Several leading sf writers whose classic works have won Prometheus Awards are examined in a new anthology about science fiction’s New Wave.
Most notably, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Marsh Mistress and Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed are among the libertarian sf works explored, contrasted and debated in Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950-1985.
Reason book editor Jesse Walker reviews the anthology of essays while noting its discussions of libertarian writers and libertarian-themed sf in the March 2022 issue of Reason magazine.
Edited by Australian writer-editors Andrew Nette and Ian McIntyre, the Dangerous Visions anthology (published in November 2021 by PM Press) explores sf literature against the cultural and political backdrop of the period from 1950 to 1985. That era, by no coincidence, went through major social change, technological and economic progress and the emergence of several notable liberation movements, from the civil-rights marches and anti-war protests to the rise of the anti-war and pro-civil-liberties libertarian movement itself.
Describing the 224-page anthology as “uneven but often incisive,” Walker observes in his Reason magazine review that the essays cover “the New Wave moment without limiting itself to the New Wave movement.”
“The most talented New Wave writers are covered here — there are essays on J.G. Ballard, Octavia Butler, Barry Malzberg, and others — but so are TV tie-ins and porny paperbacks, showing how such ideas seeped through society,” Walker writes in his review.
While the thrust of most essays focus on writers more associated with the Left (although some actually were civil libertarian or mid-century liberals, arguably roughly somewhere between libertarian and progressive views), the anthology admirably recognizes the intellectual and cultural diversity of the sf field, which then and now tends to attract mavericks and independent thinkers.
“The editors also understand that not every experimentalist was on the political left,” Walker said.
“Robert Heinlein shows up too, though he was a stalwart of the old guard that the New Wave was challenging,” Walker writes.
One essay contrasts and compares Heinlein’s libertarian sf classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – one of the first two works inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 1983 – with Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, inducted after some years of debate within the LFS into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Walker, in his review, describes both novels as memorable explorations of extraplanetary anarchist communities.
“The author finds more differences than similarities between Heinlein’s individualist anarchism and LeGuin’s collectivist kind…”
“But both books were products of the same historical moment, and — I speak from experience —both could have similar effects on a young reader,” Walker said.
Check out the Reason review here.
Note: Walker is the author of the nonfiction books Rebels on the Air and The United States of Paranoia.
Walker spoke last year on a videotaped Prometheus-Awards-related panel discussion – with Reason editor-in-chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, 2021 Prometheus Best Novel winner Barry B. Longyear and LFS President William H. Stoddard – exploring why libertarian themes historically have emerged so much in the history of science fiction and why people tend to become libertarian, among other subjects.
* 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.
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Libertarian futurists believe culture is as vital as politics in sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, respect for each other’s rights and differences and in spreading positive visions of the future and achieving universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.