An Appreciation of No Award, the 1985 Prometheus Best Novel choice

Our Appreciation series highlights the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards. Here’s an Appreciation for No Award, the 1985 winner in the Best Novel category.

By William H. Stoddard

When the Libertarian Futurist Society started giving regular awards for Best Novel, ballots mailed to members offered the option of voting for None of the Above.

In 1985, None of the Above won, for the first and – up to now – the only time.

This option was a familiar one in the science fiction community of the time.

Voting ballots for the Hugo Award, presented annually at the World Science Fiction Convention, offered No Award as an option as early as 1959, when convention members voted down the Hammer Films Dracula, The Fly, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in the category of Best Dramatic Presentation; it came in first in that category several more times.

In 1959, No Award also came in first in the category of Best New Author, subsequently discontinued. The Libertarian Futurist Society fell into a familiar tradition.

On Libertarian Futurist Society ballots, though, the option initially took a different form: “None of the Above.”

This phrasing came from the larger libertarian political movement, where it was advocated by organizations such as the League of Non-Voters, and by libertarian thinkers such as Sy Leon and Wendy McElroy, reflecting the belief that voting could not count as political consent unless voters had the option of voting “No” to all candidates, and thus withholding consent.

The idea gained some traction in the early days of organized libertarianism; Nevada ballots have included “None of These Candidates” since 1976. It was only natural that a libertarian organization would offer its members the choice NOT to give an award. That option has remained on ballots for Best Novel and Hall of Fame since then, though in recent years they’ve changed to the more explicit phrasing “No Award,” like the Hugo Awards.

The ballots for 1985 actually offered some fairly strong choices for Best Novel. L. Neil Smith had won a Best Novel Award previously, for his first novel, The Probability Broach. Smith, Vernor Vinge, and F. Paul Wilson have all won Lifetime Achievement Awards, presented in 2014-2016, and each has won more than one Best Novel Award.

Rounding out the list were Gordon R. Dickson and Lee Correy, with novels offering two very different visions of free societies of the future.

For the historical record, the five 1985 Prometheus Award Best Novel finalists were Manna, by Lee Correy; The Final Encyclopedia, by Gordon Dickson; Tom Paine Maru, by L. Neil Smith; The Peace War, by Vernor Vinge; and The Tomb, by F. Paul Wilson.

When the members of the Libertarian Futurist Society favored “None of the Above” over all five writers, they were setting a high standard for the Prometheus Award, both for quality of writing and for libertarian themes.

The Libertarian Futurist Society has long held to the principle that its awards go to the work, not to the author. Authors don’t have to belong to some libertarian group, or identify themselves as libertarians, or even agree with all libertarian ideas, for their work to win; they only need to have something illuminating to say about liberty.

The victory of “None of the Above” in 1985 was the other side of the same coin: the author’s being libertarian, as most of these authors were, doesn’t guarantee an award. The work has to speak for itself. That principle has been one of the LFS’s strengths over the years since then.

(Note: Editor-writer William H. Stoddard, one of the early LFS members and a sustaining member since the 1980s, is president of the LFS Board of Directors and chairs the Prometheus Hall of Fame finalist-judging committee.)

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE PROMETHEUS AWARDS:

* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – including 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 all published essay-reviews in our Appreciation series explaining why each of more than 100 past winners since 1979 fits the awards’ distinctive dual focus.

* 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 (including the recent 2023 ceremony with inspiring and amusing speeches by Prometheus-winning authors Dave Freer and Sarah Hoyt),Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

* Check out the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Facebook page  for periodic updates and links to Prometheus Blog posts.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards and support a cultural and literary strategy to appreciate and honor freedom-loving fiction,  jointhe Libertarian Futurist Society, 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 in envisioning a freer and better future – and in some ways can be even more powerful than politics in the long run, by better visions of the future, innovation, peace, prosperity, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights, individuality and human dignity.

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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