Archive for the ‘Anarchist Science Fiction’ Category


2016 was a good year for us  (if not for U.S. democracy, the rest of the world, and the environment).

In our first half-year, in 2013, this blog received 2,500 hits; in our first full year, 2014, it received 8,000; in 2015, 9,800; and in 2016 the number jumped to 14,900.

We also hit 400 subscribers in December; had our best month ever in that same month, with over 2,100 hits; and had our best week ever, last week, with just under 1,000 hits.

Our 10 most popular posts in 2016 were:

  1. Anarchist Science Fiction: Essential Novels
  2. Alcoholics Anonymous Does More Harm than Good
  3. A very brief History of Calypso and Soca Music
  4. Back to the Terrifying Future: Sci-Fi E-book Giveaway
  5. A very brief History of Country Music
  6. God’s Thug: Brigham Young
  7. A very brief History of Funk Music
  8. Alt-Country Player Al Perry
  9. Review: The Martian, by Andy Weir
  10. Homecoming for Mormon Missionaries

During the coming year we’ll continue to post daily (well, we’ll try) on music, politics, science fiction, religion, atheism, cults, science, skepticism, humor, and anything else we think is interesting and that our readers might enjoy.

Over the coming month, we’ll post an excerpt from our upcoming title, Venezuelan Anarchism: The History of a Movement, by Rodolof Montes de Oca, reviews of two new sci-fi novels, Ken Macleod’s Insurgence and Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year, more on the “Russian hacking” affair, more interesting and marginally useful Internet crap, and a good old fashioned Religion Roundup.

Be on the lookout for another e-book giveaway sometime reasonably soon.

 


Sharp and Pointed has been around for just over three years, and we’ve put up just over 1,000 posts —  this  is number 1,001 — in 37 categories. Coincidentally, we reached 30,000 hits yesterday.

Science fiction is probably our most popular category, and we’ve put up nearly 100 sci-fi posts. Here, in no particular order, are those we consider the best.

This is the first of our first-1,000 “best of” posts. We’ll shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Addictions, Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Interviews, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.


(It’s shocking, we know, but we made critical typos when we put up this list a couple of weeks ago, and as a result  “404ed” our readers when they clicked on the links. Our apologies if you were one of them. All of the links work correctly now, so . . . back to the original post.)

We’re in the process of extracting and posting pdf excerpts from our approximately 35 in-print books. All of the samples are good sized, ranging from one to six chapters. For ease of access, we’ve divided the books into categories; there is some overlap, as some of the books fall into more than one category. Here’s what we’ve posted so far:

HumorBible Tales for Ages 18 and Up, by G. Richard Bozarth, front cover

Music

Politics

Psychology

Religion / Atheism

Science Fiction

Skepticism

For more free samples and complete books and pamphlets in html format, check out the See Sharp Press Texts on Line page.


We’re in the process of extracting and posting pdf excerpts from our approximately 35 in-print books. All of the samples are good sized, ranging from one to six chapters. For ease of access, we’ve divided the books into categories; there is some overlap, as some of the books fall into more than one category. Here’s what we’ve posted so far:

 

HumorBible Tales for Ages 18 and Up, by G. Richard Bozarth, front cover

Music

Politics

Psychology

Religion / Atheism

Science Fiction

Skepticism

For more free samples and complete books and pamphlets in html format, check out the See Sharp Press Texts on Line page.


“Those at the top of the authoritarian pyramid . . . must attempt to do . . . the decision-making for the whole society. But a man with a gun is told only that which people assume will not provoke him to pull the trigger. Since all authority and government are based on force, the master class . . . faces the servile class . . . precisely as a highwayman faces his victim. [Honest] communication is possible only between equals.”

–“Hagbard Celine” in Robert Anton Wilson’s and Robert Shea’s The Golden Apple, Book II of the Illuminatus Trilogy


by Zeke Teflon

One of the current standard complaints in science fiction circles is that there’s too much dystopian sci-fi (and way too much hack-work, trivial sci-fi, though the complainers rarely mention this), and too  little “positive” sci-fi. There’s some truth in such complaints, given that authors’ environments inevitably influence what they write, and there’s little reason for optimism in current environments. If you project present-day social, political, economic, and technological conditions and trends into the future, you’ll very probably end up with a dystopian backdrop. As a result, it’s easier to write a believable dystopian novel than it is to write a believable utopian novel.

Wasp FactoryBut such novels exist. Perhaps the best examples are Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” novels. Given the author’s previous works, these novels came as a bit of a surprise. Prior to beginning the Culture series, Banks was a “literary” novelist, best known for his first book, The Wasp Factory (1984). While it’s very well written, it’s also horrifying and depressing. It’s one of the very few well written books I’ve encountered that I wouldn’t recommend and that I regret reading. (Friends have told me that their reactions to the book were similar.)

So, the Culture series came as a surprise. All nine of the novels in it are set in “the Culture,” a far-future, galaxy-spanning, post-scarcity anarchist/atheist society where there’s economic abundance for all, where individuals have complete freedom as long as they respect the freedom of others, and where the necessary economic and technological underpinnings of society (manufacturing, transportation, communications, etc.) are managed by vast artificial intelligences (“Minds”–the word is capitalized). In Banks’ Culture universe, the “singularity” (the point at which artificial intelligence outstrips human intelligence) happened in the distant past, and it was a good thing.

This in itself isn’t enough to supply the backdrop for good drama. That’s supplied by various primitive societies still afflicted by government, religion, and capitalism, and the miseries they produce. To deal with these societies, the Culture has its Contact section, and to deal with the thorniest situations, its Special Circumstances (SC) section–essentially an anarchist CIA. The protagonists of most of the Culture books are SC agents.

The first novel in the series, Consider Phlebas, sets the stage for the books to come. But it’s also one of the weakest books in the series, and one can easily skip it and not miss any essential background information. At the same time, to set a low bar, it’s quite a bit better than most sci-fi novels.Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas begins with a prologue, a lengthy bravura passage describing space combat and setting the stage for the fallout from it–the search for a Mind that escaped the combat and sought refuge on a “planet of the dead,” with the Culture attempting to retrieve the Mind, and its enemies, the brutal, religious-fanatic Idirans and their clients, attempting to capture it. The strength of Consider Phlebas is that Banks’ protagonist, Bora Horza, is on the wrong side of the conflict: he’s one of the Idirans’ clients. It’s a tribute to Banks’ writing skills that he makes Horza a by-and-large sympathetic character, spectacularly wrong and occasionally callous, but sympathetic nonetheless. Banks does this in part by putting Horza through pure hell, among other things having him nearly drown in a cell filling with sewage, and being brutally tortured and nearly eaten alive by a religious cult.

Another strength of the book is that Banks’ looks at the question of what is sentient life? Does it matter if consciousness (not that anyone has adequately defined it) runs on meat hardware or solid-state hardware? Rather than directly answer this question, Banks implicitly answers it by featuring android characters with distinct personalities and distinct quirks.

The weaknesses of the book include two lengthy, unnecessary stage-setting (Culture background) passages featuring a superfluous character who disappears halfway through the story. Another weakness of Consider Phlebas is that the final third of the book takes place in a massive, Cold War-on-steroids-style bunker/tunnel system on the planet of the dead. Banks provides some memorable combat scenes in this section of the book, but the overall effect is claustrophobic.

Consider Phlebas is a good book, but not especially auspicious as a series-kickoff novel.

Player of GamesBut then came something wonderful: The Player of Games (1988). It’s a complex tale whose protagonist is Jernau Gurgeh, an exceptionally talented player of games of all types. At the beginning of the tale, Gurgeh is not especially likable: he’s shallow, self-obsessed, with no real interests outside of games. The Contact section soon sets him up and then emotionally blackmails him into going on a very peculiar mission. It involves years of travel to a  particularly barbaric, distant civilization, the Azad empire, to take part as a guest player in a gaming tournament, playing the game Azad (Banks might have gotten the name from the Spanish word azar, “chance”) that determines that empire’s next emperor. The reason for this seemingly pointless errand is the central question in the novel. Gurgeh is accompanied on this apparent snipe hunt by the novel’s most attractive  character, the sarcastic, often funny  ‘droid Flere-Imsaho. (At one point, Gurgeh is maundering about “fate,” and Flere-Imsaho responds, “What’s next? God? Ghosts?”)

Once at their destination, Gurgeh immerses himself in the tournament, but is almost simultaneously introduced to the terrible nature of the Azad empire (poverty, homelessness, gross economic inequality, political repression, wars of conquest, systematic rape, torture, and murder). This exposure pushes Gurgeh to move beyond his immersion in the trivial and to explore his basic values; the farther he advances in the Azad tournament, the more he learns of the horrors of the Azad society, and the more emotionally disturbed he becomes. Throughout, the tension builds until the book reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

If there are any weak points in Player of Games, they’re not apparent. The plot is complex; the characters believable; the background exotic;  the dialogue crisp; the descriptions vivid; Banks makes his social and political points without being didactic; and there’s quite a bit of humor. (The whimsical names of Culture starships provide one example: names used in the series include Nervous Energy, Just Read the InstructionsSize Isn’t Everything, and God Told Me To Do It.) There’s even a wonderful, unexpected kicker in the book’s final pages.

If you’re going to read only one of Banks’ Culture novels, Player of Games would be a good choice.

Tragically, Iain M. Banks died last year of pancreatic cancer at age 60.  But he left us with a legacy of fine science fiction books; his nine Culture novels comprise very probably the best “positive” sci-fi series ever written.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals front cover


(This is an archived post. Starting August 23, 2015 we’ll no longer put up science fiction posts on this blog; from now on, our science fiction posts will appear on our new sci-fi blog, Rip Roaring Reviews. All archived music posts on this blog have been transferred to Rip Roaring Reviews, some in updated and improved form.)

Free Radicals front cover

Here are a few comments from reviews of Free Radicals:

“Solidly entertaining . . . reminiscent of early Mick Farren.” —Publishers Weekly Online

“[T]he plot holds the reader’s interest and should appeal to a fairly broad audience.” —Booklist Online

“Among the best future-shock reads in years . . . If we lived in the ’60s and ’70s when audience-rattling paperbacks like Naked Lunch were cheap, plentiful and available on pharmacy spinner-racks, critics would hail Free Radicals as a masterpiece.” —Tucson Weekly

 

Chapter 1

I woke up this mornin’ and I got myself a . . .
Well, you can see where this is going . . .

Kel Turner was snoring, one arm dangling down from the couch toward the remnants of last night’s dinner—nine mostly empty cans of Schlitz Classic Ice and a greasy pizza box, empty but for a cardboard-like wedge missing several bites and resting against one edge of the box. A few roaches were feasting on the half-eaten piece and the hunks of cheese stuck to the bottom of the box.

Kel stirred. He opened one eye. He screamed.

There, on the end of his nose, staring at him, antennas wriggling, sat a large, brown sewer roach. Kel levitated a meter into the air and batted the roach away. He ran to the bathroom and scrubbed his face viciously. Three times.

He filled his his hands with water and emptied them over the top of his head. While smoothing back his hair, he smarted as his hand hit a large knot on the back of his scalp. Where had that come from? He carefully put his fingertips on the knot and winced, feeling what seemed like an inch-long cut. He pulled his hand back in front of his face and looked at his fingers. Flecks of blood. He washed and dried his hands, pulled his hair away from the wound again, put his fingertips on the cut, and put them back before his face. This time there was no blood. But it still hurt.

As he walked out of the bathroom, he bumped his knee on the handle of the vanity door; he gasped and reached down. His knee, no, both of his knees, were rubbed raw. What in hell had he done last night? He turned back to the sink, splashed more water on his face and hair, and muttered, “Jesus Festering Christ.”

There were black bags under his eyes, three days’ worth of stubble, long, grey, greasy strands of hair hanging in front of his face, crow’s feet spreading around his eyes like the cracks in drying mud, and a jello-like pot gut he could hold in both hands and jiggle up and down like a lard-filled beach ball. Once you were off Comp-Med, this shit happened fast. Kel was only a hundred and eighty centimeters tall, but he easily weighed a hundred kilos, and all too much of it wasn’t muscle.

He grunted in disgust, walked back into the room he called home, and started to pick up empty beer cans. To his surprise, the first one, a can of Schlitz Classic, was almost full; and it would be a shame to waste it. He took a sip. Warm, but not totally flat. It would do.
What the hell time was it? He took a hit of warm beer and blinked a gummy eyelid twice, but his readout didn’t come up. Of course not. When would he stop doing that?

His implants had been wiped in the EMP bursts during The Troubles. Then, it had been nukes exploding above the atmosphere, taking out anything with an unshielded chip for hundreds of miles in all directions. Now, any asshole who could build a half-meter parabolic dish, who knew the meaning of “high energy radio frequency,” and who could tell one end of a soldering iron from the other, could construct a HERF gun, point it in any direction, and fry all of the electronics in its beam that weren’t heavily shielded. So no. No inner-ocular displays.

Kel remembered what it had been like after the first EMP bursts: the feeling of loneliness, of being cut off from the rest of humanity. It had taken him weeks to adjust, and some people never had, like the dust addicts infesting the slumped nano buildings just down the street, shuddering, coughing, staring into space at nonexistent displays. The neuro-stim addicts were even worse, not that there were many still around. The EMP bursts had fried the tissue around their pleasure-center ‘trodes, and most who hadn’t been reduced to drooling cretins had committed suicide within weeks: no way to feel pleasure, no reason to live. Even a lot of people with ordinary inductive implants and no brain damage had gone bat-shit crazy; some said the abrupt connectivity cut felt like being struck blind. Today, two decades later, all it meant to Kel was that he’d have to learn the time from his wall screen. But that could wait.

He went to the apartment’s window, pulled up the blinds, wiped some of the grime from the top pane with the side of his hand, smeared it on the back of his pants, and peered out. The window, so old it wasn’t even photosensitive, mercifully faced north, so he was spared the agony of direct sunlight.

At first glance, things looked normal. The huge, 3-D ads floating before the apartments on the opposite side of the street were flashing their usual come-ons, the two most eye-catching ones directly facing Kel’s apartment. In the first, a heavily muscled, flak-jacketed Uncle Sam, hefting an M-99 over one shoulder, swept a pair of night-vision glasses from side to side. Its message was simple: “Report suspicious activities. Only those with something to hide need be afraid.” The ad had repeated this message endlessly for the past four months.

The second ad showed a gleaming starship blasting off and disappearing into a luminous spiral galaxy: “Your future is in the stars. Live the life you deserve!” The flashy emigration board was in stark contrast to its surroundings: dilapidated 20th‑ and early 21st-century buildings—no arching or branching nano-composite structures here, just concrete, steel, glass, and brick rectangular monstrosities interspersed with debris-strewn vacant lots and, still, the slumped remains of some of the early nano buildings that had been sprayed during The Troubles.

Depending on how much of a dose they got, they’d either oozed into gelatinous puddles or slumped into flattened-skull shapes, their windows gaping like deformed eye sockets. The stench from their entombed—or, worse, partially embedded—occupants had been intolerable for weeks after the rioting ended, and even now the only ones who would go into them were dust or spike heads.

Kel stared at the nearest skull-like ruin as a shivering human skeleton crawled out of an “eye” just above ground level and shuffled down the dirty, potholed street. Kel’s gaze followed him as he shambled past shabbily dressed men and women haggling with street vendors amidst the carcasses of graffiti-covered vehicles stranded like beached marine mammals on the street and shattered sidewalk.
As the dust head turned the corner, Kel chuckled when he glanced at the remnants of an airvan buried nose first in the broken glass-strewn corner lot. For perhaps the hundredth time, Kel mused that the driver must have been mighty surprised when his controls and engine went dead. A lot of people in those flying coffins, and on the ground, had died during the EMP bursts. Today, no one in his right mind would even think about getting into one.

Kel shifted his gaze to the right and saw two cops confronting Emmy, a middle-aged, black homeless woman, and an occasional recipient of Kel’s pocket change. One cop pushed her to the ground and began beating her with his club as she pulled her filthy plastic coat over her head. Kel was glad the window was closed so that he couldn’t hear her screams. The other cop pulled out his club and joined in. Kel shuddered as the second cop’s truncheon smashed the hand that covered her face. When the bones in her hand snapped, she reflexively pulled it down, clutching it with her other hand, and the cop connected with her jaw. Her teeth went flying in a spray of red.

The cops stopped. The one who had smashed her face hitched his truncheon back on his belt and stood towering, triumphant over Emmy’s cowering form. Kel saw his mouth start to work and, even though he couldn’t hear him, he was pretty sure, even at a distance of fifty meters, that he could make out the final word, “bitch.” . . . Fucking cops! And not a goddamned thing he could do about it.

The cop who had bashed Emmy’s face reached into his back pocket, looked up at the nearest power pole’s dead surveillance camera, its lens smashed, took something small out of his pocket, and stuffed it into Emmy’s coat. Then he activated his helmet recorder and gestured for his partner to search her. The other cop began roughly pawing the huddled figure, and shortly held up something that Kel couldn’t make out. But he was pretty sure that he knew what it was.

Emmy must have really pissed them off, because this was not the normal drill. Usually, after kicking the shit out of her, they’d drag her ass downtown, book her, and the following day she’d be hauled in front of a judge on a charge of assaulting an officer or resisting arrest. Six months and out. This time, they’d planted a bag of dust or spike on her and would charge her with possession and assaulting an officer.

If they really wanted to fuck with her, they’d bypass the dope charge and accuse her of terrorism. But that would be overkill with Emmy, and they usually reserved that charge for politicals. Whatever the charge, conviction was a foregone conclusion.

Kel exhaled noisily and looked away from Emmy. Thirty meters farther down the sidewalk, sub-teenaged hookers were hustling passersby, paying no attention to the cops, and the cops paying no attention to them. Kel took a long sip of warm beer as he watched a blubbery civ-serv in a rumpled, grey business uni approach the kids, haggle for a few seconds, and then waddle past the cops and Emmy with his hand kneading the butt of a garishly made-up 11-year-old in a see-through red mini. No, there was no reason to worry. Everything was normal.