10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

Looking for an antidote to Star Trek's utopian but overbearing Federation? Like your science fiction with a bigger emphasis on personal liberties? Then check out our list of the greatest libertarian science fiction.

Here's an io9 flashback to a list we originally published in 2009.

Top image: Detail from the cover of Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

First, here's a quick disclaimer. The vast majority of science fiction is to some extent concerned with a heroic individual struggling against a large, probably oppressive society - so a huge amount of science fiction could be considered libertarian to some degree. What sets apart the books on this list - and there are certainly tons of others out there that would make worthy additions - is that they are actively concerned with exploring explicitly libertarian philosophy in a science fiction setting, and many on the list below have been specifically singled out as such by libertarians themselves.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

1. News from Nowhere; or, An Epoch of Rest: Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance by William Morris

Of all the utopian books that appeared towards the nineteenth century (the most famous of which is probably Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward), one of the very few that saw a perfect future as fundamentally libertarian was 1890's News from Nowhere. Written from an anarchic-socialist perspective, Morris imagines a future where the community controls the means of production and existing social structures are a thing of the past, with cities, money, divorce, and courts all now obsolete.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

2. Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells

There are a bunch of potential candidates when it comes to Wells's writings on libertarian utopias, but his 1924 book is by far the best. Scientists from our world stumble upon a parallel universe with an Earth thousands of years more advanced than ours. No governments exist because children are firmly indoctrinated to understand one single, solitary point: respect the autonomy of others. With this one simple rule in mind, there is no need for social institutions, and the people of that world spend their days enjoying their genetically engineered perfection and all the free love they can handle.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

3. "Late Night Final" by Eric Frank Russell

This 1948 short story looks at a spaceship in orbit above the planet it has come to invade. As the crew learns how to communicate with the anarchic natives down on the surface, the command structure slowly crumbles. Eventually, presented with the opportunity of a peaceful, completely free life down on the surface, the invaders abandon their ship until only the captain is left. Russell's 1962 novel The Great Explosion also follows bumbling militarists from Earth as they encounter three long-isolated colony worlds that have since evolved into rather unusual societies. The third and most positively portrayed planet, K22g, has become a peaceful, libertarian society whose people call themselves Gands after their inspiration, Mohandas Gandhi.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

4. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Originally published in 1956 as Tiger, Tiger!, Bester's novel of teleportation and revenge foresaw many of the elements that continue to dominate science fiction to this day. Of particular interest to libertarians is his depiction of corporations, oppressive mega-conglomerates that rival governments in their scope and power. The novel's protagonist, Gully Foyle, is defined by his growing individualism and self-reliance - the characteristics of the quintessential libertarian hero - which he uses to gain vengeance on those who abandoned him in his hour of need.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

5. "The Last of the Deliverers" by Poul Anderson

Anderson's 1957 story imagines a world where limitless solar energy has made the geopolitical order of the Cold War obsolete. The world is now organized into countless little autonomous communities, and people are free to do pretty much whatever they want. Although there are enough people who still want to raise crops or make goods to prevent societal decay, most people spend their time pursuing leisure activities such as sex and hunting. To the interest of nobody, the last two true believers in the old world order - one a capitalist and the other a communist - pass the time arguing the relative merits of their systems, totally ignoring the fact it's all academic now anyway.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

6. Emphyrio by Jack Vance

This 1969 novel follows Ghyl Tarvoke of the planet Halma, where the ruling lords have outlawed mass production by the populace and use the resulting masterworks of the world's artisans - which they then mass produce - as the linchpin of their interstellar trade. Following the example of Halma's legendary hero Emphyrio, a figure of liberty and rebellion, Ghyl leads a revolt against Hamla's aristocracy, rocking the foundations of the planet's society.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

7. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia by Ursula K. Le Guin

Set in her Hainish Cycle universe, this book won both the Nebula and Hugo award in 1974. Among other topics, Le Guin explores the society on Annares, a large, habitable moon of the planet Urras on which revolutionaries from that planet settled so that they might realize their dreams of an anarchic utopia. Two centuries later, the revolution has stagnated and hierarchical structures are reemerging, even if no one on Annares is willing to admit it. Le Guin wasn't kidding when she put "ambiguous" in the title - lots of anarchists and libertarians believe Annares is portrayed in a fundamentally positive light, while capitalists tend to see Annares as an outright dystopia.

Also worth checking out is 1973's "The Day Before The Revolution", which depicts the historical and ideological background of Odonianism, the anarchic thought that pervades the worlds of The Dispossessed. There's also the introduction to her short story collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters, which offers a succinct summary of why she finds anarchy so interesting to explore:

Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff, which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself with; not the social-Darwinist economic 'libertarianism' of the far right; but anarchism, as prefigured in early Taoist thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and Goodman. Anarchism's principal target is the authoritarian State (capitalist or socialist); its principal moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid). It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of all political theories.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

8. Pretty much anything by Robert Heinlein

If you're looking for science fiction with a libertarian perspective, you really can't go wrong with Robert Heinlein, particularly his later works. His constantly evolving politics, tempered with an always iconoclastic belief in individual freedom, led him to place seemingly contradictory ideas in his books, from his advocacy of the sexual revolution in Stranger in a Strange Land to the complicated militarism of Starship Troopers.

But The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is probably his most comprehensive exploration of his libertarian ideals, not to mention one of the most successful attempts to couch his beliefs in a compelling narrative. One of the book's main characters, the "rational anarchist" Professor Bernardo de la Paz, explains at length how government - any government, even democratic ones - is an inherent threat to individual freedom. Considering the repressive lunar society presented in the novel, it's a difficult point to argue, although Heinlein is the first to admit that once the revolution is over most people would rather choose the security and laws offered by some new government over the uncertainty of true freedom.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

9. Absolutely everything by Robert Anton Wilson

Probably the only author who exceeds Robert Heinlein in fusing science fiction and libertarian thought is Robert Anton Wilson, who has written several trilogies that are equal parts futuristic yarns and philosophical explorations. The Illuminatus Trilogy! (coauthored with Robert Shea) is primarily concerned with anarchism, with several appendices ostensibly written by the books' several anarchist groups that provide extensive theoretical ruminations on the topic. 1979's Schroedinger's Cat trilogy looks more directly at libertarianism, considering an alternate universe in which the Libertarian Immortalist Party has turned that world's United States, known as Unistat, into an authority-free utopia.

10 Greatest Libertarian Science Fiction Stories

10. Wheels Within Wheels by F. Paul Wilson

Wilson's 1979 novel looks at a massive conspiracy that threatens the liberty of an entire interstellar Federation. As Pete Paxton and the granddaughter of his old partner, Jo Finch, struggle to uncover the truth, they must face Machiavellian political operators and a ruthless telepath. The novel is a classic example of the struggle between individual defenders of liberty and shadowy governmental figures who look to take freedom away for their own ends, but that's not why I included it on the list.

The book is also the inaugural winner of the Prometheus Award, a yearly honor given out by the Libertarian Futurist Society for the best science fiction book that explores libertarian themes. Past winners have included Harry Turtledove, Neal Stephenson, and Terry Pratchett; a full list of past winners can be found here and is as good a place as any from which to develop a libertarian science fiction reading list. (You also really can't go wrong with awards that have given special honors to Patrick McGoohan for The Prisoner and Joss Whedon for Serenity. You just can't.)

More reading:

How to Steal an Election, Science Fiction-Style.

Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Goes Dismayingly Easy on its Characters

Geoengineers Vs. The Mafia State in "The Quiet War"

Is "Science Fiction Humanism" a Contradiction in Terms?

Science Fiction That Caused Political Change

Anti-Corporate Libertarian Futurism in "The Unincorporated Man"

Nobody Pays Taxes Today: Tax Revolts From Science Fiction and Fantasy