Serendipity and seized opportunity enhanced the star power and appeal of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s panel discussion at the 2020 online North American Science Fiction Convention.
Unexpectedly but delightfully, the Hugo-winning Grand Master novelist C.J. Cherryh and her partner Jane. S. Fancher joined past Prometheus winners Sarah Hoyt and F. Paul Wilson and several LFS veteran leaders including LFS President William H. Stoddard in answering a variety of thought-provoking questions during the NASFiC/LFS panel on “Visions of SF, Liberty, Human Rights: The Prometheus Awards Over Four Decades, from F. Paul Wilson and Robert Heinlein to Today.”
When panel moderator Tom Jackson noticed that Cherryh and Fancher were still hanging out within the Zoom “meeting room” after accepting their 2020 Best Novel award for co-writing Alliance Rising to watch the post-ceremony panel discussion, he noted their presence and ability to participate.
After a few questions to the other panelists, Jackson invited Cherryh and Fancher to come into the discussion with their comments.
Which they graciously did, and fascinatingly so.
Thus, the long-planned NASFiC panel celebrating the recent 40th anniversary of the Prometheus Awards – first presented by L. Neil Smith to F. Paul Wilson in 1979 – expanded into an event with interesting comments from not two but four bestselling, Prometheus-award-winning novelists.
Here is the full panel discussion, part of an 80-minute two-part NASFiC/LFS video that begins with the 2020 Prometheus Awards ceremony, including Cherryh and Fancher’s Best Novel acceptance speech and Astrid Anderson Bear’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech for her late father Poul Anderson; and concludes with the 50-minute panel discussion:
This was the second of two successful major LFS outreach efforts in 2020, including the previous CoNZealand Worldcon panel discussion with Prometheus-winning bestselling author F. Paul Wilson (view the video, available in a previous blog and also via a link from the LFS website home page), LFS founder Michael Grossberg and LFS board member Tom Jackson.
Although Wilson, Jackson and Grossberg participated in both the Worldcon and NASFiC panels, the questions that Jackson asked as moderator of each participant during both panels were very different – making each video very much worth watching on its own.
Plus, Jackson asked several impromptu follow-up questions to Cherryh and Fancher, as well as Wilson and Hoyt, that sparked interesting answers.
Among the NASFiC panel questions explored in the video:
To both Hoyt and Wilson:
The Prometheus Award encourages writers to explore political and philosophical ideas about freedom, self-ownership, non-aggression and individual rights. Is there something about science fiction that lends itself to exploring ideas?
To Hoyt, Wilson and special guests Cherryh and Fancher:
Robert Heinlein, a seminal sf author, won seven Prometheus Awards, more than anyone else. Has Heinlein influenced your writing?
To LFS President William H. Stoddard:
People unfamiliar with libertarianism sometimes wonder whether some Prometheus winners fit our distinct focus. Many bloggers asked that in 2009 when Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame. How do you respond to such skepticism?
To Stoddard and Grossberg:
How do you feel about an award that recognizes a dystopian work, as opposed to a work that advances positive ideas, such as this year’s winner, “Alliance Rising” by C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher?
To Hoyt and Wilson:
How has winning awards – the Prometheus and others – affected your career, or did it have any effect?
To LFS founder Michael Grossberg:
Why have there been so many intersections between science fiction and libertarianism?
Here, as a teaser for the video, is how Grossberg answered this question (although this text doesn’t fully match his partially extemporaneous comments and goes a bit farther than what he had time to say):
“The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction itself recognizes that strong pattern, describing libertarian sf as a major strand in science fiction,” Grossberg said.
“The encyclopedia listing on libertarian sf also notes that more than any other social or political movements, libertarianism has gained a sizable following through people reading fiction.
“Many people became libertarian in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, or recognized libertarianism as a perspective they already largely had embraced, through reading Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Anthem, L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night, and James Hogan’s Voyage from Yesteryear, among other libertarian sf classics.
“Such fiction helped spur the exciting first generation of the modern libertarian movement, in some ways the most popular libertarian movement in America since the early- to mid-1800s, when the fundamentally libertarian (classical liberal) Abolitionist movement succeeded in paving the way for the end of slavery.
“Over the centuries and around the world, slavery was sadly nearly universal. Romans enslaved Greeks, Arabs enslaved Europeans, Africans enslaved Africans and of course, Southern Americans enslaved African Americans. For millennia, our tribal ancestors routinely enslaved people of another tribe, country, religion, race or ethnicity – and sometimes also enslaved people of their same race, religion and country.
All during those grim centuries, most people accepted the great evil of slavery as inevitable or viewed it as part of the natural order, considering it a “necessary evil.”
Today and similarly for centuries and around the world, most people accept coercive government as a necessary evil. (Think of the saying about “death and taxes.”) But is it necessary?
And that’s where science fiction and speculative vision assumes an essential role in human liberation and social change, with its positive visions and alternative visions of the future.
Most people tend to consciously or unconsciously accept the status quo, and rarely Question Authority. After all, it’s hard to imagine alternatives to basic mundane realities, however flawed, if that’s all you’ve grown up with as “normal,” Grossberg said.
Reading speculative fiction about alternative societies, different possible cultures and a free-er future can help us break out of the box and go beyond the status quo in our minds. Thanks to the power of great fiction, we can imagine and vicariously grasp the possibility of a better world – one based on cooperation rather than coercion.”
* 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. (This page contains convenient direct clickable links to each Appreciation for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction, as they’re published on the Prometheus blog.)
* 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.
* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history that launched the series in 2019 with review-essays about more than 40 Best Novel winners and that continues most weeks in 2020 with appreciations of the more than 40 Best Classic Fiction winners in the Prometheus Hall of Fame. If you’ve ever wondered why some fiction is recognized with a Prometheus, this series will help you better understand what LFS members see as the libertarian and anti-authoritarian themes in each winner.
* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans, and help nominate, judge and vote for the annual Prometheus Award winners. Libertarian futurists believe upholding and advancing culture is as vital as politics in spreading positive visions of the future, achieving a flourishing society based on cooperation instead of coercion and a better, free-er world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.