It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

The inaugural Sputnik Award


A few days ago, Lavie Tidhar tweeted a sarcastic comment, as he is wont to do, about libertarians having a science fiction award, the Prometheus, but there being no corresponding award for socialists. And while he likely didn’t mean it seriously, it did occur to me that perhaps there should be an antidote to science fiction’s notorious right-wingness (and by that I’m referring to the texts, not the authors). Where are the science fiction works which posit socialist, or communist, futures? Where are the sf books which celebrate left-wing political thought? And isn’t it about time we showed those right-wingers that: no, they don’t speak for all of us. In fact, they probably only speak for a minority.

Back in 2009, Mark Boulds and China Miéville published a  book of essays on “Marxism and Science Fiction” titled Red Planets. And Miéville has proffered a reading list of left-wing genre works. But this should be something which is ongoing, which grows each year, which is in conversation with both itself and the wider genre (yes, including its more fascistic elements).

So, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I thought it might be a good idea to, well, take Lavie’s idea and punt it out into public for discussion. And I decided to call this imaginary socialist sf award the Sputnik Award because it was the most obvious name for it – celebrating both the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth (you can’t get MOAR SPACE than that), the Russian for “fellow traveller” (used as code for “communist”), and named for a thing rather than a person (who might later prove divisive or contentious).

Sputnik, hanging in Milestones of Flight, National Air and Space Museum

Sputnik, hanging in Milestones of Flight, National Air and Space Museum

However… awards need shortlists. From which they can choose a winner. Who will then receive a trophy or something. But, well, socialist science fiction… Such a thing exists, it must exist, but where is it? Can anyone suggest any science fiction novel, novella, short story or graphic novel, published in 2015, which is both science fiction and socialist? There’s Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, although that posits a form of Athenian democracy (a political system much beloved in sf) rather than outright socialism; Carolyn Ives Gilman’s Dark Orbit certainly embodies the spirit of socialism, although the only political systems mentioned are anything but; and there’s Carter Scholz’s ‘The United States of Impunity’ which is only just sf and only just fiction and more of a critique of the current economic and politic climate in the US than anything else…

There must be examples out there. Any suggestions? Or is sf just too right-wing? Are we going to have to accept that science fiction exists only as a right wing genre? That even its left-wing writers end up writing right-wing stories? I hope not.

Because that would be really sad.


24 thoughts on “The inaugural Sputnik Award

  1. I read a good short story about Gagarin on Mars

  2. I don’t want to be one of those authors pushing their own works, but, well, my book The Milkman depicts a world with no governments. And it ain’t pretty. The world, that is. The book itself is pretty. Great cover.

    And great idea.

  3. The Prometheus Awards give themselves plenty of leeway, right? E.g. Alan Moore, Margaret Atwood, Ken MacLeod, Terry Pratchett.

    Cory Doctorow has won multiple times & though I can see why, he’s hardly the first person who springs to mind when I think “libertarian science fiction author.”

    “The Sputnik Award: awarded to the best speculative fiction work promoting individual and collective freedom published in the previous calendar year.”

    Or: “The Sputnik Award: awarded to the best speculative fiction work promoting meaningful and lasting freedom published in the previous calendar year.”

    How about two categories, novel and short fiction (cut-off 40,000 like BSFA?)?

    • I suspect it would be that difficult to find eligible works it’s not worth having two categories. Perhaps a model similar to the Tiptree would work better.

      • So winner, honourable mention and recommended reading lists?

        And a rotating jury?

        Speaking of the Tiptrees, it is interesting to read the early ones because there is a sense in them there is more than one way to order political economics, a sense largely lacking in modern SF. People may criticize the current system but the only alternatives they appear to be able to envision are returns to older ways of doing things.

  4. Short stories are definitely a bit easier to think of than novels.

  5. Haven’t read it, but maybe Nick Mamatas’s The Last Weekend?

  6. *cough* TESTAMENT *cough*

  7. Suggested on TWITTER.COM: Kim Stanley Robinson, AURORA; “We Never Sleep” by @NMamatas (nominated twice), JOY OF SECTS by Joseph Tomaras (, “The Dusty Hat” by China Mieville.

    • I mentioned Aurora is my post, but I think it’s more Athenian democracy than socialism. Not sure about the Mamatas. The Tomaras and Miéville both seem based on socialist revolutions, rather than set in a world where socialism or communisim is the default political system.

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  9. “Socialism,” I find, is a term often used but rarely applied with any consistency. So when you say “socialist” works, are you talking about works critical of socioeconomic inequality, and which promote state policies designed to reduce said inequality? Or are you talking about works that feature the comprehensive redistribution of assets and/or abolishment of private ownership/property?

    And what, exactly, is “socialism” in political terms–insofar as it contrasts with “Athenian democracy?” Most state communist systems have been party states, whereas social democracies are…parliamentary democracies. The Paris Commune attempted something else, but that something else has never been implemented at the state level.

    The Prometheus Award tends to define “libertarian SF” broadly–not in terms of doctrinaire political libertarianism, but in terms of whether a given book is anti-statist and is concerned with individual rights/protections.

  10. I am intrigued as to exactly what is/would be “socialist SF”? Could someone explain please. Thank you.

    • It would be science fiction set in socialist or left-wing universes (although not sf where said universe is replaced by some neoliberal, libertarian, right-wing nonsense.)

  11. If I understand correctly that the award is in an early plannig stages could I ask: why only sf? If you look at fantasy too you will find for instance Max Gladstone’s „Last First Snow”…

    • “Planning stages” is being generous. I threw the idea out to see what people would make of it. And as for why only sf… Well, I’m a sf fan, not a fantasy one. And it strikes me that it would be much easier to build left-wing universes in sf than in fantasy (all those authoritarians kings and queens and emperors empresses), and yet so few people bother trying.

      • The issue goes away if you call it “speculative fiction”. That also removes the whole issue of if science fantasy and other edge cases would be eligible. No reason to limit the pool unnecessarily.

        I don’t think there’s any intrinsic reason fantasy couldn’t explore appropriate themes. A fantasy I read recently had a subplot about a quest for affordable health care despite a social system that made finding it a challenge. Specifically, the lead wanted an abortion and the only region that offered safe abortions (let alone for a price the protag was comfortable with) was on the other side of an expanse of Evil Overlordia. Since the Evil Overlord was trying to destroy the world, health care was low priority for his administration.

        • Except I really don’t like the term “speculative fiction”, and I see no good reason to shoehorn fantasy into the discussion every time science fiction is mentioned 🙂 Besides, fantasy outsells sf and so would likely dominate… and really feeble or peripheral elements which fit the remit, rather than something that tackles it head-on, would make the exercise pointless.

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  13. With Ian’s blessing, we have appropriated this name for a new award. In its first year it is apolitical, but that may change next time round!

  14. Pingback: Sputnik Award: The Final – Vector

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