40th Anniversary Celebration: An Appreciation of No Award, the 1985 Prometheus Best Novel choice

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are posting a series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our earliest Best Novel awards.

Here’s the fifth Appreciation, for No Award (1985), following recent appreciations for novels by F. Paul Wilson, L. Neil Smith, James Hogan and J. Neil Schulman:

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.)

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: A 40thAnniversary Celebration and appreciation of the next novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Award: Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai, the 1986 winner for Best Novel.

* 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.

* 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.

* 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 vital as political change (and often more fun!) in achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

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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