A guide to Best Novel nominees, Part 5: Daniel Suarez’s Critical Mass, Steve Wire’s Black Hats, Fenton Wood’s Hacking Galileo and Alan Zimm’s Misperceived Threats

By Michael Grossberg

Here is the fifth and final part of the Prometheus Blog guide to the 2024 Prometheus nominees for Best Novel.

These capsule descriptions – alphabetized by author, and concluding with Daniel Suarez’s Critical Mass, Steve Wire’s Black Hats, Fenton Wood’s Hacking Galileo and Alan Zimm’s Misperceived Threats – aim to make clear why LFS members nominated them for the next Prometheus Award and how they fit the distinctive dual focus of our award, at once literary and thematic.

While the 12-member Prometheus Best Novel finalist-judging committee won’t vote to select a slate of finalists from the 17 nominees until April, other Libertarian Futurist Society members are invited to begin reading the nominees that spark their interest.

Perhaps also, this may allow LFS awards voters to get a head start on reading some nominees that may end up as finalists – even before the usual final reading and ranking stage of the Prometheus awards process between April and July 4, the traditional voting deadline to choose the annual Prometheus winners.

• Critical Mass, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton, 464 pages) – Set after the events of Delta-V, this near-future sf novel champions private efforts to expand human progress through the solar system via technology.

After a portion of the team make it back to Earth from struggles with mining an asteroid, remnants of the organization that launched the original mission regroup to rescue crew-members still at the asteroid and save the Earth from environmental catastrophe.

Unusually realistic in its depiction of the perils of traveling, living and working in outer space, much of the story focuses on the immense high-risk challenges of engineering, space industrialization, asteroid mining, uranium enrichment, nuclear-powered spaceships and building and operating a space station at L2 on the far side of the moon.

In the process, the central characters find it necessary to resist government control, wrestle with the rule of law, and launch a decentralized financial structure allowing anyone to become a stakeholder. They courageously persist despite significant government opposition, restrictions and even sabotage and military action.

Consistently showing government as the problem and profitable cooperation through free enterprise as at least part of the solution, the twisty novel is of special libertarian interest because of its plausible depiction of the creation of a functional private currency beyond the reach of Earth.

• Black Hatsby Steve Wire (Plaintext Publishing, 298 pages) – This fast-moving sf space thriller, Book 3 of Wire’s Space Hackers series (following the 2022 Best Novel nominees Man in the Middle and White Hat) focuses on the nature of government versus private enterprise and explores why governments shouldn’t try to restrict the development of even risky technology – relevant to today’s hype, panic and potential stock-market bubble over emerging AI.

Set on the sparsely populated asteroid-belt frontier, when Earth, Mars and Luna are dominated by rather authoritarian governments, Black Hats follows a crew of independent, ungoverned people who’ve built an anti-matter-powered spaceship.

This and many other advancements are possible within the dispersed frontier society with support for independent scientific research and development funded by voluntary contributions from individuals located all over the solar system. All of that is considered a threat to the powers that be.

With an explicit nod to the late libertarian thinker Samuel Edward Konkin III and his concept of the “agora” as a socially harmonious anarcho-capitalist enclave of peaceful trade and prosperity, Black Hats also explores the downsides to an uncontrolled society.

Among the challenges: stopping a psychopath with a world-ending bioweapon and visiting a hollow asteroid with a nano-plague converting everything it touches to goo – and then stopping a psychopath intending to use this world-ending bioweapon.

Laced with sly nods to the history of technology and other sf works, Black Hats shows how governments tend to be reactionary and lack creativity but also are too powerful to attack directly at their strong point – institutionalized and legalized violence – and how free people and free societies can deal with those who use technology destructively.

 

• Hacking Galileo, by Fenton Wood (Amazon, 257 pages) – This tech-oriented novel, recommended for ages 8 and up, follows the against-the-odds efforts of a brilliant teenage hacker who gets into NASA computers and, with the help of his high-school friends, hijacks an interplanetary probe to stop a rogue asteroid on collision course with Earth.

A paean to 1980s hacking and phreaking culture and somewhat reminiscent of the 1980s movie War Games in its nerd appeal and young whizzes outsmarting adult authorities, Wood’s story of youthful underdogs saving the world highlights the dangers of bureaucracy, national-security-state surveillance and the shortsighted attitudes of governments seemingly more concerned with maintaining control and secrecy than facing real-world threats.

With its teen-aged protagonists, the novel has some Young-Adult appeal, as recognized by its nominator, two-time Prometheus winner Travis Corcoran.

Yet, Hacking Galileo also should appeal to adults old enough to remember the 1980s and thus appreciate the protagonists’ inventive use and references to TRS-80, 300 baud and rotary phones.

The novel’s ethos of individualism, technical mastery, anti-authoritarianism and independent thinking, and personal responsibility evokes the can-do but rebellious spirit of a Heinlein-juvenile novel.

 

Misplaced Threats, by Alan Zimm (BookMarketeers, 330 pages) – Billed as Book 1 of the Misplaced Humanity Chronicles, this interstellar sf novel explores the tensions between different categories of existential threats to humanity: invasive aliens, domestic tyrants and pirates.

Set in a distant future in which an elitist gene-selected, anti-capitalist oligarchy rules 17 colonized solar systems cut off from Earth, the story revolves around a young man who wants to be left alone but finds himself drafted into the Federated Space Forces Academy. He wrestles with whether it’s more crucial to defend Earth from aliens or defend his and other’s liberties from an increasingly invasive government.

Throughout the story, which also considers the rights of AI entities becoming self-conscious, Zimm raises perennial issues near and dear to libertarians and other freedom-loving liberals and conservatives who appreciate Randolph Bourne’s dictum that “war is the health of the State”: When is authoritarianism acceptable in a crisis? And when must freedom be sacrificed for safety?

Check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four of this guide to the 17 2023 novels  nominated for the next Prometheus Award for Best Novel.

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.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards and support a cultural and literary strategy to appreciate and honor freedom-loving fiction,join  the 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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