Posts Tagged ‘Norman Spinrad’


H Walked Among Us by Norman Spinrad front cover

(He Walked Among Us, by Norman Spinrad. Tor, 2009, 540 pp., $27.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

(This is an expanded and, we think, better review of this novel than the one we ran two years ago.)

For decades, Norman Spinrad has been one of the most prolific and under-appreciated science fiction writers. He’s written dozens of novels, some great, some not so great–which puts him in good company: almost all prolific authors are inconsistent. (Even Shakespeare on occasion could have used a good editor.) There are some real jewels among Spinrad’s works, notably The Iron Dream and Mindgame, but He Walked Among Us is arguably Spinrad’s best novel.

It concerns a Borscht Belt comedian, Ralf (no last name), who bills himself as a time-traveling “comedian from the future” from “Deathship Earth” in the 22nd century, where the few wretched survivors huddle inside abandoned shopping malls on a poisoned planet; Ralf’s shtick consists largely of mercilessly berating his audience, “monkey boys” and “monkey girls,” for their stupidity and environmental irresponsibility.

While performing one evening at Kapplemeyer’s, a dive Catskills resort, Ralf is discovered by the novel’s most entertaining character, Texas Jimmy Balaban, an agent for second-string comics, who drinks a lot, is very “Hollywood,” and isn’t above using his position to get laid, but is basically honest and has always “tried to be a mensch”–in other words, he’s about as good as it gets as far as agents go.

Spinrad describes Balaban’s reaction to the audience at Kappelmeyer’s:

It was an audience that Texas Jimmy wouldn’t have wished on Adolf Hitler and Auschwitz Boys, an audience that he wouldn’t even have wished on the acts actually condemned to face it.

Ralf is the final one of those acts.

Very shortly, Texas Jimmy takes Ralf to Hollywood and lands him a gig hosting a low-budget TV talk show, The Word According to Ralf,  on one of the minor TV networks. Ralf, who always remains in character, and insists that he actually is from the future, quickly runs out of steam with his gloom-doom-and-abuse routine.

At that point Texas Jimmy calls in new age acting coach Amanda Robbin and hard/social science fiction author and screenwriter Dexter Lampkin to recast Ralf and to save the show. Very shortly, Ralf becomes the prophet from “Starship Earth,” who’s here to save the planet, and the show begins to gain popularity due to its more upbeat tone and the conflict between the new age flakes Amanda books as guests and the nerd types Dexter books.

As part of the attempt to save the show, Dexter turns to a community about which he has very mixed feelings: sci-fi fandom, as witness the following excerpts told from Dexter’s point of view:

Oscar Karel was a familiar figure at science fiction conventions. With his massive paunch flowing seamlessly into his enormous ass without benefit of a waistline and his narrow shoulders and chicken-chest, Oscar Karel was shaped like a giant overweight penguin. At a science fiction convention, his physical appearance would have hardly been noticed, since this was a dominant fannish genotype . . .

Most of the hotel personnel would never have seen so many grossly overweight people together at the same time, and even if they had, certainly not wearing T-shirts and capris and jeans and harem costumes in such perfectly blithe disregard of the exceedingly unfortunate fashion statement.

Globuloids, Bob Silverberg called them.

There are a great many similarly funny, mostly less acerbic, passages scattered throughout the book.

Without giving too much away, the remainder of He Walked Among Us deals with the conflicts between Ralf, Balaban, Amanda, and Dexter, their efforts to save the show, and an emerging desire to actually save the Earth.

One ingenious aspect of this novel is that while Ralf is the center of gravity around which all else revolves, he is not one of the point-of-view characters. Rather, the story is told from the point of view of other characters, including “Foxy Loxy,” a New York crack whore who, in an apparently separate story, descends into graphically described madness, degradation, and violence. The segments dealing with Foxy (aka “Rat Girl”) are riveting and all too easy to buy, but are unpleasant reading, made more so by the very close third-person narration in her segments. An example:

Practically at the the bottom of the fuckin’ can, there it was, half a Big Mac, meat an’ all, little green around th’ sesame seed bun maybe, not the kinda thing you wanted t’think about maybe with all th’ cockroaches come crawlin’ out of it when she snatches it, but she don’t have to, because Rat Thing don’t wanna waste the live protein, he has her shovin’ it in her mouth an’ chewin’ it down in three big mouthfuls before the last of the roaches can escape or she can even think about thinkin’ about it.

That passage isn’t much fun to read, but it must have been a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Through over 80% of He Walked Among Us, while dark suspicions grow, the reader is left wondering “How in hell will this tie in with the rest of the story?”

The other p.o.v. characters are Texas Jimmy, Dexter, and Amanda. Dexter, one strongly suspects, is modeled at least in part on Spinrad himself. (Spinrad intersperses a number of anecdotes about himself in Dexter’s sections.) Dexter is conflicted about his career, doing meaningless writing jobs simply to make ends meet, unhappy about sales of his sci-fi novels, and ambivalent about his fans, who he’s harnessing to promote Ralf and his and Amanda’s mutual save-the-Earth agenda.

Amanda is the least interesting of the main characters, though she, like the others is well drawn and believable–she reminds me of all too many new agers I’ve known over the years.

One weakness of the book is that He Walked Among Us is primarily a comic novel, and most of the sections involving Amanda are overly long and simply aren’t funny. The same could be said of a couple of the segments describing Ralf’s TV show.

Eventually, all the threads of the story converge, including the “Rat Girl” narrative, with all the dread it entails. How Spinrad resolves it is unexpected, but it works.

Until literally the final paragraph, I couldn’t figure out how Spinrad was going to end this book. But he does, and the ending is perfect.

Before ending, I’ll note that there is one curious thing about He Walked Among Us: based on its detailed descriptions of background, it seems almost certain that this book was written (at least in good part) well over a decade before it was published. For one thing, there are mentions in a few places of archaic day-to-day technologies (e.g., answering machines), but more telling is what isn’t there: neither cell phones nor the Internet are mentioned anywhere in this 540-page novel.

My hunch is that Spinrad started writing this book in the late ’80s or early ’90s, couldn’t figure out how to end it, set it aside, and finally finished it in the mid to late 2000s, at which point it would have required major revision — revision unnecessary to the plot — to accommodate those technologies.

It’s a testament to how well the book is written, though, that I didn’t even notice those missing technological elephants the first time I read the book. (This is very likely, at least in part, due to my having lived through the ’80s and early ’90s as an adult: the background seems entirely natural to me.)

In any event, I haven’t read a book in ages I’ve enjoyed as much as He Walked Among Us. It’s very, very funny, thought provoking, and in the end both touching and inspiring. In large part it’s a love letter to science fiction and its potential to inspire change.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

* * *

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

Free Radicals front cover

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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.


H Walked Among Us by Norman Spinrad front cover

(NOTE: We just ran a revised and expanded review of this book.)

(He Walked Among Us, by Norman Spinrad. Tor, 2009, 540 pp., $27.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

For decades, Norman Spinrad has been one of the most prolific and under-appreciated science fiction writers. He’s written dozens of novels, some great, some not so great–which puts him in good company: almost all prolific authors are inconsistent, even Shakespeare, who on occasion could have used a good editor. There are some real jewels among Spinrad’s works, notably The Iron Dream and Mindgame, but He Walked Among Us is arguably Spinrad’s best novel.

It concerns a Borscht Belt comedian, Ralf (no last name), who bills himself as “the comedian from from the future,” from “Deathship Earth,” where the few wretched survivors huddle inside abandoned shopping malls on a poisoned planet; Ralf’s shtick consists of mercilessly berating his audience for their stupidity and environmental irresponsibility . While performing one evening at a dive Catskills resort, Ralf is discovered by the novel’s most entertaining character, Texas Jimmy Balaban, an agent for second-string comics, who drinks a lot, is very “Hollywood,”  and isn’t above using his position to get laid, but is basically honest and has always “tried to be a mensch”–in other words, he’s about as good as it gets as far as agents go.

Very shortly, Texas Jimmy takes Ralf to Hollywood and lands him a gig hosting a low-budget talk show, The Word According to Ralf,  on one of the minor TV networks. Ralf, who always remains in character, and insists that he actually is from the future, quickly runs out of steam with his gloom-doom-and-abuse routine, and at that point Texas Jimmy calls in new age acting coach Amanda Robbin and hard science fiction author and screenwriter Dexter Lampkin to recast Ralf and to save the show. Very shortly, Ralf becomes the prophet from “Starship Earth,” who’s here to save the planet, and the show begins to gain popularity due to its more upbeat tone and the conflict between the new agers Amanda books as guests and the scientific types Dexter books.

As part of the attempt to save the show, Dexter turns to a community about which he has very mixed feelings: sci-fi fandom, as witness the following excerpts told from Dexter’s point of view:

Oscar Karel was a familiar figure at science fiction conventions. With his massive paunch flowing seamlessly into his enormous ass without benefit of a waistline and his narrow shoulders and chicken-chest, Oscar Karel was shaped like a giant overweight penguin. At a science fiction convention, his physical appearance would have hardly been noticed, since this was a dominant fannish genotype . . .

Most of the hotel personnel would never have seen so many grossly overweight people together at the same time, and even if they had, certainly not wearing T-shirts and capris and jeans and harem costumes in such perfectly blithe disregard of the exceedingly unfortunate fashion statement.

Globuloids, Bob Silverberg called them.

There are a great many similarly funny, mostly less acerbic, passages scattered throughout the book.

 Without giving too much away, the remainder of He Walked Among Us deals with the conflicts between Ralf, Balaban, Amanda, and Dexter, their efforts to save the show, and an emerging desire to actually save the Earth.

One ingenious aspect of this novel is that while Ralf is the center of gravity around which all else revolves, he is not one of the point-of-view characters. Rather, the story is told from the point of view of other characters, including “Foxy Loxy,” a New York crack whore who, in an apparently separate story, descends into graphically described madness, violence, and degradation. The segments dealing with Foxy (aka “Rat Girl”) are riveting and all too easy to buy, but are unpleasant reading, made more so by the very close third-person narration in her segments. Through over 80% of He Walked Among Us, while dark suspicions grow, the reader is left wondering “How in hell will this tie in with the rest of the story?”

The other p.o.v. characters are Texas Jimmy, Dexter, and Amanda.  Dexter, one strongly suspects, is modeled at least in part on Spinrad himself; Dexter is conflicted about his career, doing meaningless writing jobs simply to make ends meet, unhappy about sales of his sci-fi novels, and ambivalent about his fans, who he’s harnessing to promote Ralf and their mutual save-the-Earth agenda. Amanda is the least interesting of the main characters, though she, like the others is well drawn and believable–she reminds me of too many new agers I’ve known over the years.

Eventually, all the threads of the story converge, including the “Rat Girl” narrative, with all the dread it entails. How Spinrad resolves it is unexpected, but it works.

Until literally the final paragraph, I couldn’t figure out how Spinrad was going to end this book. But he does, and the ending is perfect.

I haven’t read a book in ages I’ve enjoyed as much as He Walked Among Us. It’s very, very funny, thought provoking, and in the end both touching and inspiring.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

* * *

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

Free Radicals front cover


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. (All links in the listings below go to book reviews on this site.)

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.

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

(The links in the following listings all go to reviews on this site.)

* * *

Margaret Atwood

  • The Handmaid’s Tale. (1985) More speculative social fiction than science fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale is Atwood’s horrifying vision of what would happen to America, and especially American women, if fundamentalists seized power. Anti-fundamentalist and antiauthoritarian, but not specifically atheist.

Iain M. Banks

The following are Banks’ “Culture” novels–space opera on a grand scale. While set in the same universe, all work as stand-alone novels. All are set in a galaxy-spanning, far-future atheist 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.

  • 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 BozarthG. Richard Bozarth

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

John Brunner

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

Mick Farren

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

Tom Flynn

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

James P. Hogan

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

Victor Koman

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

Ken Macleod

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

James MorrowBlameless in Abaddon by James Morrow

  • Blameless in Abaddon (1996). This is more fantasy than science fiction, but it’s worth including nonetheless. The second book in Morrow´s Godhead trilogy, Blameless in Abaddon revolves around the unstinting efforts of a terminally ill cancer patient to put God on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity. Very dark but very funny. (I’ve read the other two books in the trilogy and would not recommend them; fortunately, Blameless in Abaddon works as a stand-alone novel.)

Norman Spinrad

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

Charles Stross

The Apocalypse Codex front cover

  • The Apocalypse Codex (2012). An oftentimes funny, genre-bending (sci-fi/fantasy) novel about a prominent televangelist, Christian fundamentalism, slithering necromantic horrors, and “applied computational demonology.” Although part of the Laundry Files series, this works as a stand-alone novel, though you’ll enjoy it more if you first read the previous highly entertaining books in the series; the first is The Atrocity Archives (2004).

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.

John Wyndham

Re-Birth, by John Wyndham front cover

  • 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


 

Raising Hell, by Norman Spinrad, cover

 

(Raising Hell, by Norman Spinrad. Oakland: PM Press, 2014, 108 pp., $12.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

Raising Hell  is the latest in PM Press’s Outspoken Authors series. It will likely surprise many of Spinrad’s sci-fi fans due to its nature: it’s a picaresque fantasy rather than science fiction. It’s the story of Dirty Jimmy DiAngelo, the president of the National Union of Temporary Substitutes (NUTS), who dies and finds himself in hell next to Jimmy Hoffa in a boiler ro0m filled with former union leaders. Once there, Dirty Jimmy undertakes a campaign to unionize the demons tormenting him.  Raising Hell is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is amusing and thought provoking, and readers will likely find themselves smiling while going through it.

Following the conclusion of the novella, there’s an essay by Spinrad, “The Abnormal New Normal.” It’s a cogent analysis of the decline of the union movement, the economic decline of the middle class, and the structural economic problems in the U.S. After the analysis, Spinrad offers a number of partial remedies for these problems, though there’s nothing radical in his proposals; they’re standard left-liberal fare such as raising the minimum wage, taxing capital gains at the same rate as income from labor, etc. There’s nothing wrong with such proposals, and if you’re satisfied with leaving capitalism intact and simply ameliorating its worst excesses, they make a lot of sense. But if you want to move beyond the present unjust, ecologically suicidal system, you’ll find little of interest in Spinrad’s proposals.

Raising Hell concludes with a lengthy interview with Spinrad conducted by fellow sci-fi writer Terry Bisson. Those wondering why so few new works by the prolific Spinrad have appeared in the U.S. since the turn of the millennium will find a partial answer here:  he’s had four novels published in France since then that have never appeared in the U.S. That’s a shame, because Spinrad has written a number of wonderful books, and it’d be nice to see if any of his new ones fit in that category.

Update: Since I wrote this review I’ve read another of Spinrad’s recent sci-fi novels, He Walked Among Us (2009), and absolutely loved it. I’ll post a review of it in July or August.

* * *

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

Free Radicals front cover


“AMERICA … the world’s best-defended Third World country …”

–Norman Spinrad, Russian Spring


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 those I do not recommend.)

If you notice that any of your anarchist sci-fi favorites are missing from this list, please leave a comment mentioning them.

Here’s the list — the links go to reviews on this site.

 

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.

Paolo Bacigalupi

  • The Windup Girl. (2009) Beautifully written. Probably the best cautionary tale about corporate-controlled genetic modification and control of food sources. Antiauthoritarian and anti-corporatist, but not specifically anarchist.

Iain M. Banks

The following are Banks’ “Culture” novels–space opera on a grand scale. While set in the same universe, all work as stand-alone novels. All are set in a galaxy-spanning, far-future anarchist and atheist society, and all feature strong, believable characters (including AIs), complicated ethical dilemmas, and frequent dark humor. Of them, the two best are probably Player of Games and Surface Detail, and the weakest is probably The Hydrogen Sonata.

  • Consider Phlebas (1987)
  • The Player of Games (1988)
  • Use of Weapons (1990)
  • Excession (1996)
  • Inversions (1998)
  • Look to Windward (2000)
  • Matter (2008)
  • Surface Detail (2010)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

John Brunner

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

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

The Fourth World by Dennis Danvers front coverDennis Danvers

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

Cory Doctorow

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


Greg Egan

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

El Akkad, Omar

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

Mick Farren

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

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

Harry Harrison

  • The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted. (1987) A well thought out political novel disguised as escapist sci-fi that perceptively treats mutualist anarchism and nonviolent resistance. Probably the best of the Stainless Steel Rat series.

Robert Heinlein

  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (1966) Deals with an anarcho-capitalist society on the moon at odds with an authoritarian Earth.

James P. HoganCode of the Lifemaker cover

  • Voyage from Yesteryear. (1982) Features a setting directly derived from  Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism.
  • Code of the Lifemaker (1983) Hogan’s very funny tale of science versus religious fanaticism is a nearly forgotten gem; not anarchist, but antiauthoritarian.
  • The Immortality Option (1995) The sequel to Code of the Lifemaker; it’s also worth reading, but be sure to read Code of the Lifemaker first.

Ursula LeGuin

  • The Dispossessed. (1974) Considered by many the classic anarchist sci-fi novel, its backdrop, for half of the book, is an anarchist society set on the planet Anarres. That society is well drawn, though dryly and unflatteringly (at least in my opinion; others would disagree).


Ken Macleod

The Stone Canal by Ken Macleod front coverThe first four novels are set in the same universe, but are not parts of a series. The next three are a loose trilogy.

  • The Star Fraction (1995)
  • The Stone Canal. (1996) The setting is an anarcho-capitalist society.
  • The Cassini Division. (1998) The setting is an anarcho-communist society.
  • The Sky Road (1999)
  • Cosmonaut Keep (2000)
  • Dark Light (2001)
  • Engine City (2002)
  • The Night Sessions (2008) A cautionary tale of religious fanaticism
  • Intrusion (2012) A frighteningly plausible dystopian novel of an all-pervasive surveillance state. A modern 1984.
  • Corporation Wars: Dissidence (2016)
  • Corporation Wars: Insurgence (2016)
  • Corporation Wars: Emergence (2017)

Paul J. McAuley

Antiauthoritarian but not anarchist, these two  novels comprise McAuley’s “Quiet War” series. They’re set in the medium-distant future following ecological collapse on Earth, and concern the brutal aggression of the authoritarian empires that emerged from the chaos against the in-some-ways anarchistic “Outers” who have colonized the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

  • The Quiet War (2008)
  • Gardens of the Sun (2009)

There are two later novels set in the same universe, In the Mouth of the Whale (2012) and Evening’s Empires (2013).  These are largely stand-alone novels. In the Mouth of the Whale is best avoided (very slow reading), but Evening’s Empires is a pretty decent apolitical quest/revenge tale.

Many of McAuley’s other science fiction novels are worth reading. Two that come to mind are Pasquale’s Angel and White Devils.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan front coverRichard K. Morgan

  • Altered Carbon. (2002) The first of a brutal, noirish trilogy with distinct anarchist undertones.
  • Broken Angels. (2003) The second in the series.
  • Woken Furies. (2005) The third book in the series.
  • Market Forces. (2004) An overtly political projection of the future of corporate capitalism.
  • Thirteen. (2007) A very dystopian look at the future USA.

Annalee Newitz

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

Nicholas P. Oakley

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

George Orwell

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

Marge Piercy

  • Woman on the Edge of Time  (1976)

Mike Resnick

  • A Hunger in the Soul. (1998) Set in a barely disguised Africa, this is probably the best sci-fi treatment of the psychology of colonialism. Not anarchist, but well worth a read.

Cover of Lucky Strike, by Kim Stanley RobinsonKim Stanley Robinson

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

Rudy Rucker

The “ware” books comprise a very funny short tetralogy (written before the average sci-fi novel bloated to 700 pages) set in part against the backdrop of a sympathetically portrayed anarchist mechanoid society on the moon. The first two books in particular are gems.

  • Software (1982)
  • Wetware (1988)
  • Freeware (1997)
  • Realware (2000)

John Shirley

  • Bioshock Rapture (2012) This novel is a prequel to the popular Bioshock video game. It’s of interest because it concerns the development of a cloistered Objectivist (Ayn Randist) society. Shirley does a good job of outlining some of the horrors that such a society would produce, but the worst horrors he describes are produced by the cloistering, which undercuts the critique of Objectivism as such.  As well, because he was essentially in a straitjacket when he wrote this, Shirley incorporates fantastical elements from the game that are unnecessary from a fictional standpoint and that detract from the novel’s power. But it’s worth reading anyway.

Norman Spinrad

  • The Iron Dream coverThe Iron Dream (1972). Alternately chilling and darkly funny. The premise is that Hitler emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, became a science fiction illustrator, and wrote a single sci-fi novel: The Iron Dream. The bulk of Spinrad’s book is comprised of the “manuscript” of that “novel.” An excellent illustration of the ugliness of the authoritarian psyche.

Many of Spinrad’s other antiauthoritarian sci-fi novels, such as Greenhouse Summer (1999) and He Walked Among Us (2009), both of which concern the ecological crisis, are also worth reading. Getting somewhat away from sci-fi, Mind Game (1980) is Spinrad’s insightful treatment of a barely disguised Church of Scientology, and probably the best novel about cults ever written.

Charles Stross

  • The Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross, cover imageSingularity Sky (2003) Not anarchist but antiauthoritarian.
  • Iron Sunrise. (2004) The sequel to Singularity Sky.
  • Glass House. (2006) A suspenseful, brutal tale about gender roles and conformity.
  • The Apocalypse Codex (2012). One of Stross’s genre-bending, amusing Laundry Files series, The Apocalypse Codex deals with a televangelist, his literally brain dead followers, and tentacled Lovecraftian horrors. Its treatment of both the absurdity and deadly menace of Christian fundamentalism is spot on.
  • Neptune’s Brood. (2013). A strange, sometimes funny story about the structure of interstellar finances and financial fraud. Part of the book is set in a sympathetically portrayed deep sea anarchist society of genetically modified humans.
  • The Rhesus Chart (2014). Another entertaining Laundry Files novel. The Rhesus Chart deals with the big banks, and has a clear, concise explanation of exactly how they’re screwing us.
  • The Delirium Brief (2017). This latest Laundry File novel has privatization schemes as its backdrop, and contains an admirably concise explanation of how they screw the public to the benefit of the rich and the corporations they control.

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.

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).

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

  • The Doomed City. (2016) A bleak, brutal dissection of the Soviet Union and the ideology that produced its horrors. Written in 1972, the brothers Strugatsky kept this novel under wraps for over 15 years until it was finally published in Russian in 1989 during perestroika; at long last it’s now available in English.

George TurnerDrowning Towers front cover

  • Drowning Towers (UK title: The Sea and Summer). (1987) Drowning Towers was the first major novel about climate change and is still one of the best, if not the best. It’s not anarchist and barely antiauthoritarian, but it is acutely class conscious and a literary masterpiece.

Turner’s science fiction output (he was also a literary novelist) was quite uneven. In addition to Drowning Towers, he produced one other excellent sci-fi novel, Brain Child (1991), which concerns genetic engineering.

T.C. Weber

  • Sleep State Interrupt. (2016) A near-future noirish techno-thriller about combatting the surveillance state. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)

Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

  • The Illuminatus Trilogy. (1975) More fantasy than science fiction, this  hallucinogenic, sprawling mess of a trilogy veers wildly from the unreadable to the unparalleled, featuring sex, drugs, multiple first-person narrators, shifting chronology, stream-of-consciousness narrative, conspiracies on steroids, self-mockery, zombie Nazis, one of the funniest parodies of Ayn Rand’s capitalist-fantasy/romance novels ever written (“Telemacchus Sneezed,” featuring “John Guilt”), and occasional insightful comments on anarchism.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

  • We  (1924) Written by one of the first Soviet dissidents (within the Communist Party), this dreamy, nightmarish, poetic novel of an all-controlling police state is the direct forerunner of 1984.

 

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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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