Reason magazine & Victoria Varga on the LFS fight over Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’

My Jan. 24 blog post on the death of prominent SF writer Ursula K. LeGuin mentioned that she won our Hall of Fame Award in 1993, for The Dispossessed.

I know now a lot more about the history behind that award, thanks to a new article by Victoria Varga. 

Varga, the former editor of The Prometheus, the newsletter we sent out until we established this blog, explains that the novel came out in 1974 and she nominated it for the Hall of Fame Award in 1983, touching off years of debate. LeGuin appreciated the nominations but privately expressed doubt it would win, although it finally did.

Here’s an intriguing excerpt from Varga’s article, subtitled “How libertarians learned to stop worrying and love The Dispossessed:

“Many members of the Libertarian Futurist Society were up at arms. People threatened to quit the group if the book won. Although everyone admired the book as literature, the fact that the society on Anarres was communalist made the book suspect. It was called “socialist propaganda,” and it was deemed not at all what we were supposed to be advocating. “Give it the Lenin Prize instead,” said one member.

Ursula K. Le Guin (Creative Commons license)

Other members, some of them past winners of the award, defended the novel with passion and grace. We nominated it year after year.

Le Guin herself got involved a little, thanking us for the nominations but telling me in a private letter that she expected a blue moon and pigs to fly before she would expect to win. I didn’t know what a blue moon was at the time, and I didn’t know that they sometimes occur.

“In the Libertarian Futurist Society’s newsletter, which I edited, I replied to the membership: “It should be repeated, a million times if necessary, that the essence of libertarianism…must be freedom of choice. Although most libertarians may believe that the best society is technologically advanced, economically laissez-faire, with private property cemented into the cornerstone of every community, other free people might choose communalism, back-to-the-bushes hermitism, or any of a thousand cultures, religions, or eccentricities possible to humanity and still remain within a libertarian framework, as long as those societies eschew the initiation of violence and respect the right of others to choose their own way of life.” But the dissenting libertarians were not so easily convinced.

From 1983 on, we argued back and forth every time one of us nominated the book. The arguments were good ones on both sides. Socialist countries generally do devolve into fascist and repressive societies, held together with the bindings of terror. And they don’t take 400 years to do so. What made Anarres different was that it was self-isolated, small, and committed to nonviolence and personal freedom.”

Other people defending the novel included Robert Shea, who won the Hall of Fame Award in 1986 for the Illuminatus! trilogy, co-written with Robert Anton Wilson.

If you are curious, you can look at the full list of our award winners. 

— Tom Jackson


* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – including 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 explaining why each of more than 100 past winners since 1979 fits the awards’ distinctive dual focus.

* 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.

* Check out the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Facebook page  for periodic updates and links to Prometheus Blog posts.

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.

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