A guide to the Best Novel nominees, Part 3: Capsule descriptions of Liberty’s Daughter, Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song, and Sandra Newman’s Julia

By Michael Grossberg

Here is Part 3 of the Prometheus Blog guide to this year’s Best Novel nominees, an effort to illuminate why LFS members nominated 17 2023 sf/fantasy novels for the next Prometheus Award.

These capsule descriptions also aim to highlight the diverse range of novels nominated while outlining how each nominee fits the distinctive focus of the Prometheus Awards.

The nominees highlighted in Part 3, alphabetized by author, include Naomi Kritzer’s Liberty’s Daughter, Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song, and Sandra Newman’s Julia.

Liberty’s Daughter, by Naomi Kritzer (Fairwood Press, 264 pages) – Set in the not-too-distant future off the California coast, this novel of “social sf” explores neighboring seasteading societies set up in different ways, some with libertarian rules and rationales.

At the center of the story is Beck, a young Heinleinesque heroine who supports herself as a “finder” (of various goods in short supply) and becomes a de facto detective investigating a missing worker. In the process, she uncovers abuses in indentured labor, risky skin-grafting businesses, mysterious diseases and more, all impelling her to try to right some wrongs.

Rather than portraying an outright dystopia, Kritzer reveals the cooperation and social adaptations that arise to solve problems, deal with crime or fill gaps in apparently lawless communities – thus showing how a working libertarian society might function,  even against the policies and flawed persons who established it.

Later, in an implicit contrast, Liberty’s Daughter revels similarly mixed realities and difficulties in the highly regulated and paternalistic United States.

Provocative as a cautionary tale in its mixed verdict on libertarian seasteading, Liberty’s Daughter suggests how voluntary unenforceable private behavior can result in positive social outcomes even without government or laws.

Prophet Song, by Paul Lynch (Atlantic Monthly Press, 320 pages) – Set in a near-future Ireland sliding inexorably into totalitarianism under a newly elected regime, this Booker-Prize-winning dystopian novel by the Irish writer offers a realistic and chilling portrait of a besieged wife/mother and her family.

Everything is seen entirely through the stream-of-consciousness perspective of the mother Eilish Stack amid her mounting confusion and anxiety as she struggles to comprehend drastic social changes and cope with police-state surveillance, interrogation, and disappearances.

Eilish makes increasingly frantic efforts to find her trade-union husband and save her four children, sometimes from themselves. For instance, one son becomes a de facto resistor and conscious “enemy of the state” after his “inappropriately directed laughter” at school is redefined an Orwellian new crime.

Lynch portrays the Kafkaesque nightmare of an endless bureaucratic maze of uncaring officialdom amid rioting, violent crackdowns and resistance as the family struggles to survive and later, escape tyranny.

Prophet Song explores the horrific consequences of an increasingly invasive and unlimited government, with its elimination of civil liberties and due process, and suppression of the free flow of news and information, all disrupting and destroying lives, jobs and families.


* Julia, by Sandra Newman (HarperCollins’ Mariner Books, 394 pages) – Billed as “A Retelling of George Orwell’s 1984,” this Orwell-estate-authorized sequel follows mostly the same time line but from the perspective of Winston Smith’s lover.

Although Julia remains largely one-dimensional in 1984, Newman reveals her to be self-aware, sophisticated, more worldly and cynical than Winston, both a victim of and accomplice to Big Brother’s regime.

Working as a mechanic fixing novel-writing machines within the Fiction Department of the bureaucratic Ministry of Truth, Julia takes time off to indulge her impulses for promiscuous fun and subversive risk-taking.

Adding a woman’s quite different and protofeminist perspective sheds new light on Orwell’s dystopian vision of Newspeak, Thought Police, Thoughtcrime, Two-Minutes Hate rallies, constant telescreen surveillance, ever-shrinking dictionaries, collectivist one-Party rule, and Oceana’s ever-changing War with Eurasia today and Eastasia tomorrow.

Extending the dystopian cautionary tale beyond Orwell’s ending in a very adult novel (suggested for mature audiences because of extreme violence and explicit sex scenes), Newman weaves in revealing flashbacks, significant events and more background on recurrent characters that underline the horrors of totalitarianism.

Perhaps most notable to LFS members, Julia finds many ways to dramatize the myriad virtues of freedom in making everyday life livable, more enjoyable and more humane and civilized.

Coming up on the Prometheus Blog: Part 4 of our guide to the 2024 Best Novel nominees, which will offer capsule descriptions of Salman Rushdie’s Victory City, C.T. Rwizi’s House of Gold and R.H. Snow’s Trail of Travail.

Check out Part One and Part Two of our ongoing 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.

 

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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