Guess who: What world-famous billionaire reveals he’s a lifelong sf fan and counts Heinlein’s most libertarian novel among his favorites?


Guess what world-famous billionaire has revealed that Robert Heinlein’s libertarian sf classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was his favorite novel while growing up?

Hint: The billionaire praises the novel, one of the earliest and best known Prometheus Award winners, on his blog.

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with science fiction… The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was a particular favorite,” he writes.

(Make your guess before clicking on to the next page to see the answer…)

No, it’s not brash maverick Elon Musk (even though Musk admirably is one of the free-enterprise pioneers investing in the future of space exploration and expansion into our solar system and occasionally also takes some libertarian stands, such as favoring a culture that respects free speech and a free press.)

And no, it’s not Charles Koch – the libertarian billionaire who early on helped fund and provide seed money to the Cato Institute and other libertarian organizations in the late 1970s and 1980s, and who still admirably is principled enough to support the free market, even if it would mean ending various corporate-welfare government subsidies that happen to benefit his own company in the short run.

Bill Gates (Creative Commons license)

But if you’re third guess happens to be Bill Gates (no one’s idea of a libertarian), you guessed correctly.

Here’s the full statement that Gates wrote recently on GatesNotes: The Blog of Bill Gates:

“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with science fiction. Paul Allen and I would spend countless hours discussing Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy. I read every book by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinlein. (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was a particular favorite.) There was something so thrilling to me about these stories that pushed the limits of what was possible,” Gates writes on his blog

As I got older, I started reading a lot more non-fiction. I was still interested in books that explored the implications of innovation, but it felt more important to learn something about our real world along the way. Lately, though, I’ve found myself drawn back to the kinds of books I would’ve loved as a kid,” Gates wrote.

Who knew that Gates loved Heinlein, and moreover was still unabashed about his youthful favorite that today he’s still willing to praise Heinlein’s Hugo- and Prometheus-winning classic sf novel about a libertarian revolution on the Moon?

Admittedly, Gates may not appreciate Heinlein’s novel in precisely the way that LFS members and other libertarian sf fans do. (Check out William H. Stoddard’s insightful Prometheus Blog appreciation of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to see how we view that sf classic.)

Furthermore, given Gates’ adult views endorsing something often akin to  technocratic central planning, despite the many failures of government bureaucracies and their politicized anti-science distortions by various interests, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that he also mentions Asimov’s Foundation trilogy in the same breath.

Gates’ well-known support for achieving various worthy and legitimate social goals (such as alleviating world-wide disease, hunger and poverty) through various transnational organizations, such as the World Health Organization or the United Nations, seems to parallel in some ways the Asimovian central-planning vision embodied in his Foundation novels.

In some ways, both Asimov and Gates seem blind to the subtle and decentralized benefits of what Hayek described as the “spontaneous order” of the marketplace, which both sophisticated economic theory and history show as the salutary if inevitably messy consequence of millions of people socializing and trading through voluntary behavior – cooperation – to more effectively meet human needs and desires.

Sadly, at least from his public statements and blog posts, Gates seems unfamiliar with the more sophisticated critiques of central planning outlined in detail in the books of F.A. Hayek and Thomas Sowell, to name two leading modern thinkers.

Alternatively, to better grasp what’s problematic about Asimov’s otherwise entertaining sf classic, Gates might read Donald Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis, the 2002 Prometheus Best Novel winner.

Read LFS president William H. Stoddard’s insightful Prometheus Blog appreciation of that 2002 Prometheus Best Novel winner to better appreciate Kingsbury’s persuasive implicit critique of the false assumptions that upon further reflection, seriously undercut the realism of Asimov’s epic world-building saga.

If only somehow, someone close to Gates could persuade him to start reading Kingsbury or Hayek and Sowell, then who knows?

Their books might start showing up on Gates’ book blog, too, while his benevolent efforts to eliminate Third World diseases and promote better vaccines and a more effective response to future pandemics would be enhanced by his greater understanding of more civilized and less coercive or politicized strategies to achieve such worthy goals.

After all, Gates has previously been known to give a thumb’s up on his blog to several non-fiction books written by libertarian thinkers or libertarian-influenced writers. Among the most notable: Matt Ridley’s brilliant pro-market The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

All of the above are insightful, maverick books whose central insights illuminate and support the constellation of ideas and values associated with modern libertarianism – and are consistent with Hayek and Sowell’s rich insights as well.

Meanwhile, an upcoming Prometheus Blog post will report on how Gates has praised two other Prometheus-recognized novels – one a current Best Novel finalist and the other a more recent Best Novel winner.

* Prometheus winners: For a full list of 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.

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.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

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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