Young people are the readers, writers and citizens of tomorrow.
Hopefully, the next generation will also become advocates for liberty, peace and justice for all. Yet, that is not inevitable or automatic; children must be taught the heritage of humankind and must be exposed to the best of our common culture.
Encouraging the younger generations to read good books, including outstanding science fiction and fantasy and the literature of liberty, is the goal of a newly created list of past Prometheus Award-winners.
This recommended reading list, designed for children and teenagers but also as a guide for their parents and grandparents choosing gifts or making suggestions, is now posted on the LFS website as the “Prometheus Award Young Adult Honor Roll.”
To compile the new honor roll, LFS leaders recently re-examined the growing list of nearly 100 works of fiction that have been recognized over more than four decades by the Prometheus Awards. The goal: to find novels and stories that are especially accessible to young readers – children and teenagers.
In retrospect, a surprising number of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees do fit the bill quite well as Young Adult works (also called juvenile fiction, especially decades ago.)
That includes three Prometheus Hall of Fame inductees: Alongside Night,a 1979 novel by J. Neil Schulman (inducted in 1989), Red Planet, a 1949 novel by Robert Heinlein (inducted in 1996) and “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a n 1837 fable by Hans Christian Anderson (inducted in 2000.)
Of all the works included on the list, the one perhaps most appropriate to introduce to a young child would be Anderson’s classic fable. “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” beyond its imagination and wit, teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of questioning authority, facing reality and trusting one’s own senses and judgment.
For teenagers, though, either Heinlein’s Red Planet or Schulman’s Alongside Night could be excellent introductions to both Young Adult fiction and the literature of liberty.The list also includes five Prometheus Best Novel winners, including Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World, Harry Turtledove’s The Gladiator, Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and its sequel Homeland; and Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze.
BEST FOR CHILDREN
Of these novels, younger readers (say, roughly between 6 and 13 years old) may find The Freedom Maze most accessible and the best starting point on the Prometheus-recognized reading list.
The evils of slavery and the goodness of liberty are dramatized simply but powerfully in Sherman’s young-adult historical fantasy novel about an adolescent girl of 1960 who is magically sent back in time to 1860 when her family owned slaves on a Louisiana plantation.
Although geared to children in avoiding some of the institution of slavery’s more grisly extremes, the novel does not whitewash the past or its cruelties while exploring and affirming the universal value of personhood and, implicitly, self-ownership.
Sherman also explores the closely linked themes of family, womanhood and courage in her coming-of-age story, at about 250 pages easily readable and highly recommended for children (especially grades five to eight).
BETTER FOR TEENAGERS
For pure science fiction with a focus on first contact with alien intelligences, MacLeod’s Learning the World could be an excellent choice, especially for teenagers.
MacLeod’s inventive novel explores the politics and uncertainties involved from two very different first-contact perspectives: the natives of the planet and the “alien” (human) visitors.
In some ways modeled on classic Heinlein juveniles, Learning the World offers as a primary viewpoint character a teen girl living on an interstellar colony ship about to enter a new solar system. As she learns more about the world, the reader learns with her.
Beyond those Prometheus winners, the new Young Adult Honor Roll also lists four works that became Best Novel finalists – including J.K. Rowling’s most anti-authoritarian novel in her Harry Potter series. (If you’ve read the novels or seen the films, you can likely guess its title – really not that tall an order, after all.)
Also identified at the end of the new Honor Roll are five additional Prometheus-recognized works that may appeal to younger readers – even though the works were not specifically written with young readers as the primary audience and also have strong and undeniable appeal to adults.
Of these works, many might agree that the two greatest – worth reading or rereading by children, teenagers and adults alike – are Ayn Rand’s Anthem and George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Both have become widely read classics, with millions sold and neither work ever going out of print.
For those who’ve never read Ayn Rand, Anthem is a good place to start. Of her four novels, it’s by far the shortest and the best introduction for younger readers. (On a personal note, I can recommend this strategy because I first read Rand when I discovered Anthem in seventh grade. That’s when fellow students of the more arty, intellectual, creative and liberal cliques were passing it around with glowing remarks, as if it was samizdat, or underground literature, since it wasn’t assigned in school and we often were reading it secretly behind a textbook in the back of some boring classes.)
Imaginative and inspirational with a tone of reverence and discovery, Anthem ranks as one of the great dystopian works of 20th century literature, but also as the most concise and poetic.
Its powerful and poignant theme: the rediscovery of the self. In Rand’s mythic and post-apocalyptic future of a primitive tribal society, the rediscovery of the self and the individual’s desire for freedom and to think independently is tantamount to a revolutionary act amid the collectivism of forced servitude, ignorance, fear, and stifling conformity.
Meanwhile, Orwell’s Animal Farm is far more than an animal fable. His cautionary tale, while set in the barnyard of a farm and using simple language accessible to young readers, metaphorically critiques the excesses of egalitarianism taken to an authoritarian extreme of “enforced equality” – which usually means that a political elite ends up far more powerful and wealthy than everyone else.
To visit the new Honor Roll page, first visit the Prometheus Awards page of the LFS website at lfs.org and click on the link under the headline Young Adult Honor Roll.” Or save this direct link: https://www.lfs.org/YAHonorRoll.shtml
P.S. This Honor Roll is not the only way that the LFS intends to raise the profile of Young Adult fiction and recognize it more in the coming years (more about that soon), but it’s a start – and so this list is one expected to expand over time.
* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: An appreciation of Vernor Vinge’s story “The Ungoverned,” the 2004 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction.
* 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.
* 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 enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which has added convenient links to all published Appreciations of past winners as they are published.
* 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 libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers. Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as (or more) vital as political change in achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.