By Michael Grossberg
To highlight and honor the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are providing a reader’s guide with capsule Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with the Best Novel category.
If you’ve ever wondered why a particular work of fiction has been recognized with a Prometheus Award and what libertarian sf fans see in these award-winning works, then our upcoming series of Appreciations should be must reading – as well as informative and illuminating!
Or, if you’re simply looking for something enjoyable and stimulating to read within the realm of science fiction and fantasy, which also illuminates abiding questions about the perennial tensions between Liberty and Power, an excellent place to begin is with this recommended reading list of award-winning fiction (to be published here on a regular weekly (or biweekly) schedule, starting now (September 2019).
These capsule appreciations are being written and edited by LFS members (including LFS founder Michael Grossberg, LFS President William H. Stoddard, and veteran LFS leaders and board members Chris Hibbert, Tom Jackson, Anders Monsen, Eric Raymond, and others). In a few cases, the Appreciations will be based in part on reviews printed in the Prometheus quarterly (1982-2016) or the Prometheus blog (2017-today).
Since 1979, a wide array of novels, novellas, stories, films, TV series and other works of fiction have won Prometheus awards by highlighting in fascinatingly different ways the value of voluntary social cooperation over institutionalized State coercion, the importance of respecting human rights (even for that smallest minority, the individual), and the evils of tyranny (whether on the Left or the Right).
Some Prometheus Awardwinners have been written by self-avowed libertarians, but many have not. Our award has gone over the past four decades to classic works by authors who identify as liberal/humanist (Bradbury), democratic socialist (LeGuin, Orwell), conservative (Pournelle), libertarian (Vinge, Heinlein, Anderson), and frankly, to many writers who are just good storytellers!
That’s because the award goes to the work of fiction itself, based directly on its plot, characters, themes, style, substance and imagination. As a matter of awards policy, the author’s own political views are set aside (if known) by the judges and voting LFS members who select the annual awards.
A DIVERSE RANGE OF WINNERS
In style, genre, settings, subjects and themes, the four-decade track record of the Prometheus Awards reflects an intriguingly wide range of literature.
Some winners are classically dystopian (Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Levin’s This Perfect Day, Rand’s Anthem, Zamyatin’s We, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange) or critique alternative utopias/dystopias (LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis), while others imagine – not utopias – but better and free-er futures (Smith’s The Probability Broach, Hogan’s Voyage From Yesteryear, Schulman’s Alongside Night, Koman’s Kings of the High Frontier.)
Some winners focus on the tragedy and horrors of tyranny, slavery or statism (Naam’s Nexus, Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky) while other winners accent their tales with comedy (Varley’s The Golden Globe, Pratchett’s Night Watch, Wilson and Shea’s Illuminatus!)
Some explore the pros and cons of libertarian-leaning and authoritarian-leaning social systems through alternate history (Linaweaver’s Moon of Ice, Walton’s Ha-penny, Stephenson’s The System of the World); others, through ambitious future-history series (Heinlein, MacLeod and Wilson, in his LaNague Federation novels Wheels Within Wheels, Healer and An Enemy of the State).
Many winners dramatize revolutionary fights for freedom against oppressive government and statist/collectivist ideologies (Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and Corcoran’s The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.)
Some winners offer cautionary tales or emblematic fables that imagine the consequences “if this goes on…” by foreseeing worrisome contemporary trends taken to logical/illogical extremes (Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.
And a few Prometheus winners are relatively unusual in offering complex but persuasive stories that may not be explicitly libertarian and avoid libertarian rhetoric, but that dramatize particular economic/social/governing problems sparked by unchecked statism.
For example, Donald Kingsbury in Psychohistorical Crisis, the 2002 Prometheus winner for Best Novel, brilliantly critiques the type of idealized and technocratic central planning imagined by Isaac Asimov in his otherwise fun-to-read Foundation novels.
In so doing, Kingsbury echoes the insights of modern libertarian scholars, such as the Austrian-school economists Ludwig von Mises (Socialism, Planned Chaos) and Friedrich Hayek – about the impossibility and destructive impact of government central planning.
Through such a wide variety of scenarios, stories and themes, the Prometheus Award-winners can help people imagine concretely what it might be like to live in a fully free future – and how it feels (or would feel) to have one’s dignity, moral autonomy and personal liberty violated by slavery and tyranny, or threatened by merely callous, corrupt and bureaucratic government intrusiveness.
Libertarian futurists envision a free-er and better future for all of humanity, one in which greater social harmony, prosperity, peace and progress (both scientific and social) can materialize because the people are free to flourish, associate and trade for mutual benefit and cooperation in a fully civil and civilized society that respects other people’s rights.
Thus, out of compassion for the troubled history of humanity and a strong desire for a better future for all, Libertarian Futurist Society members hope that more readers – of whatever political views – will be encouraged by this series of appreciations and Prometheus winners to expand their empathy for the millions of souls oppressed over the centuries by tyranny, slavery and war (which Randolph Bourne called “the health of the State”). We invite you to open your imagination to Prometheus-winning fiction that explores and dramatizes such important themes of liberty and justice for all.
* Up next (or coming soon) on the Prometheus Blog: A 40thAnniversary Celebration appreciation of the first novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Award: F. Paul Wilson’s The Probability Broach, the 1979 winner for Best Novel.
* 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 Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.
* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,”an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.
* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans. Libertarian futurists believe upholding and advancing our common culture is as vital as political reform in spreading positive visions of the future, achieving a flourishing society based on cooperation instead of coercion and building a better, free-er world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.