Rare Earth: Revolutionary sci fi

Rare Earth, by Paul Mason, reviewed by Amanda Sebestyen

April 30, 2012 · 2 min read

At last the long drought is over for parched readers of revolutionary sci fi. Mason’s venture into fiction is fast and funny, clever and surprising. Rare Earth, set in China, offers a chaotic montage of present-day gangster capitalism, post-Stalinist brutality and cultish contemporary tribes. The pace, poetry and rude laughter of the book befit a savage hyperreality of the present global capitalist system, in which visions of justice and progress, consigned to the past, become extraterrestrial visitants.

The book’s central character, the sexist drunkard journalist Brough, is in China to find and record the truth. Uncool but heroic, he treks across wastes of radioactive sand and meets veterans of Tiananmen, rising up in their gulag only to be murdered and return again as spectres and portents. Mason’s story follows bumbling, ridiculous young lovers and a prostitute turning in corrupt officials, while the honest detective wavers on which side to take between repression and liberation. I sensed a new angle on radical storylines first glimpsed in Philip K Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and Frederik Pohl – masterly company for a first time novelist, though it’s no accident this is a men-only list.

The book’s attitudes to women are filtered through old fashioned male characters; females are viewed with combined antagonism and reluctant admiration. Brough’s younger woman boss – posh but brave – continually undermines his attempts to uncover the story and is instead beholden to higher powers: the Chinese rulers, the useful hedge-fund boyfriend and the New York media gatekeepers with their imperative to keep things shiny and uncontentious onscreen.

But any accusations of misogyny miss the point. Reviews that have focused on the boozing and bonking in the book only underline my belief that most of our current cultural gatekeepers could not recognise a revolutionary possibility if it biffed them on the nose. Paul Mason’s edgy writing does justice to this world we try to live in – with its devastating resource wars, its pervasive sex industries, its ever-mutating subcultures – whirling around like the hyperconductive minerals that power our labile communications universe. Revolutionary times make revolutionary fiction.


Bad Gays: A Homosexual History – review

Claire Biddles reviews a radical rethinking of queer history and politics

Review: Toxic Legacy by Stephanie Seneff

Jake Woodier explores the purported widespread havoc of herbicide Glyphosate, industrial scientific sabotage and the destructive agricultural system

The hopeful refusenik: An interview with Joe Glenton

Daniel Baker sits down with Joe Glenton to discuss class, veteranhood, and the radical potential for organising within Britain's armed forces


Why should socialists read Marx? 

Marx remains a vital conversational partner, writes Tom Whyman

Review – Daring to Hope: My Life in the 1970s

Feminist icon Sheila Rowbotham's memoir paints a dynamic picture of the 1970s trade union and feminist movements and as Lydia Hughes argues, there is much their modern counterparts can learn from them

Review: You Have Not Yet Been Defeated: Selected Works 2011-2021

This new collection reveals the continuing tensions and struggles in Egypt after the uprising of a decade ago, writes Anne Alexander

For a monthly dose
of our best articles
direct to your inbox...