“Utopia — and Afterwards”

Review: “Utopia – And Afterwards: Socioeconomic Speculation in the SF of Mack Reynolds”, Brian Stableford, 1979, 1995.

This essay is a fascinating look at an author almost forgotten today (I’ve only read his “Mercenary”) and mostly out of print (at least until ebooks). Dean Ing finished some of Reynolds’ unpublished works.

Stableford, trained as a sociologist, takes a look at Reynolds whom he sees as almost unique in trying to seriously postulate, using Marxian ideas, future societies and economies. He sees Reynolds’ Looking Backward from the Year 2000 – an updating of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward — as the first utopian work in 40 years though it emphasizes the economics of abundance more than Bellamy’s model. (Now, of course, one could cite Ken McLeod, Charles Stross, and, especially for utopian works, Kim Stanley Robinson, as working in a similar vein.) 

Reynolds seems to have consistently view capitalism and Marxism as being two ideologies which must be overcome, propagated by the power elite of their respective societies, and both having abandoned the idea of progress. This conflict with Marxism and capitalism is often not well dramatized in Reynold’s action adventure plots involving turncoat agents who start out in the employ of orthodoxies but then shift allegiance to the true revolutionaries.

However, what is meant by progress is, to Stableford, the central problem. Sometimes, Reynolds seems to think it is mere material progress sometimes it’s simply expanding the knowledge of the universe which, as Stableford notes, is a rather shaky foundation for a political order.  

Still, this makes me want to read Reynolds (and I several of his books on the shelf) and look at his constant reworking and revising of his political ideas. 

I was also interested to learn of Reynolds’ and Stableford’s contention that the labor theory of value first shows up in Benjamin Franklin’s work, not Karl Marx.

2 thoughts on ““Utopia — and Afterwards”

  1. I’ve read a lot of Mack Reynolds and want to read more. He’s unique among SF writers of the 1960s and 1970s in that much of his work deals with economic concepts. It would be fascinating to read what Reynolds would think of the post-coronavirus world economy.

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