To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing Appreciations of past award-winners that make clear why each deserves recognition as a pro-freedom work.
Here is a combined Appreciation of F. Paul Wilson’s Healer, the 1990 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner, and Wilson’s An Enemy of the State, the 1991 Hall of Fame winner.
“There used to be high priests to explain the ways of the king – who was the state – to the masses. Religion is gone, and so are kings. But the state remains, as do the high priests in the guise of Advisors, Secretaries of Whatever Bureau, public relations people, and sundry apologists. Nothing changes.”– From THE SECOND BOOK OF KYFHO
When the first Prometheus Award was presented in 1979 to F. Paul Wilson for Wheels within Wheels, few realized that the sf mystery novel was an absorbing piece of what would become a much larger future-history saga.
Together with Wheels within Wheels, An Enemy of the State and Healer– respectively the 1990 and 1991 Prometheus Hall of Fame inductees for Best Classic Fiction – form one of the most libertarian sf trilogies ever written.
Set in a positive but realistically flawed interstellar future in which human beings have spread among the stars, the LaNague Federation trilogy focuses on an imperialist central State and empire that is toppled by Peter LaNague, a far-sighted revolutionary who abjures violence in favor of a subtle, long-term plan based on a sophisticated understanding of economics, markets, money and inflation.
A LIBERTARIAN REVOLUTION
Using a surprising but plausible long-term strategy in a conspiracy to undermine the statist regime, LaNague sets in motion a revolution that ultimately ushers in a decentralized era of peace, prosperity, progress and broad respect for individual rights.
Yet, that future is by no means a utopia – and contains within it a perennial tension between Liberty and Power that threatens to bring about a new and more insidious form of tyranny.
The KYFHO catchphrase becomes as emblematic in this saga as the MYOB phrase uttered by the peaceful citizens of an agrarian planet invaded by Earth’s officious military and bureaucrats in Eric Frank Russell’s Prometheus Hall of Fame winner The Great Explosion.
In An Enemy of the State, by allying himself with warriors from the planet Flint, relying on a Sol System robber baron and at times actually making it rain “money,” LaNague plants the seeds of a revolution that changes minds and attitudes, including the outworlders’ very concept of government itself.
In essence, LaNague becomes a sort of libertarian Robin Hood, a rebel leader with his own small band of co-workers and supporters. Throughout, LaNague must resist the temptation to gain the kind of political power himself that he recognizes as inevitably corrupting.
Although the planets of occupied space had declared their independence from a decadent Earth, they became the victims of a more repressive Imperium. A pivotal local protest against the Imperium kicks off An Enemy of the State, the novel that begins the trilogy in chronological order of its future history (although the three novels were not published in that order.)
“It’s been well over two standard centuries since we kicked the Earthie militia back to Sol System. They were sucking us dry, taking what we produced and shipping it back to Earth,” said protestor Liza Kirowicz.
“So our great-great-grandparents revolted and set up the Imperium, supposedly to keep us free. But look at us now: are we any better off? The Imperium has been taxing us since it was formed; and if that wasn’t bad enough, it later came around and said Neekan currency was no good – we’d have to pay in Imperial marks. Now, instead of Earthie militia, we have the Imperial Guard all over the planet.”
THE HEROIC JOURNEY OF HEALER
Meanwhile, the picaresque Healer, published before An Enemy of the State but spanning several centuries after its events, offers an episodic portrait of the extraordinary journey of a human being whose accidental union with a symbiotic alien intelligence gives him unexpected powers of healing.
Steve Dalt is enhanced and blessed (but also cursed) after his freak accident with virtual immortality (not to mention near-constant inner dialogue with his alien partner). Dalt evolves into the Healer, who becomes legendary throughout the Federation as he assists its people through crises and problems with the benefit of his skills and unique two-consciousnesses-in-one awareness.
Wilson’s first novel drew upon his background and expertise as a “healer” himself – as a trained medical doctor – to ground the character and story in convincing psychology, realism and medical knowledge. That grounding balances this early Wilson novel, perhaps of greatest continuing interest in its exploration of alien and human biology and how their pairing is initially disorienting for Dalt but also transformative.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Healer is the discovery process dramatized as the alien becomes familiar with the strange behaviors of humans, just as Dalt learns to adjust to his unanticipated symbiosis. Wilson’s deft use of interior monologue, often enlightening and/or amusing, brings to vivid life the unspoken thoughts and dialogue between the alien and human.
Dalt allies himself most fruitfully with the Interstellar Medical Corps and spends time on the anarchistic planet Tolive, LaNague’s home. (LaNague is only mentioned occasionally in Healer, which can be read as a stand-alone novel).
The Healer becomes a reclusive hero who helps people survive “the horrors,” which are spreading through interstellar human society as a strange and mysterious new condition, mania or disease that seals off the minds of the afflicted in fear and catatonia. Yet, Dalt’s psi abilities make it possible for him to set his patients free by connecting to and opening up their sealed-off minds.
Healer ultimately builds a sense of pathos about its title character, who must uproot himself every generation or so from his current life and home to leave for another planet to avoid arousing suspicion as those around him begin to realize that Dalt’s youthful appearance never ages or changes.
THE ECONOMICS OF CHANGE
Overall, Wilson’s trilogy is rare among sf novels in focusing not only convincingly on alien-human biology but also with realism and insight on economic theory and on the marketplace as a subtle but powerful potential avenue for change. In so doing, the LaNague revolution is dramatized with some originality that largely avoids the standard (and often tiresome) military-sf tropes of action and war.
Wilson’s sophisticated understanding of modern economics sparks his dramatic application of its lessons – especially the dangerous power of government-created inflation through arbitrary and artificial expansion of, and corruption of money.
Significantly, Wilson’s analysis is congruent with, and seems drawn largely from, his study of the more libertarian or classical-liberal economic theories – especially the Austrian* and Chicago** schools of economics. Interestingly, one chapter begins with a quote from Milton Friedman inspired by a famous line from a U.S. president’s speech: “The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country.”
In An Enemy of the State, in particular, LaNague exposes the terrible tragedy and serious threat of tyranny emerging from state-drive inflation – fundamentally sparked by the printing of money or other less tangible government creation of money, ultimately viewed by some libertarians as basically legalized government counterfeiting and and a corrupt and artificial credit expansion typically benefiting the power-connected elite at the expense of the middle class and poor.
Wilson’s story dramatizes how government inflation undermines the value of currency and harms society while benefiting rulers. Intriguingly, most chapters intriguingly begin with excerpts from LaNague’s flyers dropped on communities, mostly editions of “The Robin Hood Reader” with promises of a tax refund to come (‘Look to the skies!”) and seemingly innocuous numbers-oriented reports on unemployment, the money supply and the inflation rate. But to those who read the flyers, an education in economic realities and how they’re affected by government begins.
Wilson also injects a realistic view of humanity and psychology, showing how people are not entirely or automatically rational and can be manipulated by our emotions and misperceptions, especially when the need for security is felt more powerfully than the benefits of liberty.
“Pity the poor diseased politician. Imagine: to spend your days and expend your effort making rules for others to live by, thinking up ways to run other lives. Actually to strive for the opportunity to do so! What a hideous affliction!”– from THE SECOND BOOK OF KYFHO
* The Austrian school of economics, with its focus on dynamism, spontaneous order, marginal utility and the decentralized role of knowledge in economic calculation, was developed by economists Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises (Human Action), Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt and Murray Rothbard (Man, Economy and State), among others.
** The Chicago school of economics, with its ideology-averse focus on empiricism and monetary theory, was developed by Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Ronald Coase, and Gary Becker, among others.
Note: F. Paul Wilson won the first Prometheus Award in 1979 for Wheels Within Wheels and also won in the Best Novel category for Sims in 2004.
He has won the Prometheus Hall of Fame award twice: for Healer, in 1990, and An Enemy of the State, in 1991; and was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2020 for “Lipidleggin,” a short story that’s part of his Future History series. His detective novel Dydeetown World is set within his LaNgue future history series.
Wilson, a previous guest of honor at the first two LFScons at Columbus’ Marcon in 2001 and 2015, was the Prometheus Awards Guest of Honor at the Columbus 2020 North American Science Fiction Convention.
* See the LFS interview with F. Paul Wilson (from the Volume 29, Number 3 Spring 2011 issue of the former Prometheus print quarterly)
* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: An Appreciation of Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, the 1992 inductee into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
* 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 are published on the Prometheus blog.)
* 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.
* 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 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.