Contrary to some perceptions, science fiction fans – and paradoxically, both nerds and jocks – are more likely to come to appreciate the benefits of freedom and voluntary cooperation and more often begin to see the dangerous defects in authoritarian systems of the Left or Right.
That insight was one of the richer and more unexpected subjects explored by prominent panelists during a recent Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussion.
With Reason magazine as the media sponsor, the online panel followed the 2021 Prometheus Awards ceremony, in which Barry B. Longyear and F. Paul Wilson won awards.
Reason editor-in-chief Katherine Mangu-Ward and Reason books editor Jesse Walker joined Longyear, a veteran sf writer and 2021 winner of the Prometheus Award for Best Novel for The Hook, and LFS President William H. Stoddard for a wide-ranging discussion that went fascinatingly beyond the themes in the panel title: “SF, Liberty, Alternative Publishing Trends and the Prometheus Award.”
The Aug. 21, 2021 panel – previously reported on here with other excerpts and quotes – was packed with intriguing comments.
Walker observed that people often become libertarians from two radically different perspectives and positions in society.
“We tend to catch people on the way up and on the way down… a lot of the internal libertarian spectrum can be understood in that way,” he said.
“There are the people who have long been oppressed and are just starting to get power… and there are the people who have just lost some power and are suddenly just starting to realize what it’s like to not have it at their disposal all the time,” Walker said.
Mangy-Ward referred to a 2008 article she wrote for Reason titled “Worlds Without Death or Taxes.”
“It was about libertarianism and science fiction, the theme of our panel,” she said.
“There was a quote in there from Cory Doctorow – one of yours (a three-time Prometheus winner for Best Novel, including for Little Brother in 2009, Pirate Cinema in 2013 and Homeland in 2014) – who I interviewed for the piece,” she said.
“Doctorow said the people who write science fiction have often not been beneficiaries of the authoritarian system. They are people who don’t fit in exactly. And if you always rub up against social constraints, you’re the kind of person who is going to sit down and have a good hard think about whether this is the best way to do things.”
Mangu-Ward said she was struck by how Doctorow’s comments paralleled a sports journalist interviewed more recently in Reason.
“She had observed, in her years covering sports, that you can be the nerd or the jock and still have this experience that leads you to libertarianism – the feeling of knowing what it’s like to lose out in the system,” Mangu-Ward said.
Such people are more likely to think about why our socio-political system and government is the way it is… and to “see who wins and why,” she noted.
“That can be transformative, especially for young people…. It remains a powerful recruitment tool for libertarian ideas.”
Yet, the remarkable individuality of human beings – the true diversity of our species – suggests that people respond in quite a few different ways to existing power structures, Stoddard observed.
“There is an interesting range of responses,” Stoddard said.
“There are people whose response to being on the bottom is to say: Well, I want to be on top. I want to have power and I’ll pay people back.’ And others feel: ‘I want to stop and get those people’s feet off me, so I can walk around freely on my own.’
“And of course there are people who are sort of in between. Human beings are not commonly consistent. There are different psychological responses to that sense of being oppressed,” Stoddard said.
Barry Longyear, meanwhile, mourned the decline in the “language of political discourse” prompted by tribalism and partisanship, reinforced by the worst aspects of social media.
“It’s gotten so inflamed, and not hooked to anything in particular. It all comes down to ‘I like you’ or ‘I don’t like you,’” Longyear said.
When libertarians, classical liberals and other advocates of liberty warn of the dangers of unlimited government, political centralization and increasingly obtrusive and arbitrary bureaucracy, they often receive ad hominem attacks instead of reasoned arguments in response.
“When we try to get an argument going and settle down to queston whether we need this department of government (or that), the next thing you know you’re against women, children, minorities and small furry animals,” Longyear said.
He chuckled and added: “It’s a post office, for crying out loud.”
The LFS/Reason panelist bios:
Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine series, which inspired a 1985 film starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr. as respectively a human and alien soldier stranded together on an inhospitable planet, his works include numerous short stories, the Circus World series, the Infinity Hold series, and novels ranging from Sea of Glass to The God Box, as well as his much praised Science-fiction Writer’s Workshop-I and his online writing seminar, The Write Stuff, now available in trade paperback and Kindle formats.
His recent works include Jaggers & Shad: ABC is for Artificial Beings Crimes, and the Joe Torio Mystery Series: The Hangman’s Son, Just Enough Rope, and Rope Paper Scissors. His most recent publication is the seven-volume science-fiction series, The War Whisperer, the fifth book of which, The Hook, earned the 2021 Prometheus Award for Best Novel presented by the Libertarian Futurist Society. While a producer is shopping The War Whisperer around for possible dramatic presentation as a series, Barry is currently working on his American Civil War fantasy, The Candle Man.
His first nomination for the Prometheus Award came in 1984 for his novel The Tomorrow Testament. Other works recognized by the Prometheus awards include Infinity Hold (a 1990 Best Novel nominee), and Circus World (a 1991, 1999 and 2021 Hall of Fame nominee.) He lives in Maine.
Katherine Mangu-Ward is editor in chief of Reason, the magazine of “free minds and free markets.” A few of her more memorable cover stories include a defense of plastic bags, an argument for why you almost certainly shouldn’t vote, and a welcome to our new robot overlords.
She started as Reason intern in 2000, and has worked at The Weekly Standard and The New York Times.
Her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Slate, and numerous other publications. She is a frequent commentator on radio and television networks such as National Public Radio, CNBC, C-SPAN, Fox Business, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC. She is a Future Tense Fellow at New America.
Mangu-Ward is a graduate of Yale University, where she received a B.A. in philosophy and political science. She lives in Washington, D.C.
William H. Stoddard is the president of the Libertarian Futurist Society and the chair of its Prometheus Awards Hall of Fame Awards Committee. He works as a freelance copy editor specializing in scientific and scholarly publications.
He is also a role-playing gamer and has written more than two dozen books for Steve Jackson Games, starting with GURPS Steampunk, which won the Origins Award for best roleplaying supplement of 2000. GURPS Social Engineering won an ENnie award (given at GenCon) in 2012 for best electronically published book. His most recent published book is GURPS Furries.
A graduate of the University of California at San Diego, he escaped from California in 2020 and now lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, their cat, and 100 shelf feet of books.
* 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 of the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade-plus history, that was launched in 2019 on the 40thanniversary of the awards and continues today.
* 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.