by Zeke Teflon
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…..
Because 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 will 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 following the titles, I’ve noted those I do not recommend.)
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.
- The Handmaid’s Tale. (1985) More speculative social fiction than science fiction. Atwood’s horrifying vision of what would happen to America, and especially American women, if fundamentalists seized power. Antiauthoritarian, but not specifically anarchist.
- 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.
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)
- 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. (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 engaging, in part because Danvers presents Kropotkin (in line with his actual character) as too saintly.
- Distress. (1995) A hard sci-fi novel with pointed political and social commentary, largely set on an artificial island called “Stateless.”
- Their 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-timely novel about a fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government.
- The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted. (1987) A well thought out book disguised as escapist sci-fi that concerns mutualist anarchism and nonviolent resistance. Probably the best of the Stainless Steel Rat series.
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (1966) Deals with an anarcho-capitalist society on the moon at odds with an authoritarian Earth.
James P. Hogan
- 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.
- 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).
The 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.
Paul J. McAuley
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.
- The Quiet War (2008)
- Gardens of the Sun (2009)
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.
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 the future USA.
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.)
- 1984. (1949) Dreary and depressing–as it’s intended to be–but essential. Orwell’s projection of the logical progression of stalinism.
- Animal Farm. (1945) Orwell’s satirical critique of stalinism.
- Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)
- 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.
- Revelation Space. (2000) Antiauthoritarian but not specifically anarchist.
- Chasm City. (2001) Not a sequel, but set in the same universe as Revelation Space.
A third largely nonpolitical novel set in the same universe, The Prefect (2007), is also a good read.
Kim Stanley Robinson
- Lucky Strike. (2009) A fine if short parallel-universes novella on the morality of “just following orders.”
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)
- 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.
- The Iron Dream (1972). Alternately chilling and darkly funny. The premise is that Hitler emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, became a science fiction illustrator, and wrote a single 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), 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. It took guts to write that book.
- Singularity Sky (2003) Not anarchist but antiauthoritarian.
- Iron Sunrise. (2004) The sequel to Singularity Sky.
- Glass House. (2006) A brutal tale about gender roles and conformity.
- 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.
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 all of the “Laundry” novels–especially The Rhesus Chart (2014)–are excellent reads.
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 unparalleled to the unreadable, 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.
- 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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A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.
- Anarchist Science Fiction Links (seesharppress.wordpress.com)
- By Any Other Name: A Norman Spinrad Retrospective (thequietus.com)