Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The third in Miéville’s Bas-Lag trilogy and not an easy read but a beautifully rendered epic, which draws on Jewish mythology to structure a fantasy of world-changing proportions. Miéville insists he doesn’t write sci-fi, and for good reason. As he says, most sci-fi, in insisting that something recognisable as ‘science’ must underpin the narrative, just ends up reproducing ‘capitalist science’s bullshit about itself’. The logic of Iron Council is drawn from workers’ struggles, the friction of alliances between oppressed peoples and the surprising consequences of bringing the monsters out to play. But the emphasis is on the contradictions of political conviction and the impossibility of policing the march of history – even if you have magic on your side.
Body of Glass
Piercy’s feminist intervention into what she calls the cyberpunk ‘playground’ is joyfully constructed around the premise that a grandmotherly hacker and her granddaughter inherit the task of socialising an embodied cyborg intelligence so that he can pass as ‘human’. Make him the perfect lover? Of course you would. Like Miéville, Piercy draws on the myth of the golem to structure an argument for, in Donna Haraway’s words, ‘seizing the tools’ of capitalist hegemony to strike at the heart of multinational corporate imperialism. Acknowledging her debt to Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’, Piercy crafts a compelling narrative of empowerment through fusion with technology.
The Star Fraction
First in the ‘Fall Revolutions’ series and a somewhat wry dig at the factionalisation of the left in the wake of neoliberalism. A near-future UK is split into mini-states with competing ideologies; a small part of north London exists as a libertarian/anarchist enclave and the green eco-warriors are armed and dangerous. Riffing on cyberpunk’s preoccupation with artificial intelligence and its ubiquitous multi-functioning mirrorshades (here called ‘glades’), The Star Fraction is part send-up of conspiracy theorising paranoia and part serious call-to-arms for an entrenched left. ‘On a clear day,’ writes MacLeod, ‘you can see the revolution.’
Jones’ Aleutians are arguably the most fully realised aliens in sci-fi to date. White Queen is the first in a trilogy that takes seriously the complexities and political consequences of first contact in order to raise questions about slavish dependence on saviour ideologies and the centrality of race, gender and sexuality to any political project. The empathic, media-worshipping Aleutians might be more ruthless capitalists than the human inhabitants of Earth, or they might just be opportunistic pirates. Either way, they allow Jones to say something profound about how ideologies shape identities and just who has the right to determine the fate of nations, or even planets.
Ursula K Le Guin
Still required reading for anarchists with time on their hands between meetings, this story of two planets with opposing but sometimes equally oppressive ideologies exposes the flaws in what passes for utopia while still managing to present a searing indictment of capitalism and propertarianism. When Shevek, the disillusioned scientist, makes the ‘equations’ for his new communications technology available to both planets, he inaugurates a different kind of revolution, a theme that should make contemporary open source and anti-copyright activists sit up and take note.
Katharine Burdekin, writing as Murray Constantine
Chosen by Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club as its book of the month in July 1940 in response to requests that ‘in these difficult summer months the choice should be a novel’. Burdekin’s dystopian vision of Britain 700 years into the thousand-year reich not only anticipates the concerns of 1970s feminism but does so in a way that exposes the relationship between knowledge and power. The inherent weakness of totalitarianism, she suggests, is its need for a perpetually ignorant citizenship.
Bradbury’s anti-censorship diatribe, made into a film in 1966 by François Truffaut, is not only relevant to contemporary politics but eerily prescient in its depiction of interactive and immersive media substituting for real-life experiences. Mildred is a simpering housewife but Montag’s tears when he realises he feels nothing for her speak volumes about the alienating effects of consumerism and the dead hand of the state. Notable for the scary mechanical hound the ‘firemen’ use to track down book-reading dissidents and the ending, which, like Iron Council, leaves the revolution in abeyance for a time when it might, just, succeed.
Samuel R Delany
Based on the now discredited strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the idea that language shapes reality and identity, this is still a persuasive and compelling premise for critiquing the grip of ideology and the clash of ideas that perpetuate wars. And a world-saving female poet and starship captain emerging from the pen of a black, gay, dyslexic professor of linguistics in 1966, not to mention the casual acceptance of non-hetero-normative family relationships, still provide very good reasons for punching the air when you turn the final page. Delany is one of the founders of Afrofuturism and a master at exposing the politics of racial and sexual difference.
Iain M Banks
Banks just has to be included here but it’s pretty much impossible to select one from among the ten books in the decades-spanning Culture series. What Star Trek would have been if the Federation was organised on anarchist principles and the Enterprise was a living ship guided by a prodigious artificial intelligence with a nice line in wry humour, the Culture universe is a provocative playground for committed post-humanists. The sad news of Banks’ death means the series is at a close, but these books will be read, re-read, pondered and critiqued long after the rest of us have returned to galactic dust.
Forty Signs of Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson
Sci-fi has been inexplicably slow to respond to the threat of global warming and, of the few writers that have tackled it, Robinson stands out for having the guts to develop a narrative that not only demonstrates the link between capital accumulation and climate change but also challenges the ideology of enlightenment science. The plot allows Robinson to introduce us to some irritating and ultimately self-serving scientists and politicians, who are all desperately trying to keep their heads in the sand but who, through an encounter with some Tibetan Buddhists, are forced to question just what it means to be rational.
Now have a read of our science fiction authors roundtable.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero