Ideological factions amid high-tech surveillance: An Appreciation of Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction, the 1996 Prometheus Best Novel winner

The LFS’s Appreciation series aims to make clear what libertarian futurists see in each of our past winners and how they fit the distinctive focus of our award on liberty. Here’s our Appreciation for Ken MacLeod’s The Star Fraction, the 1996 Best Novel winner:

By Michael Grossberg

The Star Fraction, a 1995 novel by Ken MacLeod, established the Scottish sf novelist’s international reputation for blending sf with a dizzying array of balkanized politics and ideological factions (including highly self-aware libertarians and socialists).

Set in a fragmented and conflicted mid-21st-century Britain beset by political factions and high-tech surveillance after a brief third world war and leftist Labour Party policies have led to economic and social decay, this is the first novel in MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series, which continued with The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, and The Sky Road.

Among the interesting and unusual characters and forces affecting this future are a Christian-turned-atheist teenaged programmer eager to escape his fundamentalist subculture, a rogue computer program manipulating events, a woman scientist researching memory-enhancement drugs, and a communist security mercenary with a smart gun and information that might spark change.

Both the scientist and mercenary are fleeing surveillance and control by United Nations and U.S. technology cops. They’re among political dissidents who have been permitted to create their own self-ruling subgroups (including the Space and Freedom Party) and communes by the UN/US powers after a series of problematic revolutions failed.

Packed with cyberpunk action but even more with competing ideas and intellectual debates among a bunch of passionate advocates, this futuristic political thriller appeals especially to those (like libertarians) hungry for ideological exploration amid a complex future.


Note: This is the first of three Prometheus awards for Best Novel that MacLeod (1954-present) has received, including in 1996 for The Star Fraction (also in this Fall Revolution series) and in 2006 for Learning the World.

Ken MacLeod

His Prometheus Best Novel finalists include The Cassini Division (2000), The Sky Road (2001), Dark Light (2003), Newton’s Wake (2005), The Execution Channel (2008), The Restoration Game (2012), The Corporation Wars: Dissidence (2017), The Corporation Wars: Insurgence (2017) and The Corporation Wars: Emergence (2018).



* See related introductory essay about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Join us!  To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.

Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as vital as political change (and often more fun!) in achieving universal individual rights, peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance 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.

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