Posts Tagged ‘Mick Farren’


Mick Farrenby Zeke Teflon, author of Free Radicals

A few years ago, the Publishers Weekly review of Free Radicals noted that it was “reminiscent of early Mick Farren.” That was news to me: I’d never heard of Mick Farren; and why early Mick Farren?

I decided to investigate, and discovered that Farren (1943–2013) was best known for his musical work, most famously as front man for the London-based garage/proto-punk band The Deviants in the late 1960s. He turned to writing full time in the early 1970s, but continued to be active musically, releasing two solo albums in the ’70s and, among other things, he collaborated on song writing with Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, and recorded with Wayne Kramer from the American proto-punk band The MC5. In later years, he continued to perform with re-formed versions of The Deviants, and was musically active for the rest of his life — he died on stage while performing. (The Guardian‘s obituary of Farren, though it gives short shrift to his literary output, provides a good summation of his musical career.)

But what of Farren’s literary output? In the early 1970s, he began to make his living as a music journalist, and also began writing both nonfiction books and science fiction novels. In all, he wrote approximately 20 nonfiction books, almost all on music or politics, and more than 15 sci-fi novels. However, starting in the ’90s, he turned to the horror/supernatural subgenre, for which he’s now largely remembered. Hence the PW reviewer’s reference to his “early” (sci-fi) writings.

cover photo and quotation from Mick Farren'ts "Protectorate"The distinguishing features of those writings are a gritty tone, frequent dark humor, an anti-authoritarian leftist political bent, good descriptive writing, a predominance of narrative rather than exposition, a straightforward writing style, close third-person narration, believable dialogue, hard-drinking and drugging protagonists from the fringes of society who find themselves thrust into threatening situations, and unusual, inventive settings.

One good example of most of these traits is Farren’s Their Masters’ War (1987). The back cover copy reads: “Hark was a hunter, armed with spear and club, seeking game to feed his tribe — until a prophecy led him to the Valley of the Gods, where he was herded with others like himself into the belly of a metal monster. Suddenly Hark was a grunt fighting a war against machines and aliens for a mysterious race called the Therem. . . . Battle was tough and human life worthless. But Hark and the others never questioned their roles as soldiers until they were dropped into a hellish battle on an inhospitable world . . . And for the first time they set out to make their own destiny.”

masters-warHere you have the prototypical Farren setup: an outsider hurled into a dire situation, religion used as a means of manipulation, a very gritty tone, a predominance of narrative with small amounts of exposition skillfully woven into it, an anti-militarist subtext, vivid descriptive passages, and natural-sounding dialogue. (Strangely enough, the dialogue would have been helped by more cursing — something that’s normally plentiful in Farren’s work — given that Their Master’s War is basically military sci-fi.) About the only thing missing is Farren’s characteristic dark humor.

The book does have minor problems, though. Most noticeably, Farren doesn’t seem to care much about getting the science right — at one point he describes a planet orbiting a double star as making a figure-eight pattern around the pair of stars — and the reason for the subsequent battle on that planet is, upon minimal reflection, ludicrous. As well, the lack of humor is unfortunate, as it’s one of the most attractive features of Farren’s other sci-fi novels.

Their Master’s War is a good example of Farren’s work, but if you’re only going to read one of his sci-fi novels, it’s not the one to read. That one should be The Armageddon Crazy (1989).

cover of "The Armageddon Crazy" by Mick FarrenOf Farren’s sci-fi novels, The Armageddon Crazy is the most immediately relevant to the present day, as its backdrop is a United States taken over by fundamentalist crazies and which has become a theocratic police state in the wake of an economic crash.

The back cover copy reads in part: “The president was a preacher, the constitution had been suspended, and strong-arm deacons sent sinners and malcontents to prison. Harry Carlisle: disaffected New York cop, walking a think line between obedience and heresy. Cynthia Kline: secret agent in the deacon organization, terrified that any moment her cover might be blown. Charlie Mansard: special-effects wizard . . . They never suspected the roles they would play in a plot to overthrow the government and restore freedom. And they never dreamed that they would be smack dab in the middle of the chaos when everything fell apart.”

The Armageddon Crazy begins with an all-too-believable description of one of its protagonists, “special-effects wizard” Charlie Mansard, delivering a drunken, politically charged monologue in a near-empty New York City dive bar. The monologue concerns the state of the country, which has fallen under a brutal fundamentalist theocracy, complete with religious police, torturers, death squads, and concentration camps for the ungodly–indeed for anyone the “deacons” happen to dislike.

Farren then introduces the other characters, including the primary character, Harry Carlisle, a politically suspect (by the deacons) lieutenant in the NYPD, who’s charged with hunting down the Lefthand Path, a bomb-planting group that utilizes violence in a political situation where other forms of political opposition are outlawed, and the nonviolent opposition is already in “the camps.”

Shortly, Mansard is commissioned to create a massive visual spectacle inside and outside of Madison Square Garden for Arlen Proverb, a charismatic evangelical preacher being targeted by the deacons because of his popularity and because he’s a potentially uncontrollable wild card.

The events at the Proverb rally subsequently lead both Carlisle and Proverb into a plot to overthrow the repressive fundamentalist government.

One peculiarity of The Armageddon Crazy is that it’s written from multiple points of view, including those of two characters entirely peripheral to the book’s plot, but who are there simply to provide background. As well, Mansard’s sections are quite large given that he’s somewhat peripheral to the plot. One strongly suspects that Farren dwells at length on Mansard and his show-biz activities largely because Farren was a prominent rock performer who was quite familiar with show biz, its workings, and its denizens.

In most novels, these things would be a problem, but they’re not here because Farren’s backgrounds and descriptions are so damn entertaining.

The Armageddon Crazy and Their Master’s War represent the best of Mick Farren’s science fiction. They’re gritty, funny (at least The Armageddon Crazy) page-turners with a lot to say politically and socially.

If you’ve never read Farren’s sci-fi novels, you might consider picking up one or both of these books. I very much doubt that you’d be disappointed.

(Please note that Mick Farren’s novels, like those of many other writers, are very uneven. I’ve read or at least started all of Farren’s sci-fi novels, and The Armageddon Crazy and Their Master’s War are the two that I’d have no hesitance in recommending.)

Touchingly, both The Armageddon Crazy and Their Master’s War end with the same brief description of the author:

Mick Farren is a hopelessly unreconstructed side effect of the late sixties and seventies who still entertains the absurd idea that a writer should be some swashbuckling, Byronic figure who has quite as much fun as any of his characters. Accordingly, he continues to play rock & roll in the saloons of New York, drinks too much, wears a lot of black, and still harbors a desire to be rich and famous before his excesses catch up with him.

* * *

Zeke Teflon, the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here), is currently working on its sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel. Now that he’s discovered Mick Farren’s sci-fi novels, he’s honored by the comparison of his writing to Farren’s.

Free Radicals front cover


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.


Protectorate, by Mick Farren

“Why does religion turn [people] into morons?”

…”Maybe that’s what it’s for.”

–Mick Farren, Protectorate


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"

* * *

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 Stross

The 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 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.

 

 

* * *

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


 

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.


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.

Paolo Bacigalupi

  • Windup Girl coverThe 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 quite good The Water Knife. Yes, these are cautionary tales, but gross exaggeration is gross exaggeration, 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)
  • Surface Detail (2010)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

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

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

John Brunner

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

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

The Fourth World by Dennis Danvers front coverDennis Danvers

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

Cory Doctorow

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


Greg Egan

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

El Akkad, Omar

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

Mick Farren

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

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

Harry Harrison

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

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.

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.

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 Newitz

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

Claire North

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

Nicholas P. Oakley

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

George Orwell

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

Eliot Peper

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

Marge Piercy

  • Woman on the Edge of Time  (1976)

Mike Resnick

  • A Hunger in the Soul (1998). Set in a barely disguised Africa, this is probably the best sci-fi treatment of the psychology of colonialism. Not anarchist, but well worth a read. 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 new one, Elysium Fire (2018). It features the same cast of characters as The Prefect, and is a tightly written tale of murder, mystery, and revenge.

Kim Stanley RobinsonCover of Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley Robinson

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

A number of readers have suggested including Robinson’s novels here, especially the “Mars” trilogy (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 Robinson’s Mars books or most of his other novels. The two 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 Robinson’s 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).

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.
  • 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, was scheduled for January 2019. (Still waiting as of July 2019.)

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

Arkady and Boris StrugatskyDoomed City front cover

  • The Doomed City (2016). A bleak, brutal, 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.
  • The Snail on the Slope (2018). A new translation of another Strugatsky classic dealing in large part with the insanity and inanity of Soviet-style bureaucracy. Much shorter than The Doomed City, with shallower criticism of the Soviet system, but an easier read.

Of the 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 too roughly — as an experienced [five books, Spanish-to-English] translator, I have no doubt that grace is almost always better than literalism. The older translations of the Strugatsky’s works read much more smoothly than the newer, more 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.

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

Related Posts

* * *

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

 

Related articles