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The United Kingdom has been particularly fertile ground for libertarian-themed science fiction of late. Perhaps one reason for this is the U.K.’s burgeoning surveillance state, with cameras trained to catch everything from speeding to teenaged “anti-social behavior.” Nielsen Hayden describes Walton’s Ha’penny, her alternate history of a fascist Britain, as a look at “how totalitarianism creeps in on little cat feet and subverts people, even good people, and how people deal with being complicit in morally monstrous stuff.” Walton says she thinks her alternate universe, in which uniformed men constantly ask for citizens’ papers, has some relevance for our own: “Giving up liberty for safety is a trend that there was in the 1930s and ’40s. The  Defense of the Realm Act actually gave the government phenomenal power. Churchill knew what he was doing and gave back habeas corpus. But that’s not the way to bet.”
“I notice that newer S.F. writers are much more willing to imagine different political arrangements,” says MacLeod. “The default of golden age S.F. was some kind of bureaucratic welfare state arrangement on Earth and some kind of empire stretching to the stars. Nowadays…you get a sense that the future will be full of quite diverse political systems.”
After all, says Prometheus’ Monsen, science fiction is at its best when it is “taking the old truism that nothing is certain except death and taxes, and turning that idea on its head on both counts.” What better way to imagine and prepare for this multifaceted political future—hopefully one without death or taxes—than by settling in with a good book?
* The orginal version credited Tor with Prometheus Award winner L. Neil Smith’s 1982 The Probability Broach. The book was originally published by Del Rey, and later acquired by Tor.
Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor at reason.