Economic Science Fiction: a selection of works and authors

Whoa, you are right! You are welcome to add them. I have not done so myself (though I love both books) because both seems to me a bit too close to cyberpunk dystopian hypercapitalism – not really the “completely different economic systems” that this thread aspires to. But I am happy to change my mind: I’ll finish this post and dig into your review of The Diamond Age

As for the Mars Trilogy, I suspect we have been had by the brilliant KSR. I also remembered Bogdanovism as an interesting economic theory, so I dug in looking for quotes. But found very little: with a sleight of hand, KSR lets the economics of Mars be explained by characters that admit “not getting it”, like Coyote and Nirgal. As a consequence, everything is pretty cloudy. :smile:

Very nice, @kevin_carson, thanks! In your reading, the book is more of a meditation à la Doctorow (artificial scarcity!) than a moonshot for a completely different economic system. But your point is well taken, and your post an enjoyable read.

Regarding The Caryatids, the economic system of the Acquis is probably the most interesting part from an economic POV. At one point Stirling explicitly refers to it as “commons-based peer production.”

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I was re-reading this thread and found this beautiful quote by @GrahamCaswell. I cannot resist the temptation of kicking it back up! Well done, Graham.

Good list. I don’t know all these. I am an economist; I have been working on economics & sci-fi. Here is my list – it’s a lot of reading, so I have made a stop at 1969 so far:

Utopias:(starting with the grand-daddy):
Thomas More. Utopia . (1516)
Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy (1888),
S. Byron Welcome. From Earth’s Center: A Polar Gateway Message. (1895)
William Morris. News From Nowhere. (1890)
Peck, Bradford. The World a Department Store. (1899)
H.G. Wells. A Modern Utopia. (1905)
Robert Heinlein. For Us the Living. (1939)
Stanislaus Lem. Return from the Stars. (1961)

Feminist Utopias: (no offense, but as with sci-fiers generally, you are vastly white male from rich country oriented – I’m trying to adjust for my background as well as I can. This is, quite literally, the biggest problem with the entire effort of re-imagining our world.)
Griffith, Mary. Three Hundred Years Hence. (1836)
Bellamy, Edward. A Positive Romance. (1898)
Cridge, Annie Denton. Man’s Rights, or How Would You Like It? (1870)
Bulwer-Lytton, Edward. The Coming Race. (1871)
Lane, Mary E Bradley. Mizora. (1881)
Corbett, Elizabeth Burgoyne. New Amazonia. (1889)
Jones, Alice Ilgenfritz and Ella Merchant. (1893)
Grigsby, Alcanoan, and Mary P Lowe. NEQUA, or Problem of the Ages. (1900)
Hossein, Rokeya Sakhawat. Sultana’s Dream. (1905)
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Moving the Mountain. (1911)
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland. (1915)
Bennett, Gertrude Barrows, writing as Francis Stevens. The Heads of Cerberus. (1919)

Dodd, Anna Bowman. The Republic of the Future. (1887)
H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, (1895)
Mantegazza, Paolo. The Year 3000. (1897)
Forster, E.M. The Machine Stops, (1909)
Jack London. The Iron Heel. (1908)
H.G. Wells. The Sleeper Awakes. (1910)
We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, (1921) (THE essential anti-socialist dystopia)
Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. (1932)
Ayn Rand. Anthem. (1937)
Karin Boye. Kallocain. (1940)
George Orwell. 1984. (1949)
Kurt Vonnegut. Player Piano. (1952)
Sheckley, Robert. The Status Civilization. (1960)

Positivism & criticism of it/Frederick Taylor
Hugo Gernsbach. Ralph 124C 41+. (1911)
The Syndic, by C.M. Kornbluth (1953) – yes!
Pohl, Frederick. The Tunnel Under the World. (1955)
Michael Young. The Rise of the Meritocracy. (1958)
Harlan Ellison. “Repent, Harlequin”, Said the Ticktockman. (1965)

Hertzka, Theodor. Freeland. (1891)
Astor, John Jacob IV. A Journey in Other Worlds. (1894)
George Allan England. The Air Trust. (1915)
Brackett, Leigh (woman). Citadel of Lost Ships. (1943)
Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. (1951)
Simak, Clifford. Empire. (1951)
Kornbluth, C. M. and Judith Merrill. Gunner Cade. (1952)
Pohl, Frederick and C. M. Kornbluth. Gladiator-at-Law. (1955)
Reynolds, Dallas McCord. Adaptation. (1960)
Reynolds, Dallas McCord. Summit. (1960)
Reynolds, Dallas McCord. Subversive. (1962)
Reynolds, Dallas McCord “Mack”. Frigid Fracas. (1963)
Reynolds, Dallas McCord “Mack”. Depression or Bust. (1967)[1974]
Aldiss, Brian. The Interpreter. (1960)
Piper, Henry Beam. Little Fuzzy. (1962)
Strugatsky, Boris & Arkady. The Final Circle of Paradise. (1965)

Eugenics/Genetic Modification
Francis Galton. Hereditary Genius. (1869)
Flammarion, Camille. Omega: The Last Days of the World. (1894)
Rosny Aîné, J-H (Joseph Henri Honoré Boex). The Death of the World. (1910)
Stapledon, Olaf. First and Last Men. (1930)
Raymond Gallun. The Eternal Wall. (1932)
Heinlein, Robert A. Beyond This Horizon. (1942)
Clarke, Arthur. Against the Fall of Night. (1949)
Cyril M Kornbluth. The Marching Morons. (1951)
Blish, James. Surface Tension. (1952) Coined term “pantrope”
Clarke, Arthur. Childhood’s End. (1953)
Clarke, Arthur. The City and the Stars. (1956)
Dune. Frank Herbert. (1965)
Zelazny, Roger. "The Keys to December. (1966)
Philip K. Dick. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

William Henry Hudson. A Crystal Age. (1887)
Frederick Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth. The Space Merchants. (1952)
Burgess, Anthony. The Wanting Seed. (1962)
Kurt Vonnegut. 2BR02B. (1962)
**Harry Harrison. Make Room! Make Room! (1966)
**Nolan, William. Logan’s Run Trilogy. (1967)
**John Brunner. Stand on Zanzibar. (1968)
Aldiss, Brian. Supertoys Last All Sumer Long. (1969)

Robots/The Singularity
Samuel Butler. Erewhon (1872)
Edward Page Mitchell. The Ablest Man in the World. (1879)
Karel Čapek. Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R.). (1920)
Campbell, John. The Last Evolution. (1932)
Harl Vincent. Rex. (1934)
Isaac Asimov. I, Robot. (1940-1950)
Williamson, Jack. With Folded Hands. (1947)
Philip K. Dick. The Defenders. (1953)
Philip K. Dick. Second Variety. (1953)
Dneprov, Anatoly. Crabs on the Island. (1958)
Philip K. Dick. Vulcan’s Hammer. (1960)
**Simak, Clifford. The City. (1962)
Nunes, Claude. Inherit the Earth. (1966)
R.A. Lafferty. Past Master. (1968)

Sufficiency (Post-Scarcity) Economy (also with Robots)
H.G. Wells. The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth. (1904)
E.M. Forster. The Machine Stops. (1909)
Clare Winger Harris. The Miracle of the Lily. (1928)
The Midas Plague, by Frederick Pohl (1954)
Philip K. Dick. Autofac. (1955)
Con Blomberg. Make Me an Offer. (1957)
Con Blomberg. Sales Talk. (1959)
Mack Reynolds. Mercenary. (1962)
Reynolds, Dallas McCord. Spaceman on a Spree. (1963)
Arthur C. Clarke. The Food of the Gods. (1964)
Lem, Stanislaw. The Cyberiad. Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius, p. 168 (the planet Ninnica) (1967)
Philip Jose Farmer. Riders of the Purple Wage. (1968)

**Edgar Rice Burroughs. A Princess of Mars. (1912)
J.-H. Rosny Aine. The Navigators of Space. (1925)
Olaf Stapledon. Star Maker. (1937)
Henry Kuttner & Catherine Lucille Moore. The Iron Standard. (1943)
Aldiss, Brian. The Dark Light Years. (1964)
Roger Zelazny. This Immortal. (1965)
Christopher, John. The Tripods. (trilogy).
-The White Mountains. (1967)
-The City of Gold and Lead. (1967)
- The Pool of Fire. (1968)
Robert Silverberg. Nightwings. (1968)

Free Market/Libertarian
Kipling, Rudyard. Aerial Board of Control. (1905 & 1912)
H.G. Wells. Men Like Gods. (1924)
A. E. Van Vogt. The Weapon Shops of Isher. (1951)
Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged. (1957)
Eric Frank Russell. The Great Explosion. (1962)
Anderson, Poul. Trader to the Stars. (1964)
Robert Heinlein. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (1966)


Personally, I do not think the new system will come from the intellectual discourse of white, well-educated, earnest elites, even though I am one. I think it will come from, as LeGuin says, “the dispossessed”. An injection of, for example, West African modes of land ownership might be enlightening, although in practice it is likely to be supplanted by individual land ownership a la Kansas. I think a look at the social structure of the Mosue, a matriarchal society in China, might be illuminating, although that society is being eaten by China’s overbearing Han culture, or the Minankgabau in Indonesia. There are bits we can see in vanishing cultures which we, I think, will have to painfully re-create anew. Some people had great ideas along the way: Proudhon and mutualism; Henry George and the land tax; Major C. H. Douglas and Social Credit dividends for all from income from previously invented machinery – all of which are represented in science fiction, which might fund government services. There is the stark warning from Orwell & Ayn Rand about the dangers of government overreach. I think it would speak to current social sicknesses if we could create small, more intimate, more supportive groupings than the huge impersonal societies we have fallen into. I detest the word “greed” – it describes everything we all want, which only strong individuals can take: much better is to describe a society in which there is a place for every personality type. It will come from human social evolution, not from social engineering, however well-meant. And it will not be soon. But social evolution has an element of conscious activity and preparation – that I think we can do, though education especially.

Wow, @petussing. This is a hell of a list, and I do not know all of the works therein. I guess some of that stuff (as most SF) will have a kind of “2D economies”: for example, you see a lot of military starships, but you are unsure how their building, maintenance and crewing is funded.

i would love to hear more about your work. Are you aware that we are doing the Sci-Fi Economics Lab in Brussels next month?

I see the conference and have signed up for updates. I don’t think I’ll be able to attend, but perhaps there will be podcasts. If I could connect with some attendees I would be very pleased.

As for my work, I’ve been working on this for about a year around everything I do. It is the way any work goes: over time you build a mental image of the object of study and it takes on a life of its own. I am limiting it to science fiction (in a rather broad sense) up to 1969, as that is a reasonable cut-off for classic" sci-fi, and the moon landing, which changed many things, was of course that year.

I’ve been following your discussions, but you are in significant part looking at later science fiction, which is very understandable. Still, we agree that the current economic system does not serve humanity well, and see science fiction as a vehicle for speculation that describes from a more well-rounded perspective the consequences of a given systematic change in how the economy operates.



Yes, I have read Keynes’ Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. He was talking about an economy which was 8x his by 2030. We already have a society 8x his, but we are working – not 3 hr/day, but still much less than they did in his time. In 1930 people worked an average of 69 hours a week; now the average work week in the US (including vacations) is about 33 hours.

Thing is that we need more. And by that I don’t mean only “stuff” – possessions. Yes, our houses are twice as big – well, if you lived in the average British hovel in 1930 you’d have wanted more space too. We have hugely better medicine – yes we spend too much for it in the US, but on the plus side life expectancy at birth has risen from 61 to 79. We have refrigeration – that deserves a place all to itself – food storage, air conditioning – considered to be the most important invention of the industrial age – maybe excepting the steam engine. We spend the great majority of our incomes on services – housing, transportation (cars mostly), education, medical, legal & financial – and far less on food and clothing than in 1930. Keynes did not take into account just how much income would be needed to make the lives of average Britons good – as it turns out, it needed to increase more than 8x to push hours down to 3/day.

IMO, though, what is needed is not more income as such, but primarily different organizational arrangements – I think we need more communities, so that people’s sense of belonging can be enhanced, and mutual support structures can be strengthened. And I doubt that government can do that. It might be that social media can help with it, but evidence I have seen suggests that rather than creating a sense of community, people who spend more time on social media actually feel LESS integrated into a community. Equality of opportunity is important. Technology can be helpful, but I think the future is people rubbing up against each other and figuring out how to get along. But hopefully in smaller groups, in which people know and support each other.

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I don’t know if any Edgeriders participate in medieval re-enactments or anything similar; here in Texas I work at the Renaissance Faire on weekends. There is a remarkable community spirit among the people who work the Faire, most of whom are marginal or work as drones in the outside society. Inside, though, they are special, and they are known and loved. Many or most are artisans or makers. This leads me to think, for example, William Morris’ vision in News from Nowhere may be applicable. Morris goes on about how much work people want to do without pay, and I have doubts about that, but the desire to create is real. So… bits and pieces from here and there…

The problem is that a lot of our labor and GDP go towards waste production – inefficient use of inputs, administrative overhead, guard labor, planned obsolescence, bad urban design, etc. – or to supporting the recipients of rents. We could probably cut the work week below 20 hours just by eliminating all the waste and parasitism.

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Wow, @petussing, great post! I agree with your approach to carefully unpicking the different factors that play out in making Keynes’s prophecy incorrect. We could even go further, and break down the 1930-2020 period into sub-periods: maybe some of the objective betterments that you note (longer lifespans, larger homes etc.) were mostly in place in, say, 1975, and after that the prosperity engine stalled. Or maybe not.

Is this contractual hours or actual timekeeping? Also: where do you take your stats for 1930 hours worked?

There seems to be some consensus around that. Once basic (Keynes-levels) needs are met, communities seem to be the context for people to try out different arrangements and different life choices. Going vegan, or running, or giving up flying, or zero-waste grocery become easier when done as groups. After all, we are an eusocial species, and good collaboration is our superpower.

In economic terms, this should mean we must be potentially quite good at “managing the commons”, as Ostrom says. This would allow us to build an economy centered on public and common goods, which would be way more efficient than one based on private goods.

We have an economic theory that matches poorly our biology: it would work much better if we were evolved from lone predator species, like hawks or sharks, instead of from pack scavengers. It focuses on competition when we are good at collaboration, and models us as atomistic individuals, making rational decisions in isolation, when we operate as part of social units.

I would not exoticize this stuff. We had a palette of “fuzzy” and communal land rights in medieval Europe, as explained by Scott in Seeing like a state. Freehold ownership of land was invented as a way to simplify tax levying. We, in Europe, did not lose traditional patterns of land rights because we are disconnected from indigenous knowledge; they were literally pried from us, kicking and screaming, by the King’s taxmen and their goons.

Basically the people who dissolved communal tenure, enclosed the land and imposed fee simple ownership in England went on to do the same thing throughout the colonial world.

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Breaking news: we are rolling out the Science Fiction Economics Lab. All contributors to this resource are warmly invited! Updates are coming in email form. This is where you sign up to receive them:

@matthias @alex_levene @jolwalton @sz_duras @joelfinkle @Kaibeezy @LStewart @anonandon @OmaMorkie @Enro @ralmond @rachel @GrahamCaswell @JGG @kevin_carson @phm @petussing @oliiive @Azraq @johncoate @yannick @mariacoenen @filip @jaycousins @danohu @amiridina @OmaMorkie @Caszimir

Yes following this up @alberto, i hope to find the time to partake in these sessions. I like the mindset of it and I hope I can find time to look into star trek deep economics sub reddits because there is some real gold in that :wink:

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Actually, @yannick, I was thinking about you. Do you think your BIFFF crowd woiuld be interested in the Sci-Fi Economics Lab? How can we get the word out to them?

@alberto serious, we could look into a masterclass in salle 3 at the festival around that thematic, depending of course if that thematic emerges in one of the main selections. :slight_smile:

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