Liberty and laughter: Which Special Award winners benefit from a sense of humor?

By Michael Grossberg

“Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight…”
— Lyrics from the opening song in Stephen Sondheim’s musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum

Of all the works recognized with Prometheus Awards, one of the funniest is rather unusual, even unique.

It’s not a novel, a novella or a story – the types of fiction that by far most commonly have won one of the two annual Prometheus awards for Best Novel or Best Classic Fiction.

Nor is it a movie or TV series, although several have won.

It’s a “webcomic” – and so far, the only one that’s ever received a Prometheus: Freefall (Chapter 1), created by Mark Stanley.

In his appreciation for the Prometheus blog, William H. Stoddard underlines how relatively uncommon it’s been for Prometheus Award winners to ever affirm the virtues of liberty with a lighthearted touch.

“Libertarian fiction’s philosophical or ideological content makes a lot of it serious, or even didactic, with characters discussing politics and economics in long speeches. Freefall, 2017 winner of a Special Prometheus Award, proved to be a happy exception,” Stoddard wrote.

“Of course, there wasn’t room for long speeches in its three-panel format. But beyond that, its tone was light, with humorous elements ranging from character-driven comedy to slapstick, as in the memorable scene where Sam tricks the Mayor in saying “This is a direct order! Hit me with a pie!” in the presence of five beings who are programmed to follow the Three Laws of Robotics and therefore must obey her.”

But Freefall isn’t the only work that’s truly funny to receive a Special Prometheus Award.

In fact, that occasional Special category has the highest quotient of truly amusing winners – compared to the Best Novel category (examined in this previous blog post) and the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction (examined in this blog post.)

Of the 10 works that have won Special Awards since this category was first presented in 1998, two – or 20 percent of the winners – consistently spark smiles, and often laughter.


The other humorous Special Award winner is The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel, written by L. Neil Smith and illustrated by Scott Bieser.

Like Smith’s original novel, which won the 1982 Prometheus for Best Novel, the graphic novel brims with a sense of adventure and imagination laced with humor.

The deft combination of words and visuals helps bring to life Smith’s zestful and suspenseful sf adventure novel, which imagines alternate time lines accessible through the probability broach, a portal to many worlds.

Bieser’s strong eye and hand lend an enhanced sense of color, movement, wit and character to the alternate Gallatin universe of prosperous, peaceful freedom-lovers imagined with such optimistic, gun-toting, frontier spirit by Smith in his seminal 1980 novel.

Even with these Special Award winners, and the other winners that spark smiles and laughter in the two annual Prometheus categories, comedy doesn’t tend to get as much respect as tragedy, drama or cautionary dystopian tales.

That imbalance can be found in virtually all awards – except of course for the rare exceptions (such as the Golden Globe for best comedy or musical or the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor) that explicitly honor comedy.

But everybody needs a laugh now and then to stay sane and healthy, even in a world crying out for liberty and justice for all.

* Also check out two recent Prometheus blog posts highlighting the sense of humor in the comic works that have won Prometheus Awards in the Best Novel category and the Hall of Fame category.



* 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.

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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