Anthem by Ayn Rand

A pre-klingon example of how sci-fi can explore contemporary cultural issues and questions of identity is Ayn Rand's 1937 novella Anthem. Her book has lots in common with 1984, portraying a future in which individuality and free will have been stamped out. Well, almost stamped out—as in Orwell's novel, Anthem focuses on a man (here given the name Equality 7-2521—nice ring to it, ain't there?) who may not have the words to say what's troubling him, but has a hunch that this isn't the world he wants to live in.

Sci-fi works are interesting from a cultural studies viewpoint because they're not just about fantastical adventure and escapism (not that there's anything wrong with that—or anything you can't theorize about, for that matter). Instead, they use the genre to highlight real-life issues and themes relating to politics, ethics, philosophy, and human nature. Rand herself grew up in Soviet Russia and developed a hatred of collectivism, so Anthem presents Rand's ideas about the functioning of society, and the concept of society itself.

As the novel progresses, the narrator increasingly finds that any type of independent thought is wiped out. In one scene, he seems to uncover the secret of electricity and thinks that everyone will be grateful. But does his tinkering fit their collective vision of labor and toil for all?

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