Interview: Best Novel judge John Christmas on favorite Prometheus winners, lessons learned about writing fiction from judging the awards

“My experience as a writer helps me as a judge. And, my experience as a judge helps me as a writer.” – John Christmas

LFS member John Christmas, a published novelist, has served as a Prometheus Best Novel judge for about a decade now.

Author, LFS judge John Christmas Photo courtesy of Christmas

Christmas co-wrote KGB Banker, a contemporary political thriller recently recognized by Best Thrillers as the “Best Conspiracy Thriller of 2022.”

Christmas’s first novel was Democracy Society, a futuristic libertarian novel about fighting a corrupt government.

In this interview, Christmas discusses some of his favorite Prometheus-winning novels, how his creative writing has helped him be a better awards judge, and how serving as a Best Novel judge has benefited him as a writer.

The Christmas interview also seems timely in how it sheds light on the awards-judging process, since the Best Novel finalist judging committee is currently reading and discussing more than a dozen nominees and candidates for nomination in the final month or two before voting to select the annual slate of finalists.

Q: Has your experience writing and publishing two novels helped you to improve your work over the past decade as a Prometheus Best Novel judge?

A: Improvement has gone both ways. My experience as a writer helps me as a judge. And, my experience as a judge helps me as a writer.

I take writing seriously, for example reading books about writing and watching author interviews on top of the long list of fiction works I’m reading. I have non-fiction interests as well in the fields of government and economics. From this I feel qualified to act as a Prometheus judge.

Q: Have you benefited in your creative writing from being a Prometheus Best Novel judge?

A: Looking the other way, I always learn something when in email dialogs with the other judges. Our judges all think differently. Sometimes a judge sees an aspect of a nominated novel in an opposite way to what I perceived.

Looking at the same novels through different eyes is always an opportunity to learn, either about varying perceptions of readers or strengths and weaknesses of writers. In that example, should it be considered good writing if an author sets up a scene with an intended message however different readers interpret it opposite ways? I’m sure everything I write going forward will be influenced by what I’ve learned from the other judges.

Q: What are some of your favorite Prometheus Award winners?

A: Looking at the list of all Prometheus Award winners since 1979, I can say my favorite authors are Terry Pratchett (Night Watch), Neal Stephenson (Seveneves, The System of the World), and Daniel Suarez (Influx).

From all of the winning novels I have read so far, the single novel that I found most fascinating was Johanna Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun (2017).

Maybe I’m biased since I had the pleasure of representing the Libertarian Futurist Society at WorldCon in Helsinki to hand the Prometheus Award to Sinisalo.

But anyway, I found that novel to be brilliantly constructed with its main plot supplemented by a side plot about efforts by the characters to breed the most spicy peppers. That probably seems silly, but it really worked in the novel.

Q: What major ingredients in a novel make it more appealing to you as a novelist and sf fan?

Novelist Ayn Rand (Creative Commons license)

A: When I was younger, I read books for fun and didn’t think deeply about them. However in my 40’s and now in my 50’s there are things I look for. I like a novel developed along the lines of what Ayn Rand would call Romantic.

There is a protagonist with a set of values and an antagonist with a set of values. The protagonist and antagonist battle throughout the novel and perhaps it seems the antagonist will win.

But when the conflict reaches its climax, the protagonist wins. He doesn’t win because of random luck but rather he wins because his values are correct and the values of the antagonist are incorrect.

The author demonstrates something about values, for example that honesty is good in the long run and lying is bad in the long run, or some other lesson.

Note: Look for part two of this John Christmas interview, coming up soon on the Prometheus blog.




* 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.

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.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.