You can’t get away from it these days, for good or ill.
Just about anywhere you look, from mainstream newspapers and magazines to Substack blogs and social-media references, writers, columnists and commentators frequently are referencing classic novels, stories and fables to forge timely metaphors about today’s trends.
All too many prove to be cautionary warnings about the importance of telling the truth, in the midst of so many public falsehoods… and draw upon some of the most enduring Prometheus-winning works of fiction, from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Who had the more prophetic and realistic vision of a dystopian future?
George Orwell? Or Aldous Huxley?
Orwell, most famous for Nineteen Eighty-Four (one of the earliest works inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame), was inspired by Stalinist communism in imagining his “hard tyranny” of brute dictatorship.
Huxley, best known for Brave New World, worried that a softer tyranny would ultimately prevail, one more insidious partly because it was more enveloping of both politics and culture and more seductive via a future of mindless pleasures.
Writing for the Institute for Art and Ideas, a British philosophical organization founded in 2008, British university instructor Emrah Atasoy compares Orwell and Huxley’s different dystopian visions in an informed and provocative essay: “Orwell, Huxley and the path to truth: How fiction can help us to understand reality.”
Many “bests” lists or ranked-reading lists tend to be matters of opinion, even if objective merit remains a meaningful standard of rational evaluation. Yet isn’t it interesting to compare favorite books and novels and discover that some our favorites also rank high on other lists?
For those libertarian sci-fi/fantasy fans who have the curiosity and time to look beyond our own Prometheus Awards track record of 100 past winners in all categories, an online list compiled of “Books to understand the world” makes for interesting reading….
…Especially because two of the most notable Prometheus Award winners are prominently featured on the list.
How can science fiction be used to explore and perhaps take steps to prevent the darker possibilities of the future?
Writer-historian Niall Ferguson examines the benefits and prophetic classics of science fiction in an intriguing essay in The Spectator magazine.
Several Prometheus-winning authors – including Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), Sinclair Lewis (It Can’t Happen Here), George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four), Neal Stephenson (The System of the World, Snow Crash) and Yevgeny Zamyatin (We) – are discussed with intriguing and incisive commentary in Ferguson’s recent article, “How Science Fiction Novels Read the Future.”
By Michael Grossberg Almost three quarters of a century after the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the influence and prophetic power of George Orwell hasn’t faded.
Quite the contrary.
With the rise of “cancel culture” and various online-sparked mob panics increasingly common in our so-called enlightened modern era and with such dystopian experiments as the recent failed roll-out of the current administration’s “Disinformation Governance Board,” it’s become virtually impossible to read informed commentary across a broad spectrum of opinion magazines and columnists without coming across Orwellian references and warnings these days.
Sequels to classic works of literature by deceased authors rarely measure up to the originals, but that doesn’t stop different authors and publishers from trying.
Yet, the new novels often spark interest, especially by fans of the earlier works, and sometimes they even become bestsellers – only to fade while the original works continue to be celebrated. (Does anyone today remember Scarlett, a popular sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s still-read Gone with the Wind?)
The latest effort, recently announced and of special interest to Libertarian Futurist Society members, will offer a retelling of a Prometheus award-winner that ranks among the 20th century’s most influential and best-known novels: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Julia, an upcoming novel by Sandra Newman, will refocus the events of the dystopian tale of totalitarian dictatorship, propaganda, mind control, newspeak and doublethink from the perspective of Winston Smith’s illicit love interest.
By Michael Grossberg
Libertarian futurists dream of unleashing the potential of every person to flourish, cooperate, innovate, progress, profit and pursue their happiness in peace and freedom – both here on earth, and perhaps eventually, beyond.
Yet, the politicization of society and increasingly, of our culture and arts, threatens that goal – and in the long run, undermines civility and could destroy civilization itself if this disturbing trend approaches authoritarian extremes.
In a thought-provoking article “Enslaving Art to Politics,” published recently in American Purpose magazine, writer Daniel Ross Goodman argues persuasively against the “politicization of literature.”
His essay should interest Libertarian Futurist Society members, even when Goodman makes some points about particular works and artists that we might respectfully disagree with.
“The best novelists, like all great artists, are not narrow-minded agenda-driven partisans but adventurers in the unbounded universe of the human imagination, who, through their fictions, help us better perceive vital truths about ourselves and our reality,” Goodman wrote in late September in the online magazine.
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade-plus history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a pro-freedom and/or anti-authoritarian work of sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society has been publishing since 2019 a series of Appreciations of all past award-winners.
Here is an Appreciation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the 2011 Prometheus Hall of Fame co-winner for Best Classic Fiction.
The title of the allegorical work may make Animal Farm sound like a children’s fable, but it isn’t.
Oh, the short novel certainly can – and probably should – be read by teenagers and more mature younger readers, who likely will enjoy it and also grasp its perennial theme about the corruptions of power and the absolute corruption of absolute power.
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom and/or anti-authoritarian/dystopian sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society has been publishing since 2019 a weekly series of Appreciations of all past award-winners, beginning with the first category for Best Novel and now focusing on the Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
Here is an Appreciation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a co-winner of the 1984 Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction.
By Michael Grossberg
“Big Brother is Watching” is just one phrase that’s become widely known from Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s cautionary 1948 novel about a future totalitarian society in which almost everyone is caught up in the power-worshiping cult of the charismatic ruler.
Few works of fiction have connected so deeply to popular culture that they introduce even one catchphrase or line of dialogue that still resonates today, but Orwell’s cautionary tale generated several that even in the 21st century haven’t yet been flushed down the “memory hole” of popular culture.
Among the neologisms that continue to be quoted widely and resonate through American and world culture: Thought Police, Newspeak, “proles,” “thoughtcrime,” “doublethink,” Room 101, Two Minutes Hate, and “unperson.”