Seize What’s Held Dear: Karl Gallagher’s Best Novel finalist explores cultural clash of customs, battle for freedom against novel interstellar tyranny

Note: This is the latest Prometheus-blog review of our 2022 Best Novel finalists, following previously posted reviews of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and Lionel Shriver’s Should We Stay Or Should We Go.

By William H. Stoddard

In Seize What’s Held Dear, the third volume of Karl Gallagher’s The Fall of the Censor series, the action returns to Corwynt, a planet controlled by the Censorate that the Fieran protagonists visited in the first volume. Much of the story develops in parallel tracks following the situation on the planet’s surface and the continuing struggle in space.

The primary conflict grows out of the Censorate’s basic rule that access to information is to be restricted as much as possible. In a fashion similar to China’s Qin Dynasty, access to historical works is prohibited, and their mere possession is a capital crime.

The result is a totalitarian society of a novel sort, different from those in classic dystopias. Fiera, the planet that opposes the Censorate after a hyperspatial route between them has reopened, has no such prohibition — and for that very reason the Censorate cannot tolerate its survival. Fiera doesn’t offer a model for a libertarian society, but it’s comparatively free and is struggling to preserve that freedom.

The conflict itself tests Fiera’s principles. After seeing a number of their cities destroyed by nuclear weapons that costs millions of lives, many Fierans are ready to strike back, and their views are represented by the newly founded Revenge Party. Others think of the people of Corwyn as potential allies who also hate the Censorate. The novel starts out by exploring the question of which path to follow.

Parts of the following story examine the conduct of war, both on the surface of a planet, in cities, and in space. Important themes here include the uses of historical knowledge in warfare, and the role of volunteers in combat.

Another part of the story, and one of special interest to libertarian readers, explores the customs of Corwynt. Robert Heinlein’s epigraph for his novel Glory Road quoted Bernard Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, include the line “He is a barbarian, and thinks the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature.” This is one of the classic lessons of science fiction.

Gallagher both shows his Fierans and Corwynti learning this lesson from each other, and shows the exotic customs of Corwynt, including particularly its approach to law, developed to operate without the official sanction of the Censorate.

Author Karl K. Gallagher (Creative Commons license)

Gallagher both shows his Fierans and Corwynti learning this lesson from each other, and shows the exotic customs of Corwynt, including particularly its approach to law, developed to operate without the official sanction of the Censorate.Gallagher ties these themes together by telling much of the story through the eyes of Marcus Landry, a young Fieran merchant turned naval officer, and his Corwynti wife Wynny, beginning a new career as a private investigator and judge.

Their struggles to understand each other’s cultures and customs help bring the theme of cultural diversity to life.

I look forward to reading the fourth volume of the series.

Note: Karl K. Gallagher’s Fall of the Censor series began with Storm Between the Stars, a 2021 Prometheus Best Novel finalist.

To better appreciate the dramatic arc of the series, here is a capsule review:

Storm Between The Stars explores a vast interstellar polity’s use of narrative control and memory-holing to cement power.

Merchants in a ship from an isolated group of solar systems discover a new hyper-spatial route to regain long-lost contact with the rest of humanity.

They must deal with a centralized human empire founded on a fictitious history while establishing trade relations with businesses that operate through family ties and underground barter.

Gallagher offers a timely cautionary tale about official truth, censorship, and the denial of history, while exploring strategies for economic survival and the pursuit of knowledge under a repressive government.

Between Home and Ruin, the sequel to Storm Between the Stars, and Seize What’s Held Dear, the sequel to Between Home and Ruin, were both chosen by the LFS Best Novel finalist judging committee among the five 2022 Best Novel finalists.

For context in appreciating the overall Fall of the Censor series, here is a capsule review of Between Home and Ruin:

The second novel in Gallagher’s Fall of the Censor series continues his dramatization of a prolonged interstellar war between a long-isolated group of colonized solar systems and a much larger human polity.

The Censorate is an authoritarian human empire that maintains its Orwellian power by memory-holing the past and destroying older books, art and records to subjugate planetary populations.

After rediscovering a path to other solar systems, the Fierans are fighting against Censorate invasion to preserve their freedom, independence and culture.

The sequel  drives home its themes with a cross-cultural love story about a man and woman separated by war, while powerfully highlighting governmental atrocities of war, including mass murder and destruction of civilian cities – a focus that resonates deeply in 2022 as brutal war rages anew in Eastern Europe.


NOTE: Captain, Trader Helmsman Spy, published in May 2022 by Kelt Haven Press, is the fourth novel in Gallagher’s Fall of the Censor series, with more novels to come.

For capsule reviews and news about all five 2022 Best Novel finalists, see the LFS press release.

For comparison, read the Prometheus-blog reviews of other Best Novel finalists Klara and the Sun and Should We Stay or Should We Go.

* Prometheus winners: For a full list of 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.

* Watch the 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.


* 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.

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.

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, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, 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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