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.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
In Pictures: The World Transformed
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram