Self-ownership and Liberty: An Appreciation of Dani and Eytan Kollin’s The Unincorporated Man, the 2010 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear what makes each winner deserve recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is presenting weekly Appreciations of past award-winners. Our anniversary series was launched in 2019 – 40 years after the first Prometheus Award was presented – starting with appreciation/reviews of the earliest winners in the original Best Novel category, and continuing in chronological order.  Here’s the latest Appreciation for Dani and Eytan Kollin’s The Unincorporated Man, the 2010 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel:

By Michael Grossberg

The Unincorporated Man, an ingenious and imaginative debut novel by the Kollin brothers, was the first book in a planned trilogy that ultimately developed into an ambitious, complex and far-flung tetralogy.

The 2019 novel’s interesting and unusual premise is that education and personal development could be funded by allowing investors to take a share of one’s future income. The novel explores the ways this arrangement would affect those who do not own a majority of the stock in themselves.

For instance, often ones’ investors would have control of a person’s choices of where to live or work. The desire for power as an end unto itself and the negative consequences of the raw lust for power are shown in great detail.

Just as intriguing to many libertarians, who view self-ownership as a foundational principle in modern libertarian thought that by extension grounds human rights in property rights, is the thrilling and poignant struggle for self-ownership that emerges in this novel and its three sequels.

At the center of the story is Justin Cord, a billionaire businessman secretly frozen in the early 21stcentury with hopes of life extension, who is discovered and resurrected centuries from now and given a healthy young body… only to discover a world where each person is formed into a legal corporation at birth.

For most citizens of this brave new corporate future, the result is years and decades of struggle to attain meaningful control over their own life and choices by getting a majority of their own shares – sort of like a big company today buying back some of its shares.

For Cord, the only incorporated man in the future, his very life and presence sparks a struggle and rebellion for self-ownership that puts him into direct conflict with a human society that now spans our solar system and beyond.

The gripping, fast-paced saga charts a battle between unconventional heroes and ruthless villains in multiple dimensions – technological, social, political, economic and psychological – that ultimately underscore the importance of individual liberty as different characters fight for different conceptions of freedom.

Note: Dani and Eytan Kollin’s completed “Unincorporated” series includes the sequels The Unincorporated War, a 2011 Best Novel nominee; The Unincorporated Woman, a 2012 Best Novel nominee; and The Unincorporated Future, a 2013 Best Novel finalist.

Here are excerpts from Dani and Eytan Kollins’  2010 Worldcon acceptance speech, which was printed in the fall 2010 Prometheus Vol. 29, No. 1:

“When we started our writing career we never dreamt of winning the Prometheus Award (then again we didn’t know what the Prometheus Award was). In fact the only thing we did dream about was making enough money to buy a shiny sports car and more hair. And then when we did think about awards, we inevitably thought about the ones we assumed we’d need…in order to buy the shiny car…and more hair.

But here’s the thing: Of all the awards in Science Fiction we thought we’d need, The Prometheus Award, above all others, became the one we truly wanted.

Here’s why: First, the honkin’ gold coin is frakkin’ awesome. Second, liberty must be championed and valued — of the myriad awards out there, only the Prometheus recognizes this essential fact. Third, the authors we respect the most have all won it. And finally, the honkin’ gold coin is frakkin’ awesome.

Which brings us to the novel itself. The Unincorporated Man attempts to deal with a fundamental issue: What price freedom?

We often liken the loss of liberty to the secret of boiling a frog. You don’t just drop him into the boiling water—he’ll jump right out. Instead, what you do is put him in cold water and slowly raise the flame. By the time he realizes he’s in trouble it’s pretty much game over. So, too, the society we envisioned in our novel and perhaps even our own.

We love the fact that some people really… really hate this book. We’d rather the message be hated than ignored; rather the arguments be debated than dismissed. But as much as we enjoy the rage of flamers, we’re certainly not immune to the siren song of praise. So thank you, Prometheus committee — for finding our first novel worthy of your recognition.

We’d also like to thank our fellow nominees, Orson Scott Card, Cory Doctorow, Harry Turtledove and of course, Harry Turtledove — all of whose works have inspired us over the years.”

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: A 40thAnniversary Celebration and appreciation of the next novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Awards: Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves, the 2011 winner for Best Novel.

* See related introductory essay about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.

Libertarian futurists believe cultural change and positive visions of a free future are as vital as political change (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive long-term) in achieving universal individual 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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