A sense of wonder: The Gallagher Interview (part 3), about Heinlein, Niven, Bujold and other sf authors, favorite novels, and what he thinks of awards

So far, in the first two parts of his Prometheus-blog interview, SF writer Karl K. Gallagher has answered questions about his own novels. Now, in the wide-ranging conclusion, the focus shifts to other authors and his favorite works – including the “sense of wonder” and “sense of freedom” that he gets from his favorite pro-liberty sf novels.

Q: Which authors in particular have influenced you most as a writer – whether in terms of their style, themes or spirit?

Robert Heinlein, a drawing (Creative Commons license)

A: Robert Heinlein, for ideals and heroic characters.

Larry Niven, for ideas driving stories.

Lois McMaster Bujold, for looking at what a change will do to people and how they’ll react.

Q: Who were the first sf/fantasy authors that you read and enjoyed as a boy?

A: Heinlein was always my favorite, but I loved many others, including Larry Niven, Zenna Henderson, Poul Anderson, and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Poul Anderson (Creative Commons license)

When I was old enough to start buying my own books, I discovered Lois McMaster Bujold, David Weber, and Vernor Vinge.

Q: Is it a coincidence that your list of favorite sf/fantasy authors overlaps strongly with Prometheus Award-winning authors?

Here’s what I’m referring to: Most notably, Poul Anderson has won more awards than anyone else except Heinlein – receiving recognition for Trader to the Stars, a 1985 Hall of Fame inductee; The Star Fox, a 1995 inductee; “No Truce with Kings,” a 2010 inductee; “Sam Hall,” a 2020 inductee; and The Stars Are Also Firethe 1995 Prometheus Best Novel winner.

Not to mention Bujold (Falling Free, the 2014 Prometheus Hall of Fame inductee); Niven (Fallen Angels, the 1992 Best Novel winner co-written by Michael Flynn and Jerry Pournelle), Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings), or Vernor Vinge (Marooned in Real Time, A Deepness in the Sky, “True Names”).

Plus, Weber has been nominated five times for Best Novel.

Only Zenna Henderson hasn’t been nominated for a Prometheus.

A: It’s probably not coincidental that Zenna Henderson hasn’t been nominated. Her stories focus on an intimate personal scale, people hiding among a culture they don’t fit in to, and lack the grand scale
and action more common in the Prometheus nominees.

For the larger group, no, it’s not a coincidence so much as it is a genre. People read stories for various characteristics, most often
feeling a vicarious emotion: heroism for adventure stories, justice for mysteries, love for romance, etc. Most stories tap into more than emotion, making categorization hard.

Science fiction has the “sense of wonder” as its genre-defining characteristic. The Prometheus winners have a sense of freedom as their genre-defining characteristic, and people who love that in their stories will find others in that genre.

Q: As an adult sf fan, how have your tastes evolved and what are some current favorites?

A: Excluding the classics, many of which I’ll still re-read, some of the newer books that come to mind as ones I’ll re-read for pleasure are:

• Lois Bujold’s Sharing Knife series: This operates on multiple levels, first a grizzled adventure hero fighting monsters with his spunky sidekick, then a longer-term plot of a couple finding love despite bad experiences, age differences, and coming from clashing cultures

A background question is how a society focused entirely on fighting a specific threat can adapt as that threat fades away. And perhaps of more interest to LFS members, a look at how an anarcho-fommunist society and an anarcho-capitalist one interpenetrating with each other can handle conflicts with each other and accept people moving from one to another.

• Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age: A fascinating takes on how AI-enabled teaching can work and what a world of fragmented tribes would look like

• Wen Spencer’s Alien Taste: Remember the monster from The Thing/Who Goes There?

Alien invasion, individual pieces cut off turn into independent animals, almost impossible to kill?

Now make it the protagonist.

A teenage kid, found wandering the wilderness, trying to find his origins while growing into a human adult.

• Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces: A society which reached the edge of the Singularity and stopped faces a conspiracy.

The villain’s goal is to unite humanity for the purpose of waging war against God to extract reparations for all the suffering that’s ever been.

Compared to this guy, Sauron is beating up elementary school kids for their lunch money.

Q: Looking over the long list of Prometheus Award winners for Best Novel from the past 43 years, do you have a favorite book or two?

A: Just two? No, not two.

The ones that appear most often on the re-read list are Fallen Angels (the 1992 winner by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn), A Deepness in the Sky (Vernor Vinge’s 2000 winner), and Powers of the Earth/Causes of Separation (Travis Corcoran’s paired 2018 and 2019 winners), but I’ve read and enjoyed many of them.

Q: Ditto for the past winners of the Prometheus Hall of Fame. Which classics on that list do you most admire?

A: Most of them. That list looks a lot like my bookshelves growing up — which also says my father was a fan of the freedom genre.

Many of my favorites are the short stories, which I’m glad to see getting
recognition. “Lipidleggin'”, “Harrison Bergeron,” “True Names”,
and Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman,” are all great.

A short story can focus its idea hard enough to make a lasting impression easier than a novel can.

I’d have to say Poul Anderson’s “No Truce With Kings” is my favorite on the list. It’s not just a grand adventure story.

The climactic speech “Did you ever stop to think that maybe feudalism is what suits man? Some one place to call our own, and belong to, and be part of?” has made me averse to centralized plans of all types, and encouraged me to reflect on the importance of understanding human nature as it is, not how we want it to be, in planning societies.

It’s one of the threads that fed into creating the clan-based society of Corwynt in my Fall of the Censor stories.

Q: How important do you think the Hugos, the Nebulas, the Prometheus and other sf/fantasy awards – have been, and are to sf readers? Especially younger readers and others not as familiar with the field?

A: I hate to say this, especially in this context, but I have the feeling that awards are being looked at less than they used to be by readers.

Thirty years ago it was very hard to find information on the books you were looking at on the shelf. If you wanted help making up your mind, an award mention on the cover could tip you over. Now there’s Amazon reviews, and Goodread reviews, and people talking books on blogs and twitter and videos.

On the flip side, there are hundreds of thousands, possibly over a million, new writers coming out with a book in English every year.

For someone on the long tail of the popularity curve, an award can bring enough attention to attract a larger audience.

* Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners, finalists and nominees – for 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 the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Watch the videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

* 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.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), 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, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human 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.

One thought on “A sense of wonder: The Gallagher Interview (part 3), about Heinlein, Niven, Bujold and other sf authors, favorite novels, and what he thinks of awards”

  1. Karl K. Gallagher is absolute greatness, and a real pleasure to read. His scope and description of Space Battles are among the best; his grasp of the military nature and the mechanics of Space War make it vividly real for readers, and I have really enjoyed his “Fall of the Censor” Book Series! Good job, Karl and thank you for covering this set of books, Michael!

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