Review: Anarchaos, Part 2


Why is the element of crime so useful to the storyteller and such a magnet to the reader?  I’d like to try to answer that by borrowing from the classical description of theater: One character on a stage is a speech, two characters an argument, three characters drama.  The variant I would propose begins with society.  When  you have only society, you have predictability and order; life in an anthill.  When you have society and the individual, you have conflict, because the greater good of society is never exactly the same as the greater good of any one individual within it.  When you have society and a crime, you have a rent in the fabric, a distortion away from predictability and order; but to no effect, it’s merely disordered.  When you have all three, society and the individual and a crime, you have all the multiple possibilities of drama, plus all the multiple possibilities of free will; that is, life.  Society and crime are in unending opposition, but the individual is in a shifting relationship to the other two, depending on how this individual feels about this crime in this society.

That’s why there are detective stories about cops, but also detective stories about robbers; detective stories in which virtue is triumphant, and detective stories in which virtue is trampled in the dust; detective stories hinged on professional expertise, and detective stories  hinged on amateur brilliance; detective stories in which we root for the hero, and detective stories in which we root for the villain.

Donald Westlake–From the Introduction to Murderous Schemes: An Anthology of Classic Crime Fiction

He said “Are you very stupid, or very clever?  You present me with your mythic qualities, the slain brother, eternal questions, the unworldly view. You think if you show yourself to me as a saint you’ll impress me and I’ll stay away from you.”

I didn’t understand him, yet it did seem to be true that he was impressed by something.   He was getting more and more nervous.  I said “I’m not stupid, but I’m not clever either.  I came here, I came to this planet, I thought I was hard, I thought I was the strongest thing there was and it would all go my way, and nothing went my way.  I lost every fight.  I lost a hand.  I learned nothing and I’m sitting here a prisoner of a man I don’t know, caught up in some kind of problem I don’t understand.  You’re the one making the myths, the money myth, the golden fleece.  I don’t have what you want.”

From Anarchaos, by Curt Clark.  

If I gave the impression in Part 1 of this review that Westlake, by writing a highly critical opinion piece on the state of science fiction for the fanzine Xero, had completely alienated himself (so to speak) from the science fiction world, that may have been misleading.   He had some supportive mail–not, to be sure, from the influential people he’d attacked, but from younger writers, who felt just as oppressed by editorial expectations (and lousy pay-rates) as Westlake did.

Science Fiction was then, as it is now, a community of like-minded yet highly individualistic people, who shared a common passion.   And who often shared remarkably similar backgrounds. For example, Harlan Ellison’s life story is almost an alternate retelling of Westlake’s.   Born the year after Westlake, lower middle class family, didn’t finish college, got drafted into the military (the army in his case), lived in Greenwich Village, cranked out sleazy erotic paperbacks under pseudonyms to pay the bills, married repeatedly (though Ellison never managed to stay married very long), and wrote both science fiction and mystery.

As I said last time, there was nothing unusual about being a Mystery/SF switch-hitter back then.   You could win awards in both genres, and Ellison did (two Edgars, four Nebulas, eight Hugos).   He wasn’t the only one.   Westlake pretty much kissed any shot he ever had at a Hugo or a Nebula goodbye when Xero published his critique.  I don’t think it worried him much.

Ellison also contributed to Xero (so obviously he read Westlake’s polemic), and has said many highly complimentary things about Westlake over the years.  You don’t offend Harlan Freakin’ Ellison and escape unscathed, so it seems likely he admired Westlake’s chutzpah, and agreed with much of what he’d said. Ellison clearly didn’t agree that the only thing to do about the lousy state of SF was to go write in some other genre.  He went right on going to SF conventions and getting into fights, and we’re not just talking verbal disagreements here. Truth is, scrappy disputatious personalities have always been welcome in SF.   Westlake didn’t leave because there weren’t kindred spirits there.

Westlake wrote contemptuously of Robert P. Mills (called him a ‘journeyman incompetent’), who edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction–but that magazine was founded by Westlake’s greatest early critical champion, Anthony Boucher (real name William Anthony Parker White–emphasis added, and hmm!).   And Boucher, equally at home in both genres, went right on championing Westlake in the New York Times, with ever-increasing enthusiasm.

Basically, he’d been attacking the system whereby it was decided who got published in the science fiction field, what they wrote, and how much they got paid.   And the only people much bothered by what he said were the people in charge of that system, and those loyal to them.   It’s unfortunate he went after Frederick Pohl, who hadn’t had a chance to prove himself as an editor yet, but Pohl was in authority, and we all know by now how Westlake tends to feel about authority figures.   Like John Cougar Mellencamp, except for the ‘authority always wins’ part. When reading him, you always have to allow for that.

So as I said in Part 1, Anarchaos is a reworking of Robert A. Heinlein’s Coventry–which is about a young man with anti-authoritarian and rather libertarian leanings, who is living in a liberal society set up after the overthrow of a religious dictatorship. He expressed his rebellion by punching somebody in the nose for insulting him. Instead of agreeing to accept psychological reconditioning (which sounds terrible, but basically it’s just talking to psychiatrists for a few weeks), he opts for exile to Coventry–an area of the U.S. that’s been cordoned off by a high-tech force field, where America sends those who can’t or won’t agree to certain basic standards of behavior.

He expects to find Libertarian Paradise there, but instead he finds three messy oppressive rival systems, which show no respect for his rights, rob him blind, and throw him in jail. He escapes with the help of a seeming criminal, named Fader, and it turns out the only people you can trust in Coventry are crooks–except in the end, Fader turns out to be a government agent keeping an eye on the Coventry crazies.

By that point, our hero has realized the error of his ways, and gone to warn America that the crazies are banding together to smash the barrier and take over–turns out their plan was never going to succeed, and his warning was unneeded, but he’s proven himself loyal, so his sentence is rescinded. He’s pondering joining the same secret service as Fader at the end.

This is a product of Heinlein’s early liberal period, but he republished it after he’d become much more conservative, so I think we can say it’s representative of his general philosophy throughout his life–he liked the idea of freedom from all constraint, but didn’t much care for the chaos and tyranny he saw in countries that didn’t have strong Democratic governments.

In other words, his politics were confused, and continue to confuse readers to this very day. This is why right after Starship Troopers, a novel that is still required reading in military academies, that said only those who served in the military should be citizens and order is to be prized above all, he published Stranger in a Strange Land, which became a sort of bible to the Free Love Movement, and the counterculture in general, and contained phrases like “Thou Art God.” Forget it Jake, it’s Heinlein-town.

Westlake would have read Coventry with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. There’s the germ of a good story in there, and a rather prescient message for Libertarians of all eras (“be careful what you ask for….”) but it’s buried under civics lectures, bad satire, and two dimensional characters. Nothing the protagonist does makes the slightest difference, and his late-day conversion is abrupt and poorly motivated. His rebellious nature is simplistically blamed on a controlling father (Heinlein believed in psychiatry–unlike Westlake). He goes from being an idiot who hates the government to an idiot who wants to spy for the government, with scarcely a moment’s pause.

Because Westlake mentions having written 20,000+ words of a science fiction novel in the piece he submitted to Xero sometime in 1961 (and certain things he says in that piece and its follow-up make it clear that’s the year he submitted it in), it seems likely he started work on Anarchaos sometime in ’60 or early ’61, at the dawn of his career as a crime novelist.   I’d love to know if he started it before or after 361 and The Hunter–it shares a very similar sensibility to both, but is closer to the former than the latter, not least in that it’s written in the first person.   This isn’t ‘Parker in Outer Space’–this protagonist will tell us what he’s thinking and feeling in great detail.

It’s more like 361‘s Ray Kelly in Outer Space, and just like Ray Kelly, this guy is out to avenge a murdered family member.   Like Ray Kelly, he pays a heavy price, both psychologically and physically. But unlike Ray Kelly, he’s got a whole planet to fight, and he has a much rougher time reaching his goal.   He’s actually telling us a lot more about his feelings than Kelly–Westlake hasn’t yet perfected the muted emotional responses he favored in his most hard-boiled work–so I’ll go out on a limb and say he started it before 361.   And maybe just after Killing Time–because aside from Coventry, it also bears a familial resemblance to Red Harvest.   Hammett meets Heinlein–ain’t that a trip?

Our hero, if you want to call him that (he wouldn’t care whether you did or not), is Rolf Malone–he tells us he just got out of prison on Earth for killing a man in a fit of rage.   He’s been plagued by a vicious temper all his life, and he’s got serious anti-social tendencies, but he’s always loved his older brother Gar, who looks enough like him to be his twin.  Gar has always been calm, easy-going, trusting–perhaps too trusting–there’s a strong sense that the two brothers were opposite sides of the same coin–each incomplete without the other.

Gar asked Rolf to come work with him on the planet Anarchaos, once he was released, and Rolf was all too happy to get away from Earth and make a fresh start.   Gar was exploring for mineral deposits, on behalf of a major corporation there.  But before Rolf could leave, he got word Gar had been murdered–the other half of his identity gone forever.  And every time I type the name ‘Rolf’ I see a Muppet dog playing piano, so from now on when I say ‘Malone’, I mean the protagonist, okay?

Malone decides that his only purpose in life is to find whoever killed Gar–he’s told this is a pointless quest–that Anarchaos itself killed his brother. One way you can know this is a very early Westlake novel is that he’s not a reluctant detective–he’s also not a professional one. He prepares himself for his journey, reading up on Anarchaos, a world with a dying red giant for a sun–and where, because the planet doesn’t spin on its axis, only half of it is livable (if you use the term loosely), and is bathed in a perpetual red glare. The other half is dark and cold. This dying sun’s name is ‘Hell.’ A good alternate title for this book would have been Planet of the Noir.

Malone opens his narrative with a line from a book he read about Anarchaos–“Those who see by the light of Hell are blind to evil.” Basically, we’re in a universe where interstellar travel is as fast and easy as a Mickey Spillane blonde, and humans have colonized a wide variety of worlds. Each is free to create its own culture and political system, under the overseeing authority of The Union Commission, which has very limited power to intervene. The only stricture is that each new world has to choose a system of government that has previously existed, if only in the imaginations of men.

Anarchaos was founded by nihilists, who chose Anarchism as their guiding principle, as imagined by Mikhail Bakunin and Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin, among others. It started out well enough, because the original founders of the colony had, in spite of themselves, absorbed Terran ideals of cooperation and human rights–but once a generation or two had been born and raised in this environment, living in the light of Hell, anarchy devolved into chaos (hence the name). Every man for himself. The planet is ruled by guilds, which are in turn ruled by offworld corporations, which intend to strip the planet bare of its rich mineral resources, and are pleased as punch at the total lack of regulations they find there. What a fantastic futuristic scenario! (that was irony, in case you missed it).

Most people are extremely poor, nobody respects anybody’s right to anything, there are no laws of any kind, slavery is legal and commonplace, murder is a perfectly normal way to resolve a dispute, and life, to coin a phrase, is nasty brutish and short–as is most of the citizenry, though that doesn’t really seem to be the word to describe them.

Malone knows all of this–in theory–but growing up in the far more placid law-abiding atmosphere of earth, and being a large powerful and aggressive man with little regard for law, has become accustomed to thinking of himself as an almost unstoppable force. He is going to challenge Anarchaos, and the system it abides under, and he’s quite ready to kill anyone who gets in his way.

He murders the driver who takes him to the city his brother was headquartered in–more or less proactively, before the driver can do it to him. He knows he can’t trust anybody on this world. And yet, he still fails to recognize just how bad things are there. In a sense, he’s almost enjoying Anarchaos–he can finally unleash his inner chaos. But the further he goes, the more he realizes that won’t be enough.

He gets what information he can from his brother’s employers, mainly from a cool blonde named Jenna, who works for ‘The Colonel’, the old man who runs this planetary branch of a multi-planetary corporation–she also has to sleep with the guy, because women’s rights–not an issue on Anarchaos. She had some kind of relationship with Gar on the side, and she ends up sleeping with Malone–because he asks her to. And a good time is had by all. It’s a science fiction version of a Mickey Spillane fantasy up to this point. A dream of absolute freedom, power, and sex.

Then the dream becomes a nightmare–Malone isn’t out on the street hunting for clues even a day before he’s ambushed, left for dead, and sold into slavery. He’s a slave for several years, mining some metal he doesn’t even know the name of–he forgets his own name after a while. He loses a hand. He completely loses his sense of self.

If a man is treated like an animal, he will become an animal. There is something inside every human being that craves mindlessness, that aches to give up the nagging responsibility of being a creature with a rational brain, that yearns to be merely instinct and appetite and blindness. Those who join a rioting mob have given in to this animality within themselves; alcoholics and drug addicts are perpetually in search for it.

Because the planet doesn’t rotate, wherever you are on the day side of Anarchaos, it is always the same time of day–morning, afternoon, or evening.

Without the solar rhythms of night and day it was impossible to keep hold of the passage of time, so that we lived our lives to a pattern we could not comprehend. We were awakened by shouts and the sun read evening. We ate gruel from a trough and then trotted into the mine, and behind us as we went the sun still read evening. We worked scraping out a vein of some pale metal through the interior of the mountain, and at a shouted order we put down our tools and trotted back to the compound along the damp cold tunnels, and when we emerged the sun said evening still. We ate again at the trough, and crowded into our shed, and closed our eyes against the light of the evening sun, and slept.

At first, I tried to keep hold of that within me which was rational and human, but it was impossible. My brain atrophied; in any realistic sense, I had ceased to exist.

Once he loses a hand to an infection, he’s given an indoor clerical job, that allows him to gradually come out of this mental torpor–during this time, he sees three company men, one of whom seems to recognize him. Then he finds a note some other slave left–“WE MUST UNITE”–it touches something buried inside of him. But slaves can’t form labor unions.  Resistance is truly futile here.  So he begins to plan his escape.

Having hitched a ride on a truck carrying minerals, he finds himself exhausted, in a barren environment, far from the nearest settlement. He’s going to die–but then a lone fur trapper who lives in the frozen twilight region between day and night finds him, takes him in, feeds him, tends to his wounds–and informs him that now he’s going to be the trapper’s slave. Even the Anarchaotians (actual word from the book) who most value their own liberty have no respect for anyone else’s. There are no good Samaritans here.

Malone knows he owes the trapper his life. There’s no real malice in the man–he’s not abusive, and he’ll treat Malone decently enough. The trapper doesn’t know any better than to think enslaving another human is perfectly okay–everybody does it. He can use the free labor, and maybe the company, but he’s already building a room to imprison the weakened Malone in, to make sure he never gets away.

Malone thinks to himself that if you want to be a true anarchist, Rousseau’s noble savage, utterly free of laws and limitations, this is the way–to live alone, relying on your own resourcefulness and strength–and dying alone, once your strength fails you. But if that was how the trapper wanted to live, he shouldn’t have tried to enslave someone else–not because it’s wrong, but because it’s inconsistent–a flaw in the pattern–he’s corrupted his identity, and in a Donald Westlake story, this is almost always a fatal error. Malone kills the trapper in his sleep, and uses his hairhorses (an Anarchaotian species used as pack animals) to head back to what passes for civilization on this godforsaken world.

Malone reaches a city, goes to the Union Commission outpost there, and identifies himself as a Terran citizen–but by this point in time, he looks like a native of Anarchaos, and they’re used to natives trying to escape their hellish world by telling tall tales–they feel no sympathy for them (the planet’s caustic atmosphere rubbing off a bit).

Malone, who long ago lost all track of time, tells the skeptical civil servant he’s been on Anarchaos four months–maybe six. But according to their records, Rolf Malone arrived four years ago, and vanished, and obviously he must be dead. The man claiming to be Malone fits the description of an escaped slave, and two familiar-looking men (the prototypical Westlakeian duo of sardonic hired killers we’ve seen in several books so far, though this might actually be their first appearance) arrive, pretending they’re going to take him back into bondage–Malone thinks they’re going to kill him.

But that isn’t their job–not yet–now that they know who he is, there’s someone who wants to talk to him. Turns out Gar Malone made a rich mineral strike before he was killed, but nobody knows exactly how to find it. So our Malone is taken to a ship on a frozen sea that belongs to a different corporation than the one his brother worked for–the same corporation that tried to kill him, then unknowingly enslaved him–and he sees the man who thought he recognized Malone at the mining camp–because he looks so much like his brother. They had him right in their grasp, and they didn’t even know it–they assumed their hit men had gotten the job done.

One thing we start to realize about these company men–they may be powerful and ruthless, but they’re not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer. The ones who get sent to Anarchaos are the ones who screwed up badly somewhere else. They make a lot of mistakes. Organization men usually do. The man interrogating Malone, named Phail (damn, I never even noticed the pun before) has been a screw-up even by Anarchaotian standards.

And his biggest screw-up to date was to try and kill Malone–their top man (called The General–well, haven’t you ever heard of the military-industrial complex?) believes Malone might be able to help them crack a code in his brother’s journal–that would lead them to the mineral deposit he found. That Gar was working for The Colonel’s rival corporation at the time is entirely beside the point. Finders keepers.

Phail wants to break Malone before The General arrives, and he threatens to use a drug called ‘antizone’–that makes the person given it literally spill everything he knows–erasing his memory and higher consciousness in the process, rendering him a vegetable. And still shellshocked from everything he’s been through, Malone confounds and horrifies his captor by demanding he be given that drug immediately. He’s tired of being who he is–he wants to be nothing, forever. He wants to give up, but he doesn’t know how.

While I live I have a responsibility and a purpose and they require of me strengths I no longer possess. It is not permitted me to stop with the job undone, but I cannot go on. Antizone rescues me from this dilemma. I embrace antizone with the last of my will.

Alternatively, you could say he wants what Paul Cole, the amnesiac protagonist of Westlake’s novel Memory got inflicted upon him, and finally accepted. Seemingly, the idea of oblivion, of surrendering the burden of identity, was going through Westlake’s mind back around then. But this is a a very different sort of story, with a very different sort of hero, and much as he may want to forget everything that’s happened, Malone still has a functioning memory.

A sympathetic functionary shows him his brother’s notebook, to see if he can help decipher the coded entries–Malone leafs through it, and sees something written in plain English–a note Gar wrote to himself, saying that he has to give his brother another chance in life, after all the hard luck he’s had. He admired Rolf (there’s the piano playing Muppet dog again). He says Rolf has a gift that he lacks–the strength to make hard choices.

Remember what I said–these two brothers were two halves of the same divided self–and symbolically reunited with his lost half, Malone finds the strength to shake off his existential malaise, and renew his quest for justice. Which he begins by torturing the sympathetic functionary until he tells him the truth. Then he strangles the man with his one remaining hand. Then he strangles Phail–after making it clear he knows Phail was the one who murdered his brother, trying to get the secret of the mine’s location (which the functionary revealed under torture). Then he sets fire to the ship, and everyone onboard (including The General) and leaves by way of a small boat.

Is he done? Not by half. He docks at a remote fur-trading outpost, and there’s Jenna, waiting for him–word got out. The Colonel wants to talk to him too.  Malone makes like he knows how to decipher his brother’s code (he doesn’t, but it’s easy to lie to people who want to believe you). He kills The Colonel in his room, and tells Jenna they’ll get the wealth of Gar’s mineral strike together, and leave Anarchaos in style. He asks her to obtain a few items for him. She eagerly complies. He knows she has no feeling for him, or anyone else, but it’s all moot now. He realizes now what has to be done.

They make the circuit of all the major cities on Anarchaos–five in all–and in each he leaves a suitcase at the Union Commission building–and one at the spaceport in the city of Ni. He tells the UC rep that if a blonde woman comes looking for him, she’s not to be allowed in–Jenna is staying right where she is, unless she can find her own way out. He gets the next shuttle off the planet, making his way back to Earth.

What everybody told Malone from the start was that no one person murdered his brother–Anarchaos itself did. He didn’t find that answer satisfying, but now that he’s disposed of the actual murderer, he realizes they were right all along. Anarchaos murdered Gar Malone–so Anarchaos must die.

Each of the five suitcases contains a powerful bomb–enough to level each Union Commission building, and the spaceport, killing everyone inside, destroying all records, and the planet’s system of currency–you can’t have an economy without some form of government. No one will know Malone was responsible–they’ll assume it was the insanity of the planet itself, and the UC will finally be forced to act–to either take charge of things, ending the lawless society, bringing order to chaos–or to isolate the colony, starve it, make all commerce impossible. Either way–his brother is revenged.

He’s taken on an entire planet of criminals–and he’s won. He really was the hardest strongest thing there was. But only after he’d discovered the whole truth about who he was–only after he’d gazed into the abyss, and seen it gaze back at him. And only after he’d reclaimed the part of him that was Gar Malone.

And now he’ll have that second chance Gar promised him–on earth. He doesn’t think his temper will be a problem any more. And he knows now the value of human society, of law and order, of rules one may follow or break, but  never just ignore. Because without them, there is chaos. And there is no freedom in chaos. Nothing but evil in a world where people see by the light of Hell.

It’s a powerful piece of work. Not quite Westlake, not quite Stark, not quite Coe–Curt Clark, brief as his pseudonymous existence was, had a voice of his own. Because he’s a science fiction writer, and in science fiction, anything is possible. That’s both a strength and a weakness of the genre–sometimes writers need limitations to struggle against, just as humans need laws.

When Westlake wrote that polemic and sent it to the editors of Xero, he was setting off his own bomb–destroying not science fiction, but his connection to that community of stargazers, future-dwellers, alien seekers. He was going to stay home, on Earth, and work to understand the world he lived in, the times he inhabited, and the species he was born into, and that would be more than enough work for a lifetime. He would stick to earth-bound mysteries, and human crimes.

But in openly declaring his rejection of the established order of the genre he’d once thought he’d spend his life contributing to, he was being true to the spirit of that genre–which has always been about rebellion, questioning the way things are, seeking something new. And perhaps to honor the best of that tradition, he finished this book, accepted whatever pittance Ace Books paid him, said little about it in interviews later on.  It was a job he had to finish, is all.

Is Anarchaos really just a crime fiction novel dressed up in science fiction clothing? The influence of Hammett is far stronger than that of Heinlein here–yes, he got ideas from Heinlein, a starting point, but the spirit of the book comes from Hammett, a far better writer than Heinlein, and a better teacher to Westlake. The lone detective comes to a corrupt lawless place, and by playing one faction against the other, he brings down the whole rotting structure. The Interplanetary Op.

But this specific story Hammett could not have written–where the detective becomes a terrorist, slaughtering thousands of (relatively) innocent people, to end a system that enslaves and brutalizes millions. For that kind of ending–for this kind of story–you need science fiction. You need the freedom that genre gives its practitioners, the ability to say what needs be said, in a setting where people can accept it, and hopefully not take it too literally.

That passage I put up top, where Westlake tries to explain why crime can be so valuable to storytellers, applies to more than just crime fiction. That, I think, is why so many writers used to go back and forth between those genres, finding useful elements in both, and often creating fascinating hybrids of the two (Alfred Bester, who Westlake never mentioned in his polemic, was certainly writing hardboiled crime fiction just as much as SF with The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination). But it was only once he’d begun to fully grasp that relationship between society, crime, and the individual, that he could write this book–where the individual has to bring an entire society to justice for its crimes. For failing to be a society.   For not finding an acceptable balance between order and chaos.

So by combining what he intended to be with what he’d tried and failed to become, Donald Westlake succeeded just once in creating genuine, first-rate science fiction–and he substantially improved on an idea borrowed from the most successful science fiction writer of all time. And I think he got some satisfaction out of that. And probably just a few hundred dollars for the book, but money isn’t everything.

Try telling that to Parker, though. Back on present-day earth, with no siblings to avenge, he’s going to have his work cut out for him in our next book–the last novel Westlake published in 1967, and one of his best. Parker may not be taking on a whole planet–being held to more stringent laws of credibility–but how about the United States Air Force? And the field of psychoanalysis–which Robert A. Heinlein may have thought held the answers to everything, but Donald E. Westlake feels quite differently about it, and so does Richard Stark.

PS: I’m not entirely happy with any of the covers this book has gotten–none of them really capture the mixture of wealth and squalor, futurism and primitivism, that is Anarchaos. The recent reprint actually has somebody wearing a space helmet on the planet’s surface–even though it’s very clear Anarchaos has a breathable atmosphere. But for what it’s worth, the cover art for the French edition came closest to summing it up with one image. Which makes perfect sense. Vive la France!


Filed under Donald Westlake novels, science fiction

27 responses to “Review: Anarchaos, Part 2

  1. Great write-up, as usual. It’s startling to read a mystery/science fiction story that functions equally well in both genres, doesn’t feel like one genre playing dress-up. But I think Westlake succeeds here. It’s a novel of ideas, but also of plot.

    There’s another Ellison/Westlake connection that’s worth noting. In the mid-’80s, Ellison was hired by CBS as a creative consultant for its revamp of “The Twilight Zone.” An adaptation of Ellison’s story, “Shatterday,” launched the series.

    In 1985, Ellison had a very public falling-out with the production over CBS’s last-minute refusal to move forward with his screenplay adaptation of “Nackles,” the anti-Santa Claus chiller Westlake wrote under the Curt Clark name. The episode was to be Ellison’s directorial debut.

    Many years ago, I read Ellison’s original screenplay, and it’s passionate and compelling and filled with the rage of a writer who’s been burned by the networks too many times The stage directions are filled with commentary like (paraphrasing from a nearly 30-year-old memory) “We enter a four-story building. Not a three-story building or a five-story building or whatever happens to be most readily available to a location scout. A four-story building.”

    The sticking point for CBS was the bigot meeting his comeuppance from a black anti-Santa named Nackles. (In a later draft, Ellison had Nackles’ race shifting among many minorities.) The episode was cast (Ed Asner playing the bigot) and ready to shoot when CBS pulled the plus, effectively severing Ellison’s relationship with the show.

    I’ve read Ellison’s account of the affair, and the industry commentary at the time, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Westlake’s take. I’ve always wondered what he thought of the incident. If he’s ever spoken or written publicly about it, I’ve missed it.

    • That is a fascinating episode, that I only found out about recently–but the review wasn’t about Ellison, or Nackles, and I was already over 5,000 words into the review without talking about Anarchaos, so thanks for bringing it up in the comments section, where it belongs. 🙂

      I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Ellison practice his craft in public, many years ago–he wrote a story in the window of a midtown Manhattan bookshop–a stunt he would perform on occasion to demystify the act of writing (and of course publicize himself, which he’s always been good at). He did a Q&A afterwards, and he was every bit as engaging and funny as you’d expect. Reagan, his ancient nemesis, was President, so he was in rare form entirely. I can only imagine what it was like hearing him talk when Bush was in the White House.

      I asked him about the Space Shuttle landing–Columbia had just been tested recently–didn’t interest him much. Like Westlake, he cared about people and ideas, and couldn’t really give two farts about technology–not his department.

      The sad thing about having been into science fiction long before mystery is that I could easily have seen Westlake in person many times, living where I do, and I’d never heard of him. Never read him until after he was gone. And now I’ve read nearly all of him, and there’s still tons of Ellison I never got to, though I was reading him in high school. But his rage and his wit still resonate with me, all these years later.

  2. First, let me say that I hugely enjoyed it. It’s a good novel, perhaps not as good as 361, with which they share more than a few similarities, still it’s quite powerful piece of writing.
    That’s said, I would disagree with you, that Anarchaos is truly SF novel, not a thriller dressed as science fiction. How inventive is Westlake SF writer? Nearly not as much as Westlake the writer per se. We see a distant colony, almost like the Earth, we see people populating this planet, and they are as human as we can be. We see cars, horses, guns, explosives, earth army titles – Westlake just describes Earth. What language do colonists speak? English? Not even without any dialects? Well, there are a bigger difference between accents and dialects between US states than between Earth and Anarchaos. What is that, laziness in the worldbuilding or Westlake’s ignorance? Possibly none of that. He just writes a crime story where a place plays little, very insignificant role.
    There are a few differences between our world and Anarchaos, that being a lack of change between day and night, and anarchistic structure of the planet system.
    Both of these differences only seem like differences. What I want to say is we can easily imagine a Latin American or African country instead of Anarchaos, and almost nothing will change. An American arrives to Guatemala, to a mineral plant, where his brother died. An American is fed and clothed in the Ambassy and then goes to the plant. Some thugs from the jungle kidnaps him, he becomes a slave, then he escapes, then he’s soon captured by some General (there are plenty of generals in military states), then he kills a general from this plant, and then another General from another plant. It’ll be the same story. It is a very small bridge between Anarchaos and chaotic republic somewhere on Earth. Blow up a few ambassies in African country and there will be chaos (as if there isn’t now).
    It is a good adventure story, where the premise borrowed from 361, and the middle probably straight from a Grofield novel, where Grofield is in his Lemons-Never-Lie-mode. As SF, the story lacks focus on otherworldliness and scientific details. The only thing from the future here is flights between planets. The rest come from the 60s: paper geographical maps, primitive calculating machines, guns, knives, food. The novel should have been called not Anarchaos, but Archaic-aos, too much archaisms here.
    I probably wanted to say more, I’ll say it in my review.

    • Well, this goes to what I was saying–Westlake wasn’t interested enough in the things that make science fiction–science fiction.

      But I stick to my guns, all the same–Westlake COULD easily have rewritten the basic story, of course. And he could have probably sold the novel to Random House or somewhere else, for a lot more money than Ace was ever going to pay. Why didn’t he? He’d burned his bridges with SF. What’s the point?

      Because it wouldn’t make the same points–not written as a contemporary thriller, anywhere on this planet. It wouldn’t convey the same ideas, and if he used the same ending (and he liked that ending, and so do I), people would be so shocked by the notion of killing thousands of people (and starving hundreds of thousands if not millions more in the short term at least), that it would be a huge distraction from what he was saying. Crime fiction doesn’t work this way. In crime fiction, you don’t drop thousands of bodies–just a few. Killing Time has maybe less than 20 murders in it, and it feels like the freakin’ Apocalypse.

      It would also be a mite racist, if he did it in the third world–say this for Anarchaos–race is such a non-issue, nobody ever brings it up. But then, science fiction was blindingly white back then–race was hardly ever brought up anywhere in the genre, until black people started writing it. Nihilism tends to be a white thing anyway, so probably not much racial diversity on Anarchaos. The great thing about creating your own world from scratch is that you can make it to your own specifications–even when Westlake creates a fictional country, he’s still got to be more or less true to existing realities.

      Also, we may have many forms of defacto slavery in the present day, or real slavery conducted in secret, but not actual out-in-the-open chattel slavery. And yes, it makes a big difference.

      In science fiction, you can be more conceptual–more abstract. You can go places you can’t go in a mystery, a thriller, even a horror novel (unless it has elements of science fiction in it). Fantasy can also go places other forms don’t go, but fantasy is supposed to be–I dunno–prettier. It can’t be so blunt and stripped down.

      Anyway, the solution Malone comes up with wouldn’t work if it was just a little country somewhere–and we know Westlake was great at imagining little fictional countries in South America or Central Europe. But those countries border other countries–even an island nation can be reached with boats. But the point of the ending of this book is that the Union Commission controls all space travel, everywhere. There are no private interstellar craft, nor can there be. That’s not how it works here, and that’s on purpose–they’re using ‘jump-points’–not all the corporations combined can possibly create new time/space portals–anymore than private enterprise could have created the internet, even if they could all get on the same page, which of course they can’t.

      If the Union Commission says “You’re cut off” then you-are-cut-off. There’s no appeal, and there’s no alternative, and there’s no smuggling over the borders, because there are no borders. Anarchaos isn’t fully self-supporting (there doesn’t seem to be any agriculture, for one thing), and it’s untold light-years away from the nearest inhabited world. The only thing preventing the UC from doing this before was that the other colonies would get nervous about ‘tyranny’, but in the face of this terrorist outrage, of course, their dissent would be quieted–at least long enough for Anarchaos as it previously existed to end. We know that from our own recent experience.

      Are there parallels with our world? Self-evidently, there are. It’s satire, as is much science fiction. If we’re missing the similarities, we’re missing the point. But you might as well say Jonathan Swift didn’t need to write about nations of tiny people, or giants, or civilized horses, to get his points across.

      Is it a classic example of world-building, by SF standards? No, and it doesn’t set out to be–it gives us enough details to serve the story, and not enough to distract from it.

      I think it’s exactly what it needed to be. No more. And no less.

      • I wouldn’t argue that placing the action on another planet rathen than on Earth has its own effect. Anarchaos does play a role in the plot. Different planet allows Westlake to play with ideas, that would not be possible on our planet. Blowing up the UC buildings means blowing up the idea of anarchy and lawlessness, when, if the action was set on the Earth, it would develop a sense that Malone acts like a terrorist, blowing up not ideas, but people.
        Yet I wish Westlake were more imaginative with details, not just copying Earth.
        I wonder, though, where Malone got explosives and how he wired the UC buildings? I probably missed that. And why Gar Malone coded the coordinates of the mineral site? He was working on this corporation, he should have report about any findings, not hide them.

        • It’s actually not that uncommon in SF of that time to have a bunch of planets that are like earth–Ray Bradbury’s Mars is basically just a drier version of earth–like some desert resort out west. It depends on the kind of story you’re going to write. I mean, you saw the quote from Heinlein in Part 1, where the judge says there’s death in the jungles of Venus–there’s no damn jungles on Venus, and even in 1940 we knew that much. But the desire to make our sister planets habitable realms, new frontiers to explore and conquer, was very strong in the genre back then. Alien, yet familiar. But now, we read it, and it feels very dated and quaint. Because we’ve seen satellite photos of Venus.

          Westlake avoided a lot of these traps in Anarchaos, which I don’t think will ever feel dated, anymore than a Parker novel ever would–he doesn’t tell us what year it is (so many great stories ruined by the fact that we’ve reached the time period they’re set in, and we don’t have any of the tech described).

          He doesn’t go into a lot of detail about how interstellar travel works–but it seems plausible enough, assuming we could figure out how to create hyperspace portals between worlds. You could ask yourself “Okay, how did we create the portal on the other side if we didn’t have any ships that could go that far?”, but that’s just being churlish about it.

          Not all writers in this genre had the gift for creating alien worlds–or the interest. Westlake actually does quite a decent job making Anarchaos feel alien–and yet very noirish–the red sun that seems to eat into everyone’s soul, the way it’s always the same time of day wherever you are. He shows quite a lot of attention to detail. But the point of the exercise is not “What would an alien planet be like?” The point is to create a world that mirrors the society we find there.

          Now obviously our moon doesn’t spin, and that’s probably where he got the idea, but based on a cursory Google search I just did, we don’t know of any planets that are like this–they don’t all spin the same way, but far as we know now, they all spin. Of course, we knew a whole lot less about extra-solar planetary bodies back then. Like I don’t think we even knew for sure they existed. It’s still possible we might someday find a planet that doesn’t spin–where there is no day and night–that has an earthlike atmosphere, gravity, and a survivable climate. I tend to doubt it. But for Westlake’s purposes, of course, it’s irrelevant–it’s about setting the scene. Science fiction at its best is often more fiction than science. If you have to choose one, choose the fiction–you’re telling a story here. The genre has NEVER been about predicting the future (and it has mainly done a terrible job of that).

          Probably the hardest thing to buy is that Malone could get explosives so easily–but then again, this is Anarchaos. You can literally get anything for money, and since nobody knows the Colonel is dead, Jenna, acting in his name, can get the needed materials, using his credit. On a mining planet, powerful explosives aren’t going to be such a rare commodity. You know what happened in Oklahoma City–you’ve seen the pictures–those guys were not geniuses. They didn’t need to be.

          Did you know there was a strong push to put ‘taggants’ in certain types of explosive material, after the Oklahoma City bombing? Fertilizers, gunpowder, etc. So that the police could trace the source, and more easily find the bombers. Just common sense regulations to make it harder to plan and get away with this type of attack. The gun lobby here blocked it–private industry and public nutjobs stopped Clinton from doing anything.

          Americhaos. :\

          Westlake didn’t want to tip his hand, so you can easily miss the moment where he says he asked her to get certain items for him. She’s so eager to escape Anarchaos with Malone and a whole lot of money–and so used to doing the bidding of others–that she complies without questioning. But it is a little bit of a cheat, since she’s not portrayed as being stupid.

          Maybe she thinks the explosives are related to the mineral strike–or Malone wants to even up some old scores (well, that’s not so far off the mark, is it?). Malone has shown himself to be so remarkably resourceful–surviving situations that would have killed anyone else–it’s not that hard to believe she’d just assume there was a method to his madness. What she can’t imagine is that he’d be indifferent to the money–or her considerable charms. To care so much about another human being that you’d give up a fortune–and a woman like her–just to make a point–impossible for her to comprehend. She’s been on Anarchaos too long, and she was dealing with soulless mercenary men long before that.

          Editing my own post to mention one last thing–I mentioned Westlake’s disdain for the professional abilities of Robert P. Mills, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction after its founding editor, Anthony Boucher left. Now not everyone agreed he was a ‘journeyman incompetent’–the magazine won several awards during his tenure there–but he was only there for about four years. He was briefly succeeded by Avram Davidson, a first-rate SF author in his own right, who had made probably the most sympathetic and insightful response to Westlake’s polemic. And who had also won an Edgar Award for a mystery story, so again–someone very comfortable in both genres.

          If Westlake had come along just a little a bit later, might he have found the science fiction field (and those who oversaw it) more to his liking, and continued to write in that genre on a regular basis? Would we remember him differently than we do today?

          Just speculating.

    • joeyjojo

      The book had so many similarities to “High Plains Drifter” that I thought of it as kind of a western more than anything else. (Even comparisons to Hammett can be funneled into comparisons to Leone.)

      • I’ve read Anarchaos (1967) three or four times.

        I’ve seen High Plains Drifter (1973)I don’t know how many times. (I like Verna Bloom. Marianna Hill too, but she was much better in El Condor.)

        There are no similarities whatsoever. In the story or the characters. Even comparing the settings is dodgy, since it’s a futuristic city on a barbarian plain, not a rickety wooden boomtown.

        High Plains Drifter is basically neophyte director Eastwood’s attempt at an American spaghetti western. A failed attempt. Leone and Corbucci’s best films are vastly superior to Eastwood’s. I’m less and less impressed with him as a filmmaker, but nobody could ever be as impressed with him as he is with himself.

        An entertaining failure, which is kind of his wheelhouse. He revisited some of the same themes in Pale Rider. Which is dull and bland by comparison and shamelessly plagiarizes Shane (novel and film) but never mind. My favorite Eastwood movie is Bronco Billy. So there.

        But your point is that Anarchaos is a western in its ethos. Defensible, but wrong, I think. It’s far from unkown for genre authors to combine elements from different genres, but the genres being blended here are science fiction and crime fiction.

        Sure, there’s horses in it (kind of), and wide open spaces, and for a brief moment he’s in a frontier boomtown, and you could reimagine it as a western without too much trouble (have to change the ending a lot, though maybe Corbucci wouldn’t), but it’s so different in its approach to the material. He’s basically mocking the notion that out on the frontier, everybody’s free. He talks about slavery, which westerns never do (honorable mention–Buck and the Preacher). There are no native sentients lurking on the fringes. It’s an anti-western.

        Read Dashiell Hammett, if you want to know his primary influence here. The Continental Op spends quite a bit of time out west. Hell, that’s where he lives.

  3. You haven’t mentioned the protagonist’s violence. Not only he blows up whole buildings, he also kills a kid, his saver and helpless taxi driver. He’s more violent than Parker has ever been. At least, Malone didn’t kill a prison guard.

    • I believe I mentioned the driver, and the fact that Malone becomes a terrorist of sorts at the end. I didn’t mention the incident with the young man (hardly a small child) and his father, only because it was incidental to the main plot, and because honestly–he had every right. They started it. That was self-defense. I’d have done the same, and so would you.

      One thing you don’t see on Anarchaos, which oddly relates back to a discussion I had with Greg at the end of the Philip review. Westlake doesn’t involve small children in violence, ever–so we see no small children on Anarchaos. There have to be lots of them–no reason to think there couldn’t be a few killed by the bombs he sets, though no parent in his or her right mind is taking a small child to Anarchaos, and none of the local street urchins would be allowed into areas administered by the Union Commission, but either way, the subject is not raised.

      Also no women in the story other than Jenna–who is a classic noir blonde of the deadly variety, who had toyed with his brother’s affections, so it is therefore acceptable to have Malone leave her behind on the planet, where she’s going to have a hell of a time explaining what happened to her boss. He figures she’ll employ her wiles, as she has in the past, and with no police of any kind, and almost no concept of loyalty in the Anarchaos guilds, most likely she’ll succeed.

      Quite probably the Union Commission employs no women from offworld–this is early 60’s science fiction, remember. Women tend to play a rather marginal role most of the time. Only the corporations would be so uncaring as to subject them to this planet, where rape obviously wouldn’t be a crime, any more than murder is.

      But yes, this is quite possibly Westlake’s most murderous protagonist ever–at least until we get to the 1990’s. He killed one man out of anger on earth, and served time for it–but on Anarchaos, with no rules, and basically everybody out to get you, he’s free to unleash the rage inside of him–what was a vice on earth becomes a virtue there. He kills the driver at the beginning because he knows enough about this world already to know the guy is just waiting his chance–everybody is. The Golden Rule there is “Do unto others before they can do it to you.”

      He is killing a lot of relatively innocent people at the end, no doubt. Union Commission people, probably including some people from earth. But because they are overseeing this monstrous system, while doing nothing about it, other than casting a contemptuous gaze at the locals, and sending them back into slavery if they seek refuge, they are guilty as well–guilty of turning a blind eye, of not doing their jobs, of not telling the other worlds, wary of interference in their own systems that this needs to be done. He has no other means at his disposal to force their hand. But please note, he’s making no demands–he can see exactly what the impact of his actions will be. He’s not Osama bin Laden–he’s John Brown. Only his body will not be mouldering in the grave for some time.

      They are administrators but they are not administrating jack-spit. The point of a government is to govern, and they are the defacto government of Anarchaos. So he finds them guilty as well, and forces them to do their jobs.

      And as we already discussed, you couldn’t get away with this in a normal crime novel. I mean, you could write a book, and then get it published, but then people would be discussing the morality of what Malone did, rather than the motivations for it–it would be a different story, with different questions.

      Westlake was something of a Batman fan–he almost got to write for that comic–so this analogy isn’t too far out of left field–sometimes I think a good alternate title for Batman Begins would be “Ras al Ghul is Making Sense.” That character, in his various incarnations, has a noble and rather sensible goal, which he pursues by extreme methods. But of course Batman can’t just stand by and let him cleanse the planet of human insanity, because Batman is a hero–that’s who he is. He literally can’t be anything else. That kind of character has a fixed identity.

      Malone is not a hero. He’s a judge. He finds the planet as a whole guilty of murder, and he passes sentence. He doesn’t even stick around to see what happens. Because he didn’t do it to help anybody. He did it purely to revenge his brother–his other half–to balance out a scale. He finally found a good use for all the rage and violence in him. On Anarchaos, good is evil, and evil is good. His anger over what happened to his brother is a bit more human than Parker’s, but not by much–again, I think Ray Kelly comes the closest, but he operates on a very small scale, because it’s not the system as a whole that killed his father and brother. In this time period, Westlake created three characters–of whom Malone might well have been the first–whose philosophy seems to run along the lines of–“Cast a cold eye–on life–on death–horseman pass by!”

      If Westlake had painted a more complete picture of Anarchaos, filled in more human details, then we’d see that even in the most degraded system, there are still people who are good by nature–or just too young to have been corrupted by that system. Uganda was pretty damn degraded under Amin–but when it came time for him to write a story about that world, he was overcome with pity and horror, and created a genuine hero–perhaps his only one–to fight that evil, if only in a small symbolic way. Because in reality, that’s the most a lone hero can do. As Schindler fought the Nazis.

      Maybe the worst thing he does is kill that sympathetic functionary I mentioned–whose name is Triss–but his sympathy is limited entirely to saying Malone should reconsider taking the antizone. He’s a nice person–who works for monsters, and the last thing he’d ever consider would be to help Malone escape. Collaborators with evil shouldn’t be surprised when they meet the same fate as their bosses–can I inquire, what happened to Russians who collaborated with the Nazis in WWII, just to survive? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

      • joeyjojo

        “either way, the subject is not raised.”

        At some point in the novel, Malone indicates that initially the colony was growing in population, then it stagnated, then it began to drop, so quickly that it will naturally die out within a century or so.

        “Also no women in the story other than Jenna”

        There is a part when Malone is enslaved, penned in with the other slave, where he indicates that the slaves may have been male or female, but exhaustion kept everybody desexualized.

        Plus, Malone meets the mother of the “boy” he killed in self-defense.

        I think the subject of children on the planet is alluded to more often than you give it credit for, because he did it in non-distracting ways, but it’s there.

        • You have a good eye for detail, but my point (made well after I posted the review) was that there are no small children in the story, except maybe a few scruffy ragamuffins as background extras.

          What’s happening in the story is so deeply amoral, Westlake doesn’t want to muddy the waters by including the very young, or women who aren’t in a position to make at least some decisions to merit their grim fate. Rolf is dooming all these people to a terrible fate, and it doesn’t work if you take it too literally. In a Dashiell Hammett story, you likewise don’t see small children, and older women are often (not always) unsympathetic characters. Noir isn’t about nice.

          Good point about how nobody at the mine knows or cares what sex they are, but that doesn’t really change the fact that there are no female characters worth mentioning other than Jenna. Who is not all that well-developed a character herself. It’s not really a novel about character development, except with regards to Rolf.

          Women would have to stay out of sight as much as possible on a world where rape is not even theoretically a crime. But you score a solid point, mentioning Alfie’s squat stringy-haired mother, who wants revenge for her worthless son. Tina, her name is. She is not memorable, and thus I did not remember her. But I’ve seen plenty like her on old episodes of Gunsmoke. So that’s possibly a western influence. I doubt it, though. More along the lines of Malthus and Hobbes. And anyway, Gunsmoke was a western heavily influenced by hardboiled detective fiction.

  4. You not only don’t want to know what became of Russian collaborators, but also what happened to Russian POWs – their status after the war was the same as for collaborators.
    Still, for a guy with a bad temper, Malone is too cold-blooded, too calculating.
    You asked for the books where a killer walks free. Isn’t Anarchaos the best example? In another book Malone would stumble over small thing, and it would get him hanged.

    • That’s an interesting point (and here I was thinking we’d covered all the bases)–how did Westlake originally intend to end this book? We know he had not even half-finished it in 1961, when he wrote to Xero–but he had finished The Hunter, sounds like. However, he had not yet submitted it to Pocket Books, where Bucklin Moon would read it and request that Parker live to heist another day (if it was The Hunter he’d sent to Dell, did they reject it, or did Pocket make a better offer?–I’ve read that Pocket paid better than any of the paperback outfits other than GM).

      He’d published The Mercenaries and Killing Time, where the protagonists both end badly. He’d published 361, in which the protagonist only kills really bad people who deserve it, but still feels pretty bleak and empty by the end. He’d finished Killy, which was going to be published that year, where the protagonist makes out fairly well, cuts a few moral corners, but doesn’t kill anybody–not even Killy.

      Westlake made it pretty clear that until Bucklin Moon came along, he was operating under the assumption that you were supposed to kill off murderous protagonists at the end–writing to the market again. Of course, Jim Thompson and a few others had broken this rule a few times before, but one way or another, they punished their anti-heroes. None of them ended up happily vegetating in the Florida Keys.

      So most likely by the time he got around to finishing Anarchaos, he’d already written several Parker novels–the Stark ethos was well-established. And he’s writing science fiction now. So did he have the existing ending in mind back in ’61, or was Malone going to be punished in some way? I tend to think he was going to do the same thing in the end–but would he still have gotten away with it?

      Would he have ended up like Parker, on a very different kind of conveyance, thinking about making a new life for himself in the future, after ending so many lives in the immediate past? He, unlike Parker, is planning to mend his ways–but he has no regrets about what he’s done. It needed to be done, and he did it. That sounds like Stark, more than Clark.

      Oh, I didn’t respond to one other point–that Malone kills his ‘savior’–but his savior is also his enslaver.

      Basically, I would tend to agree that the slave has a moral right to kill his or her owner, if he or she has no other option to become free. Of course, with American slavery, this very rarely happened–with earlier forms of slavery as well. Enslavement tends to ‘unman’ the enslaved. With rare exceptions–Spartacus, Nat Turner–they either accept their condition, or try to run away.

      Malone has been similarly broken in spirit by his enslavement at the mining camp, but he manages to escape–killing no one in the process–then he’s rescued by this wild man, without whose intervention he would certainly have died of starvation and exposure–then it turns out the wild man has also been tainted by Anarchaos. Or maybe Rousseau was just totally wrong, and ‘the noble savage’ is a mere flight of fancy–after all, types of enslavement do exist in nature–among ants. Not among our fellow primates–or wolves–but maybe they just never found an evolutionary use for it.

      Malone has regained enough of his will to deal with his new master, but had he stayed longer, he might have simply accepted his fate. Or stolen a hairhorse and made a run for it, but his chances of escape that way would be much worse–his captor now sees him as property. The fact is, what Malone does is right. It is not amoral or immoral for the slave to kill the slaver. That is a moral act. Always. Everywhere.

  5. Michael

    It’s a good story, though anarchism is portrayed inaccurately. Anarchists in general are not moral nihilists. There is a quote from Bakunin to support this. I haven’t read much of him, so I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem likely this is the view he had. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine how any society like the book portrays could survive that long. If murder, rape and robbery really were that socially acceptable, how do you live?

    • I think you misunderstood the book’s underlying premise and set-up (and you’re not the first, even though Westlake’s prose is a lot easier to grasp than Bakunin’s ever was). The point is not “These people are evil because they read Bakunin.”

      Most of these people can’t read at all. There are no schools, because schools require order. There are no publishers, or libraries, or newspapers, because all of these require order. There are no books, except in some of the corporate offices perhaps, because they’ve all been used to kindle fires or wipe asses. (Obviously there are no law books, or judges and cops to enforce them, nor civil rights lawyers, since there are no rights of any kind for them to defend.) In all probability, not one person Rolf Malone meets in the entire narrative has ever read Bakunin or any other anarchist writer–and most would just give you a blank stare if you mentioned any of those names.

      What exists on Anarchaos is not anarchism in theory, because nobody could possibly understand the theory. It’s anarchism in practice, which is very different. And as any anarchist philosopher would tell you, true anarchism doesn’t depend on reading books. It’s not something you impose on the world, but rather what happens when you withdraw all influences other than human nature. This isn’t what they had in mind, but it’s a logical result of putting their ideas into practice for several generations.

      We’re told the original settlement was well-ordered, no crime to speak of. (Please remember, they had to name an pre-existing system of government, even if it never existed outside books, in order to get a planet to settle. I doubt they were holding Bakunin seminars.) Nothing extraordinary was achieved, but they didn’t descend into chaos–at first. Why was that?

      Because all those people, in spite of their ideas, were raised with certain civilized values, underlying assumptions about how life should be lived, that didn’t come from anarchist writers. Much of civilization is simply passed on by osmosis–we see how others behave, and we emulate it. To a degree.

      But it’s not natural. Our nature, as primates, closely related to chimpanzees, is to live in small groups, with a dominant male, and to war with other groups for territory and food. Thanks to evolution, we developed more complex minds than our simian ancestors, which made that existence untenable, unbearable to us–so we began to experiment. We’re still experimenting, and anarchism, in all its forms, is one of those experiments. But it always takes place within the larger framework of an ordered society.

      There has never been an anarchist government, because c’mon–how could there be? The idea of Anarchaos was to try to see what would happen if you had an entire planet of anarchists, no other systems to compete with your willful lack of one. Finally, man’s true unbridled nature will be able to blossom, unrestrained!

      What Anarchaos asks is, what would happen if you removed the ordered society from the equation entirely? If entire generations grew up without being taught how to behave, to just develop ‘naturally’? This question is asked in the twin contexts of science fiction ala Heinlein, and hardboiled crime fiction ala Hammett, and the answer is not pretty. And I’m afraid I agree with it. And if you look around you, you see that Anarchaos isn’t just in some book about an alien world. Anarchism, as envisioned, can never happen. Anarchaos is a very real thing, that exists everywhere.

      And to some extent the corporation–which I believe Westlake hated more than any other human concept–is taking the place of government of the people by the people for the people–and anarchism is the perfect environment for this to happen in. Which is why they, to some extent, encourage it. The libertarian and the anarchist are natural allies of the corporatists, the CEOs, the robber barons. When you define freedom as the lack of constraint, well doesn’t that just work out ducky for the rich and powerful?

      Anarchists have, in fact, often been nihilists as well. They have been violent. They have been terrorists. The fact that Bakunin or Kropotkin or Herzen might disapprove is beside the point. You think Marx would have approved of everything Marxists did in his name? Most of what Christians did and do in Jesus’ name is nothing at all like what Jesus had in mind. Ayn Rand was outright contemptuous of Libertarianism, as she encountered it in the world outside her horribly written books.

      Nothing succeeds as planned, which is why it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket. Humans need structure, and they need freedom, and no perfect system can ever exist to satisfy that conflict in our natures between order and chaos. You have to know yourself, all of yourself, and you have to be able to work with others, and some kind of framework must be there for you to work within.

      To a great extent, the Parker and Dortmunder books are celebrations of controlled anarchism, of a sort–people who form groups to achieve a shared goal, with no established leader, everybody contributes what he or she knows. But this only works because there’s law and order for them to strive against. Without that, it would just be thieves thieving from other thieves, killers killing other killers. Parker would take one look at Anarchaos, and go the other way. He knows what humans are, and would become, without laws to control them. Precisely because he’s not one. He needs no law except the one inside him. Because he’s not an evolved chimp, but a wolf in a man’s body.

      We need to know what we are, if we’re ever going to fix it. Bakunin, I’m sorry to say, had no fucking idea what we are. Or who he was. You can quote him all you like. But look at the actual results when people try to put him into practice. And honestly, we don’t need anarchist philosophers to create anarchy. All anarchy requires is for humans to sink to the level of their base instincts. God help us.

      • Michael

        No, I get what his message is. I just don’t agree with it. Everything you said, he makes pretty clear in the story. My problem is this doesn’t make sense to me. You seem to assume anarchy is naturally chaos, and the opposite from order. That is not at all what they propose. Just as I before, they do not propose to “remove all civilized influences”. Nor do they think people should not be taught to behave entirely. That makes the scenario unlikely I think.

        You are also confusing American-style libertarians with anarchists in the vein of Bakunin et al. They are very different, to the point of despising each other. Bakuninist anarchists don’t simply define freedom as a lack of constraint. Indeed that is one the key differences they have.

        I am not aware of any large number among anarchists who were or are nihilists. My point anyway is he’s claiming these ideas flow from Bakunin etc. I’m not sure he had understood their philosophy, nor predicted what it would entail accurately. From what I understand, their philosophy doesn’t claim human nature is totally good. Rather, it notes that if we are depraved, then people having power over others is a bad idea.

        Anarchists do support order and structure. It is just a different kind than the norm. You are wrong about them there never having been an anarchist government (though perhaps that is the wrong term). The Spanish Revolution was the largest example. If anything, they became too well organized (though not enough to save them from destruction). That to me would be the more plausible scenario-becoming another dictatorship.

        • You say it doesn’t make sense to you–but what can you point to in the way of actual anarchist practice to contradict it? And to be clear, I’m talking about anarchist practice that doesn’t directly conflict with anarchist ideals. Ideas are often compromised for the sake of success, but once you do that, you’re admitting the ideas don’t work.

          The fictional people who migrated to that fictional world wouldn’t have to stand in for every anarchist who ever lived, you know. Anymore than Red Harvest is meant as an exhaustive history of machine politics in the midwest. It is a fact that not all machine politicians did a bad job for the people who kept them in office. You certainly can’t say they were all in bed with gangsters. Red Harvest remains a great book.

          How can you say you know what Anarchaos depicts wouldn’t happen in the circumstances described? You move to a new planet, where conditions are hard to begin with. You bring nothing with you but anarchist texts, maybe some tools and technical manuals, and a fierce determination to have no centralized system of government. You set up various guilds–full of corruptible mortal beings, and with no kind of legal system to oversee them. Obviously there can’t be any state control over education if there’s no state, and how much pressure would there be on people struggling to get ahead to get children working as soon as they’re able?

          You need to export raw materials to support the colony. So you need corporations that control interplanetary commerce. You have no means to regulate them. They exist off world, completely outside your authority. They move in, grinning like sharks. Easy meat. Might take a while for them to control everything, but they’d manage. On a hard frontier world, with few luxuries, bribes would be very very effective.

          You started out opposed to human bondage, but think how useful slavery could be in a situation like that. Anarchists did abolish slavery in Spain, sure–a moribund and nearly extinct institution, that served little economic purpose, and competed with free labor. Europeans never came to America with the intention of creating a slave system either. They ended up creating several of them, before settling on black chattel slavery.

          You can’t control what each new generation brings to the table (or not). You can’t say “This is what we believe and this is what we’ll always believe.” Not without imposing it by force. And, I might mention, not without agreeing with each other about what to impose. Anarchists suck at that. You know this from your own experience. The phrase ‘herding cats’ comes to mind.

          I wish I could say I don’t see similar things happening in the world around me. I see nothing resembling Anarchism, but Anarchaos I see everywhere.

          I know what Libertarians are, and how they differ from Anarchists. The main way they differ is that their positions are more compromised–more capitalist–and therefore, they actually have some influence in the world, however loopy and strange. They are anarchism’s bastard children (and bastards some of them truly are). If it makes you feel any better, I have more respect for a true anarchist. But man, they are thin on the ground. And sometimes a bit overly obsessed with conspiracy theories.

          The Spanish Revolution is something I’m well familiar with, and it was not an anarchist government. It was a Republic, which is not an anarchist system, never could be. Syndicalists are anarchists in a somewhat strained sense of the term. But most people in Spain were not syndicalists.

          There were anarchists involved with that government, absolutely. Also socialists, communists, Catalan and Basque nationalists, and you know, there were some liberals. A very unwieldy coalition of people who did not trust each other.

          Look what happened to them. They were defeated by a foreign rabble, supported by Fascists. Franco ruled until he died. And you know, they were not so pure themselves. Revolutionaries never are. You can’t very well say they were non-violent. You just happen to approve of their violence.

          They were allied for a time with Stalin, before he abandoned them to their fate, and if you think he was an anarchist, I don’t know what to tell you. Does the name Kronstadt mean anything to you?

          The First Spanish Republic was a cacophonous crazy quilt of conflicting creeds. It was never going to survive longterm in the form it finally took. And because of the chaos it unleashed, Spain spent generations under a dictatorship. In some alternate reality, it might have been a left-wing dictatorship–and say what you will about Franco, he wasn’t as bad as Stalin or Mao. And what he built died with him.

          I read Homage to Catalonia long ago. I saw why people were willing to fight and die for their ideas (and how they disagreed violently with each other about which ideas should be used). I saw why all those lives were thrown away. So did Orwell, in time. You start fighting for freedom, and you end by fighting to impose your idea of freedom on everyone else. The basic intentions were noble. The results, not so much.

          Say Franco had been defeated, and Spain had been sealed off from the rest of the world for a few generations.

          You quite sure Anarchaos wouldn’t have been the result?

          I’m not.

          But we can agree to differ.

          Because we live in a Democratic Republic.

          For now.

          Anarchists are, in the main, well-intentioned people, though a large minority have been flat-out evil. I believe this, and so did Westlake.

          Remind me where a road built of good intentions tends to wind up?


          • Michael

            I can’t say for sure this wouldn’t happen. As it’s fiction, anything can happen. I do think it’s more implausible than you though. That’s because contra the depiction most anarchists do not teach that “anything goes” nor that there should not be any rules at all.

            The story seems to indicate that offworld corporations only came in after the society collapsed. It makes sense as most anarchists would never deal with such institutions. They are something they’re opposed to.

            Anarchists disagree with each other, it’s true. I don’t think your personal experience is the same as mine though. Ones that were into conspiracy theories weren’t what I encountered. My point was that when they did put their ideas into practice, the flaw was being *too* organized if anything. So something like The Dispossessed, by Ursala K. Leguin, where they grow into a dictatorship, makes more sense to me.

            I was not referring to the Spanish Republic overall, but rather the anarchist subset which controlled much of Catalonia. That included being part of the official Catalan government.

            I never said they were pure, nor non-violent, nor Stalin was an anarchist. I’m aware of the problems with the Spanish Republic, and why it failed. I brought it up only because this was the most prominent example of an “anarchism in action”, which was very organized.

            You seem to be proving my point here. If there were a problem with an anarchist society, it seems more likely to me that as I’ve said it’s turning into a dictatorship. I can’t say with certainty no Anarchaos would result, but nor can you. It does seem pretty unlikely they could live that way for eighty years though, as the book says.

            Sure, it’s fine to differ. Perhaps though I’m more skeptical of how democratic this republic is, but no matter. I don’t disagree that there are evil anarchists, though maybe not so many as you think. Rather it’s pushing that in a direction that doesn’t strike me as realistic that I objected to in the book. It’s a good story nonetheless though.

            • You know, absolute realism is never the goal, in science fiction or crime fiction. The Dispossessed is a great book, but it’s not something you read and think “I’d rather live on Anarres!”

              It’s also very far from realistic. It’s a metaphorical fiction–not so much dystopian as anti-Utopian. Not a blueprint for a perfect world. A reflection on the contradictions in our nature, how the need to cooperate often stifles the individual. How little minds end up dominating, because everyone is supposed to be the same–but no two people are exactly alike. And of course, about the problems with other types of society. But please note, the galactic federation that makes contact with the twin worlds–that speaks to a higher ideal, a better society, where each planetary society learns from the best of the others–is clearly not anarchist.

              Le Guin is a very honest writer. She doesn’t flinch from conclusions she doesn’t like. Once you start lying, it’s hard to stop. She believes we can do better, but like Westlake, she believes we’ll never manage it if we don’t know ourselves first.

              Anarres can exist for a short time, only because it’s on a world that is barely habitable. (Much like Anarchaos–great writers often stumble across the same idea, but please note, Westlake got there first).

              I don’t believe you’re qualified to say what most anarchists think, or would do in such a situation. You’re qualified to say what you think. To say “I speak for all or most anarchists” is a pretty serious violation of anarchist thought. 🙂

              The Corporations would have established a foothold early on, and waited for the society to collapse–because unlike anarchist guilds, corporations can make long-term plans. That’s why the guilds keep losing.

              Catalonia was at least as much about nationalist separatism as syndicalism. And please note, that is still true. And I’m sympathetic to their aspirations, but note in passing that this is yet another reason why the Republic was doomed to fail.

              My personal experience, your personal experience–meaningless. I studied the history of socialism, the history of the Russian Revolution, the history of the French Revolution–at the graduate level. I saw the same faultlines, every time. You can only experience so much in your own life. You need more. And you need to read objective scholarly historical works, not just people who agree with you.

              The Spanish Republic as an example of “Anarchism in Action” is not a point for your side of the argument.

              Probably Anarchaos would have become a dictatorship over time (perhaps more of a series of feudal statelets, remember, no industry to speak of), but again, the corporations moved in, and prevented that. It’s not a situation that can be easily replicated on earth, because no nation here is so isolated that people can’t find ways in and out. In this case, you have a world utterly isolated from all others, only accessible by faster-than-light travel that is controlled by an interplanetary federation, that is reluctant to interfere in internal affairs. He thought it out a lot more than you have.

              It’s a thought experiment–and much better written than most. But of course, very limited in its perspective, which is intentional. (He was not going to write anything as long as Le Guin’s book–which is also very limited in its perspective, entirely from one physicist’s POV–again, great writers hitting on the same methods).

              You can be as skeptical as you like about Democracy.

              Until it falls apart, and you find out what comes after.

              I’ve had a long time to think about all this.

              You’re not going to convince me with the very weak schematic assurances you’ve provided. I’m not a good person to be handing out tracts to. I don’t indoctrinate. I recycle. 😉

              • Michael

                I know it’s not, but The Dispossessed still came off as more plausible to me. Both are of course fiction, so it’s impossible to say for sure what would happen. Most likely there would be no anarchist society at all, good or ill.

                I am simply speaking based on my own knowledge of anarchist thought. He indicates that they were anarcho-syndicalists. I don’t think you’d find many anarchist who’d disagree with my take here.

                Perhaps the corporations would have. I don’t recall this is the story itself, though that’s not really important. I’m not sure why you think anarchists guilds (syndicates?) couldn’t make long-term plans though.

                Yes, they did have the separatism at the time too. Again it was only brought up for a specific purpose.

                I have also read about this, not on the graduate level though. It includes work that didn’t agree with the anarchists. That’s partly why I’m saying a dictatorship seems more probable than collapse, because much of what happened in Catalonia was like that.

                Why isn’t it a point in favor of my side?

                Again, the book says they moved in only after the collapse. That collapse was what I found less plausible.

                I said I’m skeptical of how democratic the US is. Not that I’m skeptical of democracy itself. Those are two different things.

              • Anyone who accuses Le Guin of writing realistic fiction understands neither Le Guin nor realism nor fiction.

                It’s not a point for your side, because 1)It was just isolated short-lived groups in a larger Republic and 2)Franco. He wasn’t exactly Napoleon Bonaparte. He wasn’t even Charles De Gaulle. If you can’t beat a hack like him–with idealistic brave young men from all over the world coming to fight with you–you don’t have a chance. It was not an anarchist government, at any time. It was some anarchist groups, under the umbrella of a coalition goverment of disparate beliefs, that lasted a very short time.

                I’m quite sure I’d have a very hard time finding any anarchists who would agree with Anarchaos–Westlake wasn’t writing it for ideologues–but I’d hope some would be intelligent and tough-minded enough to take the critique in a thoughtful manner.

                Or is that even the point? Do you embrace this system of no-system because you believe in it–or because it allows you to escape responsibility for the mess this planet has become? You know, you’ve been going on at some length, and I still have no idea what you believe anarchism is. You’ve just been insisting it’s not what we see in this book, but again, that’s what Westlake thinks would come after anarchism. And can you point to a single anarchist society that lasted even one generation? You have to admit, your batting average is pretty damn lousy.

                I’m skeptical of how Democratic any Democracy is, or ever will be. I don’t believe there’s anything so perfect in an imperfect world, and I don’t believe in ‘isms’ of any stripe. And I don’t think you and I mean the same thing by Democracy.

                And perhaps we’d best leave it there (and please note, this discussion section isn’t a Democracy, though I rule with a loose hand). It’s a damn good book, whether you agree with it or not. But seriously? One man defeats an entire planet of criminals and corporate thugs? A planet, I might mention, that doesn’t spin on its axis.

                And your quibble is over whether Westlake got the politics right?

                I like his politics better than yours, because he’s skeptical of all politics, including his own–and you’re only skeptical of everybody else’s.

                So sensitive. You wouldn’t have lived through even one chapter in this book.


              • Michael

                I wasn’t sure whether this was just to create a setting, or really meant as a serious critique. For the reasons I’ve stated though, they probably wouldn’t take it as such.

                I am not an anarchist. Those who are though do not seem to be doing so for escaping responsibility. Personal experience again though, so meaningless.

                We seem to share skepticism on that score then.

                Yes, it is a bit implausible along those lines too. Regarding the physics at least we can probably forgive him, as I don’t know how much was known of it then.

                That’s not actually true. Rather my skepticism of anarchism is leading in another direction as I’ve said. It’s fine to disagree though, and I’m happy to leave it here.

              • Oh for crying out loud.

                You couldn’t have mentioned this before?

                Talk about a false flag operation.

                Get off my blog and stay off, you kibbitzer.

                And good luck to you, kid. You’ll need it.

                (Any further replies will be deleted. No Anarchaos here!)


                Editing–Michael did post again, and I did delete him. He exited in a huff, saying “Good Riddance.” Perhaps not fully understanding the proper use of that phrase either (I’m still here! You’re the one who’s gone!), but we finally agree. 😉

    • joeyjojo

      The book does not actually say that the government of Anarchaos is based on the writings of Bakunin. What it says is that the settlers of (what became known as) Anarchaos wanted to set up a world with no laws, and they were up against a law that said that the government within certain guidelines. They use the writings of Bakunin as a means to an end to get what they want, with encouragement from powerful people who see it as to their advantage to have a planet with no government and no laws. I will confess that Bakunin is not a writer I have studied, but I have no reason to doubt you when you say that this world does not accurately reflect his writings, but I think that’s entirely consistent with Westlake’s description of how the world was actually formed.

      • Bakunin is given as an example of the kind of thinker they presented in order to get permission to colonize a planet, but of course they cited him because they agreed with at least some of his ideas. I agree to the extent that we’re not being told “This society failed because all Bakunin’s ideas are wrong.” The point is “This society failed because it didn’t aspire to be a society. People are not naturally well-behaved, let alone good, and any philosophical system that says otherwise is hooey. You need some kind of structure to build on, and you won’t get it from anarchist thought.”

        It’s all moot after a generation or two has been born there. Anarchism, as an ideology, falls apart without a system to rebel against. Then you have anarchy and chaos. Without the ‘ism.’ That’s the point he’s making, anyway. Most people born on the planet can’t even read. They don’t know any such person as Bakunin ever lived.

        The book is not about Bakunin’s ideas, which I think Westlake was no expert on, but was familiar enough with to knowledgeably dissent from. But he doesn’t go into detail about anarchist thought, because he doesn’t need to, and it’s going to get in the way of telling the story.

        Again, he’s writing science fiction the way he thinks Hammett would, and Hammett was, in my opinion, as profound a thinker on the human condition as any anarchist.

        But he was also a really good storyteller, and he gets his ideas across by telling stories. So does Westlake, most of the time.

  6. Pingback: Anarchaos, by Donald Westlake (as Curt Clark) | gaping blackbird

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