Liberty, power and sf: Highlights and video of 2021 Prometheus Awards and “SF & Liberty” panel with Reason editors, Barry Longyear, LFS president

“For me, there’s something that science fiction has always been the vehicle for thinking about: What would the world be like if different or fewer people had power? That’s an idea that’s increasingly appealing.”
— Katherine Mangu-Ward, Editor-in-Chief of Reason magazine

“Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t believe anyone who has received a Prometheus award has complained about the Prometheus awards. I know some leftwing authors who have received a Prometheus award who are proud of it. They seem to realize that there is something appropriate to it.”
— Jesse Walker, Reason books editor

“I have all sorts of immortality stories, and I’m afraid I’m not in one of them.”
— Novelist Barry B. Longyear, 2021 Prometheus winner for Best Novel

“I like to think the boundaries of what people see as libertarian ideas is blurring into the boundaries of what people perceive as just good mainstream ideas… and that may be a hopeful turn.”
– Mangu-Ward

Those are just a few of the interesting or amusing comments made during the related panel discussion on “SF, Liberty, Alternative Publishing Trends and the Prometheus Awards” that followed the 2021 Prometheus Awards ceremony.

LFS President William H. Stoddard introduced the panel with a brief anecdote about the public’s common reaction to the news of the Prometheus Award winners in sf publications such as File 770, a longstanding sf news blog.

William H. Stoddard, LFS President (File photo)

“Every year we get comments on our list of nominees,” Stoddard said.
“In past years we pretty consistently get people saying: ‘Why did they pick that as a finalist? The author isn’t libertarian.’ … which of course we never insist on authors being. We’re not here to police the author’s views.”
Some commenters mention that the sentiment of a Prometheus-winning novel doesn’t seem libertarian to them, he said. “That’s sometimes because they don’t understand what we mean by that.”

This year, though, the public reaction in File 770 comments was quite different to the 2021 slate of Best Novel finalists – all of which, for the first time, happened to be self-published or small-press publications written by self-avowed libertarian sf authors.
“One of the comments we got,” Stoddard noted ruefully, “was: ‘I remember prior years’ Prometheus winners that were not so blatantly grinding an ideological axe. Many were actually fit to read, even if you didn’t agree with the underlying ideology…. I also notice that these seem to be mostly self-published.”

Stoddard’s conclusion: “It’s kind of a can’t-win situation.”
“We’ve had complaints about not being libertarian enough, and now we’re having complaints about being too libertarian,” he said.

But that is the kind of tension that is fundamental to the Prometheus Awards, Stoddard argued.
“We want to give awards to works of good writing, good literary quality. But we also want to give the award to works of libertarian relevance.” he said.
“We ideally try to do both, but there is a tension between them sometimes. How much do we care about one and how much do we care about the other?”

Reason book editor and author Jesse Walker (Photo courtesy of Walker)

Walker wondered, in response to Stoddard’s story, who actually is commenting on the awards, and from what perspective.
“I can imagine some of these complains coming from libertarians,” he said.
Walker also recalled, with some surprise, that he actually was a Libertarian Futurist Society member about 30 years ago.
“I was in college and let it slide, when I moved around and the Prometheus subscription lapsed,” he said.
“The actual only other Prometheus Award ceremony I’ve been to was in person in 1991, so this is my 30th anniversary.”

Walker praised the LFS for “striking a pretty good balance” between literary quality and storytelling, on the one hand, and libertarian or anti-authoritarian themes on the other, in selecting and presenting the annual Prometheus Awards.
“It’s interesting to look at the whole list of awards over the years,” he said.
“It becomes clear that the Prometheus is an award both for something, about a particular kind of freedom that might also appeal to not-libertarian people, and also has room for the occasional journey to Encathastan (editor’s note: a fictional society, whether fully libertarian or extremely authoritarian) and to report on the denizens within.”

Barry B. Longyear (Courtesy of author)

Longyear, for his part, shared amusing and wry stories about his younger days as an iconoclastic sf writer arguing politics and revealed himself to have been a “closet libertarian” since at least 1969.
“I was there at the beginning of the libertarian movement,” he said.
So when C-span decided to cover the Libertarian convention, Longyear got excited.
“Oh boy, we’re going to get into the show now,” he recalled thinking.
Then he tuned into a 45-minute panel discussion on whether three-year-olds should be allowed to carry guns.
“So I turned it off,” he said.

Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward (Photo courtesy of Reason)

Mangu-Ward suggested that there may be many hidden signs of progress that offer a “more optimistic version” of that story.

“A lot of things that libertarians once were alone in believing have become so mainstream that they no longer carry the stamp of libertarianism,” she said.

The biggest example, she argued, is drug legalization, something that Reason has advocated for through its 50-plus-year history.
“That used to seem completely insane,” she said.
“And it’s now the mainstream view of the American public, at least with respect to marijuana. I think that’s also true of a few other things, but especially of this kind of (Prometheus) vision of a future made by a free people and enabled by technology.”

Note: (If you don’t see the video above to click on, then here’s another link to the video, which is worth watching in toto.)

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the June 2020 issue of 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.

* 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-plus 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 enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.