Science Fiction and the Stateless Society

August 16th, 2013   Submitted by Ricardo Feral

BelieveScience Fiction and Fantasy writers and readers have historically been at the cutting edge of some of late 20th and early 21st century’s social and political trends. Now, Obsolete Press (obsolete-press.com) is compiling an anthology of new and classic SciFi writing and art  that addresses anarchy, anarchism, and the move to a Stateless society. Writers and artists can find submission information at the end of this article.

Since the earliest days of western literature (and even in the folk tales that preceded it) political commentary has been a part of our storytelling tradition. Popular stories have often reflected the power structure of the times, sometimes criticizing leaders and governments in a way that would never be allowed in journalism or scholarly essays.

Centuries separate Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes (which criticized the royalty of Tudor England) and the anarchist visions of science fiction authors like Philip K. Dick and Ursula Le Guin, but in many ways the core motivations remain the same. They are commentaries on “the State.” Le Guin herself said, “Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive,” rejecting the notion that SciFi is “about the future.” Although some SciFi readers may be satisfied with the escapism of “space operas,” many fans of the genre hold strong political opinions and seek out authors whose work reflects that view.

With roots going back to the early 19th century, science fiction took shape as a 20th century literary movement. At the turn of the century, inexpensive printing technology brought about the rise of popular literature. Western, detective and romance stories all boomed, but SciFi reflected the times like no other genre. SciFi developed in the wake of the industrial revolution, the rapid mechanization of warfare, and the rise of corporations and statism. Science fiction writers both glorified and criticized all of these aspects of modern society, and fans became vocal participants in the debate.

Much like Futurism and Surrealism, its visual arts counterparts in the early 20th century, science fiction, its writers and fans fell somewhere toward the ends of the spectrum between fascist and marxist camps. Much of the “space opera” fiction of the 1920s onward featured militaristic themes, while much of the utopian work was penned by self-described Trotskyists. Well into the “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 30s and 40s, the debate raged between these opposing camps and their visions of ideal government, although almost no one seemed to be writing about the third way- no government at all.

There are some notable exceptions in the early part of the 20th century, primarily works in the dystopian vein that respond to the rapid growth of mega-totalitarian States and the real-world anarchist battle against the onslaught of mechanized corporate-sponsored fascism of the Spanish revolution . Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1920), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and of course George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) all addressed the plight of the individual under the boot heel of the State.

Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938) is among the most powerful of the anti-totalitarian SciFi works of the era. Although Rand herself dismissed anarchism and she only wrote two novels that could be considered science fiction, her work is a perennial favorite among budding libertarians. Much misunderstood by leftist detractors and rightist fans alike, Rand’s work will continue to draw a bright line between anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-syndicalists for the foreseeable future.

Robert A. Heinlein is another controversial character of the mid twentieth century SciFi scene. His classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) is an undeniable high point in Anarcho SciFi, describing the struggles of a self-described “Rational Anarchist” in a fledgeling lunar society of so-called “loonies.” In fact, much of Heinlein’s work glorifies the individual in opposition to the State, although some of his themes are highly questionable and have garnered harsh criticisms of racism and sexism. An in-depth look at the high and low points of Heinlein’s work is beyond the scope of this article, but a simple analogy might be to compare Heinlein to Ron Paul.  Both men came of age in an era and culture in which certain attitudes were acceptable that are now considered reprehensible , and in some cases their ideas reflect that. Still, both rose to be outspoken representatives of many of the ideas about which most anarchists agree. Whether to accept or reject their body of work is solely up to the individual reader.

With the late 60s came the rise of what UK radical SciFi writer Mick Farren described as “the Psychedelic Left,” and with that movement came a tsunami of Anarcho SciFi. Samuel Delaney, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick and others blazed onto the science fiction scene with a furor of anti-establishmentarianism. In England, the “New Wave” of SciFi included Michael Moorcock and the sublime J.G. Ballard, whose novels like The Drought (1964) and The Atrocity Exhibition (1969) provided a haunting, introspective alternative to the the mainstream media vision of society.

One of the pillars of the anarcho-libertarian movement of the late 20th century was Robert Anton Wilson, who co-authored the seminal Illuminatus!  trilogy. Wilson wrote a handful of novels that fall within a loose definition of SciFi, along with a plethora of non-fiction work in which he introduced many readers to the ideas of Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker and other important anarcho-libertarians. He introduced the idea of “Guerrilla Ontology” –using his writing to break down limited worldviews and encouraged pranksterism as a form of direct action .

In the later part of the 20th century, a less experimental, more specifically libertarian theme became popular in SciFi circles. The Libertarian Futurist Society was formed in the early 1980s, and began presenting the Prometheus Award in 1982. Winners have included greats like F. Paul Wilson, Larry Niven and Poul Anderson. Alongside this more mainstream libertarian movement came Cyberpunk, the edgy, dystopian vision of Darwinian technology. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker rose from the Cyberpunk pack.

A wonderful and nearly forgotten book from 1989 is perhaps the penultimate Anarcho SciFi anthology. Semiotext(e) SF was edited by anarchist writer Peter Lamborn Wilson, Rudy Rucker and Robert Anton Wilson and features a who’s who of late-century counterculture science fiction writers including Gibson, Sterling and Ballard, along with Paul DiFillipo, Philip Jose Farmer, Colin Wilson and many more.

Most recently, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow and others have covered the spectrum of anarchist visions from dystopian to utopian. Doctorow’s young adult novels like Little Brother (2008), Pirate Cinema (2012) and Homeland (2013) are particularly important for introducing the ideas of personal freedom and opposition to State control to younger readers.

Any discussion of science fiction and it’s place in western culture would be incomplete without mentioning the role of “Fandom” and “Con Culture.” The time and place of the first “Con” (convention) of SciFi fans is the subject of some debate, but organized groups of science fiction readers were most certainly meeting as early as 1935. From those early meetings up to the present, Cons are almost a textbook definition of what Peter Lamborn Wilson (also known as Hakim Bey) described as a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone). In most cases with minimal hierarchical government and minimal rules, SciFi fans converge and openly share work, conduct commerce and interact around common interests and common goals. Unlike any other genre of literature, a completely unregulated system is in place by which fans are often allowed–and in some cases encouraged–to write “in the universe” of other professional writers, creating their own stories utilizing established characters and settings. In many cases, SciFi writers come from the ranks of fandom, being promoted in a merit-based system rather than through an academic or corporate structure like other forms of literature. In many ways, SciFi “Fandom” can be seen as a precursor to “Open Source” culture, and because there are so many SciFi fans among the ranks of “nerds” and “computer geeks”, it would not be a hard case to prove.

In 2009, the self professed marxist SciFi writer China Mieville came out with an anthology of Marxist influenced science fiction entitled Red Planets. It’s a fine book, but it represents a look backward, an examination of noble ideas of a flawed, 20th century philosophy. SciFi readers and writers have always represented the cutting edge of cultural thought, and it is time to focus on the work of those that celebrate the inevitable step forward into a culture beyond the violent confines of “the State” toward peaceful self-government.

In that spirit, Obsolete Press is launching “Anarcho SciFi”, a project to showcase both new and classic works of science fiction that explore anarchy, anarchism and the Stateless society. Readers of The Daily Anarchist and others are invited to take part in the project. Our first anthology is slated for late fall, 2013, and the deadline for submissions is Sept. 15th. For submission guidelines, please visit obsolete-press.com.

 

Tags:

18 Responses to “Science Fiction and the Stateless Society”

  1. Thanks for running this piece! I hope aspiring SF writers, comic book artists and essayists will submit their work to the anthology. Also, readers–I would love to here what your favorite Anarcho SciFi story is….

  2. FooNo Gravatar says:

    Regarding this subject I cannot recommend highly enough the essay “A Political History of SF” by Eric S. Raymond

    http://catb.org/esr/writings/sf-history.html

    Also recommended is another of his essays “Socialists to the Stars” http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=75

    — Foo Quuxman

    • Wow, thanks Foo! I’ve never heard of him before–great articles. I don’t agree completely with him, but his scholarship is undeniable. Maybe I’ll approach him about contributing an essay to the book….

  3. Lewie PaineNo Gravatar says:

    Ira Levin – This Perfect Day

  4. anarchohumanNo Gravatar says:

    Hear hear!

    I heart Quantum Vibe. It gives me a real anarcho-erection.

    What would science fiction roleplaying games be like without the influence of the State? I’m looking at YOU, Traveller.

  5. Don DuncanNo Gravatar says:

    When it looks hopeless with the police state becoming the norm here (USSA), I think of the world of total authoritarianism as presented in “Anthem”, and smile, knowing the mindless conformity I see all around me is self destructive. It will always fail as a culture, just as all the communes failed. The desperate attempts to evade the “self” just bring the evaders back to themselves, or oblivion. Either way, they have no power over me. I survived public school, this culture, the military-industrial complex, and I am bruised but not beaten.

  6. ShawnNo Gravatar says:

    Er, hmm. J. Neil Shulman’s “Alongside Night.” Granted, not necessarily written as a scifi novel, but certainly has (most of) the elements of one. And has the benefit of being made into a movie – quite recently… http://www.alongsidenightmovie.com/

  7. Thank you, as an avid sci-fi fan I really enjoyed your post, especially your comments about Ayn Rand.

    Only one part bothered me: in dividing the genre into marxist and fascist camps, aren’t you indulging in the old exercise of praising what you like and denouncing what you don’t as “fascist”?

    • Hi Gerry- I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      I did debate about using those terms as they are “loaded” in the modern context, but at the time, before the war had shown fascism for what it was, it was a quite popular political movement. I don’t use fascist as a pegorative term, but simply to describe the movement that some writers, particularly among the Futurist movement, supported at the time.

      For instance, in the New York SF club know as “The Futurians”, Asimov was a proud Marxist in those early days, just as James Blish was known to speak highly of Mussolini. Of course neither could predict the horros that Stalin and Hitler would commit later.

      Thanks for the feedback- I hope that explanation makes some sense.

  8. Gyorgy FuriosaNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Ricardo, great article on an important genre.

  9. Ben BeckNo Gravatar says:

    If you find this of interest you might like the “Anarchism and Science Fiction” section of my website, at http://benbeck.co.uk/anarchysf/main.htm.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.