Posts Tagged ‘Iain M. Banks’


Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature, Pamela Bedore, PhD, presenter, Great Courses, 2019.

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

This is a mixed bag. There are 24 half-hour episodes covering many of the major utopian and dystopian works of the last half millennium, and Bedore does a good job of analyzing those running through the 1970s, at which point things go off the rails.

Just before that point, she rightly and insightfully devotes an episode to Ursula LeGuin (“The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand of Darkness”), but then heads into the thicket of postmodernism and feminist/LGBTQ fiction to the exclusion of almost everything else except YA books (“Great Works of Literature”?) over the last 40 years. (Ironically, in an earlier episode dealing with Orwell, she approvingly quotes his famous essay, “Politics and English Language,” which posits that political writing should be as clear as “a pane of glass” — and then approvingly quotes postmodernist obscurantists such as Lyotard and Foucault in later episodes.)

In the latter episodes, Bedore skews things so badly that she devotes three full episodes to Octavia Butler — a quite good writer, but hardly deserving of a plurality of the post-1970s episodes — and completely ignores the deeply reactionary and thoroughly debunked assumption underlying what’s probably Butler’s most famous work, the Xenogenesis trilogy, treating those books as a flawed utopia. In fact, Bedore seems entirely oblivious to the entirely dystopic political and social associations and implications of Butler’s underlying assumption.

That assumption is that humans are basically competitive rather than cooperative, and hence are doomed to destroy themselves and the earth. This is merely the flip side of the Social Darwinist coin, and it’s no more progressive than that rationale for sociopathic behavior. (Butler doesn’t even provide a plausible way out of this artificial problem, leaving it up to more enlightened aliens to genetically alter humans to make them cooperative. To treat the Xenogenesis trilogy as a utopia is grotesque; it’s more akin to the disgusting, discredited “Lord of the Flies.”)

At any rate, Bedore wastes a lot of time on Butler, while ignoring or giving short shrift to more important writers, such as Margaret Atwood, Iain M. Banks, and (arguably) Ken Macleod, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, Charles Stross, Rudy Rucker, and Kim Stanley Robinson. She devotes only a woefully superficial half-episode to Atwood’s masterful, extremely complex Maddaddam trilogy. And she totally ignores the premier utopian novels of the last four decades, Banks’ “Culture” novels.

As well, Bedore gives very short shrift to the important eco-catastrophe works of the last several decades. She doesn’t even mention the first, and probably best, climate-change-disaster novel, George Turner’s “Drowning Towers” (1987), which is a literary masterpiece, nor Norman Spinrad’s underrated, nearly ignored master work, “He Walked Among Us” (likely his best book but for, perhaps, “The Iron Dream”) and the only such novel she deals with at any length is Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” whose premise is so absurd (all life on earth extinguished except for humans) that the book should be dismissed out of hand. (Of course, McCarthy is an acclaimed “literary” author, so, at least in academic eyes, he deserves to be taken seriously — as should the postmodernist b.s. artists.)

All in all, Bedore does a good job with the pre-1980 period, but after that, not so much. Of course, the farther back you go the easier it is to make accurate critical judgments, but even so she did a poor job with the post-1970s material.

Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature isn’t terrible. But it could have been so much better.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (large pdf sample here). His latest book is the compilation Godless: 150 Years of Disbelief, published by PM Press, and when the insomnia let’s up and he’s relatively coherent, Zeke is working on the sequel to Free Radicals, an unrelated sci-fi novel, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, and an anarchist compilation for PM.

Free Radicals front cover


Iain M. Banks

“There is a saying that some foolish people believe: what does not kill you makes you stronger. I know for a fact, having seen the evidence — indeed often enough having been the cause of it — that what does not kill you can leave you maimed. Or crippled, or begging for death in one of those ghastly twilights experienced — and one has to hope that that is entirely not the right word — by those in a locked-in or persistent vegetative state. In my experience the same people also believe that everything happens for a reason. Given the unalleviatedly barbarous history of every world we have ever encountered with anything resembling Man on it, this is a statement of quite breathtakingly casual retrospective and ongoing cruelty, tantamount to the condonation of the most severe and unforgivable sadism.”

–“Tem” in Iain M. Banks’ Transition

(In the first sentence, Banks is referring to Nietzsche’s most idiotic aphorism: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” from Twilight of the Idols)


Iain M. Banks

“‘. . . these crowds are, perversely, highly attractive to bombers.’

“‘Christians?’ Q’and says . . .

“‘Of course Christians, you idiot!’ . . . ‘The religion of zealotry,’ she informs him testily. ‘The religion that loves its martyrs, the religion of the doctrine of Original Sin, so that blowing even babies to smithereens is justifiable because they too are sinners.’ She jerks her head and makes a sort of dry spitting sound. ‘A religion made for terrorism.'”

–“Madame d’Ortolan” and “Q’and” in Iain M. Banks’ parallel-worlds novel, Transition


John Grant

A couple of days ago I asked two-time Hugo Award winner John Grant what advice he’d have for aspiring writers. His newest book is Corrupted Science: Fraud, Ideology, and Politics in Science (revised & expanded). Here’s John’s advice:


Of all such pieces of advice, my favorite comes from Nora Roberts. As accurately as I can remember, it read simply: “Apply ass to chair. Write.”

Corrupted ScienceDecades ago, I got a similar message from Alec Waugh. He said essentially that the way to become a writer was to buy a ream of paper and a typewriter (told you this was decades ago!), then stick the first sheet of paper into the machine. By the time you got to the end of the ream you’d be a writer. If that failed, buy another ream and if necessary a fresh typewriter ribbon.

My late and still much mourned pal Iain Banks apparently wrote about six unpublished novels before the Waugh trick worked for him. The fact that he used the thinnest available paper and single-spaced his typing, forswearing such bourgeois desirables as margins (why waste good paper?), may also have had something to do with the delay in his being recognized as the extraordinary talent he was.

The best advice I ever got was from Colin Wilson, although he never exactly expressed it in words to me. One of my earliest books was a co-authorship with him. While working on it I noticed that (duh!) his bits were, y’know, better than mine. It eventually dawned on me that this was because Colin’s writing had all the immediacy of a conversation: he was essentially speaking onto the paper.

Although since then I’ve explored lots of other modes of writing, that remains my default style. One difficulty is that editors, especially for some reason American editors, sometimes crack down on what they perceive as my “sloppiness” — changing “won’t” into “will not,” sorta thing, or sticking in Oxford commas — but essentially that’s still the way I write: I hear what I want to write, then write the spoken words down.

So that’s the single piece of advice I’d pass along to you: don’t write, just speak onto the paper. You can always cut out the swearing and scatology later.


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.

Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy is also well worth a read.

  • Oryx and Crake (2003) bears not at all on religion, but rather on rapacious corporate capitalism and the evil uses to which it could put technological developments in the pursuit of profit.
  • The Year of the Flood (2009) is set inside a believable, intricately described religious/ecological cult, and continues describing the socio-politico-economic problems carried over from Oryx and Crake.
  • Maddaddam (2013) has still more on the matters dealt with in the first two books, but also looks at the extreme measures necessary to avoiding detection in an all-pervasive surveillance state. It also features biting and insightful passages regarding the sleaziness and hypocrisy of fundamentalist religion. All three books in the trilogy are masterfully written and quite entertaining.

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 also 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 fundamentalism.
  • 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 downright hilarious.

Douglas Preston

  • Blasphemy (2007). A cross between a near-future high-tech thriller and a Tony Hillerman mystery, Blasphemy features two strong, very well described fundamentalist-preacher characters, one a sleazy, wealthy televangelist (drawing on Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, and Robert Schuler), the other a dirt poor, ignorant, vicious fanatic. If you like both thrillers and the Hillerman novels (set on the Navajo Reservation), you’ll probably love this one.

Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Galileo’s Dream (2009). A well executed time-travel novel involving Galileo and his conflict with the Catholic Church and the Inquisition.

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 StrossThe Apocalypse Codex front cover

  • The Apocalypse Codex (2012). An oftentimes funny, genre-bending (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) 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 Anton Wilson

  • Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy (1979). Definitely not for the easily offended — if this appeared today, the author would be drawn and quartered by PC zealots — but quite funny with many biting comments about religion.

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. Also deals with the evil of blindly following orders rather than following your own conscience.

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.

Anarchy symbol

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. Antiauthoritarian, but not specifically anarchist.
  • Oryx and Crake (2003). The first book in the Maddaddam trilogy. An all too plausible, very well written look at the possible horrors of genetic engineering warped by profit-at-any-price corporate capitalism in a class-stratified, repressive sociopolitical system. It’s impressive in that it projects how current political, social, and technological trends in the U.S. and Canada (Atwood is Canadian) could develop and interact in coming decades; this is in sharp contrast to most sci-fi novels which will consider at most one such trend, and more often none.
  • The Year of the Flood (2009). The second book of the trilogy. Just as entertaining as Oryx and Crake, it deals with the same political, social, and technological issues, but also features an in-depth depiction of life inside a religious/ecological cult.
  • Maddaddam (2013). The final book in the trilogy. Just as engrossing as the previous two books, it adds a fair bit of material on the sleaziness and hypocrisy of fundamentalist religion, and much more on the extreme measures necessary to avoiding detection in a nearly all-seeing surveillance society.
  • The Testaments (2019). The Handmaid’s Tale sequel — haven’t read it yet.

Paolo BacigalupiWindup Girl cover

  • 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 quite inaccurate in some biological specifics, that he’s every bit as inaccurate here as he is in portraying climate change in the Southwest in his otherwise very good The Water Knife (2015). Yes, these are cautionary tales, but gross inaccuracy is gross inaccuracy, and it tends to undercut the cautionary message. Still, these are both so well written and entertaining that I highly recommend them.)

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)Transition by Iain M. Banks
  • Surface Detail (2010)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

Another 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.

L.X. Beckett

  • Gamechanger (2019). This  pretty much has it all: direct electronic democracy, all-pervasive surveillance, pervasive social media, immersive VR, ecological disaster and recovery from it, alternative family structures, nonbinary characters, sentient AIs, and, yes, aliens.

Christopher Brown

  • Tropic of Kansas (2017). A gritty alternative-timeline story, with distinct anarchist overtones, of survival and resistance in an even more brutal and authoritarian present-day USA.

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 — borderline great — book that deserves to have sold much better than it did.

Danvers has also written another anarchist sci-fi novel, The Watch (2003), a time travel novel set in Richmond, Virginia, featuring Peter Kropotkin as the primary character. It provides an accurate portrayal of Kropotkin and his ideas, but isn’t 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.
  • Radicalized (2019). Not a novel, but rather a collection of four novellas (rather three novellas and a longish short story) dealing with the near future and such things as the treatment of refugees, the “Internet of Things,” healthcare, systemic racism through the lens of (yes) a superhero, and a fortified bunker for the super-rich in times of chaos. The tales are uniformly well written and emotionally affecting. This is probably Doctorow’s best book to date.

Many of Doctorow’s other sci-fi works are also enjoyable reads. One I’d recommend is The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (2011). As well, his Boing Boing blog routinely has a lot of interesting stuff.

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.

Omar El Akkad

  • 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 antiauthoritarian, 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

  • Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965). An astute, acidic, and oft-times amusing takedown of the military and militarism.
  • 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. Almost certainly 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. This is likely Heinlein’s most libertarian work (in the laissez-faire capitalist sense of the word), and it’s much at odds with Heinlein’s overall authoritarian tendencies, notably expressed in Starship Troopers, which provoked a much-deserved take-down in Michael Moorcock’s famous essay, “Starship Stormtroopers.”

James P. HoganCode of the Lifemaker cover

  • Voyage from Yesteryear (1982). Features a setting directly derived from  Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism. Not Hogan’s best book — it pales in comparison with Code of the Lifemaker — but worth reading nonetheless.
  • 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 first four novels are set in the same universe, but are not parts of a series. The next three are a loose trilogy.

  • The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod front coverThe 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.

Richard K. MorganAltered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan front cover

  • Altered Carbon (2002). The first of a brutal, noirish trilogy with distinct anarchist undertones. This provides one of the many examples of the book being better than the film or video adaptation.
  • 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.

Morgan’s most recent sci-fi novel, Thin Air (2018), is worth a read. It’s less political than the Altered Carbon series, though its tone is similar.

Annalee NewitzAutonomous, by Annalee Newitz front cover

  • 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.
  • The Future of Another Timeline (2019). Newitz’s recent feminist time-travel novel treads more familiar ground (TBGL/reproductive rights), but has very well drawn and diverse settings, well argued political/social points, and Newitz does a decent job of glossing over the paradoxes that are inevitable in any time-travel tale.

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. If you haven’t read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1898) or his perhaps even better short story, “An Outpost of Progress” (1897), reading them would be good preparation before plunging into A Hunger in the Soul.

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 recent 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 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 Mars Trilogy novels here (Red Mars [1992]; Green Mars [1993]; Blue Mars [1996]). I haven’t done so simply because this is a list of anarchist and anarchist-related novels that I would recommend, and I’m not a fan of those books. The two Robinson novels I would recommend (neither related to anarchism) are Galileo’s Dream  (2009) and Aurora (2015). Those interested in possible political developments in China might also want to check out his Red Moon (2018).

Rudy RuckerSoftware by 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)

Rucker is also a great short story writer: many of his tales are both mind-bogglingly strange and brimming with laugh-out-loud, sometimes-crude humor. His Complete Stories (2012) runs to over a thousand pages, and perhaps his two best non-“ware” humorous novels (it’s hard to pick) are The Sex Sphere (1983) and Master of Space and Time (1984).

C.J. Sansom

  • Dominion (2015). A quite well written and chilling political alternative-history novel about what might have happened in Britain if  the Conservative Party appeasement faction had reached a peace accord with Hitler in 1940 following the fall of France.

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,” and is 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, as is his recent oft-times humorous political genre bender (sci-fi/fantasy) The People’s Police (2017). 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. (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]).
  • 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.
  • 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, was originally scheduled for January 2019, has been delayed several times, and is now scheduled for March 2020.

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, indirect 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. Unfortunately, the English-language version reads very poorly, as it’s quite probably an overly literal translation.
  • 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. Again, the translation reads quite roughly.

Of the Strugatskys’ many other sci-fi novels, the two I’d most recommend are their two most popular: Roadside Picnic (1971) and Hard To Be a God (1964). Both are more coherent and much more entertaining than the two novels listed above, which are primarily of political interest. (I’d recommend the older translations of both books: the recent translations read poorly due almost certainly to excessive literalism. The older versions of the Strugatsky’s works read much more smoothly than the newer, too literal translations, and are much more enjoyable.)

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.
  • Brain Child (1991). A chilling and plausible look at a possible result of the use of genetic engineering to produce a race (actually three races) of ubermenschen. It still holds up.

The quality of Turner’s science fiction novels (he was also a literary novelist) was uneven, but mostly good and sometimes great. Drowning Towers and Brain Child are by far his best books. His final two sci-fi novels, Genetic Soldier (1994) and Down There in Darkness (1999) are decidedly subpar, with the latter being downright awful. (I suspect Turner’s publisher patched together fragments of an incomplete novel.) All of Turner’s other sci-fi novels (plus one short story collection, A Pursuit of Miracles [1990]) are well 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 March 2020.

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.

For those who’ve read and enjoyed The Illuminatus Trilogy, I’d also recommend Wilson’s Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy (1979).

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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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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