Problem-solving, blending satire with adventure, and skewering bureaucracy: Dave Freer’s Prometheus interview, part 3

Here is the third part of the Prometheus Interview with Australian author Dave Freer, 2023 winner of the Prometheus for Best Novel for Cloud-Castles.

Dave Freer (Photo courtesy of author)

Q: Are there common subjects or themes that you find yourself exploring and returning to in your different novels and stories?

A: Problem-solving. Endlessly. That’s what humans do best. It’s our species selective advantage.

Many animals are faster or stronger. We think our way out of the shit – that, often as not, we got ourselves into in the first place. We’re not sheep. We don’t need to follow, we can think, independently. I want to foment that.

Then there is the issue of preconceptions/assumptions, especially about human mores. I have repeatedly used the alien/non-human point-of-view to show just how ridiculous so many of these ideas really are. The point is to make the reader think about things we take for granted.

Q: How representative is Cloud-Castles of your work?

A: It’s fairly representative of a section of my work. I think I’m at 24 novels published and I enjoy experimentation.

Books like Rats, Bats and Vats followed a not-dissimilar path of balancing satire with outright adventure. Onion-layer books – where each layer makes sense on its own are a goal of mine.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a role model for this.

Q: Are there some ways, in retrospect, that Cloud-Castles was a departure (or a step forward) from your previous novels and earlier focus in sf/fantasy?

A: It’s a slightly more overt Minarchist/Libertarian reflection of my own points of view, but as always, my idea is for readers to enjoy the ride.

I’m not a preacher, I’m an opener of doors and a joker. I am more Eric Frank Russell than L. Neil Smith.

Q: Have any non-fiction books enlightened you or influenced the evolution of your own views?

A: I read everything. (I read very fast – a novel in a couple of hours).

Yes, I have waded through Adam Smith (both The Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments) in my teens – which was probably a bit early.

If I was to pick on one book that I think people ought to venture on it would be Frederick Bastiat’s The Law.

Firstly: it is short and quite cheap; Secondly: it is quite easy to read; and thirdly: it makes extremely good sense.

Q: How do readers and critics respond to your stories?

A: I don’t care if they agree or not. I’m a trickster, a joker, not a high priest laying down unthinking doctrine.

Yes, I am a skeptic. Scientists should be. Hell, humans should, unthinking following is for sheep.

Q: You skewer bureaucrats in particular in Cloud-Castles.

A: I have an utter loathing of petty bureaucracy. Of all the forms of government, it tends to be the most irrelevant and have the least gain, and be most damaging to individual freedoms and economic endeavor, and the key to repression.

It’s not the order from on high that affects your life – that is powerless without the bureaucrats, right down to the local level, eagerly scurrying to exert that power, without thought or responsibility.

Q: How important is realistic world-building to your science fiction?

A I strive for a logical, hopefully workable construct of things. People are illogical. Geology and economic practicality is not.

Books where I find myself saying ‘you cannot possibly sustain that many/few people without xyz’ throw me out. So I spend a lot of time constructing the background – from the geography to biology.

Dave Freer on the beach in Tasmania Photo courtesy of author

Q: You have a real connection to the outdoors. How did that develop?

A: I grew up on the edge of the coastal bush, able to walk to the sea – I outgrew my childhood illness, and while I stayed small, reveled in the all the outdoor things I couldn’t do as a very little kid. Diving with my older brother, going to the boat with the old man… hooliganing around in the coastal bush, it was idyllic in many ways. And I trained the local library into letting me into the adult section.

Q: Where did you go to school and how did that shape you?

A: I got sent to a military-style boarding school – my father’s school, about 500 miles away, which had literarily been started as ‘for the sons of Officers and Gentlemen’.

If you’ve read Kipling’s Stalky and Co – you’ve got it.  It was like time travel a hundred years back – into the bleak interior, with toff kids I didn’t fit with, who knew nothing of fishing or diving.

Well, a rebel I came… and I am still the same.

Coming up soon: The fourth and final part of the Prometheus Interview with Dave Freer.

Read the first part and second part of the Prometheus interview with Dave Freer.


* 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 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.

2 thoughts on “Problem-solving, blending satire with adventure, and skewering bureaucracy: Dave Freer’s Prometheus interview, part 3”

  1. Stalky and Co. is not my favorite Kipling. But it’s interesting to read as a subversion of the traditional school stories of the era. And in any case I have a copy on my shelves of print books, as insurance against Kipling mysteriously vanishing from the online literature. Though I must say Kipling was politically incorrect already in his own lifetime; Auden, Eliot, and Orwell all apologized for liking his writing. So perhaps he will survive our current storm of efforts to erase the past.

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