No More Culture Books left - what other SF is like Iain Banks?
February 10, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

This question was helpful, but I need something from a slightly different direction for my husband who is out of Culture books: the humanist angle is great, but really looking for thoughtful left-anarchist SF in particular, "upbeat but not saccharine."

Hard SF is better than soft, but both are okay - no SF/Fantasy blends like dragons or wizards, even high-tech ones. Bonus points for specifically syndicalist works, but I know that's asking a lot. Specifically, not socialist science fiction like China Mieville, or libertarian, but left- anarchist that doesn't turn into everything going badly.
posted by corb to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Fire on the Mountain by Terry Bisson. Written in the 70's, so the embrace of certain aspects of communism I find absurd was a little weird. It's partially alt-history, partially scifi. Overall, really fun though.
posted by Hactar at 12:43 PM on February 10, 2014

There's always LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, but it's only one book. It is an interesting take on an actual anarchist civilization though.

Unless he's already read it.

Kim Stanley Robinson isn't exactly anarchist, but leftist and (ultimately) upbeat, at least in the Mars books. I'm told that's true of his later books but I haven't read them yet.
posted by emjaybee at 12:58 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, canonically, the anarchist SF novel is Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed. I think it's worth reading simply because it is so influential.

Some books I would read:
Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany. I think anyone who is interested in Banks will be interested in the "Web" and the conflict between Family and Sign. I don't think that Delany describes the society of Morgre as anarchist, but it definitely has anarchist-style social organization.

Floating Worlds, by Cecilia Holland - a space opera that starts out in a very interesting grumpy-anarchist milieu. I really like this book because the anarchists are not all nice and kind, and of course in any real anarchist situation, people are not necessarily going to be all hearts and flowers.

I also really like the Marq'ssan series by L Timmel DuChamp, but it's not a super-upbeat group of books. One of the major chunks of plot involves an anarchist sector in the pacific northwest, though, and there's a lot of realistic depiction of anarchist things. (The technology is very much the nineties' version of the near future, be aware.)

I think it would be helpful either to prioritize "science fiction that is anarchist" or "science fiction that is upbeat and space-opera-y". IME, there really isn't too much like Banks, but there's a relatively large amount of anarchist (or functionally anarchist) science fiction that isn't space opera and/or isn't super-upbeat, and of course there's a large amount of space opera/hard SF.
posted by Frowner at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oh crap, Frowner, you're right. I always mix those two titles up! It is The Dispossessed.
posted by emjaybee at 1:10 PM on February 10, 2014

Left-anarchist? Ken Macloud springs to mind. Not many Marxists win libertarian science fiction prizes, but the Fall Revolution series is (at least partially) an exploration of different sorts of anarchist future societies.

(Not sure whether Ken would still describe himself as a Marxist, but he certainly used to be.)
posted by pharm at 1:12 PM on February 10, 2014

Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed is a pretty obvious choice, if he hasn't already read it. (Wikipedia's plot summary.) The main character is from an anarcho-syndicalsist society, and about half the novel takes place there.

(I see this is getting repetitive.)
posted by nangar at 1:23 PM on February 10, 2014

Some useful links:

MythMakers and LawBreakers by Margaret Killjoy and KSR sounds like it might interest your partner. It has a bunch of lists of anarchist-related s.f. in the back apparently.

To expand on the Ken Maclouds:

The Star Fraction is set in a United Kingdom that has fractured into many micro-societies, all competing with each other.
The Stone Canal is set in an anarcho-capitalist society.
The Cassini Division is set in an anarcho-communist society.
Then there's the Sky Road, which I haven't read yet.

In all four, the future turns out to be mostly determined by the arguments a bunch of Scottish left wing students have about politics in the 1970s & their echoing ramifications down the centuries!

Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space might count. A much darker universe than Banks' though.

The other Edinburgh SF author that springs to mind is Charles Stross of course. There's an anarcho-communist deep sea commune in Neptune's Brood for a start.

Has your husband trawled through the Anarchism and Science Fiction website?
posted by pharm at 1:29 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oo. That Margaret Killjoy book is officially downloadable as a bunch of pdfs here:

Zip file here I believe:
posted by pharm at 1:34 PM on February 10, 2014

I came in to recommend Ken MacLeod too. I love the Fall Revolution series, which is a bit more overtly political than Banks, but equally great.
posted by Joh at 1:51 PM on February 10, 2014

I thought Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice was rather in the vein of Iain M. Banks, if the Culture was an expansionist colonial empire (the empire's expansionist policies are a plot point). The protagonist is the remaining body belonging to a part of a ship AI.
posted by sukeban at 2:05 PM on February 10, 2014

(of course, space colonial empires are nowhere near left-anarchism, at least in the only published book-- it's part 1 in a series)
posted by sukeban at 2:08 PM on February 10, 2014

I'd suggest you might like author Hannu Rajaniemi - The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince are both out right now, with a third coming along to finish the trilogy. The writing, technology and milieu remind me of the Culture novels. They are definitely hard sci-fi and I'm fairly certain they'll meet the rest of your criteria, at least in parts. Part of the delight I found in these books was the mental shift required to deal with the worlds and civilisations Rajaniemi writes about.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:09 PM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Let me know if you like David Brin's 'Uplift Series'.

You can start at Brightness Reef (beginning of a trilogy), or The Uplift War, and treat the earlier books as books that read equally well later, as prequels.
It's interesting figuring out the universe as you go.

You may find some of the themes of his work interesting, even if they aren't explicitly anarchist or syndicalist (although in that trilogy, that is something of the set up).
posted by Elysum at 3:18 PM on February 10, 2014

Elizabeth Bear writes thinky stuff along those lines. Carnival is a one-off about some folks from a machine governed socialist society running up against a culture that sort of is, sort of isn't.

Also, the Jenny Casey trilogy takes some hard looks at politics, sharing, information as property and other things as both privilege and property that I quite enjoyed.

The Jacob's Ladder series is also good in looking at life among limited resources and possible governance/political societies.

C.J. Cherryh's Cyteen is also a very interesting, smart, huge book about an economy driven by psychologists and clones that I think is quite sophisticated.

Also her Foreigner Universe has a very interesting capitalistic human society living within a larger world that is very much different and there's a long running examination of the forces of technology on the outer alien society which I also found very interesting.

Also nthing Le Guin's The Dispossessed, which is one book that's in my permanent collection.
posted by kalessin at 4:26 PM on February 10, 2014

Another vote for Ken MacLeod. He's not Banks—who really is?—but he's a good storyteller, and seems to have been a good friend of Banks', so there's a fair bit of commonality. (MacLeod blogged some about Banks' politics here.)

Recently he seems to have gone more ripped-from-tomorrow's-papers with Intrusion, and The Execution Channel, which aren't to my tastes, but I've loved his two space opera series Engines of Light and The Fall Revolution. Also, the standalone Learning the World and Newton's Wake. Maybe try Learning the World first. It may be the most hopeful of MacLeod's books.

See also the third of Edinburgh's SF luminaries, MeFi's own cstross. His Accelerando is free and recommended, as are many others, though he also dips into other sub-genres that don't match-up so well with what you're looking for, so pick and choose.
posted by mumkin at 7:27 PM on February 10, 2014

I don't know if it fits you political criteria, but nthing the Foreigner Universe for relatively upbeat SF, with the multi-cultural element shared by the Culture series. Also along those lines: the Old Man's War series by John Scalzi; the Sector General series (which seems somewhat chauvinist in the early books, but improves).
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:30 PM on February 10, 2014

I came to recommend Alastair Reynolds, but Blue Remembered Earth instead of the Revelation Space novels. It's an unfinished trilogy that's intentionally going for a more positive idea of the future than his previous novels.

(Also, some of the dialog in the early Revelation Space novels is painfully clunky, especially the first one.)
posted by aspo at 9:10 PM on February 10, 2014

It's going to be either Brin or Douglas Adams.

I always felt that Banks stole the 'casually massive' from Adams.
posted by Sphinx at 9:15 AM on February 11, 2014

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