Astronauts, environmentalists, sf fandom, global cooling and social regression: An Appreciation of Fallen Angels, the 1992 Prometheus Best Novel winner by Flynn, Niven and Pournelle

The Libertarian Futurist Society’s ongoing Appreciation series strives to make clear what libertarian futurists see in each of our past winners and how each fit the Prometheus award’s distinctive focus on freedom. Here’s our Appreciation for Fallen Angels, co-written by Michael Flynn, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle:

By Michael Grossberg

Fallen Angels, the 1992 Prometheus Best Novel winner, imagines a heroic struggle set against a dark future in which the United States and other countries are fighting a losing battle amidst the “global cooling” of a new Ice Age.

With the government turned anti-science and anti-technology in a coalition among Greens, feminists and religious fundamentalists, and federal officials focusing on persecuting science-fiction fans as subversives while ignoring the welfare of much of the population in some of the most affected parts of the weather-besieged country, this provocative 1992 novel might have been just a depressing cautionary tale.

But the novel’s co-authors Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn offer some genuine hope by focusing on a group of individualistic, science-loving and freedom-loving misfits.

The title refers to two astronauts from NASA’s stranded and closed-down space station who fall to earth while on one of their desperate flights to beef up the station’s diminishing gas supplies by scooping up nitrogen gases from the Earth’s outer atmosphere.

Such missions have sparked the ire of the Greens, who view the astronauts’ actions as simply more theft of Earth’s resources and as “inappropriate science” – the new no-no in a reactionary and regressive society that puritanically condemns any consumption of energy as polluting and wasteful.

Two-time Prometheus winner Michael Flynn (Creative Commons license)

The two “fallen angels” struggle to evade capture and try to return to their space station, which has made progress toward self-sufficiency. In a subplot that seems consciously aimed at science-fiction fans, the astronauts fall to Earth the day before the annual science-fiction convention, prompting a group of sf fans to decide to rescue them.

Yet, the authors also find much humor in the contrast of cultures between the practical, reality-oriented astronauts and the romantic, idealistic fans, whose optimism somehow carries them through obstacles to help solve the crisis.

Jerry Pournelle (Creative Commons license)

Note: Michael Flynn also won the 1991 Prometheus Award for Best Novel for In the Country of the Blind.

Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017) edited The Survival of Freedom, a 1981 anthology of short stories and essays (co-edited with John F. Carr) that was inducted in 2001 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

Larry Niven, meanwhile, is best known for his award-winning novel Ringworld and its sequels, all part of his interlinked stories and novels set within the same  interstellar future within his Tales of Known Space.

Larry Niven (Creative Commons license)

* Check out the previous Appreciation for Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind.

* Read the Appreciation of The Survival of Freedom, an anthology edited by Jerry Pournelle and John F. Carr and inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 2000.


* See related introductory essay about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which contains links to more than 100 Appreciation essay-reviews of other winners.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.
Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as vital as political change (and often more fun!) in achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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