Leftist speculative fiction (and other political SF of interest)

The following list focuses on science fiction, fantasy, and alternative history books that are informed or influenced by the causes of the political left and their associated theoretical perspectives. While I assumed a very broad understanding of left-wing politics when researching the titles to be included, my goal was for the majority of them to represent distinctly and recognizably leftist viewpoints, rather than some vaguely left-of-center sentiments. In other words, I wanted to compile a list of broadly socialist, Marxist, left-anarchist, or Green works of speculative fiction.

Of course, a good work of political fiction is rarely a preachy, didactic piece of propaganda. To be considered “leftist,” a book does not need to make explicit ideological statements. The deciding factor is that it is based on a critical approach to the liberal-bourgeois consensus on social and economic organization. In the realm of speculative fiction, this is usually accompanied by a subversive attitude toward the trends and tropes popular in more mainstream literature, such as justifications for imperialism, militarism, and the rule of technocratic elites common in science fiction, consevative apologias for stratified societies haunting the worlds of fantasy, and individualistic male power fantasy tendencies that are prevalent across all genres.

The core titles on the list fall into one or more of the following broad categories:

  • Dystopian depictions of the ills of capitalism and other dehumanizing and oppressive systems, as well as the plight of people living under their power
  • Plots centered around attempts at political resistance, emancipation, and revolutionary struggle
  • Utopian (ambiguously or otherwise!) visions of post-revolutionary societies
  • More broadly, hopeful descriptions of alternative forms of societal and economic organization that serve as critiques of the status quo
  • Critiques of colonialism and systemic racism
  • Feminist, queer, and gender-based investigations of sexual repression and discrimination, seeking new possibilities of liberation
  • Expressions of ecological concerns, including the issue of climate change
  • Texts sympathetic to the aims and methods of progressive countercultural movements, often experimental on the formal level

However, since all my lists are based on the wisdom of the crowds, they often fall victim to the crowds’ ignorance. In the current context, this means that any left-wing allegiances of some of the books and authors that were included on the list are highly debatable. To name a few examples:

  • While George Orwell may have been a democratic socialist, his Nineteen Eighty-Four is primarily known through its opportunistic use by liberals and reactionaries.
  • Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress depicts a worker’s revolution, but from a right-libertarian viewpoint. But to quote no less a socialist sci-fi luminary than Ken MacLeod: “The central political voice in genre SF is that of Robert A. Heinlein […]; the political strand in SF can be described as a dialogue with Heinlein.”
  • Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge are widely regarded as libertarian authors, whereas Peter F. Hamilton is classified as a conservative.
  • As far as I’m aware, the young adult series Red Rising by Pierce Brown (a son of a media CEO and a banker, no less) is a blatant case of recuperation, as it employs superficial imagery of class struggle and left-wing revolution without espousing the underlying ideas.

While I am aware this may cause some confusion, I decided to leave all of these questionable books on the list. The fact that they were frequently mentioned alongside genuinely leftist titles should be enough to make them interesting and worthy of reflection. Aside from that, they introduce some variety, which should be welcomed in any discussion of alternative modes of social relations. Let a hundred flowers bloom!

The list