Heinleinesque adventure, romance and anarchy in the asteroids: An Appreciation of Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves, the 2011 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ history while making clear what makes each winner deserve recognition as pro-freedom or anti-authoritarian sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is presenting weekly Appreciations of past award-winners. Here’s the Appreciation for Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves, the 2011 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel:

By Anders Monsen and Michael Grossberg

Few sf/fantasy novels attempt to envision a fully free future, and only a fraction of those efforts prove fruitful and plausible, not to mention gripping in narrative and appealing in characters.

Darkship Thieves, with central characters to care about and a suspenseful, fast-paced plotis especially intriguing to libertarians for its plausible portrait of a high-tech anarchist society among the asteroids.

With this 2010 novel, Sarah Hoyt launched a series of novels in the same future solar-system-wide scenario focusing on a heroic woman from an anarchist colony in the asteroid belt who must fight for her freedom and identity against a tyrannical Earth.

Hoyt, a deft master of many genres, blends science fiction with romance, adventure, political intrigue and individualist-feminist themes.

Here are excerpts from Anders Monsen’s review of Darkship Thieves for the Fall 2010 issue of Prometheus, the LFS’ former quarterly print journal published from 1982 to 2016 (and now replaced by this Prometheus blog):

Sarah Hoyt is a prolific novel and short story writer in several genres, including fantasy, historical fiction, romance, and science fiction. She dedicated her novel, Darkship Thieves, to Robert A. Heinlein; there are echoes of some of his earlier novels in her book. Her female protagonist fiercely independent, verging on self-centered and certainly prone to rash behavior.

Athena Sinistra, daughter and heir to one of earth’s ruling council, reluctantly accompanies her father into space on a routine tour. While docked at a station near a field of energy producing powertrees, she wakes to find the ship hijacked and in mortal danger. Through luck and pluck she escapes into the powertree field, and there finds refuge among a ship illegally harvesting the energy.

The pilot of this ship, Christopher “Kit” Klaavil, belongs to an outlaw society descended from earth’s former rulers, genetically engineered humans modified for super-intelligence, strength, and speed, but unable to breed.

These biohumans, or Mules as they also were called, were overthrown centuries before. The remaining few fled into space to hide and exist on the verges, stealing power from the powertrees. When Athena steps aboard Kit’s darkship, she sets in motion a series of events that hauls earth’s past out of the darkness, and onto a collision course with an even darker present.

The descendents of the Mules bioengineer their chldren, growing them in vats with various capabilities. They view themselves as Engineered Life Forms. Kit is such a being, suited to working in dark space.

The rest of the inhabitants of Eden, the home of the descendants who fled earth, fear Athena and her links to earth.

Hoyt’s portrayal of the society of Eden is almost a straight-forward libertarian utopia. No government is in charge, yet the rules are focused and sometimes complex, and Athena’s hot-headed responses end her, more often than not, in trouble. Her return to earth is inevitable, and here supplies new twists to the history of the Mules, and Kit and Athena’s identity.

Hoyt’s novel is rife with ideas and non-stop action…  This enjoyable sf novel offers a rare glimpse into a Galt’s Gulch society that works.

Note: Sarah Hoyt, who moved from Portugal to the United States in the early 1980s and became an American citizen in 1988, has published more than 30 novels of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and historical fiction. Her Darkship series includes the direct sequels Darkship Renegades, a 2013 Prometheus Best Novel finalist; A Few Good Men, a 2014 Best Novel finalist; Through Fire, a 2017 Best Novel nominee; and Darkship Revenge, a 2018 Best Novel finalist.
Hoyt also won the 2018 Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel for Uncharted, which she co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson.

Here are excerpts from Sarah Hoyt’s Prometheus Award acceptance speech, later printed in the Fall 2011 issue of Prometheus (Vol. 30 No. 1):

I wrote Darkship Thieves because I was furious. Right about the time that cloning started being talked about, I expected and wasn’t disappointed, to see the spate of books coming out, about how cloning was a bad thing, because it was going to lead to people being cloned for sexual objects, or people being cloned for spare parts. In fact there was a movie about that recently. And all that stuff, that I expected, I expected the dystopian view. What I also expected but didn’t like was the fact that the tone of all these novels was, “there ought to be a law.” And the fact that all these corruptions of the technology were envisioned as happening as if society were “free,” and people were able to do this. And that made me furious.

A free society is better for preventing that kind of abuse. For one, cloning an entire person, to have your brain placed in them, is incredibly inefficient. The same way that slavery is inefficient. Raising humans is very expensive. And it’s not worth it. It would be much easier to clone body parts, which in a free society is more likely to be enforced by public opinion. While if we make it illegal, it will go underground and then all sorts of abuses happen. And this connects to the fact that people tend to react to new technology, particularly technology that can enhance human life, which cloning can by allowing people to live longer and thereby lowering our risks of failing. And extending human life and extending our possibilities in a thousand ways.

People tend to react to this with fear, and by saying there should be a law. Anything that’s enforced by law will get corrupted. Look at the French Revolution. Liberty, equality, fraternity. There is no way to enforce the last two, except by becoming a tyranny. And that’s why we had the guillotine.

And that’s what will happen. Every time you enforce something, no matter how high your virtue, by the force of law, which ties in to Animal Farm. Animal Farm by the way, had the force of a completely subversive work to me, when I read it in Portugal shortly after the revolution, because, again, in the Portuguese revolution they were trying to enforce equality by law. And that always goes wrong. So reading Animal Farm was a profoundly freeing experience, because I went, “Yes, I’m not alone in seeing the problem with this!”

So, that was why I wrote the book. Because I wanted to contrast a society where bioengineering — cloning, all sorts of bio advances — were illegal, and therefore went underground and became profoundly corrupt. To a society where they were allowable, and therefore public opinion could police them, and make it inadvisable for individuals to go to the extremes. Humans aren’t angels, and laws aren’t going to make them angels. We’re more likely to get there in our own self-interest, and by being watched, and having things in the open.

My son, when I told him about having to speak about the novel, said I should say two things, and I’m going to say them because he couldn’t be here — he’s driving his younger brother to school. My son said to tell you that the future is free, but the past is extremely expensive. That is, technology can free us, and can allow for more individual scope, but if we insist on trying to narrow technology and doing things the way that it’s always been done, and flattering up to the past, it’s going to cost us a lot, not just in money, but in lives and in opportunities.

We see this right now. A lot of professions, including mine, are changing very rapidly with technology. And people are trying to legislate us back into the past. Or to use tricks to bring us back into the way things were done.

That’s never going to work, and it’s just going to cost opportunities. It’s going to cost money. It’s going to cost lives. In the same way, my son said to say, that it’s possible, in fact the future is a boot stomping on the human face forever. However, when a boot is stomping on your face you’re in an ideal position to kick the person in the nuts.”


* 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 – and convenient, linked Appreciations to each work, visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* 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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