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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.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going