Appreciating sf author Nancy Kress, her Beggars trilogy and other Prometheus-nominated novels

By Michael Grossberg

Prolific sf author Nancy Kress has won Hugos and Nebula awards but she’s never won a Prometheus Award. Not yet, anyway.

Nor was Kress nominated for The Eleventh Gate, an interesting 2020 novel (recently reviewed in the Prometheus blog) that pits libertarian planets against more authoritarian worlds.

Nevertheless, Kress has been frequently recognized within the history of the Prometheus awards.

In fact, she has been nominated four times for Best Novel – and one of her novels (Beggars in Spain) was voted a Best Novel finalist.

Kress’ first Prometheus nomination was in 1988 for An Alien Light.

The novel, a mixture of sf and fantasy, explores “humanity’s infinite capacity for change,” according to a Library Journal review.

The story resolves around a complex experiment by an alien race in which two primitive warring human cultures become experimental subjects under the observation of the aliens, who teach them secrets of science while ultimately hoping to learn enough about humans to succeed in destroying other settled human worlds.

In order to survive and preserve humanity’s future, members of each primitive culture must forge common ground and learn to cooperate.

One can glimpse why An Alien Light was nominated by LFS members. And as most freedom lovers and many adults understand on at least a gut level, cooperation is a basic prerequisite of and foundation for civilization.

After all, cooperation by definition must be voluntary. While not often championed as much as it could and should be as a libertarian virtue, cooperation is the intricately related and connected other half of free-market competition, both necessary to achieve Hayekian “spontaneous-order” coordination of productive efforts in society and its ever-evolving economy.

Cooperation also is the antithesis of the coercion that libertarians oppose, whether it’s private criminal violence or the institutionalized force at the foundation of all government by its nature.


Kress’ second Prometheus nomination came in 1994 for Beggars in Spain, which was recognized as a Best Novel finalist that year. (That year’s winner was L. Neil Smith’s Pallas.)

Beggars in Spain – whose initial novella version won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and was one of the earlier sf works to explore genetic engineering in a central way revolves around Leisha Camden, a beautiful and extraordinarily intelligent woman, one of a growing number of human beings genetically modified to never require sleep.

Increasingly persecuted by other humans as outcasts and victims of political repression, blind hatred and mob violence, such enhanced individuals are driven from human society and from Earth itself.

But Leisa chooses to remain behind, according to the book description, in a world “marked for destruction in a devastating conspiracy of freedom…”

Her third Prometheus nomination came in 1995 for the sequel Beggars and Choosers, the second of three novels in Kress’ Beggars or “Sleepless” trilogy.

The trilogy finale is Beggars Ride.

Nancy Kress’ fourth and most recent Prometheus nomination came in 2004 for Crossfire.

The novel explores the conflicts and human-rights issues that arise when a human colony incorporating diverse groups – New Quakers, devout Muslims and the Cheyenne – settles on a distant planet, only to discover primitive humanoid aliens.

Although the humanoid aliens live only in a few isolated villages without any advanced technology, evidence indicates that they aren’t native to the planet. An ethical dilemma is sparked when the humans learn that the primitive aliens are divided into two groups at war with each other.


Widely hailed for her combination of science and philosophy, believable characters (both human and alien) and focus on realistic ethical questions, Kress naturally would seem to be the type of novelist attracted to the exploration of the issues, conflicts and challenges that inevitably can and do arise in many different types of societies – including libertarian societies.

While Kress doesn’t appear to be an avowed libertarian, she does have an evident and long-standing interest in the development of free and less-free societies, in all their complexity and inevitable problems – a fitting and juicy subject for fiction in general and science fiction in particular.

And who knows?

Perhaps her four Prometheus Award nominations between the late 1980s and early 2000s helped sparked her interest in libertarian political-economic philosophy and indirectly led to her incorporating such subjects and themes into more recent works, such as The Eleventh Gate.

Bio: Winner of six Nebula Awards, two Hugos, a Sturgeon and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for Probability Space), Nancy Kress is the author of thirty-four books, including twenty-six novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing.

Sf author Nancy Kress (Creative Commons license)

Her work has been translated into Swedish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Croatian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Greek, Hebrew, and Russian.

A New York native now based in Seattle, Kress is also the monthly “Fiction” columnist for Writer’s Digest Magazine and  teaches writing regularly at various places, including Clarion and The Writing Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Most recently, she won a Nebula award in 2013 for After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, and in 2015 for her novel Yesterday’s Kin.


* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus 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.

* 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 the 2022 Prometheus ceremony with Wil McCarthy, and 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.

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.

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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