The 12 Best Libertarian Science Fiction Stories
“For some reason, many science fiction writers appear to believe that Libertarianism is not merely a political ideology but a floor wax, a dessert topping, and a way of organizing one’s life that will survive the Singularity intact. This is an arguable proposition but I’m going to go with the Libertarians for now because they’ve got the coolest guns.”—Charles Stross
For a genre all about individuals using technology and reason to survive and thrive in an often hostile universe it’s hard not to come across as fundamentally libertarian (as much as the pinko writers over at TOR try…).
But with so much sci-fi out there that could be libertarian, what’s actually worth reading and what should you avoid as if it were an unshaven leftist on the sidewalk who’s trying to collect signatures for her petition to raise the minimum wage?
Don’t worry, I’ve put together this list of the absolute best libertarian science fiction stories for your reading pleasure.
Of course, any list of “the best” libertarian sci-fi is going to be inherently subjective, so I’m sure your list will differ slightly (or even not-so-slightly) from mine.
If so there’s just one important thing for us all to remember: your list is wrong, and mine is the only possible correct list of top libertarian science fiction stories.
The Best Libertarian Science Fiction Stories
I’ve ordered the libertarian science fiction stories below based on author last name, not by personal preference or by any subjective measurement of “bestness.”
1. Withur We by Matthew Alexander (Read AFL’s “Withur We” review)
This anarcho-capitalist science fiction novel has got it all: intriguing science, a libertarian revolution against an overbearing state, and an actually realistic “desert island” scenario where a libertarian society is tested in an isolated environment.
Alistair Ashley 3NN is an Aldran marine who returns from a war of interstellar conquest disillusioned by the statism of his home planet. When he joins a rebellion seeking greater freedom he’s thrust into a fight that will take him from the halls of power in the capital city, to a deadly prison planet, and back again. Withur We, though long, is a fast read and will keep you up to see what comes next.
2. Net Assets by Carl Bussjaeger (Read “Net Assets” for free)
Anticipating the rise of SpaceX and Blue Origin, Net Assets is a rip-roaring exploration of the possibilities of private space flight.
When engineer Hank Hanners and businessman Bill Neville start a company to build an orbital launcher and provide cheap space access to the public, they face obstacles from a government run amok. From trigger-happy IRS agents, to pork-laden NASA contracts, and a power-tripping President, they’ve got to navigate every statist challenge right through to the gripping, explosive climax.
There’s also a sequel to “Net Assets” called Bargaining Position which posits a settled, mostly libertarian solar system, and what happens when a prospecting ship chances into a possible first contact situation.
3. The Powers of the Earth (Aristillus Book 1) by Travis J. I. Corcoran
The first book in the Aristillus series, The Powers of the Earth reads like a modern-day take on Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, if that book had included uplifted dogs, self-learning drone armies, and “really, really big guns.”
Entrepreneur Mike Martin just wants to be left alone in the lunar city he founded, along with a growing band of misfits, refugees, and libertarian revolutionaries. But the moribund and tyrannical governments of Earth can’t let that happen. The conflict that follows is as exciting as it is well-written.
Both books of the Aristillus series won the Prometheus Award for best libertarian novel the years they each were published (2018 and 2019).
4. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
No list of the best libertarian sci-fi would be complete without this Hugo Award-winning classic. Often described as “the American Revolution in space,” The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was one of two fiction books (the other being Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) listed by a plurality of libertarians in a Liberty Magazine survey as having converted them to the philosophy.
When the citizens of the moon, formerly nothing more than a penal colony, decide they deserve to be free and self-sufficient, they touch off a revolution against the tyrannical, Earth-based Authority. Helped by a secret, self-aware computer, a brilliant anarchist professor, and a beautiful revolutionary, mechanic Manny O’Kelly finds himself unwittingly in the middle of a shooting war between Luna and Earth.
Any book where one of the good guys says, “The most basic human right, the right to bargain in a free marketplace…” is one that every good libertarian science fiction fan has to read.
5. Darkship Thieves: Darkship 1 by Sarah A. Hoyt
Sarah Hoyt’s been blogging about libertarianism almost as long as she’s been publishing science fiction infused with it.
In the first novel of Hoyt’s Darkship series, the young Athena Hera Sinistra, daughter of a powerful government leader on Earth, finds herself fleeing one of her father’s bodyguards. As she makes her way across the solar system, she is rescued by a Darkship thief, and eventually ends up in a libertarian anarchist society on an asteroid, called Eden.
6. Escape from Terra Volume 1 by Sandy Sandfort, Scott Bieser and Lee Oaks
Not a novel, but still technically a libertarian science fiction story, this graphic novel from Big Head Press is a lighthearted examination of an anarcho-capitalist society out in the asteroid belt.
Though Earth bureaucrat Guy Caillard is being sent by the Terran government to bring the rebellious “belters” into line and collect taxes from them, instead he’s in for a rude surprise. The belters have no central government to collect taxes from, and they’re in no hurry to impose one on their perfectly functional society, thank you very much.
Big Head Press is also currently working on another libertarian graphic novel funded through Subscribestar, and their other graphic novels routinely make it on our lists of the top gifts for libertarians.
7. The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith
This classic from libertarian author L. Neil Smith is a gripping sci-fi/alternate history tale that won the Prometheus award the year it was published.
Denver detective Win Bear, while investigating the murder of a local university physicist, finds not only the killers, but also the eponymous “probability broach,” a portal into a parallel universe. There, the libertarian society of the North American Confederacy has almost no government, everyone carries guns, and “public” services are provided by private business.
Big Head Press also did a great graphic novel adaptation of the story.
8. The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson, whose 1995 short story “The Great Simolean Caper” predicted Bitcoin 14 years before its creation, and whose seminal novel Cryptonomicon details the creation of a gold-backed private currency (and in which characters share plans for easily-assembled automatic weapons so people can defend themselves against genocide in countries with gun control), is definitely an author libertarians should be aware of (he also won the Prometheus Award in 2005 and 2016).
His nanotech-infused sci-fi novel The Diamond Age is a fascinating, cyberpunk-esque adventure through a future Shanghai where society, no longer ruled by central governments (they cannot collect taxes when all money is anonymous, encrypted cryptocurrency), is ordered into voluntary enclaves, or “claves,” and where a voluntary law system called the Common Economic Protocol allows peaceful trade and co-existence between different claves.
Nell is a poor child living in the slums without a clave, who chances upon a nanotech “book” designed to educate a daughter of the leader of an upper class clave. As she learns and grows, a revolution is also brewing to replace the centralized “feed” that provides raw material for nanotech assembly, with decentralized “seeds” that give individuals much more power.
9. Marooned in Realtime (Peace War) by Vernor Vinge
Anarcho-capitalist science fiction author Vernor Vinge, whose post-singularity novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky brought him worldwide acclaim (and a Prometheus Award) has a lot of awesome libertarian sci-fi stories to choose from.
Marooned in Realtime—technically a sequel to The Peace War, though it reads as a standalone novel—follows a group of 300 humans, the only surviving ones in the world, who have been flung millions of years into the future after being encased in high-energy stasis fields called “bobbles.” When one of them is murdered, it’s up to Wil Brierson, the only living cop from a 21st century libertarian anarchist society (and also the main character of Vinge’s excellent, Prometheus Award-winning ancap short story “The Ungoverned“) to find out who the killer is.
10. The Empire of Isher: The Weapon Makers / The Weapon Shops of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt
Another absolute classic, The Weapon Shops of Isher was originally published in 1951 as an amalgamation of some of Vogt’s 1940s sci-fi stories.
Largely written during WW2 and the conquests of the Nazis, The Empire of Isher tells the story of the eponymous oppressive empire and the mysterious Weapon Shops. Despite the tyrannical nature of the Isher government, the Weapon Shops sell weapons to the citizens to use in self defense, and also provide a parallel legal system when the official one is beset by corruption.
Their famous motto, reflecting the belief that even tyrannical governments can’t oppress armed citizens is, “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.”
11. The Complete Lanague (The Lanague Federation Series) by F. Paul Wilson
Ok, I’m cheating a bit here with this recommendation since it’s a collection, and not a single novel, but every story in Wilson’s LaNague Federation future history series is a classic of libertarian science fiction (including the fun little short story “Lipidleggin” which can be read free online and has also been made into a short film).
Four-time Prometheus Award-winner Wilson has constructed a rich future with a galaxy-spanning libertarian Federation that, from its rebellious birth overthrowing the tyranny of the Outworld Imperium, to its rocky time defeating anti-freedom conspiracies and invasions, still somehow manages to pull through and provide a raft of fast-paced adventures.
12. The Golden Age Trilogy by John C. Wright
Recommended by other well-known libertarians like Stephen Kinsella, The Golden Age tells the story of a post-singularity human/transhuman society where people are immortal, poverty is non-existent, and humanity co-exists with god-like machine intelligences. The society Wright envisions is also highly libertarian, with a functioning free market and where the non-aggression principle is explicitly the main law of the land. Plus, any novel where Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage is brought up (in a positive light) and where the author talks in the appendix about why you shouldn’t let a central bank interfere with the credit market is what we in the biz call “totally wicked!”
Phaethon, a wealthy son of one of the governing council, learns that his memory has been tampered with, ostensibly as punishment for a crime he had been planning to commit. He sets off on a quest across the solar system to find out why.
As I compiled this list there were a handful of libertarian sci-fi stories that were popular, or mentioned often by others, that didn’t quite make it into my top 12, so have a gander at the also-rans:
- The Syndic by C. M. Kornbluth
- Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
- The Corporation Wars Trilogy by Ken MacLeod
- Freehold (The Freehold Series) by Michael Z. Wiliamson (Read “Freehold” for free)
Ok, What’d I Miss?
I’m sure you in the peanut gallery have plenty of awesome libertarian science fiction books that you insist must be part of this list.
So go on, share them in the comments.
If you must.