As part of our ongoing Appreciation series of past Prometheus Awardwinners, here’s the Appreciation for L. Neil Smith’s Pallas, the 1994 Best Book winner:
By Michael Grossberg
Set in the 22nd century on the terra-formed and colonized asteroid of Pallas, L. Neil Smith’s Heinlein-esque novel imagines a believable future based on plausible scientific developments but one beset by familiar political divisions between freedom-lovers and power-mongers.
Two groups of colonists sharing the habitat in a 20th of Earth’s gravity come into conflict. The larger culture is a fully free gun-toting group of rugged individualists who live as they choose – but at their own expense, with strict accountability in “moon-is-a-harsh-mistress” respect for the harsh realities of asteroid existence in the outer solar system.
These colonists represent something of a libertarian utopia based on explicit consent, since all have signed a founding document modeled on the ideas of an Ayn-Rand-style woman philosopher.
The other smaller subculture, led by an ambitious former Earth Senator unwillingly forced to emigrate to Pallas because of sexual scandal, is a small socialist agrarian community, operating behind a Berlin-style wall closed off from the free-wheeling larger asteroid society, ideologically based on manual labor, vegetarianism and communalism and controlled by a dominating elite.
Those outside the walls have nicknamed it the “ant farm,” but tolerate its existence from a larger libertarian meta-framework of live and let live, much like Robert Nozick outlined in his National-Book-award-winning Anarchy, State and Utopia.
At the center of this 1993 novel and linking the two worlds dramatically, is the coming-of-age of Emerson Ngu, a rebel who escapes his walled socialist community to explore and live in Pallas’ larger world.
With a fast-paced plot and interesting characters, Pallas can be read on its own, but is a prequel to Ceres, a 2010 Prometheus nominee.
ABOUT L. NEIL SMITH
He later won a Special Award, shared with illustrator Scott Bieser, in 2005 for The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel, and the Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016.
For more about L. Neil Smith, check out the Prometheus blog’s June 2019 interview by Tom Jackson with the author about his work, the Prometheus Award and his influences.
* 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 the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.
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