Fresh crop of Best Novel finalists spans genres, with most authors recognized for first time in Prometheus history

By Michael Grossberg

Reading a novel by an author you’ve never read before can be entertaining, stimulating and surprising.

Writers tend to develop their own distinctive style, even while taking pains to vary their approach to fit different types of subjects and genres – and most readers quickly come to identify the personality, spirit and style of authors from their stories.

That’s true even if such stories otherwise recognizably fall into broadly understood and familiar types of tales – from coming-of-age adventures and first-contact sci-fi dramas to satire and anti-authoritarian dystopian literature.

All of the above subcategories of science fiction are reflected in this year’s crop of just-announced finalists for the Prometheus Award for Best Novel.

Furthermore, of the five novels selected as finalists from 15 nominations by LFS members, four were written by authors who never before have been nominated for a Prometheus Award during its 43-year history.

Welcome to the Prometheus Awards competition, C.J. Carey, Dave Freer, Gordon Hanka and John Van Stry!

In brief, here are the five Best Novel finalists for the 43rdannual Prometheus Award:
* Widowland, by C.J. Carey (Quercus)
* Cloud-Castles, by Dave Freer (Magic Isle Press)
* Captain Trader Helmsman Spy, by Karl. K. Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press)
* A Beast Cannot Feign, by “Dr. Insensitive Jerk” (AKA Gordon Hanka) (Amazon)
* Summer’s End, by John Van Stry (Baen Books)


Our finalist authors also are far-flung, too, residing on three continents – reflecting to some extent the international focus of the Prometheus Awards (which has frequently selected authors from around the world, from China to Great Britain and Canada, as finalists, and includes one winner from Finland and several Best Novel winners by different writers in Great Britain.

Carey lives in greater London, England. (Carey is an author’s pseudonym for Jane Thynne, a bestselling spy novelist who’s branched out for the first time into dystopian alternate-reality science fiction.)

Freer is a prolific Australian sf author who lives on the island of Tasmania.

The other three finalist authors live in the United States, with Hanka based in Texas and Gallagher in Minnesota.


Of the five authors of this year’s Best Novel finalists, only Karl K. Gallagher has been nominated previously for Prometheus Awards.

Author Karl K. Gallagher (Creative Commons license)

No stranger to the Prometheus, Gallagher previously has been nominated four times in the Best Novel category.

Gallagher was first nominated for the three novels in his interstellar Torchship trilogy (Torchship, Torchship Pilot and Torchship Captain), which were combined by LFS judges into one nomination (since together, they tell one complete story) and became a 2018 Best Novel finalist.

Embarked upon an ambitious projected nine-volume series entitled Fall of the Censor, Gallagher was nominated for the first three novels in that series, starting with Storm Between the Stars (a 2021 Best Novel finalist) and continuing with Between Home and Ruin and Seize What’s Held Dear, both 2022 finalists.


Just how varied and different are the style s, subjects and settings of this latest crop of Best Novel finalists?

The answer should become evident as you read through these capsule descriptions of the Best finalists (listed in alphabetical order by author), which also explain how each work fits the distinctive focus of the Prometheus Awards:


Widowland, by C.J. Carey (Quercus) – This dystopic alternate history focuses on oppressed castes of women in a Nazi-controlled Great Britain protectorate after World War II.

The protagonist is an English woman working in a faceless bureaucracy to rewrite the novels of women such as Jane Austen, Emily Bronte and Louisa May Alcott. We see her dawning awareness and quiet resistance to the regime’s efforts to expunge from literature proto-feminist themes of independence that might threaten the new order of conformity, obedience and repression.

Suspenseful and plausible in its plot, characterization and world-building, the novel goes an imaginative step beyond the focus of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four on news propaganda and history suppression to explore the bowdlerization of culture and suggest how classic literature and art inspire people to think for themselves and challenge authoritarian regimes.


Cloud-Castles, by Dave Freer (Magic Isle Press) – Set on diverse habitats floating above a gas-giant planet, this zestful and often funny coming-of-age adventure charts the progress of a mis-educated, socially awkward and well-meaning young man, brilliant but naïve, thrust into a succession of strange human and alien cultures and life- and liberty-threatening situations.

With help from a street-smart sidekick, he escapes imprisonment and slavery and forges innovative, profitable businesses with decentralized, stateless people scattered through the planet’s clouds.

Through such entrepreneurship, cooperative individualism and fish-out-of-water encounters with an “outback” frontier culture reflecting the Australian novelist’s own heritage, the story (formally a comedy in structure according to classic Greek definition) reveals how markets work, why profits are moral and necessary in a free society and how societies flourish through reinvestment and market innovation.


Captain Trader Helmsman Spy, by Karl. K. Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press) –The fourth novel in Gallagher’s Fall of the Censor series (following Storm Between the Stars, Between Home and Ruin, and Seize What’s Held Dear, all previous finalists) explores how people cooperate voluntarily even in the underground niches of a statist system.

The series portrays an interstellar war between a long-isolated alliance of solar systems with basically free societies and a vast empire that maintains control by continuously purging history and destroying older books.

The title character is a starship captain commanding a spying expedition, disguised as a merchant venture, into enemy territory.

The captain and crew strive to gain key information and insights about the aggressors while navigating their way under cover amid exotic human cultures with radically different customs and laws – including slaver societies and worlds where women oppress men.


A Beast Cannot Feign, by “Dr. Insensitive Jerk” (AKA Gordon Hanka) (Amazon)– Provocative, politically incorrect and sometimes intentionally in poor taste, this satire weaves melodramatic villains and a critique of authoritarian progressive politics into a story of first contact.

The “aliens” are actually genetically modified humans, mysteriously different in their customs and behavior, who have returned to Earth to establish a radically free colony against strong official resistance.

The author explores the human capacity for self-deception, mocks the excesses of government regulation and bureaucracy, and as a cautionary tale, shows the tragedy of mutual misunderstandings that can spark conflict and violence between radically different cultures.

This novel radically tests the nature and boundaries of coercion and consent – fundamental issues in libertarianism – as they might apply to the economy, government and sexual politics.


Summer’s End, by John Van Stry (Baen Books) – Notable for its unusually detailed focus on free-market economics and practical cost-versus-risk calculations affecting affordable spaceship travel and engine/gravity maintenance, this coming-of-age adventure weaves family issues, emerging friendships, class differences, political conflicts, straight and gay romance, humor and clashing cultures into a Heinlein-juvenile-style hero’s journey.

The well-paced tale is told through the eyes of a young engineering-school graduate, a former gang member struggling to reform his violent impulses and escape low-class “Prole” origins, who has lots to learn after taking an apprentice-level job on an old tramp steamer plying trade routes among habitats and moons throughout the solar system (including libertarian communities on Ceres).

Struggling to apply what he’s learned, the engineer hopes to liberate his genius brother from a corrupt and repressive society on Earth.


Fifteen novels (virtually all published in 2022, with one published in the last two months of 2021, eligible under the rules) were nominated by LFS members for this year’s award.

Also nominated: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan (Simon & Schuster); Let Us Tell You Again, by Mackey Chandler (Amazon); Entropy, by Dana Hayward (Amazon); The Master Code, by T.A. Hunter (Amazon); Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng (Penguin).

Plus, Openings: A Hayek Chronicles Novel, by James S. Peet (self-published); Our Lady of Endless Worlds (combined nomination of Sisters of the Vast Black and Sisters of the Forsaken Stars), by Lina Rather (Tor, Tordotcom); The Warrior Worlds,  by Stephen Renneberg  (Amazon); Ex Supra, by Tony Stark (Amazon); and Termination Shock,  by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow).

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently given in sf.

For more than four decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power, favor voluntary cooperation over institutionalized coercion, expose the abuses and excesses of coercive government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or champion individual rights and freedoms as the ethical and practical foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, mutual respect, and civilization itself.

All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for the Prometheus Awards.

A 12-person judging committee, drawn from the membership, selects the Prometheus Award finalists for Best Novel.

Thanks to the Best Novel finalist judges for all their reading and discussion of the nominees this past year: John Christmas, Steve Gaalema, Michael Grossberg, Chris Hibbert, Tom Jackson, Lowell Jacobson, Ryan Lackey, Charlie Morrison, Eric S. Raymond, Jeff Schulman, William H. Stoddard and Adam Tuchman.

Following the selection of finalists, all LFS upper-level members (Benefactors, Sponsors and Full Members) have the right to vote on the Best Novel finalist slate to choose the annual winner. (Ballots will be emailed to LFS members by around Memorial Day, with the annual voting deadline – as always, both real and symbolic – on July 4, America’s Independence Day.)

Each year’s Best Novel winner receives a one-ounce gold coin and a personalized plaque.

For more information, check out the official LFS press release announcing the 2023 Best Novel finalists.


* 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 Best Novel winner Wil McCarthy (Rich Man’s Sky),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.

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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