Reason magazine on our fight over ‘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. 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

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