Rabbit Test: Samantha Mill’s story, which swept this past year’s sf awards, has been hailed as libertarian (But that depends on your view of its central issue.)

By Michael Grossberg

One short story swept the major sf awards this past year – including the Hugos, the Nebulas and the Locus awards.

That story is “Rabbit Test,” by Samantha Mills.

According to at least one veteran libertarian sf fan, Mill’s story fits the distinctive focus of the Prometheus Award.

“The well-written story has a strong individual-liberty theme,” said Fred Moulton, a now-retired former LFS leader and Prometheus judge. (And the vast majority of libertarians likely would agree.)

But does it?

LFS members and other freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans can judge for themselves.

The story, published in Uncanny and well worth readingis available free online.

A POWERFUL, POIGNANT STORY

Certainly, “Rabbit Test” is impressive in its epic scope, dramatic compression and remarkable cumulative power.

Jumping back and forth in time, with well-chosen and elegantly concise scenes in different years relevant to its subject that stretch back centuries and move forward a century, “Rabbit Test” offers a sympathetic portrait of women in different eras and generations.

All the women are struggling to control their own bodies, while often facing severe limitations of their freedom and power – whether from restrictive laws, oppressive governments, male-chauvinist attitudes or simply from the lack of modern technology and medicine.

To give you a sense of the style and structure of Mill’s story as well as an example of its strong pro-freedom theme, here’s an excerpt:

“It is 2091, and Grace is staring at the rabbit in the corner of her visual overlay…

“…It is 1931, and Maurice Friedman and Maxwell Edward Lapham have just published “A Simple, Rapid Procedure for the Laboratory Diagnosis of Early Pregnancies” in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, volume 21. This simple (very), rapid (by some standards) procedure involves one urine sample and one very unlucky rabbit.

“…It is 2119, and Olivia is standing on stage with a dozen people behind her and a hundred thousand in front. Her wife is at her side, their marriage barely two years legal….

…It is Olivia’s turn to speak. She is here to represent the grassroots group she joined the day she ran away from her grandmother’s house, living couch to couch and paycheck to paycheck. She is here to represent everyone else who has struggled to build a life on an obstacle course.

She shouts, “There is no justification for obeying an immoral law!” and the roar from the crowd is deafening… “At every turn, we’ve sought to know more about our bodies,” she says. “And at every turn, that knowledge has been used to rope us in tighter, to set the deadline shorter, to put private decisions in the hands of public officials, as if we can’t be trusted to choose for ourselves.”

Olivia flings her other arm wide. She says, “We only want to control our own destinies! We want to decide the course of our lives, and not see every scientific advance weaponized against us. It is 2119, and I would not have this child if I’d been forced to term before I was ready, before I had a home worth sharing.”

ABORTION: A HOT-BUTTON ISSUE

The reason some people (including even a few libertarians in our “big-tent” movement) may disagree over this intentionally provocative story and how to interpret it is its polarizing subject: abortion.

Ayn Rand in 1943. (Creative Commons license)

 

That’s been something of a hot-button issue (though far from the hottest or biggest) even within the diverse libertarian movement.

Since libertarianism began to be popular in the 1960s and 1970s, most libertarians have supported a woman’s right to abortion (perhaps influenced partly by Ayn Rand, whose novels – especially Atlas Shrugged and essays helped spark the modern movement, along with Milton and David Friedman, Murray Rothbard and such Prometheus-winning sf novelists as Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, L. Neil SmithJames Hogan and F. Paul Wilson).

Yet, especially back in the 1970s and 1980s when the movement was first forming and hashing out a consensus and its formative identity, a few libertarians disagreed with the vast majority over the issue of abortion, even while being consistently “pro-choice” on everything else that doesn’t violate the basic libertarian principles of non-aggression.

Such libertarians, whose “pro-life” position arises not primarily from their political philosophy but more from deeper philosophical, legal, biological and scientific views regarding the human status of the fetus in pregnancy, may see “Rabbit Test” quite differently.

* As always, comments on Prometheus Blog posts are welcome – so let us know what you think of this award-winning story and whether you believe it’s libertarian (and whether you think it deserves to be considered for a Special Prometheus Award.)

VICTOR KOMAN’S PROMETHEUS WINNER

Meanwhile, for reference, LFS members also may be interested in reading or rereading a past Prometheus winner that directly deals with the abortion issue.

Solomon’s Knife, by three-time Prometheus winner Victor Koman, was our 1990 Best Novel winner.

Part of the reason it won was its novel science-fiction take on the vexing abortion question, which offered an innovative solution embracing new technology while respecting individual liberty and the value of each human life.

As the Prometheus Blog’s review-essay appreciation of Solomon’s Knife noted:

“Victor Koman’s Solomon’s Knife imaginatively extends the typically partisan and predictable debate over abortion into new territory.

Prometheus-winning novelist Victor Koman (Courtesy of author)

“His provocative 1989 novel imagines a plausible future in which a controversial new surgical procedure is devised that could help women with unwanted pregnancies and women who want children but can’t become pregnant.

“At the heroic center of the libertarian-themed medical thriller, which takes its title from the biblical story of King Solomon that tests two women over a baby, is a surgeon who risks her career to do the clandestine new type of surgery to help a beautiful woman seeking a routine abortion.

The new “transoption” procedure to transplant a fetus from one woman’s body to a willing new female host sparks media coverage, public outrage and a courtroom trial over an unprecedented custody battle. Koman uses his clever futuristic plot to explore issues within a moral drama that also has legal, political and scientific dimensions.

Praised by Publishers Weekly as a “gripping” story “that does what only a great novel can do: It gives us a new context,” Solomon’s Knife applies libertarian principles and other basic questions of philosophy and ethics to one of the most controversial issues of the 1990s – and still fraught today.”

In the end, whatever one may think of Mill’s acclaimed story, Solomon’s Knife and “Rabbit Test” demonstrate that science fiction remains an excellent way to explore and illuminate major issues of today – including abortion.

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE LFS:

* 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 all published essay-reviews in our Appreciation series of more than 100 past winners since 1979.

* 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 (including the recent 2023 ceremony with inspiring and amusing speeches by Prometheus-winning authors Dave Freer and Sarah Hoyt), 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 and support a cultural and literary strategy to appreciate and honor freedom-loving fiction, jointhe Libertarian Futurist Society, 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 in envisioning a freer and better future – and in some ways can be even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, peace, prosperity, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights, individuality and human dignity.

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, end slavery, reduce the threat of war, repeal or constrain other abuses of coercive power and achieve universal liberty, respect for human rights and a better world (perhaps ultimately, 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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