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October 28, 2010

Starship Stormtroopers by Michael Moorcock

This is the essay about sci fi's love of dictators that I have been waiting for. Starship Stormtroopers
There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radical singing the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein or Richard Adams. All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal in common. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in one form or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began. Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries and the alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to say simple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customers shows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven, beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused of subscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Club and yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writers who would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin and Monday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune. Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim in Anarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionary leftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for years bring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past by listening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat at odds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected to hear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have a point'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another the exceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began to emerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes -- but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries to a man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised in IT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose general political ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what I thought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and as often as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or at very best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake. But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to present arguments which I have presented more than once before. During the sixties, in common with many other periodicals, our New Worlds believed in revolution. Our emphasis was on fiction, the arts and sciences, because it was what we knew best. We attacked and were in turn attacked in the all-to-familiar rituals. Smiths refused to continue distributing the magazine unless we 'toned down' our contents. We refused. We were, they said, obscene, blasphemous, nihilistic etc., etc. The Daily Express attacked us. A Tory asked a question about us in the House of Commons -- why was public money (a small Arts Council grant) being spent on such filth. I recount all this not merely to establish what we were prepared to do to maintain our policies (we were eventually wiped out by Smiths and Menzies) but to point out that we were the only sf magazine to pursue what you might call a determinedly radical approach -- and sf buffs were the first to attack us with genuine vehemence. Our main serial running at the height of our troubles was called Bug Jack Barron written by Norman Spinrad, who had taken an active part in radical politics in the US and used his story to display the abuse of democracy and the media in America. He later went on to write a satirical sword-and-sorcery epic, The Iron Dream, intended to display the fascist elements inherent to the form. The author of this novel existed, as it were, in an alternate history to our own. His name was Adolf Hitler. The book was meant to point up the number of sf authors who were, in a sense, 'unsuccessful Hitlers'. . . .