Freedom-lovers and power-mongers on a terraformed asteroid: An Appreciation of L. Neil Smith’s Pallas, the 1994 Prometheus Best Novel winner

The Libertarian Futurist Society’s Appreciation series aims to make clear why each Prometheus winner deserves recognition as a notable pro-freedom or anti-authoritarian work. 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.


Note: L. Neil Smith also won Prometheus Awards for Best Novel in 1984 for The Probability Broach in 1984 and The Forge of the Elders in 2001.

L. Neil Smith (Creative Commons photo)

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.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

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.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences


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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