V for Vendetta (2006, dir. James McTeigue)
Unsuccessful and politically sanitised adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel.
The film outraged anarchists for its wholesale bowdlerisation of the anarchism of the original. Even before the film was released, it was previewed by Iain McKay, on the anarchysf mailing list, under the title "V for Very Annoying": a view he confirmed in 2013, saying "the politics are gutted". By the time the film premiered in New York, an ad hoc group of anarchists there had launched AforAnarchy.com, a website and education campaign designed to reinject anarchist politics into the film, and to radicalise its audiences. The website was well-received elsewhere in the US, and in Spain, Turkey, the UK, Australia, and Singapore. Steve McFarland, for afor@, defending against an accusation that this was a naïve response to the inevitability of Hollywood, said that they "simply saw the opportunity to hitch some anarchist propaganda to a rampaging hollywood juggernaut, and provide a gateway to the world of anarchism that is usually confined to the margins". Tom Jennings, in his April 2006 Freedom review, was unequivocally condemnatory, calling it a "hopelessly incoherent mish-mash of random elements from comic book superhero back catalogues [ . . . ] stitched together with the most superficial philosophical musings about freedom and justice", showing "utter contempt for its audience." The anarchist scholar David Graeber, at that time a professor at Yale, was unfazed by the film, however: '“It didn’t upset me much,” Graeber said. “I thought the message of anarchy got out in spite of Hollywood.”'
For Lewis Call,
This film has been widely criticised, but critics overlook the film's valuable contributions. In the film, the face of Fawkes provides the basis for sophisticated representations of sexuality, mass media systems and anarchist political action. Through its visual iconography, the film thus provides mainstream cinema audiences with an effective introduction to the symbolic vocabulary of post modern anarchism.
Despite the general hostility, the movie, its director, and its screenplay all received special Prometheus Awards in 2007. In 2013 the film was one of three recommended for viewing as part of a Cornell University course on 'Histories of Anarchism'.
Jean-Christopher Valtat: Aurorarama (2010)
Polished steampunk set in a 'New Venice' in the Arctic c. 1908. Some characters are anarchists, but of the 'propaganda by the deed' school in favour at the time (or in steampunk time): a trope acknowledged by the author as "clichéd", in an interview published as postscript to the novel. Valtat further says:
The political elements of this book exist because, of course, New Venice is a utopia, which, like every utopia, is actually a dystopia waiting to happen. At some point anarchy is regarded as an alternative, but it is anarchy in a very special sense: people from different walks of life getting together under pressure from the outside and trying to fix the situation so that they can regain some control of this utopia.
Reviewed by anarchist FG, for whom it's hard to discern "whether he's selling anarchism to a crowd used to diluted fiction, or if he's selling dressed up fiction using anarchism. Either way, it was weird, imaginative, and constantly engaging." Margaret Killjoy found it "amazing".
A.E. Van Vogt: Slan (1946); null-A series (1948–1985); The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951); The Anarchistic Colossus (1977)
Slan's "political message still rings loud and clear." . . . "entertaining as hell, and it leaves a philosophic aftertaste that lingers pleasantly." (Conger)
The null-A series is included in Killjoy's list of stories that explore anarchist societies.
The Weapon Shops of Isher won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2005.
In The Anarchistic Colossus a future Earth operates as a mixed anarchy controlled by computers; aliens perceive the conquest of Earth as the payoff to a wargame. The anarchist Earth society is an extraordinary hybrid of socialist, capitalist, and bohemian variants of anarchism; it had apparently been instigated by the rightists, who still control two thirds of the economy. 'Techs' had contributed the elimination of crime: sensors detect violent intent before the event, and intercept the attacker (all other actions are free from control). The 'Caps' and the 'Coops' are apparently able to work together, e.g. in fire-fighting (c. 17); they collaborate on universal military training, so that everyone has a basic understanding of "the ethics of an anarchistic state of war"—indeed "Anarchistic space warcraft" are programmed with anarchist war ethics (c. 31). Van Vogt even offers the most original solution yet to the problem of work: idlers are offered welfare food based on insect protein, whereupon most prefer to work.
Van Vogt in this work finds anarchism all-pervasive: it is not only the norm in Earth society, the human brain itself is a "colossal anarchistic complexity" (c . 35), and at the other end of the scale "The universe itself is in a colossal anarchistic condition" (c . 27). Typically Van Vogtian, this is one of the most bizarre visions of anarchism in all sf.
'John Andrews' article 'A.E. Van Vogt and the Sanity of Anarchy' may be found on the Internet here'. (Dan Clore)
Jack Vance: Emphyrio (1969); Wyst: Alastor 1716 (1978)
For Anders Monsen, Emphyrio depicts "how casual acts of rebellion have grave repercussions that can lead to more radical acts of rebellion." Wally Conger sums this old-school space opera as "one hell of a good freedom novel".
Dan Clore lists Wyst as "An 'egalist' dystopia." The society portrayed values leisure above all, and is energetically egalitarian. Though interesting and entertaining, there isn't really much for anarchists here.
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, eds: Sisters of the Revolution. A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology (2015)
A fine collection of stories, though only a minority are science fiction per se.
It was reviewed at some length by Kim Smith in 2016, in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory #29. Smith says the anthology "seeks to bolster a feminist archive of science fiction", and "is a solid introduction to some creative stories that engage the broad problematic of gender and patriarchy." However, the anthology spans fifty years of stories, and for Smith:
This creates a bit of a challenge for the collection: feminist movements of all stripes have radically changed how gender and sexuality is conceptualized (and lived) over this period – and whose experiences are reflected in those movements – but these changes are not tracked in this collection. If speculative fiction always has something to say about the present moment, but the work was written forty years ago, how do we read it now? And how do we read a collection of works written at different historical moments, in relation to different feminisms?
John Varley: The Golden Globe (1998)
Prometheus Award winner.
Brian K. Vaughan: Y: The Last Man series—(2003–2008)
10-part dystopian comic book series (later re-released as five volumes), recommended by Common Action at the panel 'Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction' at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009.
Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870); Magellania (written in 1897, 1st published in 1985); Jules Verne and Michel Verne: The Survivors of the Jonathan (1909—trans. in 2 vols as The Masterless Man and The Unwilling Dictator)
Opinions differ as to Verne's personal sympathies towards anarchism and the extent to which anarchist motifs feature in his novels. Non-anarchists have argued that, especially in later life, Verne leaned towards anarchism, or at least the libertarian end of liberalism. Certainly he knew anarchists—his friend Nadar became one, and he was friendly with Elisée Reclus (through whom he was supplied with geographical material for his novel Michael Strogoff by Peter Kropotkin); it's even been suggested that he knew Bakunin, or at least of him, through his publisher Hetzel (Chesneaux: 103–4). Anarchists—foremost among them Hem Day—have pointed to a few biographical data that suggest the contrary: his response to the Paris Commune ("a horrible and grotesque farce"—quoted in Costello: 114); his respectful seeking of an audience with Pope Leo XIII; his 16 years service as a Municipal Councillor in Amiens, during which on one occasion he congratulated the police on their heavy-handed restoration of order after a Council meeting had been disrupted by an anarchist. Day, indeed, considered that "the fact of being a candidate [in the Amiens elections] proves a fortiori that Jules Verne was not an anarchist" (Day 1967: 224) The critic Jean Chesneaux argued at length that "the tendency towards libertarian individualism is deeply embedded in Verne's writings" (103–4); Hem Day replied that "anarchist motives in Jules Verne are transitory" (Day 1967: 226), concluding that Chesneaux was projecting his own view onto Verne. There is certainly, though, a libertarian streak in much of Verne's work.
In Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea Professor Aronnax and his companions are held captive on board the Nautilus, the submarine of the mysterious avenger Captain Nemo, and are shown the wonders of the undersea world. There was at one time a curious story that the book was written, or at least originally conceived, by the Paris Communard Louise Michel (Girault:96, repeated in Planche: 208). Hem Day proved the tale to be completely without foundation, but perhaps, as Gillian Fleming suggested in 1982, the legend itself is significant; apparently unaware of Day, the legend was revived in 2009 by Santo Catanuto (Catanuto 23-31). Chesneaux described this novel as the very novel which, of all Verne's works, carries the clearest indication of anarchist ideas (98-100), which, excepting Magellania / The Survivors of the Jonathan, may be so; however, as Day wrote, "It requires much imagination to deduce such suppositions. . . . To extol the revolt of the individual doesn't imply that the revolt is anarchistic, rather the contrary." Nemo's anarchist ideology—following J. Chesneaux—remains in all respects contestable. (Day 1967: 223) Notwithstanding this, Day himself regarded Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea as "a magnificent work" (Day 1959: 29). Michael Moorcock, too, has described Nemo as one of Verne's "best characters" (Moorcock 1978: 42).
The Survivors of the Jonathan can only be described as sf by interpreting the term at its broadest—it is sf in the sense that all of Verne's voyages extraordinaires are, with much of the utopianist's pleasure in experimenting with political concepts in isolated situations. The story is straightforward: an anarchist, the Kaw-djer, willingly assists the survivors of a shipwreck when they set up a colony near Cape Horn, but refuses to govern or control them in any way; following their failure to organize themselves, he eventually feels constrained to abandon his principles and take absolute command; order being restored, he abdicates and withdraws to a neighbouring island, to nurse his individualism as a lighthouse-keeper. Anarchists are described by Verne—though apparently with some irony—as a "terrible sect" (Arco edn, I:13), "a heterogenous assortment of criminals and mystics. The former, gnawed by envy and hatred, are always prepared for violence and murder; the latter, real poets who dream of a chimerical humanity from whom evil might be banished for ever by the suppression of the laws devised to combat it" (I:17), the Kaw-djer being among the latter. The novel essentially demonstrates the failure of anarchy as a form of social organization, but the Kaw-djer is portrayed so sympathetically that it is hard to resist the conclusion that a form of romantic individualist anarchism was in fact deeply attractive to the writer. I say the writer advisedly, for it was argued—among anarchists by Hem Day—that this novel is actually the work of Verne's son, Michel. Other anarchist commentators, however, seem to have had no idea that its authorship might be open to question. One of Verne's biographers suggested that the figure of the Kaw-djer himself was modelled on Elisée Reclus (Costello: 210); the evidence seems purely conjectural. Michael Moorcock acknowledged that Verne had "put some pretty decent sentiments in the mouth of Kaw-djer the anarchist." The book was discussed at length in Freedom in 1978. John Drake wrote that "Insofar as these can be discovered from the book, Verne's philosophical preference was clearly for anarchism, though he had doubts about its political practicality. . . .Verne felt that anarchism underestimated the limitations imposed by human nature. . . . Verne conceived of anarchism as essentially a philosophy of individualism. He seems to have lacked an awareness of anarchism as a social phenomenon . . . . From the anarchist point of view it is very disappointing that Verne is unaware of the possibilities of libertarian communism, since he thus does not consider it as one of the possible solutions to the Kaw-djer's moral dilemma." Drake also argues that in fact Verne could not have been aware of communist and syndicalist variants of anarchism, and that therefore his singling out of individualist anarchism reinforces the case for that being an expression of Verne's personal inclinations.
In 1977 Verne's original manuscript of Magellania was rediscovered, and the text published in 1985; it was first
published in English translation in 1998. It is now clear that The Survivors
of the Jonathan was actually Michel Verne's complete re-write of Magellania, commissioned by his father's publisher, Hetzel. Five chapters
were deleted from the original, with twenty added chapters by Michel, with a
host of new characters. The Kaw-djer remains the central character, however, and
the theme of the romantic anarchist giving way to pragmatism was central to Magellania too. According to Olivier Dumas, President of the Jules Verne
Society, who wrote the preface to the newly published Magellania, the
inspiration for the novel, and for the character of the Kaw-djer, was not an
anarchist at all, but the Archduke Johann of Austria—Johann Salvator von Österreich-Toskana—who had renounced his title, taken the name Johann Orth, married a dancer, and
been lost at sea in July 1890 while trying to pilot his own ship round Cape
Orth Dead Many Times.]
Videodrome (1983, dir. David Cronenberg)
After the CEO of a small TV station stumbles upon a transmission featuring sadistic violence, layers of deception unfold as he tracks down the source of the signal and loses touch with reality in a series of increasingly surreal, violent, and organically messy hallucinations, featuring television and his own body.
Categorised by Glenn as subversive, in his 2015 'Film as Subversion', for whom it "questions the extent of corporate media's pandering and/or manufacturing our basest most deviant desires and how that influences our daily lives".
For SFE, "it may have been the most significant sf film of the 1980s, and is certainly—and very early on—the most cyberpunk".
Vernor Vinge: 'True Names' (1981); The Peace War (1984); 'The Ungoverned' (1985); Marooned in Realtime (1986); 'Conquest by Default' (1988); A Fire upon the Deep (1992); A Deepness in the Sky (1999)
The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime were described, in a mailing to anarchysf, as an anarchist utopia. This is stretching a point. Governments are condemned, but everyone seems to like throwing their weight around. A Fire upon the Deep features the galactic society of societies, some of which are anarchies and all of which exist in one. 'For Vinge, an Anarcho-Capitalist with genuinely Anarchist views, anarchy is not so much a programme as a description of the existing state of affairs. We never emerge from the state of nature, and never can. There are in his world lots of statists, but no States, in the sense of authorities whose claim to legitimacy can be upheld or attacked.' (Macleod)
'True Names' tied for the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2007.
'The Ungoverned' depicts anarcho-capitalists defending against an invading government. It won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 2004.
'Conquest by Default' depicts an alien race in whose culture anything goes, except that an elite caste of 'Umpires' intervenes to break up trusts and prevent the formation of governments.
Marooned in Realtime and A Deepness in the Sky were Prometheus Award winners.
Kurt Vonnegut: Player Piano (1952); The Sirens of Titan (1959); 'Harrison Bergeron' (1961); Slaughterhouse-Five (1969); Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! (1976); Jailbird (1980)
Player Piano is a dystopia in which workers displaced by machines rise up against them, in the manner of the Luddites, but end up trying hard to repair them. Pilgrim found the end "depressing"—hardly surprisingly. "Like much anti-utopian and anarchist writing the problem is stated and analysed efficiently but no solution is found." (Pilgrim 1963: 366)
The Sirens of Titan was said by Arthur Maglin to depict "the construction of a society where no man takes advantage of any other", and to have a big vogue "in hippy-type circles".
'Harrison Bergeron' is a satire on authoritarian dystopias and perceptions of egalitarianism. Suggested at www.metafilter.com/89983/Anarchism-and-science-fiction.
Slaughterhouse-Five is included in Libcom.org's reading guide to working class literature.
Slapstick and Jailbird are the only Vonnegut novels (tagged as sf) held by CIRA, the Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme. Jailbird is also listed in Libcom.org's reading guide to working class literature.
Vonnegut described himself as a pacifist, an anarchist, and a planetary citizen. (Vonnegut 1981, Granada pb edn: 124)
See my hotlist, for items particularly recommended by me.
Authors by surname, films by title: 0 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Possibles
Anarchists on the genre of sf
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This page was last revised on 2018-04-10.
© Benjamin S. Beck 2005–2018