“Give me liberty or give me death.”
— Patrick Henry’s speech to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia
Give Me Liberty, an anthology of freedom-loving science fiction, is one of two linked Baen Books anthologies recognized together with a 2005 Special Prometheus Award.
Give Me Liberty and Visions of Liberty, both co-edited by veteran libertarian Mark Tier and veteran sf editor Martin H. Greenberg, make an apt pair of bookends of freedom-loving sf anthologies.
Where Visions of Liberty (which will receive its own Prometheus-blog appreciation soon) offers stories that imagine a free future, Give Me Liberty focuses on stories about people fighting for liberty against authoritarian threats or tyrannies.
“Indeed, in the history of mankind, you could count the number of benevolent rulers who have given people their liberty on the fingers of one hand — and still have plenty of fingers left over. History shows there’s only one way you can be sure of gaining your liberty: take it.
Both anthologies – later published in one printed volume by Baen Books under the title Freedom! – are worth reading or rereading, with most stories holding up well today.
Give Me Liberty includes a diverse set of tales by Christopher Anvil, Lloyd Biggle Jr., Frank Herbert (Dune), Murray Leinster, Katherine MacLean and Charles de Vet, Eric Frank Russell, A.E. van Vogt and Vernor Vinge.
The stories were mostly first published between the 1940s and the 1980s, but only one or two have dated noticeably.
Moreover, three of the eight stories in Give Me Liberty are classics, well known to knowledgeable sf fans and also to LFS members and libertarian sf fans because of other Prometheus Awards.
VAN VOGT’S THE WEAPON SHOP
The Weapon Shop, by A.E. Van Vogt, was the kernel of van Vogt’s widely admired later novel The Weapon Shops of Isher, inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 2005.
Imaginative and ingenious for its era, van Vogt’s 1941 story dramatizes the power of self-defense to sustain personal freedom while introducing one of the most famous political slogans in golden-age sf: “The Right to Buy Weapons is the Right to Be Free.”
Blending hard sf with sociopolitical themes, Vogt imagines a future dominated by a dictatorial Empire of Isher whose authority is challenged by some mysterious Weapon shops. Ultimately, they become a potent source of opposition to tyranny.
The story cleverly imagines advanced-technology weapons only usable in self-defense against aggressors, but not capable of murder or the initiation of force. In short, Vogt’s weapons embody the ethical foundation of libertarian and classical-liberal thought in the basic civilizing principle of non-aggression.
(Read the Prometheus-blog appreciation of The Weapon Shops of Isher.)
VINGE’S THE UNGOVERNED
Verne Vinge’s classic libertarian-sf story “The Ungoverned,” itself inducted in 2004 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction, also is of special interest to libertarians.
What makes the story fascinating is the glimpse it offers of a functioning and vibrant society, well within the scope of what several libertarian economists, historians and political philosophers have described in detail over the past half century as both possible and desirable (but not utopian).
Vinge’s plausible portrayal of a functional society without government is roughly along the lines envisioned by economist-historian Murray Rothbard (For a New Liberty), David Friedman (The Machinery of Freedom) and other anarcho-capitalist thinkers.
(Read the full Prometheus-blog Appreciation of “The Ungoverned.”)
RUSSELL’S AND THEN THERE WERE NONE
“And Then There Were None,” a 1951 short story by Eric Frank Russell, was later expanded and incorporated by Russell into his classic 1962 novel The Great Explosion, inducted in 1985 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.
The power of peaceful behavior and non-violent resistance is explored in the story, set in an expansive interstellar future in which colonists have settled countless planets to escape an increasingly statist Earth.
When ships with soldiers, bureaucrats and pompous officials arrive in ships four centuries later to try to take over colonized planets, they find a mystery on one planet with an agrarian culture where there doesn’t seem to be any government or leaders.
Yet, the soldiers can’t take it over, since the peaceful settlers have embraced a classless libertarian anarchy based on passive resistance to unjust authority. In response to soldiers and other Earth officials, the farmers just say MYOB (“Mind Your Own Business”) and keep farming.
With its embodiment of the ethical non-aggression principles of Thoreau and Gandhi (and foreshadowing some of the civil-rights movements’ peaceful protest strategy led by Martin Luther King Jr. that would emerge within years of its publication), Russell’s lovely, charming and amusing tale continues to resonate as one of the greatest sf parables.
Read the full Prometheus-blog appreciation of Russell’s The Great Explosion.
HERBERT’S COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Frank Herbert, best known for the epic bestseller Dune and its sequels, also wrote a series of clever sf stories set right here on Earth.
“Committee of the Whole,” first published in 1965 in Galaxy magazine,embodies several themes that libertarians can appreciate in a superior mid-20th-century sf tale with a high-tech twist.
Framed during a Congressional hearing where a Western cowboy-businessman has been brought in to testify, the story is a good example of how sf writers can extrapolate how one form of new technology can change the world – in this case, for the better.
Pitting a number of very political, devious and harrumphing Senators against a plain-spoken but determined entrepreneur, Herbert’s story sets up a big reveal from the start, as the businessman’s nervous lawyer notices that his briefcase appears to have a strange bulge and potentially explosive contents.
Only the explosion here turns out not to be physical but socially transformative, as Herbert finds a plausible way to equalize power universally, and thus open the door wider than ever to equal liberty – and enhanced mutual responsibility for everyone fto avoid the initiation of force.
Without giving away too much about the story’s big reveal, it can be said that this story is similar to Van Vogt’s “Weapon Shop” in imagining a new technology that concretizes libertarian and classical-liberal ideals of equal liberty and peaceful cooperation as the only civilized alternative to aggression, war and tyranny.
Modern libertarian readers certainly will resonate with many of the ideals that Herbert puts into the mouth of Custer his businessman-hero:
“Virtually every government in the world is dedicated to manipulating something called the ‘mass man.’ That’s how governments have stayed in power. But there is no such man. When you elevate the nonexistent ‘mass man’ you degrade the individual. And obviously it was only a matter of time until all of us were at the mercy of the individual holding power…. we might reach an understanding out of ultimate necessity – that each of us must cooperate in maintaining the dignity of all,” Custer tells the Senators.
Herbert didn’t go so far as Ayn Rand or Heinlein did to create a rational individualist as his central protagonist, but he does give Custer some rather heroic and libertarian dialogue that upholds basic respect for human rights while drawing a sharp distinction between violence and self-defense:
“I refuse to threaten you, but I’ll defend myself from any attempt to oppress or degrade me… No man who understands what this device means will permit his dignity to be taken from him… And don’t twist those words to imply a threat. Refusal to threaten a fellow human is an absolute requirement in the day that has just dawned on us.”
It would be interesting – and perhaps a bit too exciting – to imagine living in the kind of world that Herbert imagines.
MACLEAN AND DE VET’S SECOND GAME
“Second Game,” by Katherine Anne MacLean and Charles V. de Vet, can be enjoyed as a rich and dense first-contact story.
Its so rich and textured in its plotting and characterizations, in fact, that the story was expanded by the co-authors into a 1981 novel of the same title.
With a savvy human visitor arriving secretively on an alien planet to try to blend in and size up the foreign but largely human culture by playing one of its chess-style games, the twisty tale is engrossing in its metaphoric exploration of game theory, geopolitical strategy and the tricky and potentially tragic consequences that can occur when two cultures meet.
Ultimately, “Second Game” is a cautionary tale about the misuses of power and the misunderstandings that can occur from shows of force.
“Monument,” a story by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. with a simple but clever idea developed ingeniously, is another story with enough potential that the author later expanded it into a novel.
The story revolves around an ongoing cultural conflict between a primitive but peaceful culture on a tropical planet and efforts to develop and “help” the culture by technologically superior humans in an interstellar federation that belatedly discovers the lost and remote colony planet.
Written in a lighter and often comical style, “Monument” charts the efforts of a shipwrecked old human pilot to help the natives – even after his death – to avoid starvation and prepare to defend against the federation’s intrusive human government and allied companies whose actions to build schools and hospitals and import business actually do more harm than good to the indigenous people and their world’s environment.
The libertarian moral of the story: Don’t try to help or force yourself on other people, unless they actually ask for it with clear consent.
ANVIL’S GADET VS. TREND
Although interesting and amusing in its extrapolation of the highly disruptive impact of a new technology, Christopher Anvil’s “Gadget vs. Trend” is a story clearly rooted in the so-called conformist culture of the 1950s.
Despite initially suggesting the liberating possibilities of new inventions that help people break free from Stalinist-style dictatorship, the circular story ends on a downbeat note, with the suggestion that nothing really changes – especially the human propensity to complain.
LEINSTER’S HISTORICAL NOTE
Perhaps the weakest and most dated story in this batch is “Historical Note,” by Murray Leinster. This 1951 story was deft and timely enough in its era as a satirical critique of Soviet communism.
But the type of propaganda and politicization of language that fills this story seems today best explored in a more serious drama like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, inducted in 1984 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame. Perhaps it’s simply that comedy dates more than the darker sorts of dystopian drama, but today “Historical Note” largely comes across as well, a rather musty old historical note.
Note: Writer-editor Mark Tier, an Australian based in Hong Kong for many years, wrote the 1974 Australian bestseller Understanding Inflation; The Nature of Market Cycles; How To Get A Second Passport; The Winning Investment Habits of Warren Buffett & George Soros; Ayn Rand’s 5 Surprisingly Simple Rules for Judging Politicians; How to Spot the Next Starbucks, Whole Foods, Walmart or McDonald’s–BEFORE Its Shares Explode and the political thriller Trust Your Enemies. For more information, visit www.marktier.com
Note: Martin Harry Greenberg (1941-2011) was an American academic and science fiction anthologist- who compiled 1,298 anthologies during his long sf-editing career from 1974 to 2011. Greenberg often split the duties of editing, story selection and copyright searches with co-editors, including Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh, Jane Yolen and Robert Silverberg.
Besides the Special Prometheus Award, Greenberg was recognized with a Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Horror Writers Association, the Ellery Queen Award from the Mystery Writers of America and three inaugural Solstice Awards in 2009 from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for his lifetime contributions to the sf field.
* Read the introductory essay of the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade-plus history, that was launched in 2019 on the 40thanniversary of the awards and continues today.
* 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 enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all published appreciation-reviews of past winners.
* 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.