Posts Tagged ‘Iain M. Banks’


Iain M. Banks

“Ferbin’s father had had the same robustly pragmatic view of religion as he’d had of everything else. In his opinion, only the very poor and downtrodden really needed religion, to make their laborious lives more bearable. People craved self-importance, they longed to be told that they mattered as individuals, not just as part of a mass of people or some historical process. They needed the reassurance that while their life might be hard, bitter and thankless, some reward would be theirs after death. Happily for the governing class, a well-formed faith also kept people from seeking recompense in the here and now, through riot, insurrection or revolution.

“A temple was worth a dozen barracks; a militia man carrying a gun could control a small unarmed crowd only for as long as he was present; however, a single priest could put a policeman inside the head of every one of their flock, for ever.”

Iain M. Banks, Matter


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.


We started this blog in July 2013. Since then, we’ve been posting almost daily.

When considering the popularity of the posts, one thing stands out:  in all but a few cases, popularity declines over time.

As well, the readership of this blog has expanded gradually over time, so most readers have never seen what we consider many of our best posts.

So, over the next week or two we’ll put up lists of our best posts from 2014 and 2015 in the categories of atheism, religion, anarchism, humor, politics, music, science fiction, science, skepticism, book and movie reviews, writing, language use, and economics.

We’ve already put up the best posts of 2013 and the best religion and atheism posts of 2014. Because there were considerably more posts in 2014 and 2015 than in 2013, we’ll be putting up several posts for those years divided by category. Here’s the second of them, the best 2014 posts on science, skepticism, and science fiction. We hope you  enjoy them.

Science

Skepticism

Science Fiction


MOST SCIENCE FICTION IS IRRELIGIOUS — in most sci-fi stories, religion is simply not there. Some sci-fi novels, however, are implicitly or explicitly atheist: some have atheist characters, some revolve around the conflicts of atheists with religious believers and religious institutions, and — to make the definition even looser — some that I’d classify as atheist (more accurately, atheist related) simply critique religion and religious institutions.

The following books do not comprise anything approaching a complete list, even using that loose definition of atheist science fiction. They’re merely the best atheist and atheist-related sci-fi novels that I’ve come across.

I’m sure there are many other good atheist science fiction novels, and I’ll add them to the list as I discover them. If you have any favorites not listed here, please leave a comment about them. (All links in the listings below go to book reviews on this site.)

cover photo and quotation from Mick Farren'ts "Protectorate"

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Margaret Atwood

  • 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. Anti-fundamentalist and antiauthoritarian, but not specifically atheist.

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 atheist and anarchist society, where religion pops up only when there’s an “outbreak” of it somewhere. All of the Culture novels 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. The one that has the most to do with religion, revolving around the sheer viciousness of many religious believers, is Surface Detail; religious fanaticism and the ills it produces features prominently in Consider Phlebas.

  • 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)Bible Tales for Ages 18 and Up, by G. Richard Bozarth

G. Richard Bozarth

  • Bible Tales for Ages 18 and Up (2014). A very funny, very revealing retelling of well known stories from one of the original, though unevenly written and poorly plotted, fantasy novels. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)

John Brunner

  • The Crucible of Time (1983). An inspiring novel about the rise of science and its eventual triumph over religion in an alien society.

Mick Farren

  • cover of "The Armageddon Crazy" by Mick FarrenProtectorate (1985). Deals with cults in the context of authoritarian government. Not one of Farren’s better novels, but worth reading if you can find a copy for a buck or two.
  • Their Master’s War (1987). An entertaining page-turner concerning militarism, imperialism, and religious manipulation.
  • The Armageddon Crazy (1989). An all too timely and at times quite funny novel about a fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government. Probably Farren’s best sci-fi novel.

Tom Flynn

  • Galactic Rapture (2000). Deals almost entirely with the harmful effects of religious belief, irrationality, and gullibility. The high points are the detailed descriptions of “psychic” scams.

James P. Hogan

  • Code of the Lifemaker coverCode of the Lifemaker (1983). Very entertaining, very funny. A sharp look at a questioning attitude and rationality vs. credulousness and irrationality, with some sections exposing how “psychics” gull their victims. Probably the best sci-fi novel ever written about the conflict between science and religion, and definitely the funniest.
  • The Immortality Option (1995). The sequel to Code of the Lifemaker. Well worth reading, but only after reading Code of the Lifemaker. It’s almost as funny as its predecessor.

Victor Koman

  • The Jehovah Contract (1987). A noir-comic — to use the current term, “urban fantasy” — novel about the conflict between good and evil, where good is personified as a hit man who has a contract to take out evil, personified as The Almighty.

Ken Macleod

  • The Night Sessions (2008). A perceptive near-future look at the menace of religious fundamentalists — in this case, robot fundamentalists.
  • Intrusion (2012). A frighteningly plausible dystopian novel of an all-pervasive surveillance state. A modern 1984. The protagonists are both atheists, and the novel in part revolves around their conflicts with religious “nutters” and religious privilege.

James MorrowBlameless in Abaddon by James Morrow

  • Blameless in Abaddon (1996). This is more fantasy than science fiction, but it’s worth including nonetheless. The second book in Morrow´s Godhead trilogy, Blameless in Abaddon revolves around the unstinting efforts of a terminally ill cancer patient to put God on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity. It’s very dark, but very funny.

I’ve read the other two books in the trilogy, Towing Jehovah (1994) and The Eternal Footman (1999) and would not recommend them; fortunately, Blameless in Abaddon works as a stand-alone novel. Morrow has written a number of other atheistic novels and story collections, such as Only Begotten Daughter (1990) and Bible Stories for Adults (1996); I wouldn’t recommend them for the same reason I wouldn’t recommend Towing Jehovah or Eternal Footman: they’re satires, but I didn’t find them funny. The one other book of Morrow’s I would recommend is the philosophically oriented City of Truth (1990), the first portion of which is outright hilarious.

Norman Spinrad

  • Mind Game (1980). Science fiction related but not science fiction, this is sci-fi author Spinrad’s insightful treatment of a barely disguised Church of Scientology, and one of the best novels about cults ever written

Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex front cover

  • The Apocalypse Codex (2012). An oftentimes funny, genre-bending (sci-fi/fantasy) novel about a prominent televangelist, Christian fundamentalism, slithering necromantic horrors, and “applied computational demonology.” Although part of the Laundry Files series, this works as a stand-alone novel, though you’ll enjoy it more if you first read the previous highly entertaining books in the series; the first is The Atrocity Archives (2004).
  • The Delirium Brief (2017). The primary characters from The Apocalypse Codex, and the related fundamentalist and necromantic monstrosities, reappear in this latest Laundry Files novel. There were two intervening novels in the series between these two, and it’d be a good idea to read The Apocalypse Codex before tackling The Delirium Brief; it’d be a better idea to read all of the prior Laundry Files books, as there are many references to events in the previous novels.

Gore Vidal

  • Kalki (1978). A terrifying look at religious fanaticism and the use of biological WMDs.
  • Live from Golgotha (1993). A  short comic time-travel novel about live TV coverage of the crucifixion of J.C.

Robert Charles Wilson

  • Re-Birth, by John Wyndham front coverMysterium (1994). A perceptive, well written novel about an alternate-reality American religious police state, and the casual arrogance, self-righteousness, callousness, intrusiveness, and brutality of those who run such religious states.

John Wyndham

  • Re-Birth (1955). A nicely written early post-apocalyptic tale of religious ignorance, arrogance, and brutality, and escape from it.

 

 

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Zeke Teflon, compiler of this list, is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, which deals in large part with religious and political cults.

Free Radicals front cover


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.

 

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.

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)

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 too saintly and too unconflicted.

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-timely 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 LeGuin

  • 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).


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

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.

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 (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.

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

  • 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.

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.

Many 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 like and 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). Not anarchist, but antiauthoritarian.
  • 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 Strugatsky

  • 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.

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. 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. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)

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.

 

Anarchy symbol

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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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