A guide to the Best Novel nominees, Part 2: How Theft of Fire, Swim Among the People, God’s Girlfriend and Lord of a Shattered Land fit the Prometheus Award

By Michael Grossberg

What makes an sf/fantasy novel eligible for nomination for a Prometheus Award?

How many different types of genres, styles and themes can fit the distinctive dual focus of the Prometheus Award – at once literary in quality and thematic in libertarian/anti-authoritarian substance?

To help illuminate such questions anew, the Prometheus Blog is presenting a series of posts offering capsule descriptions of the 17 2023 novels nominated for the 44th Prometheus Award for Best Novel.

We hope this guide will help the public better understand the specific focus and broad scope of our award, one of the oldest continually presented after the Hugo and the Nebula awards.

In addition, we hope these descriptions will stimulate interest in reading these diverse novels among Libertarian Futurist Society members, other freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans and the general public.

Part Two includes capsule descriptions, alphabetized by author, of four Best Novel nominees: Devon Eriksen’s Theft of Fire, Karl K. Gallagher’s Swim Among the People, Dr. Insensitive Jerk’s God’s Girlfriend, and Howard Andrew Jones’ Lord of a Shattered Land.

Theft of Fire, by Devon Eriksen (Devon Eriksen LLC, 495 pages) – Billed as the first novel in Eriksen’s Orbital Space series, this hard-sf space opera is set within a government-less, anarchocapitalist-style frontier space culture where both formal and informal contracts are central, central banks don’t control money, free market innovations have unleashed vast progress and wealth, and independent Belters conflict with corporate elites.

Far from a utopia, the libertarian frontier society is an arena of great danger, especially for risk-takers, but also one where big risks can lead to big rewards.

The story centers on an asteroid mining ship hijacked to reach what may be a hidden alien treasure at the solar system’s edge, where previously discovered alien technology has transformed civilization, leading to very fast fusion-drive spaceships that have allowed industrialization and colonization throughout the solar system.

Conflicts (as well as Beatrice-and-Benedick-style romantic-comedy bickering) develop between the ship’s stubborn captain (a resourceful loner operating as a pirate beyond the law) and the super-smart, pintsized heiress (allegedly Elon Musk’s great-great-granddaughter, though not named as such) who’s hijacked his ship and locked him out of its computer controls.

Notable for the plausibility and complexity of its original A.I. character, the novel offers a complex portrait of the pros and cons of its free-wheeling society, including the natural monopolies held by corporations that control fusion drives and other alien technology.

Of perhaps greatest interest to libertarian sf fans are the ways that Eriksen’s story offers insights into agency, ethics, free will, contracts, property rights and other human rights.

Swim Among the Peopleby Karl K. Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press, 362 pages) – This far-future sf novel—Book 5 in the Fall of the Censor series about an isolated group of solar systems fighting a vast interstellar polity that uses censorship, narrative control, memory-holing and the denial of history to cement power—focuses on the continuing struggle to carry on resistance to an occupying authoritarian regime through voluntary covert organization.

Book 5 introduces a Jewish culture that has existed in hiding for centuries while maintaining its own customs and explores “liquid democracy” (in which candidates for parliament lobbying for votes with hopes to gain some minimum percentage of the voters to get a seat, with no restrictions on geography, party, etc.).

A sequel to 2023 Best Novel finalist Captain Trader Helmsman Spy, Swim Among the People goes deeper than previous books in the series in portraying characters organizing rebellion on a conquered planet or hiding from a totalitarian occupying force while continuing to struggle for freedom.

God’s Girlfriend, by Dr. Insensitive Jerk (AKA Gordon Hanka) (Amazon, 477 pages)—A sequel to 2023 Best Novel finalist A Beast Cannot Feign, and the fifth and final volume in the Gaia’s Wasp series, God’s Girlfriend offers an unusual mixture of libertarianism, religion, black humor and a traditional view of sex roles.

The satirical but serious post-first-contact sf story, subtitled “Sci-Fi That Should Not Be Published,” is set during the End Times when the Rapture has begun.

Only instead of being taken into heaven, the righteous can move to Australia, where Wyrms (human “alien” invaders genetically modified to resist disease and psychological control) bought 9,900 square miles of desert wasteland to build a paradise, in the process flouting taboos and antagonizing most governments and political leaders desperate to preserve their own power.

The loss of millions of the world’s most productive men to this “Galt’s Gulch” may doom the rest of the world to starvation.

More conflicts are sparked when the central character Tom Pine, who in Beast was hired by the colony to help defend it with robotic sentries, enters the colony and becomes a “Wyrm” himself.

Provocative, politically incorrect and sometimes intentionally in poor taste, this series finale offers the author’s unorthodox libertarian concepts, critique of authoritarian tendencies within left-wing politics and his unusual, thought-provoking definitions of “ransom” and “wasps.”

Lord of a Shattered Land, by Howard Andrew Jones (Baen Books, 615 pages)—Grieving Hanuvar, a heroic and wise former general, risks his life to free the remnants of his enslaved Volani people by traveling through the brutal Darvan empire in this sword-and-sorcery fantasy, loosely inspired by the conflict between imperial Rome and Hannibal’s defeated Carthage.

Laced with supernatural threat elements (which might actually be unusual species or biological dangers misperceived by an ancient culture before the rise of modern science), the epic but episodic plot combines separate stories as “set pieces” that build momentum chapter by largely self-contained chapter.

Jones obliquely suggests that the demolished former Volani city-state was a multilingual representative democracy that became prosperous without slaves and via its commitment to international free trade and peace—a notably higher level of civilization than the imperialistic and cruel Dervan empire.

Rather than seeking revenge, Hanuvar embraces a basic libertarian ethic of non-aggression and strives to avoid harming anyone—especially the innocent—unless forced to do so in self-defense against aggression while striving to free his people.

Beyond its central quest, the novel illuminates the meaning of – and a deep human passion for – liberty while emotionally underlining the evils of slavery, the horrors of mind control and the dangerous temptations of absolute power and totalitarian tyranny.

Coming up on the Prometheus Blog: Part 3 of our guide to the 2024 Best Novel nominees, which will offer capsule descriptions of Naomi Kritzer’s Liberty’s Daughter, Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song, and Sandra Newman’s Julia.

Check out Part One of our ongoing guide to the 17 2023 novels nominated for the next Prometheus Award for Best Novel, which includes capsule descriptions of Stephen Albrecht’s Futureproof, C.J. Carey’s Queen Wallis, and Mackey Chandler’s The Long View.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE:

* 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.

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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