What exactly does  “anarchist science fiction” mean? Stories written by anarchists? Stories with anarchist characters? Stories with anarchist settings? Stories that make anarchist political and social points? Stories with an “anarchist sensibility” (whatever that is)? Stories that anarchists will simply enjoy? All of the above? Who knows…..

We coverBecause of this, I’ve taken a somewhat expansive approach and have included a number of non-anarchist political sci-fi novels in this list simply because I think anarchists would enjoy them. They comprise maybe a third of the total. I’ve added brief comments about books I’ve read recently and those that particularly stand out in memory. I’m still adding to the list, which is far from complete – it’s simply a list of books I’ve read and that I recommend. (I’ve included a couple that I don’t particularly like, but included anyway because they are specifically anarchist or part of a series;  in the comments preceding or following the titles, I’ve noted them.)

If you notice that any of your anarchist sci-fi favorites are missing from this list, please leave a comment mentioning them.

Here’s the list — the links go to reviews on this site.

Anarchy symbol

Margaret AtwoodWindup Girl cover

  • The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). More speculative social fiction than science fiction,  The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood’s horrifying vision of what would happen to America, and especially American women, if fundamentalists seized power. Antiauthoritarian, but not specifically anarchist.

Paolo Bacigalupi

  • The Windup Girl (2009). Beautifully written. Probably the best cautionary tale about corporate-controlled genetic modification and control of food sources. Antiauthoritarian and anti-corporatist, but not specifically anarchist. (Note: Friends in the life sciences tell me that Bacigalupi is wildly inaccurate in some biological specifics, that he’s every bit as inaccurate here as he is in portraying climate change in the Southwest in The Water Knife.)

Iain M. Banks

The following are Banks’ “Culture” novels–space opera on a grand scale. While set in the same universe, all work as stand-alone novels. All are set in a galaxy-spanning, far-future anarchist and atheist society, and all feature strong, believable characters (including AIs), complicated ethical dilemmas, and frequent dark humor. Of them, the two best are probably Player of Games and Surface Detail, and the weakest is probably The Hydrogen Sonata.

  • Consider Phlebas (1987)
  • The Player of Games (1988)
  • Use of Weapons (1990)
  • Excession (1996)
  • Inversions (1998)
  • Look to Windward (2000)
  • Matter (2008)
  • Surface Detail (2010)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

Transition by Iain M. BanksAnother of Banks’ sci-fi novels worth your time is

  • Transition (2009). It’s a parallel-worlds tale which deals with a wide range of social and political problems, ranging from the character deformation endemic to capitalism, to power-grubbing within hierarchies, to the question of whether the ends ever justify the means. The first half of the book is hard to follow, made up of disparate, apparently unrelated strands from the p.o.v. of different characters, but the tale eventually coalesces and concludes quite satisfactorily.

John Brunner

  • The Sheep Look Up. (1972) Probably the best early science fiction novel about the environmental crisis; antiauthoritarian, but not anarchist.

Several of Brunner’s other sci-fi novels are also enjoyable, particularly Shockwave Rider (1975) and The Crucible of Time (1983)(But don’t pick up one of Brunner’s novels at random and expect a good read — his output was very uneven.)

The Fourth World by Dennis Danvers front coverDennis Danvers

  • The Fourth World (2000). An intermediate-future novel set in the southern Mexico of the Zapatistas, and a very good book that deserves to have sold much better than it did.
  • The Watch (2003). A time travel novel set in Richmond, Virginia, featuring Peter Kropotkin as the primary character. An accurate portrayal of Kropotkin and his ideas, but not particularly engaging, in part because Danvers presents Kropotkin (in line with his actual character) as quite saintly and unconflicted, which isn’t a great prescription for the primary character in a novel.

Cory Doctorow

  • Walkaway (2017).  An intelligent, in places funny, near-future novel about the emergence of a post-scarcity anarchist society in the shadow of the “default reality” corporatist surveillance state.


Greg Egan

  • Distress  (1995). A hard sci-fi novel with pointed political and social commentary, largely set on an artificial island called “Stateless.” If you’re looking for a detailed description of how an anarchist society might operate, this isn’t it, but Distress is worth reading nonetheless.
  • The Four Thousand, The Eight Hundred (2016). An all too timely cautionary tale about xenophobia, demagoguery, scapegoating, and persecution of minorities. Not explicitly anarchist, but antiauthoritarian.

El Akkad, Omar

  • American War (2017). Not anarchist, and only implicitly antiauthoritarian, American War is almost certainly the best fictional depiction of the psychological and physical devastation caused by America’s interventionist wars, and the hatred and terrorism they engender.

Mick Farren

  • cover of "The Armageddon Crazy" by Mick FarrenTheir Master’s War (1987). Antiauthoritarian but not anarchist. A page-turner concerning militarism, imperialism, and religious manipulation.
  • The Armageddon Crazy (1989). An antiautoritarian, at times very funny, and all-too-relevant novel about a fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government.

(These are Farren’s two best sci-fi novels, and the only two I’d unreservedly recommend.)

Harry Harrison

  • The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (1987). On the surface this book seems to be escapist sci-fi, but it’s actually a well thought out political novel that perceptively treats mutualist anarchism and nonviolent resistance. Quite probably the best book in the Stainless Steel Rat series.

Robert Heinlein

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). Deals with an anarcho-capitalist society on the moon at odds with an authoritarian Earth.

James P. HoganCode of the Lifemaker cover

  • Voyage from Yesteryear (1982). Features a setting directly derived from  Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism.
  • Code of the Lifemaker (1983). Hogan’s very funny tale of science versus religious fanaticism is a nearly forgotten gem; not anarchist, but antiauthoritarian.
  • The Immortality Option (1995). The sequel to Code of the Lifemaker; it’s also worth reading, but be sure to read Code of the Lifemaker first.

Ursula Le Guin

  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). Leguin’s classic novel on gender relations.
  • The Dispossessed (1974). Considered by many the classic anarchist sci-fi novel, its backdrop, for half of the book, is an anarchist society set on the planet Anarres. That society is well drawn, though dryly and unflatteringly (at least in my opinion; others would disagree).

Of Le Guin’s many other novels, the one I’d most recommend is The Lathe of Heaven (1971), which holds up well nearly half a century after it appeared.


Ken Macleod

The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod front coverThe first four novels are set in the same universe, but are not parts of a series. The next three are a loose trilogy.

  • The Star Fraction (1995)
  • The Stone Canal (1996). The setting is an anarcho-capitalist society.
  • The Cassini Division (1998). The setting is an anarcho-communist society.
  • The Sky Road (1999)
  • Cosmonaut Keep (2000)
  • Dark Light (2001)
  • Engine City (2002)
  • The Night Sessions (2008). A cautionary tale of religious fanaticism
  • Intrusion (2012). A frighteningly plausible dystopian novel of an all-pervasive surveillance state. A modern 1984.
  • Corporation Wars: Dissidence (2016)
  • Corporation Wars: Insurgence (2016)
  • Corporation Wars: Emergence (2017)

Paul J. McAuley

  • The Quiet War (2008)Quiet War Omnibus
  • Gardens of the Sun (2009)

Antiauthoritarian but not anarchist, these two  novels comprise McAuley’s “Quiet War” series. They’re set in the medium-distant future following ecological collapse on Earth, and concern the brutal aggression of the authoritarian empires that emerged from the chaos against the in-some-ways anarchistic “Outers” who have colonized the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. There are two later novels set in the same universe, In the Mouth of the Whale (2012) and Evening’s Empires (2013).  These are largely stand-alone novels. In the Mouth of the Whale is best avoided (very slow reading), but Evening’s Empires is a pretty decent apolitical quest/revenge tale.

Many of McAuley’s other science fiction novels are worth reading. Two that come to mind are Pasquale’s Angel and White Devils.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan front cover

Richard K. Morgan

  • Altered Carbon (2002). The first of a brutal, noirish trilogy with distinct anarchist undertones.
  • Broken Angels (2003). The second in the series.
  • Woken Furies (2005). The third book in the series.
  • Market Forces (2004). An overtly political projection of the future of corporate capitalism.
  • Thirteen (2007). A very dystopian look at a future theofascist USA.

Annalee Newitz

  • Autonomous, by Annalee Newitz front coverAutonomous (2017). Deals with the underestimated dangers of the corporate stranglehold on “intellectual property,” the horrors it could lead to, and possible forms of resistance to it.

Claire North

  • 84K (2018). A well written, brutal dystopian tale about capitalism taken to its logical extreme (slavery — maximizing profits by minimizing labor costs). 84K is definitely not anarchist and is very short on solutions, but it does provide a gut-wrenching depiction of the emotional and physical carnage that seems all too possible should authoritarian capitalism continue careening downhill into the neoliberal chasm.

Nicholas P. Oakley

  • The Watcher (2014). Explores primitivism, the role of technology in society, and consensus decision making. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)

George Orwell

  • Animal Farm (1945). Orwell’s satirical critique of stalinism.
  • 1984 (1949). Dreary and depressing – as it’s intended to be – but essential. Orwell’s projection of the logical progression of stalinism.

Eliot Peper

  • Bandwidth (2018). A thought-provoking near-future thriller about online manipulation (basically Facebook on steroids), the climate change crisis, and whether the ends, no matter how noble, ever justify the means.

Marge Piercy

  • Woman on the Edge of Time  (1976)

Mike Resnick

  • A Hunger in the Soul (1998). Set in a barely disguised Africa, this is probably the best sci-fi treatment of the psychology of colonialism. Not anarchist, but well worth a read.

Alastair ReynoldsChasm City cover

  • Revelation Space (2000)
  • Chasm City (2001).

The “Revelation Space” novels comprise a fairly loose series set on and around a far future world featuring direct electronic democracy, human-machine integration, uplifted animals, class stratification, and orbiting habitats with a vast array of social structures.  All of the books in the series work as stand-alone novels.

One of the sequels, The Prefect (2007), is worth reading sheerly for its entertainment value, as is the new one, Elysium Fire (2018). It features the same cast of characters as The Prefect, and is a tightly written tale of murder, mystery, and revenge.

Kim Stanley RobinsonCover of Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Lucky Strike (2009). A fine if short parallel-universes novella on the morality of “just following orders.” This is Robinson at his best.

A number of readers have suggested including Robinson’s novels here, especially the “Mars” books. I haven’t done so simply because this is a list of anarchist and anarchist-related novels that I would recommend, and overall I’m not a fan of Robinson’s novels. The two I would recommend (neither related to anarchism) are Galileo’s Dream  (2009) and Aurora (2015).

Rudy Rucker

The “ware” books comprise a very funny short tetralogy (written before the average sci-fi novel bloated to 700 pages) set in part against the backdrop of a sympathetically portrayed anarchist mechanoid society on the moon. The first two books in particular are gems.

  • Software (1982)
  • Wetware (1988)
  • Freeware (1997)
  • Realware (2000)

John Shirley

  • Bioshock Rapture (2012). This novel is a prequel to the popular Bioshock video game. It’s of interest because it concerns the development of a cloistered Objectivist (Ayn Randist) society. Shirley does a good job of outlining some of the horrors that such a society would produce, but the worst horrors he describes are produced by the cloistering, which undercuts the critique of Objectivism as such.  As well, because he was essentially in a straitjacket when he wrote this, Shirley incorporates fantastical elements from the game that are unnecessary from a fictional standpoint and that detract from the novel’s power. But it’s worth reading anyway.

Norman Spinrad

  • The Iron Dream coverThe Iron Dream (1972). Alternately chilling and darkly funny, The Iron Dream’s premise is that Hitler emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, became a science fiction illustrator, and wrote a single sci-fi novel: The Iron Dream. The bulk of Spinrad’s book is comprised of the “manuscript” of that “novel.” An excellent illustration of the ugliness of the authoritarian psyche.

Many of Spinrad’s other antiauthoritarian sci-fi novels, such as Greenhouse Summer (1999) and He Walked Among Us (2009), both of which concern the ecological crisis, are also worth reading. Getting somewhat away from sci-fi, Mind Game (1980) is Spinrad’s insightful treatment of a barely disguised Church of Scientology, and probably the best novel about cults ever written.

Charles Stross

  • The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross, cover imageSingularity Sky (2003). A military sci-fi/time-travel tale that features anarchist characters in an authoritarian setting.
  • Iron Sunrise (2004). The sequel to Singularity Sky.
  • Glass House (2006). A suspenseful, brutal tale about gender roles and conformity.
  • The Apocalypse Codex (2012). One of Stross’s genre-bending, amusing Laundry Files series, The Apocalypse Codex deals with a televangelist, his literally brain dead followers, and tentacled Lovecraftian horrors. Its treatment of both the absurdity and deadly menace of Christian fundamentalism is spot on.
  • Neptune’s Brood (2013). A strange, sometimes funny story about the structure of interstellar finances and financial fraud. Part of the book is set in a sympathetically portrayed deep sea anarchist society of genetically modified humans.
  • The Rhesus Chart (2014). Another entertaining Laundry Files novel. The Rhesus Chart deals with the big banks, and has a clear, concise explanation of exactly how they’re screwing us.
  • The Delirium Brief (2017). This latest Laundry Files novel has privatization schemes as its backdrop, and contains an admirably concise explanation of how such schemes rob the public to the benefit of the rich and the corporations they control. (A Note on the Laundry Files books: While they can be read as stand-alone novels, they’re a lot more fun to read if you read them in order, starting with The Atrocity Archives [2004]).
  • Empire Games (2017). The first book in the new “Merchant Princes” trilogy, Empire Games deals in large part with an even-more-overtly repressive, surveillance-state USA than our current pseudo-democratic nightmare.  Stross provides enough background information that Empire Games works as a stand-alone novel, but for the inconclusive ending.
  • Dark State (2018). The same comments apply to Dark State, the second book in the new trilogy. The third and final book, Invisible Sun, is scheduled for January 2019.

Stross’s work is antiauthoritarian, though anarchism is treated overtly only in Neptune’s Brood. Almost all of his other books, particularly Halting State (2007), Rule 34 (2011), and nearly all of the Laundry Files novels are excellent reads.

Arkady and Boris StrugatskyDoomed City front cover

  • The Doomed City (2016). A bleak, brutal dissection of the Soviet Union and the ideology that produced its horrors. Written in 1972, the brothers Strugatsky kept this novel under wraps for over 15 years until it was finally published in Russian in 1989 during perestroika; at long last it’s now available in English.
  • The Snail on the Slope (2018). A new translation of another Strugatsky classic dealing in large part with the insanity and inanity of Soviet-style bureaucracy. Much shorter than The Doomed City, with shallower criticism of the Soviet system, but an easier read.

Of the Strugatsky’s many other sci-fi novels, the two I’d most recommend are their two most popular: Roadside Picnic and Hard To Be a God. Both are more coherent and much more entertaining than the two novels listed above.

George TurnerDrowning Towers front cover

  • Drowning Towers (UK title: The Sea and Summer) (1987). Drowning Towers was the first major novel about climate change and is still one of the best, if not the best. It’s not anarchist and barely antiauthoritarian, but it is acutely class conscious and a literary masterpiece.

The quality of Turner’s science fiction novels (he was also a literary novelist) was uneven, but mostly good and sometimes great. In addition to Drowning Towers, he produced one other excellent sci-fi novel, Brain Child (1991), which concerns genetic engineering. His final two sci-fi novels, Genetic Soldier (1994) and Down There in Darkness (1999) were decidedly subpar, with the latter being downright awful. (I suspect Turner’s publisher patched together fragments of an incomplete novel.) All of Turner’s earlier sci-fi novels (plus one short story collection, A Pursuit of Miracles [1990]) are worth a read.

T.C. Weber

  • Sleep State Interrupt (2016). A near-future noirish techno-thriller about combatting the surveillance state, and the first book in the BetterWorld trilogy. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)
  • The Wrath of Leviathan (2018). The second book in the trilogy. The concluding volume, Zero-Day Rising, is scheduled for release in September 2019.

Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

  • The Illuminatus Trilogy (1975). More fantasy than science fiction, this hallucinogenic, sprawling mess of a trilogy veers wildly from the unreadable to the unparalleled, featuring sex, drugs, multiple first-person narrators, shifting chronology, stream-of-consciousness narrative, conspiracies on steroids, self-mockery, zombie Nazis, one of the funniest parodies of Ayn Rand’s capitalist-fantasy/romance novels ever written (“Telemacchus Sneezed,” featuring “John Guilt”), and occasional insightful comments on anarchism.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

  • We  (1924). Written by one of the first Soviet dissidents (within the Communist Party), this dreamy, nightmarish, poetic novel of an all-controlling police state is the direct forerunner of 1984.

 

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Related Posts

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Zeke Teflon, who compiled this list, is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, which takes place in part in an anarchist community. He’s currently working on the sequel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals front cover

 

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  1. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Favorite Novels […]

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  2. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Favorite Novels (seesharppress.wordpress.com) […]

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  3. sjhigbee says:

    That’s a really interesting list – many names I knew and some I didn’t… The Rudy Rucker trilogy is one I’ve heard of and thanks to your comments, has now jumped up near the top of my teetering TBR mountain. Kameron Hurley’s ‘God’s War’ also falls firmly into this catagory, along with Lauren Beukes ‘Moxyland’ and ‘Zoo City’.

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    • Thanks for the recommendations. I hadn’t heard of any of them previously, and will find copies. There’re so many sci=-fi novels out there — and so many of them are so awful — that it’s always helpful to get recommendations.

      The Rucker trilogy is hilarious, and it’s easy to find copies in used bookstores for a couple of bucks apiece. I hope you enjoy them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Scott Bieser says:

    The Probability Broach, by L. Neil Smith. Also The Venus Belt, Tom Paine Maru, Brightsuit MacBear and Taflak Lysandra, by same.

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  5. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Favorite Novels (seesharppress.wordpress.com) […]

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  6. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels […]

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  7. […] Ciencia Ficción libertaria Algunos autores que descubrir […]

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  8. […] es la fuerza que invocan, a otro nivel, la ciencia ficción utópica y distópica, el steampunk o la Historia alternativa. Se trata de darle los elementos suficientes al lector para […]

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  9. Peter says:

    My Uber-driver’s recommendation of “We”, which I’d not heard of and see is on your list, led me to Google “anarchist sci-fi”, looking for a novel set here in Richmond, VA. Interesting results! I was thinking of Danver’s “The Watch”. You didn’t mention this excellent novel, but you do have another of his novels, which I’d not heard of! And many other excellent choices!
    p.s. I emailed Mr Danvers when I moved here last year-we haven’t got together yet, but are planning on it. Another of my new radical friends here knows him well!

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    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve read “The Watch,” but didn’t like it: I thought it was boring, in large part because Kropotkin was too one dimensional, too saintly. (This is in line with everything I’ve read about and by him, but that doesn’t make for an interesting fictional character.)

      I will, though, add it, because even though I’m not thrilled with it “The Watch” accurately reflects anarchist principles (unlike a few other “anarchist” sci-fi novels I didn’t include in the list).

      Danvers also wrote two good non-anarchist sci-fi novels in the ’90s that I’d recommend: “End of Days” and its sequel, “Circuit of Heaven.”

      Thanks for bringing this up. I’d been thinking about adding “The Watch” to the list, and this was the prod I needed to do it.

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      • Peter says:

        Zeke, I understand your critique, and am glad you will add it, in spite of those reservations. Glad I’ve found your sight; I’ve known for years that anarchism is very misunderstood, but have lacked good explanations. I’ll enjoy delving into it.
        I see it’s been a couple years since you posted this list-any new additions? Sci-Fi is such a fertile field for such explorations, I always wondered why I haven’t found more titles. But your list will keep me busy for a while!

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      • Hi Peter,

        I update the list fairly often — every time I find a new book worth listing, I do so. Since the list went up in October 2013, I’ve added about ten books to it.

        I’m glad that you’re finding it of use.

        Cheers,
        Zeke

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      • Peter Jones says:

        Good day Zeke, As time allows, and before the next Peter Hamilton opus is released, I’m perusing your website. It’s so surprising and pleasant to find intelligent, humorous and irreverent writing about sci-fi (and life!)

        I may be mistaken, but I thought there was an essay on Anarchism, but I can’t find it now. Perhaps Big Brother removed it….

        Just noticed there’s a companion site where music is reviewed, my other passion. Looking forward to checking it out….other than Zerzan and Jensen, any other writers you recommend? (Not assuming you like them, just 2 of my favorites)

        Peter

        On Tuesday, August 23, 2016, Sharp and Pointed <comment-reply@wordpress.com > wrote:

        > seesharppress commented: “Thanks for the comment. I’ve read “The Watch,” > but didn’t like it: I thought it was boring, in large part because > Kropotkin was too one dimensional, too saintly. (This is in line with > everything I’ve read about and by him, but that doesn’t make for an int” >

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      • Thanks for the kind words. There’s a good sized list of nonfiction anarchist books I (and Keith McHenry) recommend in the back of our Anarchist Cookbook, which is essentially an antidote to the horrid, muddled, and dangerous (to the user) bomb-making manual of the same title. I put it up on the blog here.

        Of the books in the list, the two I always recommend most highly are Alexander Berkman’s What Is Anarchism? and Colin Ward’s Anarchy in Action. For historical looks at anarchist movements, I’d recommend Sam Dolgoff’s The Anarchist Collectives and Voline’s The Unknown Revolution. For brief intros, I’d recommend About Anarchism, by Colin Ward, and Anarchism: What It Is and What It Isn’t.

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  10. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels […]

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  11. Drop everything and read Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds, a rambling (and not very scientific, but well-told) yarn of a woman whose adventures include Jovian-moon space pirates, Martian dictatorship, and a spell in the top coordinating committee for an anarchist Earth.

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  12. Flattered to be on the list with such company. For more about Sleep State Interrupt, see http://savethereefs.wixsite.com/sleepstateinterrupt.

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  13. Phil says:

    I also highly recommend “F-Day: The Second Dawn Of Man” by Colin R. Turner, which portrays a possible transition from our current economic model to a global “free-from-trade” anarchist society

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  14. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels […]

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  15. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels […]

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  16. Dabooda says:

    Absolutely must read Alongside Night, by J Neil. Schulman. Gotta love a book that creates the “No State Insurance Company.” Written in the style of Heinlein’s juveniles, the characters find a parallel free-market economic system alongside the night of modern tyranny.

    Also must read: Thieves Emporium, by Max Hernandez. How the internet & dark web can create a functioning society without government.

    And add The Iron Web, by Larken Rose, whose nonfiction book The Most Dangerous Superstition, is a sort of secular bible for anarchists. The Iron Web is fiction about an anarchist community beseiged by the US Government. A wonderful story, containing the best Presidential Inaugural Address EVER. It’s not science fiction, I suppose

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  17. […] Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels […]

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  18. Rudolf says:

    Here’s hoping that more of the books on this list become popular, as Altered Carbon has become a Netflix original TV show: https://www.netflix.com/ca/title/80097140

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