LFS judges weigh slate of Best Novel nominees

Eleven novels have been nominated by Libertarian Futurist Society members for the 2021 Prometheus Award for Best Novel.

These novels, published 2020, reflect a wide range of subjects, styles and settings – from the day after tomorrow to the distant future, and from right here on Earth to far-flung solar systems.

Yet, each novel in some way illuminates the value and meaning of freedom, explores the ethics and benefits of cooperation over coercion, and/or dramatizes the dangers of tyranny, aggression, war and authoritarianism in its myriad forms of the Left or Right.

Here is the 2020 slate of Prometheus nominees for Best Novel:
* Assassin: High Ground, by Doug Casey and John Hunt (HighGround Books, 518 pages)

* Who Can Own the Stars? by Mackey Chandler (Amazon, 377 pages)

* Ready Player Two, by Ernest Cline (Ballantine Books, 384 pages)

* Attack Surface, by Cory Doctorow  (TOR Books, 382 pages)

* Storm between the Starsby Karl K. Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press, 200 pages)

* The Pursuit of the Pankera: A Parallel Novel about Parallel Universes, by Robert Heinlein (Arc Manor: CAEZIK SF & Fantasy, 503 pages)

* The War Whisperer, Book 5: The Hook,  by Barry B. Longyear (Enchanteds, 335 pages)

* Situation Normal, by Leonard Richardson (Candlemark & Gleam, 496 pages)

* Braintrust: Requiem, by Marc Stiegler (LMBPN Publishing, 456 pages)

* Heaven’s River, by Dennis E. Taylor (An Audible Original, print and ebook editions The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, 632 pages)

* Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel – The Murderbot Diaries Book 5, by Martha Wells (TOR Books/MacMillan, 346 pages)

This year’s slate of nominations recognizes a wide range of authors, from some relative newcomers to several well-known through the Prometheus Awards.

Of the authors above, Mackey Chandler, Leonard Richardson and Dennis Taylor have been nominated for the first time for the Prometheus Award for Best Novel.

Three other nominated authors have won the Prometheus Award before – most notably, Robert Heinlein (winner of seven Prometheus Awards, more than any other author, but all in the Prometheus Hall of Fame category for Best Classic Fiction for such major works as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Strangers in a Strange Land, Red Planet and Methuselah’s Children).


Also in this illustrious category: Cory Doctorow (a three-time Prometheus Best Novel winner for Little Brother in 2009, Pirate Cinema in 2013 and Homeland in 2014); and Ernest Cline (who previously won our award in 2012 for Ready Player One.)

In addition, several other nominated authors have previously been recognized as Prometheus Best Novel finalists: Doug Casey and John Hunt (for Drug Lord: High Ground in 2019); Karl K. Gallagher (for Torchship, Torchship Pilot and Torchship Captain, together a 2018 finalist): Marc Stiegler (for Ode to Defiance, a 2020 finalist; and Crescendo of Fire and Rhapsody for the Tempest, together a 2019 finalist, and all within his Braintrust series); and Martha Wells (for The Murderbot Diaries, a combined 2019 finalist for her linked novellas All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy.)

Plus, Barry Longyear was nominated once before for Best Novel in 1982, in the very earliest years of the Prometheus Award, for Circus World – a novel later nominated quite a few times for the Prometheus Hall of Fame, most recently in 2010, 2011 and 2015.

Yet, the Prometheus Award goes to the book, not the author.

The slate of Best Novel finalists, to be announced by late March, will be based on the judges’ rankings of the best novels – not the reputations or track records of their authors.

In other words, LFS members strive to nominate works that fit the distinctive focus of the Prometheus Awards, and finalist judges rank the worthiest of them as finalists based on a sincere effort to closely read and understand the stories, characters, situations and themes themselves, within the context of the overall novels.

Past Prometheus-winning authors may have, and often have had, a variety of political and social views that differ, sometimes significantly, from modern libertarianism.

Some winning writers have been known to be modern liberals, classical liberals, conservatives, socialists, anarchists, or hold an idiosyncratic and sometimes unclassifiable blend of views. Some writers – like most people – develop and sometimes change their views over the years as they learn more and evolve in their thinking.

Only some winners have been explicit and self-avowed libertarians. But all the winning novels appealed to LFS members because of the superior ways they convincingly tell a story that illuminates at least some aspects of libertarian and/or anti-authoritarian themes.

From the point of view of the judges, one might say the proof is in the pudding, not who makes it – as William H. Stoddard explained in “What Do You Mean ‘Libertarian’?”, a seminal early essay on this blog.

“There’s no list of official libertarian authors, or of unacceptable antilibertarian authors. A work can be considered if it attempts to envision a free society, or to show a path that might lead to increased freedom, or if it shows the dangers of authoritarianism as such, or deconstructs an earlier work based on antilibertarian assumptions,” Stoddard wrote.

But his essay also goes on to say: “Exactly what it is that marks a work as of libertarian interest, or disqualifies it from being considered that way, isn’t always clear to nonlibertarians. (For that matter, libertarians may disagree about this; our juries have some lively private discussions each year!)”

Speaking of such lively private discussions, that’s precisely what the 12 members of the LFS Prometheus Best Novel Finalist Judging Committee are doing right now.

With the annual Feb. 15 nominating deadline in the Best Novel category now past, the judges have now entered the final month or so of reading, comparing and debating the 2020 nominees before submitting their ranked votes to determine the finalists.

Then the full LFS membership will have a chance to read and vote on over several months in the spring and summer before our annual and traditional July 4 voting deadline to choose the Prometheus winners.

That multi-stage process is another way that the Prometheus Awards are distinctive – besides their libertarian focus – compared to most other sf/fantasy and literary awards.

“The Prometheus Award is an interesting case,” as James Davis Nicoll wrote in a 2019 TOR.com feature-column on “40 Years of the Prometheus Award.”

“The current process is an interesting mixture of popular award (all members of the Society can nominate works for any category) and juried (committees for each category use ranked ballots to produce the finalist slate) … The results are as remarkable as the award’s longevity … the LFS ranges far outside the borders of conventional American libertarian thought … with equally diverse selections on the nominee lists,” Nicoll wrote.

“This [past winners and finalists’] list is, I think, a reminder of just why following this particular award can be rewarding for readers of all stripes.”

Typically, five finalists are selected, but occasionally four or six finalists are selected (such as in cases of a tie; and sometimes when the pattern of ranked votes suggests that as few as four or as many as six finalists better reflects the consensus.)

All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for all categories of the Prometheus Award – including the annual categories for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Prometheus Hall of Fame) and the occasional Special Awards (for anthologies, films, stories, graphic novels, etc., and lifetime achievement.)

Plus, all LFS members (including Basic members) have the right to vote yes or no on the recommended Special Awards and to annually select which classic work of fiction (whether a novel, novella, story, film, TV series, song, album, play, musical, opera, poem, anthology or series) will be inducted each year into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, all Full LFS members and our higher-level Sponsors and Benefactors – whose higher dues help sustain the award and its gold prize – have the right to vote to help select the annual Prometheus winner for Best Novel, the original category first presented in 1979.

Before these broader groups of LFS members are invited to participate in choosing the Best Novel from the slate of finalists, the LFS members who volunteer to serve on the finalist-selection committee must sift through the nominees to determine the cream of the crop.

So a “thank you” is due to the 12 Best Novel finalist judges of 2020-2021, for their hard work in reading and discussing all the annual nominees.

Here are the 2020-2021 judges, listed alphabetically: John Christmas, Steve Gaalema, Michael Grossberg, Chris Hibbert, Lowell Jacobson, Tom Jackson, Ryan Lackey, Charlie Morrison, Eric S. Raymond, Jeff Schulman, William H. Stoddard and Adam Tuchman.

P.S. Expect an LFS press release, to be posted with a link on the main LFS website and on the Press Releases page, announcing the Best Novel finalists before the end of March.

• Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

• 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 recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,”an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillettethat favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in 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 advancing culture is as vital as politics (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive in the longer run) in spreading positive visions of the future and achieving universal individual 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.