Anarchism and science fiction: W


W. Grey Walter: Further Outlook (1956; aka The Curve of the Snowflake)

The neurologist and pioneer of robotics Grey Walter, father to well-known British anarchist Nicolas Walter, was himself, according to his obituary in Freedom, "an anarchist fellow-traveller during the 1950s and 1960s". Further Outlook, his only novel, is there described as "expressing his utopian vision of a libertarian society" (A.F. 1977). It tells of the early stages in a space programme led by a handful of Britons; the narrative is interrupted for a 70 page account, supposedly written in 2056, of developments in the world, particularly social developments, up to that year. The society is a loosely structured arrangement described as "Statistical Syndicalism", apparently a kind of 21st century guild socialism. The weakness of the book's plot doesn't sustain this utopian digression, which is really of not very great interest.

 

Jo Walton: Ha'penny (2007)

Tied for the 2008 Prometheus Award. First-class retro thriller set in an alternate Britain of the 1940s, with a plot to assassinate Hitler and the quisling British prime minister. Much understated resonance with the contemporary world.


Rex Warner: The Wild Goose Chase (1937); The Aerodrome (1941)

The Aerodrome is a rather earnest farce concerning a sluggish rural village and a hyperefficient neighbouring aerodrome, examining the fascination of authoritarianism.

   For George Woodcock found this political allegory "ultimately more satisfying than any of Kafka's." (Woodcock 1948)

   The Wild Goose Chase is also discussed, noncommittally, in Woodcock 1948.

 

Elizabeth Waterhouse: The Island of Anarchy. A Fragment of History in the Twentieth Century (1887)

Authoritarian governments unite in banishing political dissidents, including anarchists, to Meliora, a volcanic Pacific island (the British government went so far as physically to brand all anarchists with an 'O' for 'Outlaw' before their banishment). After initial strife, the dissidents are persuaded by a Russian prince to adopt "his scheme of a Christian Anarchy—a society of men set free from all outward law, set free, from the bondage of self and of evil desires, because the willing servants of a holy Lord" (p. 88, c. IV). The apostle Paul is quoted, on "the splendid anarchy of the slaves of Christ" (93, c. IV), and the anarchy which is established "was truly a Theocracy" (95, c. IV). These confused ideas of anarchism having been aired, the author has everybody except the prince killed off in a natural disaster.


Stanley G. Weinbaum: 'Valley of Dreams' (1934), 'The Ideal' (1935)

'Valley of Dreams' is the sequel to Weinbaum's celebrated 'A Martian Odyssey', which was the first important sf story to treat aliens sympathetically; it is in fact a revision of the first draft of that story, featuring the 'dream-beasts'. It explicitly identifies the Martian polity, or at least that of Tweel's people, as anarchy, and furthermore has one of the Earth explorers defending it as such, describing anarchy as "'the ideal form of government, if it works,'" and government as "'a primitive device'" and "'a confession of weakness'" (1977 Sphere pb edn of A Martian Odyssey and Other Stories, p. 56). Jarvis, anarchy's advocate in the story, does not however expect humans to be advanced enough for its realization on Earth for "'a good many centuries'" (57).

   'The Ideal' centres on a machine for actualising people's ideals. The story includes a passage in which the machine's inventor proves that "anarchy is the best government"; this proposition, coupled with the inventor's apparent belief that anarchy is compatible with nations and warfare, rather casts doubt on Weinbaum's real understanding of the issue.


H.G. Wells: 'The Stolen Bacillus' (1894), 'The Diamond Maker' (1895), The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), A Modern Utopia (1905), In the Days of the Comet (1906), Men Like Gods (1923), Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928), Star-Begotten: A Biological Fantasia (1937)

Wells the political dabbler never understood the need for harmonising ends and means. Anarchism as a future dream he found attractive, but in the contemporary world he directed his activities to the globalization of the state.

   His earliest reference to anarchism was in his 1896 review of Morris's The Well at the Worlds End, in which he recollected discussions at Kelmscott House in the 1880s in which the Chicago Anarchists were much featured. In The Future in America (1906) he recounts the tale of William MacQueen, an anarchist who received a 5 year sentence in 1902 for his involvement in the Paterson weavers strike, though he had done no more than speak. Wells met MacQueen while in the USA, and was quite taken with him, finding him "much my sort of man" (244). MacQueen, a Tolstoyan, had declined to speak on the same platform as Emma Goldman, whom Wells describes as "a mischievous and violent lady anarchist" (240). Socialism and the Family (1906) was reviewed in Freedom in 1907, the reviewer regretfully concluding that "in Mr Wells we have one more apostle of the State" (7). The conclusion was regretted because there is a notable passage in this book in which Wells speaks of anarchy as an ideal: "One's dreamland perfection is Anarchy . . . . All men who dream at all of noble things are Anarchists in their dreams. . . ." (467) In New Worlds for Old (1909), subtitled A Plain Account of Modern Socialism, Wells distinguishes two kinds of anarchism. One is the perfect ideal described above, which he finds exemplified in the utopias of Morris and Hudson; again, however, he emphasizes that the way to reach it is through education and discipline and law (257). The other is that of the historical anarchist movement, which he absolutely rejects; for him this anarchism is "as it were a final perversion of the Socialist stream, a last meandering of Socialist thought, released from vitalizing association with an active creative experience. Anarchism comes when the Socialist repudiation of property is dropped into the circles of thought of men habitually ruled and habitually irresponsible. . . . Anarchism, with its knife and bomb, is a miscarriage of Socialism, an acephalous birth from that fruitful mother." (253) His 1911 novel The New Machiavelli, not sf, refers to the Chicago anarchists, has a minor character with anarchistic leanings, and was reviewed in Mother Earth—"Wells is always at his best when the politician in him is silenced and the artist allowed to speak" (MB 1911: 215). His realist novel The World of William Clissold (1926) mentions Godwin and Proudhon, and was reviewed in Freedom, whose reviewer appreciated the work as provocative (MacF 1927). In The Open Conspiracy (1930) he took issue with Proudhon's assertion that property is robbery, finding it rather "the protection of things against promiscuous and mainly wasteful use" (76). He had earlier taken similar exception to Proudhon in Socialism and the Family, and did so in two works of 1934: in The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind he considers anarchism as the next stage to representative democracy (618), and identifies it as the logical conclusion to the premises of pacifism; and in his Experiment in Autobiography he acknowledges Godwin and Shelley as influences on his own beliefs regarding women, love and marriage (422, 522). In the 1940s Wells was once persuaded to write a piece of prose fiction for George Woodcock's NOW magazine. The work, described by Woodcock as "sadly bumbling", was rejected (Woodcock 1982: 234).

   In the early 'The Stolen Bacillus' an anarchist steals a tube of what he believes to be cholera bacillus but is actually a bacterium which makes monkeys come out in blue patches. It is light humour, but very much at the expense of the anarchist, whose portrayal is a classic caricature: he is "slender", "pale-faced" and "morbid", with a "limp white hand", his undiscriminating motive being apparently no more than the revenge of the little man against society.

   In 'The Diamond Maker' the inventor of a process for the manufacture of diamonds finds it more a liability than an asset—he is taken for an anarchist, and before long the evening papers describe his den as "the Kentish-Town Bomb Factory."

   In The Island of Dr Moreau Moreau, a notorious vivisector, sets up his lab on a South Pacific island and attempts to surgically construct humans from animals; as they revert they turn upon and kill Moreau and his collaborator, only the castaway narrator surviving. Woodcock commented on the book a couple of times. He noted the obvious moral about the potential abuse of science, drawing attention to the similarities between this novel and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, not only in theme but in plot. Interestingly, in his 1947 article he viewed The Island of Dr Moreau as a precursor of the twentieth century dystopian novels, for, he says, "the significant and horrible thing in this book is not the physical vivisection by which animals are turned into the semblances of men, but the psychological conditioning by which their minds are made to work in the kind of mass pattern required by the ruler". (49)

   A Modern Utopia is Wells's vision of a technologically-developed world state, ruled by an enlightened caste, the Samurai. It is, in his view, a realistic alternative to the too-perfect Nowhere of William Morris. Ethel Mannin found this work (as Wells of course intended) "as ethical and disciplinarian as Plato" (Mannin 1940: 38). For Berneri "Wells commits the faults of his forerunners by introducing a vast amount of legislation into his utopia"; she concluded that "Wells's conception of freedom turns out to be a very narrow one" (Berneri: 295). Woodcock found Wells's proposals "disappointingly unrevolutionary" (Woodcock1973: 157) and his samurai elite "disturbing" (158). While it is easily the best-informed modern utopia, and a landmark of utopian literature, its political sympathies are not congenial.

   In the Days of the Comet concerns a tortured romance before, followed by a happy foursome after, the Earth is brushed by a comet's tail; the whole world is magically transformed. Wells wrote of this novel that he had been "forced by the logic of his premises and even against his first intention to present not a Socialist State but a glorious anarchism as the outcome of that rejuvenescence of the world." (Wells 1909: 256). If so, it is an anarchism more curious than glorious, for the polity is in fact a world state, with written laws.

   Men Like Gods is Wells's second utopia, set on a parallel Earth. Government as such withered away about 1000 years before, its place being taken by some discreet coordination of functions coupled with a perfected education. For George Woodcock this is the Godwinian society brought into line with the speculations of Edwardian scientists (Woodcock 1962: 86); but the parallel world treatment, he felt, displayed Wells's pessimism—Utopia can't really be part of our future (Woodcock 1973: 159). Marie-Louise Berneri saw this novel as "Wells's News from Nowhere, a Nowhere which would have been too scientific and streamlined for Morris's taste, but which gets rid of much of the bureaucracy, coercion and moral compulsion that pervade A Modern Utopia" (303). In reality it is the same utopia, but with the authoritarianism better concealed.

   In the underrated Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island Blettsworthy spends several years on an island of cannibals, where megatheria still live—except that it all turns out to be his own psychotic delusions. Towards the end, Sacco and Vanzetti feature interestingly in Blettsworthy's relapse: they are transformed into missionaries to the benighted Rampole Island, and all the islanders symbolically share in the guilt of their executioners by partaking sacramentally of their flesh.

   Star-Begotten is a very slight late work speculating on the possibility of Martians tampering with evolution on Earth. In c.8 there is some speculation on a future in which the Martian-influenced homo superior will refuse to fight wars, manufacture armaments, and obey dictators, in which tyrannicide is the norm. This vision is specifically likened to anarchism, and Wells concludes that the Martian influence should be welcomed.

   See also my short piece on 'H.G. Wells and anarchism', in Dana, ed.: AnarchoSF V.1.


Jack Williamson: 'The Equalizer' (1947), 'With Folded Hands . . .' (1947)

In 'The Equalizer' an interstellar task force returns to earth after 20 years in space, to find the world transformed by the discovery of a cheap and limitless power source—governments and nations have been rendered superfluous in what is, loosely, an anarchist utopia made possible by technology. There is an administration called the Brotherhood, however, subscribed to voluntarily, and with unpaid elected officers, whose functions are exclusively constructive—running schools, hospitals, libraries, &c.

   Mentoned by Berneri, 'With Folded Hands . . .'—Williamson's classic story of over-protective humanoids making life not worth living could perhaps be read as anarchist if humanoids are taken as a metaphor for government.


F. Paul Wilson: Healer (1976), Wheels Within Wheels (1979), An Enemy of the State (1980), Sims (2003)

The eponymous Healer uses his gift in a future planetary federation. He becomes the Healer on a planet which had been colonised back in history by a large group of anarchists (actually anarcho-capitalists, but not so described). After a couple of generations the private police forces had got out of hand and tried to set up a feudal state; to prevent this happening again, the colonists had opted for a form of minimal state. There is, at the time of the book's action, no legislature, but a lot of executive, including jail for violent criminals, and even a scientific pillory which measures pain units. At the end the Healer is in a position to be installed as chief executive of the Federation. Happily he retains enough of the anarchist influence to spurn the reins of power.

    In his 2005 foreword, Wilson says that at the time of writing An Enemy of the State he was "pursuing a personal radicalism based on the anarchocapitalist writings of Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard and others." The novel features 'Kyfho', his own "staunchly individualistic, anarchocapitalist philosophy". One chapter has an epigraph from Lysander Spooner's No Treason. The book won the Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award in 1990.

   Wheels Within Wheels won the first ever Prometheus Award in 1979. Sims won the 2004 Prometheus Award.


Peter Lamborn Wilson: 'The Alchemy of Luddism' (2006)

4-page poem/manifesto with sf elements, published in Fifth Estate #373, Fall 2006.

 

Robert Anton Wilson: Schrödinger's Cat (1979–81)

Each volume of Wilson's three-book farce is said by the author to take the form of a different interpretation of quantum mechanics. It is multiply-plotted around various political futures, disappearing scientists, the peregrinations of an amputated penis, orgasm research, plutonium-armed terrorists, and so on. Anarchism per se is not central, but there are numerous references to it. Anarchism is said to be similar to nihilism, both in the types it attracted and in its bad reputation, despite its basis in "materialism, skepticism and a fierce demand for social justice" (Vol. I, 1.1, 'The Home Craftsman'). Terrorists are said to be "much like governments in that their chief occupations were murder and extortion," the differences being that terrorist leaders were usually intellectuals, government leaders usually lawyers, that governments, unlike terrorist, printed their own currency, and that terrorists murdered on a small scale, governments on a huge (Vol. I, 1.2, 'Silent Snow, Secret Snow').

 


photo of front cover of Wilson and Shea's Illuminatus trilogy

Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea: Illuminatus! (1975)

The Illuminatus! trilogy has more to say about more varieties of anarchism than any other work of sf. It is a remarkable display of intersecting paranoid conspiracy theories, interwoven with elements of Verne, Rand and Lovecraft. A number of central characters are anarchists of one form or another. To select two: Simon Moon is a second-generation anarchist, son of an anarchist-pacifist devotee of Tolstoy and an anarcho-syndicalist Wobbly who follows Bakunin; he himself, child of the sixties, has become a Crazy, a yippie-type surrealist anarchist, for whom freedom will come not through love or force, as his parents argue, but through the imagination. He believes that anarchism is only meaningful if it tackles reality itself, holding that reality is "thermoplastic, not thermosetting, you know" (Sphere pb edn, Vol. 1:114) Hagbard Celine shares some common ground with Moon: when asked by Moon to name his game he replies "'Proving that government is a hallucination in the minds of governors'" (1:189); however, although he considers his group to be "'political non-Euclideans'" (1:87), the system he described in his Never Whistle While You're Pissing, often quoted approvingly in Illuminatus, is explicitly anarcho-capitalism; Celine also turns out to be an Illuminatus Primus, amongst other things. More exotically, gorillas and dolphins (one of whom is a character in the book) are all said to be anarchists (II: 29-30), as apparently were the ancient inhabitants of Atlantis (II: 245).

   The definition of anarchism apparently favoured by the authors is quoted from Celine's Never Whistle as

 

That organization of society in which the Free Market operates freely, without taxes, usury, landlordism, tariffs, or other forms of coercion or privilege. RIGHT ANARCHISTS predict that in the Free Market people would voluntarily choose to compete more often than to cooperate. LEFT ANARCHISTS predict that in the Free Market people would voluntarily choose to cooperate more often than to compete." (III: 72)

   In a 1976 interview Wilson said that he and his wife were both convinced in 1961, by reading Kropotkin's article on anarchism in the Britannica. He then read Tucker, followed by all the major anarchists, as well as every issue of Liberty and Mother Earth [Riggenbach]. Asked, the same year, whether he leaned more to leftist or rightwing anarchism, he said:

 

My trajectory is perpendicular to the left-right axis of terrestrial politics. I put some of my deepest idealism into both the Left anarchism of Simon Moon and the Right anarchism of Hagbard Celine in Illuminatus!, but I am detached from both on another level. (Robert Anton Wilson (1980, 1997) The Illuminati Papers: 67)

   Substantial material was cut prior to publication. Wilson said:

 

The portion of hard anarchist propaganda in what got cut is perhaps somewhat greater than in what got printed, but I do not attribute that to a government conspiracy. Editors always amputate the brain first and preserve a good-looking corpse. I knew that, and told Shea they'd do it, so we put in so damned much anarchist material that a lot would be left even after the ceremonial castration. (1976 interview)

   In 2001 he said:

 

I see anarchism as the theoretical ideal to which we are all gradually evolving to a point where everybody can tell the truth to everybody else and nobody can get punished for it. That can only happen without hierarchy and without people having the authority to punish other people.

[. . . ] I tend to shy away from the word anarchist, because most people think it means bomb throwing. And a lot of people who consider themselves anarchists seem to think that too. But I can't use libertarian, because the people who got their grip on that word are even less rational by my standards. I guess "decentralist" is the word I'd have to pick out for myself. Decentralist grassroots Jeffersonian something or other. [Utopia USA interview]

   Late in his life he gave his political views as follows:

 

My early work is politically anarchist fiction, in that I was an anarchist for a long period of time. I'm not an anarchist any longer, because I've concluded that anarchism is an impractical ideal. Nowadays, I regard myself as a libertarian. I suppose an anarchist would say, paraphrasing what Marx said about agnostics being "frightened atheists," that libertarians are simply frightened anarchists. Having just stated the case for the opposition, I will go along and agree with them: yes, I am frightened. I'm a libertarian because I don't trust the people as much as anarchists do. I want to see government limited as much as possible; I would like to see it reduced back to where it was in Jefferson's time, or even smaller. But I would not like to see it abolished. I think the average American, if left totally free, would act exactly like Idi Amin. I don't trust the people any more than I trust the government. [Starship]

   See also RAW On Anarchism.

   Illuminatus! made quite a few ripples in the anarchist pond when it first appeared. Even Albert Meltzer enjoyed it as an anarchist in-joke, "a cult book for the cynical esotericist, a Gulliver's Travels of the acid age, or just for laughs"; and he generously commented that "Especially after this book, I am not sure one can deny that some at least of the agorists are anarchists; but they are clearly not what we mean by it." (Meltzer 1977:54), and it was jokily awarded the Cienfuegos Press Fiction Award for 1977. Moorcock—who might have been expected to enjoy the joke—responded more coolly, describing it as "a noisy compendium of rather conventional imaginative ideas" (Moorcock 1978: 44).

    Co-author Robert Shea summed it up: "It is, among other things, a work of anarchist science fiction." (Shea 1980:20). Tied for the 1986 Libertarian Futurist Society Hall of Fame Award. Included in Zeke Teflon's Favorite Anarchist Science Fiction Novels.

 

 

Monique Wittig: Les Guerillères (1969; tr. 1971)

Les Guerillères is a poetic evocation of a band of women fighters for liberation from sexist oppression. It is quote prominently, but without comment, in Open Road's 1978 article. In its emphasis on the necessary purgative power of destruction as a prerequisite for creation it is close to Bakunin's formula equating the two.

 

Bernard Wolfe: Limbo (1952, abridged 1961; aka Limbo 90)

Black comedy set in a future in which disarmament is interpreted literally and amputeeism is exalted as the highest form of uncompromising pacifism. For John Pilgrim it is "a complex novel of the manner in which the world's most idealist government inevitably follows the laws of the nature of power." (Pilgrim 1963: 375).

   The abridged version is better.


Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli: DMZ (collected edition 2006–10)

Graphic novel series, recommended by Common Action at the panel "Beyond The Dispossessed: Anarchism and Science Fiction" at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair in October 2009. The DMZ is the no man's land of Manhattan in the second American civil war.

 

George Woodcock

Woodcock—best-known for his 1962 book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, but later a prolific author and significant man of letters in his adopted country of Canada, was an anarchist throughout his life. Among his works were book-length biographical studies of Aldous Huxley (Dawn and the Darkest Hour, 1972) and George Orwell (The Crystal Spirit, 1966), not to mention his biography of William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father (William Godwin: A Biographical Study, 1989). Woodcock became a personal friend of Orwell's, and kept up a correspondence until the latter's death. They were both active members of the Freedom Defence Committee at the time of the 1945 prosecution of four editors of War Commentary for incitement to disaffection; Woodcock was secretary, Orwell vice-chairman.

 

Graham Wright: Government Explained (2012)

Short animation (9'27"), in which an alien visits Earth to check on the human species, and gets into a conversation with the first person he meets. The alien is told of a thing called 'government', and wants to understand what 'government' is, what it does, and why it exists. The explanations are greeted with incredulity. As well as the video, there is a full transcript.

 

John C. Wright: The Golden Age (2002)

Densely written sf, that has been characterised as anarcho-capitalist. The far-future society, the Oecumene, is a sort of utopia for the immensely wealthy. In an interview published the same year as the novel, Wright said that what he was proposing was "a libertarian utopia, blissfully without public property." Asked if the Golden Age was indeed a utopia, he said:

 

Only compared to our present age. My story has fraud and kidnapping and attempted murder, secrecy and deceptions and espionage and sabotage, as well as crimes for which we do not have names, such [as] mind-rape and mnemonic abductions. So it is not so utopian as to lack all drama.

But there are no mass-murders, no death camps, no race bigotry, no hate-mongers, and, for that matter, no famine, no disease, no insanity, and no necessary limit to lifespan; I am proposing a government so unobtrusive and so honest that few citizens even realize it exists; the social organization in the Golden Age is entirely voluntary.

Unlike the utopias of the socialist writers in the 1920's and 1960's, I assume that there is private property, rule of law, and individual freedom, and at least one soldier still ready to stand to arms to defend those freedoms, even if he is ignored and despised by an ungrateful society.

This is the first volume of a trilogy—the others being The Phoenix Exultant and The Golden Transcendence (both 2003).

    In his blog in 2010 Wright said explicitly that he is not an anarchist.

 

S. Fowler Wright: Spiders' War (1954)

"It is certainly no Utopia, but it fits fairly closely Fowler Wright's views about how life really ought to be lived. Like so many of his contemporaries, though, the author could not quite believe in his fellow men as fit creatures for an ideal world, and so these tribesmen are credited with telepathic powers, taking decisions by means of telepathic plebiscite. (There is no governmental structure in this Libertarian society, nor any bureaucracy or police force.)" (Stableford: 285)

   A curiosity, with credible giant spiders and an almost sympathetic portrayal of human cannibalism. Lawless and vaguely libertarian, but impersonally amoral.


Philip Wylie: The Disappearance (1951)

The disappearance is of males and females from each other's worlds, a sudden and inexplicable event which allows Wylie to examine conditioned sex roles and stereotyping with some degree of perception. For Pilgrim this brilliant book was "one of the most convincing diagnoses of the ills of human society with which I have met." (368).

 

John Wyndham: The Day of the Triffids (1951), The Kraken Wakes (1953)

The Day of The Triffids is a well-known disaster story centring on murderous plants. In The Kraken Wakes 4/5 of the world population dies from the onslaught of aliens who invade the ocean deeps. Both novels were named by D.R. in Freedom's 1958 review of Maine's The Tide Went Out, as earlier examples of the same genre.

 


An beside the title means an item's particularly recommended by me. See my hotlist, for these recommendations only.

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