A 40th Anniversary Retrospective: Introducing a Reader’s Guide to the Prometheus Award Winners

By Michael Grossberg

To highlight and honor the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are providing a reader’s guide with capsule Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with the Best Novel category.

If you’ve ever wondered why a particular work of fiction has been recognized with a Prometheus Award and what libertarian sf fans see in these award-winning works, then our upcoming series of Appreciations should be must reading – as well as informative and illuminating!

Or, if you’re simply  looking for something enjoyable and stimulating to read within the realm of science fiction and fantasy, which also illuminates abiding questions about the perennial tensions between Liberty and Power, an excellent place to begin is with this recommended reading list of award-winning fiction (to be published here on a regular weekly (or biweekly) schedule, starting now (September 2019).

These capsule appreciations are being written and edited by LFS members (including LFS founder Michael Grossberg, LFS President William H. Stoddard, and veteran LFS leaders and board members Chris Hibbert, Tom Jackson, Anders Monsen, Eric Raymond, and others). In a few cases, the Appreciations will be based in part on reviews printed in the Prometheus quarterly (1982-2016) or the Prometheus blog (2017-today).

Since 1979, a wide array of novels, novellas, stories, films, TV series and other works of fiction have won Prometheus awards by highlighting in fascinatingly different ways the value of voluntary social cooperation over institutionalized State coercion, the importance of respecting human rights (even for that smallest minority, the individual), and the evils of tyranny (whether on the Left or the Right).

Some Prometheus Awardwinners have been written by self-avowed libertarians, but many have not. Our award has gone over the past four decades to classic works by authors who identify as liberal/humanist (Bradbury), democratic socialist (LeGuin, Orwell), conservative (Pournelle), libertarian (Vinge, Heinlein, Anderson), and frankly, to many writers who are just good storytellers!

That’s because the award goes to the work of fiction itself, based directly on its plot, characters, themes, style, substance and imagination. As a matter of awards policy, the author’s own political views are set aside (if known) by the judges and voting LFS members who select the annual awards.

In style, genre, settings, subjects and themes, the four-decade track record of the Prometheus Awards reflects an intriguingly wide range of literature.

Some winners are classically dystopian (Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Levin’s This Perfect DayRand’s AnthemZamyatin’s We, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange) or critique alternative utopias/dystopias (LeGuin’s The Dispossessed,  Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis), while others imagine – not utopias – but better and free-er futures (Smith’s The Probability Broach, Hogan’s Voyage From YesteryearSchulman’s Alongside Night, Koman’s Kings of the High Frontier.)

Some winners focus on the tragedy and horrors of tyranny, slavery or statism (Naam’s NexusSherman’s The Freedom Maze, Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky) while other winners accent their tales with comedy (Varley’s The Golden GlobePratchett’s Night WatchWilson and Shea’s Illuminatus!)

Some explore the pros and cons of libertarian-leaning and authoritarian-leaning social systems through alternate history (Linaweaver’s Moon of IceWalton’s Ha-pennyStephenson’s The System of the World); others, through ambitious future-history series (Heinlein, MacLeod and Wilson, in his LaNague Federation novels Wheels Within Wheels, Healer and An Enemy of the State).

Many winners dramatize revolutionary fights for freedom against oppressive government and statist/collectivist ideologies (Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh MistressRand’s Atlas Shrugged, and Corcoran’s The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.)

Some winners offer cautionary tales or emblematic fables that imagine the consequences “if this goes on…” by foreseeing worrisome contemporary trends taken to logical/illogical extremes (Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.


And a few Prometheus winners are relatively unusual in offering complex but persuasive stories that may not be explicitly libertarian and avoid libertarian rhetoric, but that dramatize particular economic/social/governing problems sparked by unchecked statism.

For example, Donald Kingsbury in Psychohistorical Crisis, the 2002 Prometheus winner for Best Novel, brilliantly critiques the type of idealized and technocratic central planning imagined by Isaac Asimov in his otherwise fun-to-read Foundation novels.

In so doing, Kingsbury echoes the insights of modern libertarian scholars, such as the Austrian-school economists Ludwig von Mises (Socialism,   Planned Chaos) and Friedrich Hayek – about the impossibility and destructive impact of government central planning.

Through such a wide variety of scenarios, stories and themes, the Prometheus Award-winners can help people imagine concretely what it might be like to live in a fully free future – and how it feels (or would feel) to have one’s dignity, moral autonomy and personal liberty violated by slavery and tyranny, or threatened by merely callous, corrupt and bureaucratic government intrusiveness.

To freedom-lovers, such extremes of institutionalized coercion and violent brutality seem to be the frequent and often inescapable result of the unbridled State.

Libertarian futurists envision a free-er and better future for all of humanity, one in which greater social harmony, prosperity, peace and progress (both scientific and social) can materialize because the people are free to flourish, associate and trade for mutual benefit and cooperation in a fully civil and civilized society that respects other people’s rights.

Thus, out of compassion for the troubled history of humanity and a strong desire for a better future for all, Libertarian Futurist Society members hope that more readers – of whatever political views – will be encouraged by this series of appreciations and Prometheus winners to expand their empathy for the millions of souls oppressed over the centuries by tyranny, slavery and war (which Randolph Bourne called “the health of the State”).

We invite you to open your imagination to Prometheus-winning fiction that explores and dramatizes such important themes of liberty and justice for all.



* 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.

2 thoughts on “A 40th Anniversary Retrospective: Introducing a Reader’s Guide to the Prometheus Award Winners”

  1. Mike,

    How can I have one or two of my books looked at and hopefully reviewed on the blog? One of my books was a finalist at the 2001 Frankfurt eBook Awards, but other than that, I’ve never managed to get on the radar screen, despite, I believe, having written some worthy books. My latest include, ‘Crossing Over,’ a what-if about our current political crisis spilling over into actual civil war, AND, ‘Talk to a Real, Live Girl,’ about the convergence of the MeToo culture and the robotic companion. Thanks!

    1. Paul
      Thanks for your interest. The best way for sf/fantasy authors to bring relevant and eligible novels and other fiction to the attention of the Libertarian Futurist Society is to alert us early – ideally, at least several months in advance of publication – with basic publication details and a short description of the work, including how it fits the Prometheus Awards focus on pro-freedom and/or anti-authoritarian science fiction, fantasy and other speculative fiction.
      Visiting our LFS website – http://www.lfs.org – and reading more about our past winners (on the recently enhanced Prometheus Awards page) and the distinctive focus of our awards is a good place to start.
      In fact, we’ve just posted an updated and printable letter to publishers, sf authors and sf fans explaining how to submit works for consideration and potential nomination by LFS members. (You can find it near the bottom of the main LFS home page as well as near the top of the Prometheus Awards page.
      To nominate a work for Best Novel or communicate with that awards-finalist committee chair, email bestnovel@lfs.org
      To nominate works for the Hall of Fame or communicate with that awards-finalist committee chair, email halloffame@lfs.org

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