Free sf books about freedom: An Arts for Liberty recommended reading list highlights Prometheus winners and other libertarian sf fiction

Freedom isn’t free.

But a surprising amount of libertarian science fiction is free.

One freedom-loving sf fan has compiled an interesting list of 26 libertarian sf novels that are free in that other sense, of being available online without charge.

While one might appreciate the ancient truth that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” freedom-lovers of all stripes certainly can also appreciate a bargain when they see it – including the pleasant discovery that the price of a surprising variety of pro-freedom science fiction is zero. Such a deal!

The list of “The 26 Best Free Libertarian Novels,” published by author J.P. Meddled on the Art for Liberty website, explicitly references the Prometheus Awards and includes several Prometheus winners.

But the list is most intriguing for its range and for how it embraces a wide variety of fiction (virtually all science fiction) that explores libertarian themes from the positive benefits of individual choice, free markets, private property and the right of self-defense to the horrors of dictatorship, authoritarian abuses of power and the perennial threats to liberty inherent in the coercive foundations of government.

“Let’s face it, novels celebrating the free market and individual rights are pretty hard to come by. Most everything in the fiction section of your local bookstore is some paean to collectivism, or diatribe against the evils of capitalism and the “soul killing” nature of consumerism. But you don’t believe that stuff,” said list author J.P. Medved, writing under the byline ADuckNamedJoe.

“You know capitalism, mixed with a political system that protects individual rights, has been the single greatest force for good on the planet, lifting billions out of crushing poverty. You don’t want to read all that bilge about how you’re a bad, bad person for supporting it. So what is a wayward libertarian to do?,” Medved writes.

His answer was to compile this list to bring wider attention to some of his favorite authors and lesser-known novels about the perennial tensions between Liberty and Power and the virtues of cooperation over coercion.

Medved’s list, presented in alphabetical order by author, includes capsule reviews with a bit of personal commentary about each work, along with a clickable link to the free downloadable book.

Libertarian Futurist Society members will recognize several classics on the list, including half a dozen novels that have won a Prometheus Award for Best Novel or Best Classic Fiction (our Hall of Fame).

The first work to be recognized by the Prometheus Awards on the list was Eric Frank Russell’s classic sf story “And Then There Were None” (later expanded into the novel The Great Explosion, a 1985 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner).

Also on the Hall of Fame list: Ayn Rand’s Anthem (the 1987 Hall of Fame winner), J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night (the 1989 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner), and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (the 1994 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner).

Only two novels on the list overlap with the Prometheus Best Novel category: Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (the 2009  Best Novel winner) and its sequel Homeland (the 2014 Best Novel winner).

Other works on the list may be familiar to Libertarian Futurist Society members because they were nominated for a Prometheus award – including Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back (a 2011 Hall of Fame nominee); and Michael Z. Williamson’s Freehold (a 2005 Best Novel nominee) hailed by Medved as “one of the most explicitly libertarian sci-fi books to be published by a traditional publisher (Baen) since Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

Yet, you may never have heard of most of the rest of the titles or authors.

That’s partly because these authors are less widely known, most often because they’re self-published or published through smaller presses.

More broadly, even the most avid libertarian sf fan, LFS member or Prometheus Award judge can find it increasingly challenging in the 21st century to keep up with the massive numbers of sf/fantasy books published each year and to try to sift through them to find readable works of high quality – including the relative handful whose authors are interested in dramatizing the value of liberty or exposing the perils of tyranny.

Thanks to the innovations and advancing technologies made possible primarily through free markets, authors, publishers and readers have more options than ever that lower the cost of publishing, including the wider availability of ebooks and the increasingly common practice of authors or publishers simply posting downloadable stories and novels online.

That makes this Art for Liberty list especially eye-opening for LFS members, who are always on the look-out for more authors and more published works that might be eligible for nomination for the Prometheus Awards.

Among the intriguing titles:

* Net Assets and Bargaining Position, by Carl Bussjaeger – The first novel about the rise of a private spaceflight company under the helm of a libertarian CEO) that is threatened by the government’s efforts to preserve its monopoly in space.

The second novel, a sequel set years later, explores how the explosion in innovation and cheap space travel leads to the creation of a “fairly libertaria” space-faring society colonizing and mining our solar system.
Medved hails both works as “awesome libertarian sf novels” that have been “criminally overlooked.”

* #agora: a novel? By anonymous (billed as a novel of cryptoanarchy… “and underground markets in silver and gold” that carries on the fine tradition of J. Neil Schulman “in portraying how the practice of black-market counter-economics (“agorism”) can weaken the state and carve out bubbles of freedom for its practitioners.”)

* On the Steppes of Central Asia, by “Matt Stone” (Richard D. Fuerle) – Billed as an anarchist novella (originally published in 1992 by Spooner Press) in the form of a travelogue by a young journalist visiting a Mongolian society built to function without a state.

Other lesser-known works on the list include Matthew Alexander’s Withur We; Troy Grice’s Gaiastan, Oathkeeper, Indivisible and Indivisible: Come and Take It; Robert Lukens’ A Most Sacred Right, The Place to Stand and The Secret American Revolution; Kevin MacArdry’s The Last Trumpet Project (an example of “anarcho-transhumanist” fiction); Bob Murphy’s Minerva; Paul A. Rosenberg’s “hacker-cum-anarchocapitalist” A Lodging of Wayfaring Men; and Bob Wood’s Freedom Engineering.

Rounding out the list is one of Medved’s own fiction works, the libertarian novella “A Second Opinion,” about a doctor in a near-future America where the government has taken complete control of medicine, doctors and the health-care system.” Beyond the obvious point that Medved is free to include his own work on his own list, that recommendation comes with an amusing disclaimer: “Yours truly wrote this one (so you just know it’s good…)

Perhaps the most intriguing, unusual and unexpected novel on the list is The Driver, by journalist Garet Garrett.

Medved’s description of this little-known novel is worth quoting in full: “Tell me if you’ve heard of this libertarian story before: a brilliant entrepreneur takes over and reinvigorates a failing railroad. When his jealous competitors conspire with the government to regulate him out of business he gives an impassioned defense of free markets, individualism, and gold-backed money. His last name happens to be “Galt.”

No, this is not a lost Ayn Rand novel, but instead the premise of Garet Garrett’s novel, The Driver, written in 1922 and celebrating capitalist hero Henry Galt, who must overcome all odds to succeed and defend the dignity of the American businessman.”

* Read the introductory essay of the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade-plus history, that was launched in 2019 on the 40thanniversary of the awards and continues today.

* 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 enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all 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.

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.

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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