Making ‘em laugh for the sake of liberty: Which Best Novel winners best incorporate comedy?

By Michael Grossberg

If beauty is proverbially found in the eye of the beholder, then a sense of humor may be located in our funny bones.

Yet everyone’s sense of humor is a bit different. What you find hilarious may leave me cold (or at least lukewarm), while what fills some bellies with laughs may leave others with barely a smile on their faces.

Given how personal a sense of humor tends to be, it may be provocative but should be interesting to ask: Which Prometheus Award winners do you find most amusing?

Which are designed to make you smile, and laugh out loud – and achieve their goal?

By now, 100 works have been recognized with a Prometheus Award over the past 44 years. Of those, the vast majority have been largely serious works.

Following up on this blog post, we’ll examine in later posts the larger number of humorous works that have been recognized by induction into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction or by receiving a Special Prometheus Award.

But let’s focus now on the Prometheus Award’s annual Best Novel category.

It’s arguably the most serious of the two annual categories, at least in terms of the predominant type of novel nominated by LFS members.

Although that’s arguably not the case this year, with satire and comedy a major element in two works (Cloud-Castles and A Beast Cannot Feign) selected by judges among this year’s five Best Novel finalists.

Generally, since the first award was presented in 1979 to F. Paul Wilson’s sci-fi/mystery Wheels within Wheels, the Prometheus Award for Best Novel has recognized science fiction or fantasy novels that offer intensely dramatic and often inspiring depictions of struggles for freedom and human rights, or that portray fully free societies in the future and/or on other planets.

Other winning novels weave poignant tragedies about the inhumane consequences of tyranny, slavery, war and other abuses of power that tend to occur from unchecked government.

Admittedly, quite a few works of fiction incorporate at least some humor into larger dramas – just like most dramas onstage or on screen do.

Even so, outright comedies are relatively rare.

Here are three personal favorites, each of which made me smile frequently and even laugh out loud:

* Nightwatch, by Terry Pratchett, the 2003 Best Novel winner

* The Golden Globeby John Varley, the 1999 Best Novel winner

* The Probability Broach, by L. Neil Smith, the 1982 Best Novel winner

Which, if any, have made you laugh the most?

Are there other winners – or Best Novel finalists – that you also find funny?

And just how important is humor, anyway, as one ingredient among others in libertarian science fiction and fantasy?

Can one find things to laugh about, even while fighting for individual liberties and human rights for all?

Or perhaps such questions should be rephrased:

If you can’t maintain your sense of humor, even amid life’s challenges and setbacks, then how effective can you be as a human being, much less a freedom fighter?

How sane can you remain? And how long can you sustain yourself without the balance that comes from laughter, in the perennial battle between Liberty and Power?

Speaking personally, I know how much it can help to be able to enjoy a good laugh – and reading a funny story or comic novel is a sure-fire way to do that. So I’m curious what other Libertarian Futurist Society members have found amusing in their reading of past Prometheus winners for Best Novel.

Please comment below!


* 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.


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.

One thought on “Making ‘em laugh for the sake of liberty: Which Best Novel winners best incorporate comedy?”

  1. This is what I prefer, libertarian books written in a light way even though they are about a serious topic (freedom v slavery). Right now I am thinking of Monte Python’s movie ‘Life of Brian’ which lampoons dogmatic religion. That’s a serious topic also however Monte Python covers it in a way that is humorous, leaving viewers optimistic at the ending rather than depressed.

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