (formerly known as The Empire Strikes Back; 1980, dir. Irvin Kershner)

Second outing in the franchise.

 

According to Anarchist Without Content, this film was released just as "neoliberalism begin collapsing the distinctions between mass society, subculture, and the elite":

 

If we look closely at The Empire Strikes Back, released in the watershed year of 1980, we can see this very move in action: first, the scoundrel and the princess suddenly cross class lines; next, trust evaporates as Lando Calrissian betrays Solo in Cloud City; and in the stunning finale, we find out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. If this disorienting turn of events did not upset the moral certainty of audience at the time, nothing would.

A couple of contributors to the Facebook Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum in 2016 listed this film as among their candidates for 'best sci-fi ever committed to film'.

 

Starhawk: The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993); City of Refuge (2015)

Starhawk describes The Fifth Sacred Thing as an [. . .] "epic tale, set in 2048, California. In a time of ecological collapse, when the hideously authoritarian and corporate-driven Stewards have taken control of most of the land and set up an apartheid state, one region has declared itself independent: the Bay Area and points north. Choosing life over guns, they have created a simple but rich ecotopia, where no one wants, nothing is wasted, culture and cooperation are uppermost, and the Four Sacred Things [earth, air, fire, and water] are valued unconditionally." (Starhawk's website).

    The author is a neo-pagan activist. In terms of practical politics she describes herself as now "actually more of a progressive democrat" (Killjoy, 2009; also here). For John P. Clark this is perhaps the only work of fiction "that has made a major contribution to anarchistic utopianism" since Le Guin's (Clark 2009: 22). Also recommended by Gelderloos.

    City of Refuge is a very effective sequel, funded via Kickstarter. Its publication was announced on Facebook's Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, and Anarchist Solarpunks. Recommended by Yvonne Aburrow as a model for resistance in SF.


Raymond Stark: Crossroads to Nowhere (1956)

Thirty years after the holocaust, an Anarch from the west seeks law and order in (New) York; he finds totalitarianism not to his taste, but unintentionally puts the York government onto the Anarchs, who are promptly colonised. The Anarch and some friends retreat to a minimal statist village, there to plan the overthrow of the government. It is clear they will fail. Naïve, with little merit.

Starship Troopers (1997, dir. Paul Verhoeven)

Intended as a satirical take on the original novel by Robert Heinlein, heavily emphasising the fascistic and militaristic nature of Heinlein's book, as satire the film fails completely, coming across as a deadpan B-movie glorifying the very qualities it's ostensibly sending up, all too faithful to Heinlein.

 

For Jon Osborne, who acknowledges that it could be seen as "a subtle satire of fascism", yet is clearly doubtful what interpretation to put on the film, "Much of the tone is over the top in an authoritarian kind of way, but otherwise it's not entirely offensive. Even libertarians would take up arms against invading insects." Libertarian Movies gets the satirical intent, finding Verhoeven's decision to "turn it up to eleven" as making for "a much more libertarian statement ultimately: "Fascism is bad, kids, mmkay?, even when it's us, and not the enemy"  . . . .

 

Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992); The Diamond Age (1995); Cryptonomicon (1999); The Baroque Cycle—Quicksilver (2003), The Confusion (2004), and System of the World (2004)

A form of anarcho-capitalism plays a major role in these entertaining novels. In Snow Crash, territory is primarily controlled by corporate franchises, termed "Franchise-Operated Quasi-National Entities" such as "Mr Lee's Greater Hong Kong" and "Nova Sicilia," with privately-operated police and judicial systems, where the landscape has been turned into a patchwork quilt of franchise enclave communities, and the increasingly residual federal government is just one more competitor in a free market for sovereignty services.

 

It's always been a mystery [ . . . ], but then, that's how the government is. It was invented to do stuff that private enterprise doesn't bother with, which means that there's probably no reason for it; you never know what they're doing or why. (ch. 63)

    Its sequel, The Diamond Age, depicts a more mature anarcho-capitalist society where Common Law and other international private law conventions have evolved into a Common Economic Protocol to which all non-outlaw phyles and FOQNEs subscribe in their own legal systems.

    The Baroque Cycle is described by the Left Bank Books reviewer as "Kick-ass historical sci fi [ . . . ] Very funny and intelligent read." It also one of Mark Bould's selections in Red Planets. The final volume, The System of the World, won the 2005 Prometheus Award.

    Cryptonomicon won the 2013 Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame Award.

 

Bruce Sterling: Islands in the Net (1989); 'Bicycle Repairman' (1996); Holy Fire (1996); Distraction (1999); Pirate Utopia (2016)

Islands in the Net was "Influenced by Bob Black's The Abolition of Work." (Dan Clore) Black himself says "In Islands in the Net, Sterling extrapolates from several anti-work stances: the "avant-garde job enrichment" [ . . . ] of the laid back Rhizome multinational; the selective post-punk high-tech of Singapore's Anti-Labour Party, and the post-agricultural guerrilla nomadism of Tuareg insurgents in Africa. He incorporates a few of my phrases verbatim." (Black 2015) Islands has been perceived as an anarchist/anti-capitalist utopia (mailing to anarchysf). Hakim Bey (Peter Lamborn Wilson), who describes himself as a Cyberpunk fan, makes particular reference to this novel, as "based on the assumption that the decay of political systems will lead to a decentralized proliferation of experiments in living" . . .

   'Bicycle Repairman' takes place in an anarchist squatters' enclave.

   Holy Fire was strongly recommended by an anarchysf lister, describing it as "germane to this list because of its treatment of the dynamics of a post-plague society, and social conservativism among the very long-lived." A couple of minor characters are anarchists.
   In 'Distraction', early 21st century America is "populated by large gangs of postmodern proletarian nomads." "Sterling's vision is, in fact, profoundly anarchistic. [. . .] Distraction updates pre-modern gift exchange for the postmodern age, and thus charts a radically non-hierarchical vision of the near future." (Call, 2002)

   In 2015 Sterling wrote the introduction to Bob Black's essay collection Instead of Work. While he says he "never became a Bob Black disciple", "Mostly I just admired and tried to emulate his conceptual freedom." (vi–vii)

   Pirate Utopia is a dieselpunk alternate history centred on the curious story of the Free State of Fiume, in the aftermath of World War I. Anarcho-syndicalists are among the players, but it's an eclectic mix, also featuring fascists and futurists, Howard, Houdini, and Lovecraft.


Robert Louis Stevenson

Freedom in 1889 quoted from one of Stevenson's Samoan letters, in which he speaks of a certain fascination for the anarchists and compares them with the early Christians. The anonymous writer concluded that "Stevenson was a man of an intensely reactionary mind, but he had the honesty, when he saw Anarchists in a truer, clearer light, to say so, and we respect him for it." (anon. 1899)


George R. Stewart: Earth Abides (1949)

Most of the population dies from disease; the hero leads his tiny new tribe into post-history. Earth Abides was reviewed anonymously in Anarchy in 1963, with a degree of reluctant respect: "The author writes with a Defoe-like verisimilitude, and a fascinating wealth of ecological detail"; though the survivors "start life afresh from zero: no government, nothing in the way of constraints and restraints", the story "does not end as anarchists would like it to end." This is clearly because after 21 years of Edenic anarchy the State is effectively re-established when the decision is taken to hang a stranger who drunkenly brags of his venereal diseases. Ish, the hero, reflects:

 

Yet there was an irony. The State—it should be a kind of nourishing mother, protecting the individuals in their weakness, permitting a fuller life. And now the first act of the State, its originating function, had been to bring death. Well, who could say? Likely enough, in the dim past reaches of time, the State had always sprung from the need to crystallize power in some troublous time, and primitive power must often have expressed itself in death. (pt II, c. 8)

Despite this anarchist analysis, Ish falls for the old story that at least it's better than anarchy, "when there was no strong force to protect the individual against whatever might rise up against him."

 

S.L.S. (pseudonym of John St Loe Strachey): The Great Bread Riots: or, What Came of Fair Trade (1885)

Following the abolition of free trade, the rioting of the unemployed is led by anarchical secret societies, based on violence, their organisation copied from those of Germany and Russia; the events are recounted as from 1934. It is a very slight work, of negligible interest for anarchists.

 

Strange Days (1995, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Set in the last two days of the 20th century, the film follows the story of a dealer in illicit POV recordings of individuals' complete sensory input as, while investigating the murder of a prostitute, he uncovers the truth of the cop shooting of a black leader. Rather heavy-handed and over-long, and the story-line—apart from the technological fillip—pretty conventional, not to say old-fashioned.

 

Tom Jennings, in 2006, took a much more positive view:

 

[ . . . ] Kathryn Bigelow's magnificent Strange Days experiments viscerally with the phenomenology of simulation offered by new media, gradually expanding the significance of their alienating distraction for confused thrill-seekers out into the seething public sphere of a chaotic neo-noir 1999 LA under brutal martial law. The troubled pairing of ex-vice squad porn merchant Ralph Fiennes and streetwise action heroine Angela Bassett tangle with corrupt entrepreneurs and lowlives in a decadent cross-fertilising cultural milieu of hip-hop punk, blundering into a conspiracy to assassinate a Black revolutionary leader which threatens to tip the civic millennium festivities over the brink into grass-roots insurrection. Through an unprecedented synthesis of film and psychoanalytic theory, exploitation of cinema traditions and bravura design, editing and photography, it is far more nuanced than Crash in tackling the subjective and social significance of race, as well as of gender and class. The film also works hard to specify its historical contingency in the best traditions of science fiction as speculation on the present (for example by Stanislaw Lem, William Burroughs or Philip K. Dick)—rather than hysterical inflation into universal values, or the fashionably subversive adolescent hype which passes for philosophical resonance in [ . . . ] V for Vendetta (as in The Matrix series). Strange Days even excuses its major flaws (such as a deliberately implausible, if arguably utopian, central relationship) by managing to render its politically ultra-conservative resolution as dystopian recuperation—a final knowing flourish on the role of mass entertainment in taming desire in labyrinths of repressive desublimation.

 

Included in libcom.org's Working class cinema: a video guide, where it is described as "enjoyable if flawed".

 

 

Charles Stross: Singularity Sky (2003); The Atrocity Archives (2004); Accelerando (2005); Iron Sunrise (2005); Glasshouse (2006); Neptune's Brood (2013)

Singularity Sky is included in Killjoy's list of stories that explore anarchist societies, and is included in Zeke Teflon's list of his favourite anarchist sf novels.

    The Atrocity Archives and Glasshouse are included in the Anarchist Studies Network's Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading List.

    Accelerando was recommended by Mumkin on Ask MetaFilter, and is noted in the comments on Worldbuilding's 'How to make a fictional anarchist society believable to non-anarchists?'.

    Iron Sunrise was recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009. It is also included in Teflon's list.

    Glasshouse won the 2007 Prometheus Award. In Teflon's list it is described as "A brutal tale about gender roles and conformity."

    According to Teflon, part of Neptune's Brood "is set in a sympathetically portrayed deep sea anarchist society of genetically modified humans." The author himself describes it as "a parable for our times about the banking crisis and the spiralling growth of debt that is rapidly enslaving us to a floating pool of transnational financial instruments that nobody really understands or owns." [Charlie's Diary]


Arkady & Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic (1971)

Zakk Flash, on Facebook's Anarchism and Science Fiction Forum, writes that "Although not specifically anarchist, this looks interesting." On the same forum, Scott Rossi confirms it as "really interesting".

 

Theodore Sturgeon: More than Human (1953); 'The Skills of Xanadu' (1956); Venus Plus X (1960)

More than Human tells of several individuals with different psychic powers coming together as a single being, 'homo gestalt'. It is briefly described in Vittorio Curtoni's 1978 article. For Evan Lampe the evolution to H. gestalt is reminiscent of Kropotkin's Mutual Aid.

   Though the tenor of 'Xanadu' is appealing, its premise—a technology that renders human co-operation axiomatic and intuitive—is presented in fantastic terms.

   Venus Plus X received a warm response from John Pilgrim in 1963, for the utopia of surgically-produced hermaphrodites it presents.


S. Andrew Swann: The Hostile Takeover trilogy: Profiteer (1995), Partisan (1995), Revolutionary (1996)

Really a single long novel, the setting is chiefly a planet named Bakunin, orbiting the star Kropotkin; the principal city is called Godwin (with a street called Vanzetti), and the spaceport Proudhon.

    . . . "depicts a world called Bakunin that operates on anarcho-capitalist principles, and examines the particular problem of an anarcho-capitalist society defending itself against a statist aggressor when that aggressor hires so many of the Anarcho-capitalist society's own denizens as mercenary forces."  "Its portrayal of society on the planet Bakunin is arguably much more critical of the basic premise of anarchism than is typical of the genre, coming close to a libertarian dystopia." "While Swann's portrayal of anarchism falls far short of advocacy, it is clear in the text that his sympathy is with the anarchists and not with the state." [Wikipedia: anarcho-capitalist literature, Hostile Takeover trilogy]

   This really over-eggs the cake. Apart from the name-checks, there is little that can be described as anarchist about the planet Bakunin, apart from the absence of a world government. It's not really even markedly anarcho-capitalist or libertarian, although there's perhaps a degree of warmth to a woolly notion of anarchy.


Michael Swanwick: The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1994)

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

 

Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels (1726/1735); 'A Modest Proposal' (1729)

Gulliver's Travels has the eponymous hero marooned amid various alien societies, for satirical ends. It has been suggested that some of Godwin's thinking originates here, especially in relation to the society of the Houyhnhnms, which can be seen as anarchistic (Woodcock 1962, Preu: 372, 382). A quotation from Gulliver's Houyhnhnm master will serve as an example of the similarity to Godwin's thinking: the Houyhnhnm, commenting on British society, expressed the opinion "That our institutions of government and law were plainly owing to our gross defects in reason, and by consequence, in virtue; because reason alone is sufficient to govern a rational creature . . ." (Pt IV, c. VII). Godwin certainly admired Swift, whom he described as a man who "appears to have had a more profound insight into the true principles of political justice than any preceding or contemporary author." (Godwin 1798) "For the stern and inflexible integrity of his principles, and the profound sagacity of his speculation, he will be honoured by a distant posterity." (Godwin 1798: 443) Of Gulliver's Travels itself Godwin wrote that "It was unfortunate that a work of such inestimable wisdom failed at the period of its publication from the mere playfulness of its form, in communicating adequate instruction to mankind." Interestingly, Godwin's diaries record that he was reading Gulliver's Travels while he was writing Political Justice in just the same way as his daughter's diary records that she was reading Political Justice while writing Frankenstein (Preu: 372). An extract from the Voyage to the Houyhnhnms was printed in La Révolte in 1893. Preu claims that if Godwin is the father of anarchism, Swift, through his influence on Godwin, is certainly its grandfather. (Preu: Dean 69)

    The famous Modest Proposal is that starvation in Ireland could be cured by consuming the children of the poor. An extract was printed in La Révolte in 1893.

 

 


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