Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wanted: An Anarchist PI

No, as far as I know, I don't need a gumshoe personally.

But I think the anarchist movement does.

The most fun and cost-effective exercise in anarchist consciousness-raising I can imagine (at least at this point in the morning, before breakfast) would be the creation of a set of PI novels set in a stateless society.

Genre-crossing is already all the rage in crime fiction. Think Laurell Hamilton's early Anita Blake novels (the ones before sex became the central point of each story), which combined fantasy, horror, and romance with elements of the traditional police procedural. Or Hamilton's Merry Gentry novels, which combine fantasy, detective work, and politics. Or Jim Butcher's novels that blend the traditional PI story with fantasy (and occasionally horror). Or Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels, which often mix fantasy with politics and detection.

But this isn't, of course, a feature exclusively or primarily of fantasy fiction. A prime function of today's PI novel seems to be to introduce readers to unfamiliar worlds. Peter Spiegelman's really excellent novels concerned with the New York financial world come immediately to mind. So does the whole sub-genre of mysteries set in ancient Rome (of which Lindsey Davis's Falco stories are, on balance, I think, the best examples).

So: why not a series that integrates SF and politics with the Chandleresque PI story, offering the reader a window into the diverse sorts of communities that would doubtless figure in a stateless society through the eyes of a shamus?

Fiction about radically different social alternatives runs a serious risk of being boring and self-righteous if its primary purpose is explain what's wrong with current society while highlighting the advantages of an alternative. It's likely to be heavy on philosophical dialogue and exposition.

The need to write a good PI story, with no more exposition than you'd get in any piece of detective fiction or SF introducing readers to an unfamiliar environment, would make the boring and self-righteousness less likely (you can never rule out the possibility of either entirely, of course).

The series would be a great opportunity to put different anarchic options on display and to do what fiction of this sort always does: show how the sausages are made by revealing a society's seamy under-side. Thus, it would facilitate self-critical reflection by anarchists on their various projects. But, more importantly, it would help to normalize anarchism in the minds of an ordinary reader just interested in picking up something different in the mystery or SF section of her local bookstore.

I'm not volunteering—just proposing. I'd love to see volunteers come forward, so we could rally around them. But if you just want to debate my suggestion, that's OK, too.

I look forward to hearing from you.


KN@PPSTER said...

L. Neil Smith's North American Confederacy novels resemble that remark (except Her Majesty's Bucketeers, which is more Doyle than Chandler).

Ayn R. Key said...

What about a detective novel in a fantasy setting, as my wife and I are working on?

Gary Chartier said...

Tom: more stuff to add to my reading list.

Ayn: I'm all for it--I've already mentioned my appreciation for fantasy detective fiction (Butcher, Hamilton, sometimes Steven Brust, whom I forgot to name in the post). I love genre-crossing. I'd just like to see people exposed to the details of a stateless society in a non-didactic, non-expository way (just drop the reader into the middle of the world, rather than bothering to try to explain its history and describe its mechanics in the abstract). What's your fantasy detective novel going to be like?

Gary Chartier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wulirider said...

Read L. Neil Smith's books. His alternative universe has a PI hero in them, PALLAS and other works of his are excellent.

Like the idea. Need more writers of fiction to make freedom and liberty world's more visible!!

nfactor13 said...

I'd been thinking of two related story ideas. One about alien visitation by interstellar entrepreneurs, offering security services in exchange for precious metals (or something else of value), and let the consequences play out of people paying to opt out of the system. Offers a good dose of economics, sci-fi, and political comedy along the way.

Another about a free zone neighboring a more traditional western democracy. I picture Bogart as the PI and Claude Rains as the visiting diplomat, looking to get information and possibly plant evidence to start a war. How would people living in a free society try to prevent such a thing? Would there be any social cohesion, or would it be all too easy to pull it apart?

Please, someone steal either idea and write something great.

Joseph McGinnis said...

L. Neil Smith's Probability Broach (or what I've read so far) irritates me a bit with it's boo-hooing for "poor, innocent" corporations like Coca-Cola. It would be nice to have a story set in a world where a much more decentralised economy developed thanks to not having state privileges around to prop up such corporations...

But what to make the story about?? Hmm... need to do inspirational research. Character wise I'm already envisioning a Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Cal Lightman (Lie to Me*).