Self-reliance, liberty and sf: The Prometheus interview with author-singer-songwriter Leslie Fish

“(In sf fandom), the Prometheus is now considered third place after the Hugo and Nebula.” — author-songwriter Leslie Fish

Here is the first part of the Prometheus Blog interview with Leslie Fish, the Prometheus-winning author and songwriter.
Fish, interviewed by journalist and blog editor Michael Grossberg, won a 2014 Special Prometheus Award for her novella “Tower of Horses” and related filk-song “The Horseman’s Daughter.”

Leslie Fish, playing the guitar and singing her songs (Creative Commons license)

LFS: You’ve said a lot of your stories and songs contain libertarian themes. What attracts you to such themes and what kinds of stories do you find best reflect those themes?

Fish: It’s more a case of the ideas being part of me and therefore coloring all my work.  I’ve noticed the nostalgic medievalism of most published Fantasy stories, and the socialistic assumptions of a lot of Science Fiction, and it tends to annoy me, so I tend to write songs and stories that push in the opposite direction.  I’m surprised by how much of my own work is reactive, in this way.

LFS: Can you share an example?
Fish: For example, my fanfiction opus “The Weight” was inspired, or provoked, by a single Star Trek fan-story which assumed that humanity would never have advanced into space without an overweening government.

As a general rule, I’m drawn to stories about ingenious folk who manage to supply themselves and their friends with what they need to survive and succeed, for such self-reliance is the basis of independence.

LFS: What sf authors have most influenced you as a fan, then as a writer?
Fish: Robert Heinlein, of course, and Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, and Leigh Brackett. Later I took up with Harlan Ellison, Ted Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and H. P. Lovecraft.

ALL those listed above inspired me for their writing quality as well as their ideas. … Speaking of which, I’ve got an Anarchistic story in mind, set in the H. P. Lovecraft universe, that I’ve got to finish one of these days…

LFS: Growing up, did any particular sf novels open your mind to alternative perspectives?

Fish: Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers gave me some new ideas to wrestle with, though I didn’t completely agree with him.  I worked my way toward Anarchism on my own, and then was intrigued to encounter SciFi works that developed similar themes.

LFS: Any other sf writers you especially enjoy?
Fish: I’ve never read an L. Neil Smith novel that I didn’t enjoy. He can always come up with a surprising and original character, and his plots are wonderfully original too.  The ideas in his novels make me want to share a beer with him and argue a few minor points just for fun.

LFS: Smith, who sadly passed last year, established his reputation with The Probability Broach, the 1982 Prometheus winner for best novel. Many people became libertarians after reading that zestful and adventurous alternate-reality novel introducing an alternate timeline in which American evolved into an anarcho-capitalist near-paradise. The success of that novel inspired Smith to write quite a few other novels exploring the same timeline- and the perennial battle between liberty and power.

But which of Neil’s novels is your favorite?

Fish: Oddly enough, it’s The Nagasaki Vector— with its sly humor and intriguing ideas about history.
(Editor’s note: This novel, a 1984 Prometheus Best Novel finalist, is part of Smith’s alternate-history series, set in the same multiverse as The Probability Broach.)

LFS: How did you first get interested in science fiction?
Fish: I suspect it was comic books.  My mom taught me to read at an early age (three, IIRC), and the easiest books to read were the comics — available for a dime apiece at the local drugstore.

I remember that the first book I ever read for myself was a “Bucky Bug” comic, but I also remember seeing lots of Science Fiction comics too.  I learned to recognize artists like Wally Wood, Jack Davis and Steve Ditko by their artistic styles.

Once I could read pretty fluently, I went to the children’s section of our local library and dived into the available books there.  My favorite topics were Science Fiction and animal stories, particularly about horses.  Yes, I was one of those horse-crazy girls from as early as I can remember — but SciFi was my second love.

LFS: Do you have a favorite sf novel?
Fish: My favorite, hands down, is The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester.

LFS: The Stars My Destination was inducted in 1988 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame and Bester’s classic 1956 novel remains a favorite of many LFS members, too. In her 1994 review for the Prometheus quarterly, former LFS Director Victoria Varga described its central character Gully Foyle, on a quest for revenge after being abandoned in space, as “a Randian hero run amok.” “In the process of transformation he awakens the people of the worlds, and gives them back the right to think, dream, grow, and take command of their own lives,” Varga wrote.
What do you love about Bester’s masterpiece?

Fish: Besides the intricate plot, and the character changes involved in The Hero’s Journey, I was especially struck by Gully Foyle’s wonderful speech as he “gives the power of life and death back to the people who do the living and the dying”.

LFS: From your perspective, when you attend sf/fantasy cons, how well known are the Prometheus Awards, amid all the other sf awards out there?

Fish: I first heard it mentioned more than 30 years ago, described as a “freethinkers’ literary award” of considerable virtue, but not on a par with the Nebula or Hugo.

LFS: From your frequent experience as a guest of honor or attendee at sf, fantasy and filk-singing cons, have the Prometheus Awards become better known over the past four decades?

Fish: Yes, definitely. The Prometheus is now considered third place after the Hugo and Nebula.  You’re coming up in the world of Sci-Fi, my friends!

Note: Stay tuned for the next part of this Prometheus Blog interview with Prometheus-winning author-songwriter Leslie Fish.

* 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 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 culture is as vital as politics (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive in the longer run) in sparking positive social change and spreading positive visions of the future and achieving 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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