The Libertarian Futurist Society invited two-time Prometheus winner Travis Corcoran to discuss the importance of libertarian science fiction in his speech as presenter of the 2022 Prometheus Award for Best Novel.
Here Is the text of Corcoran’s speech, delivered on Aug. 13 as part of the Zoom awards ceremony, marking the 40th anniversary of the LFS.
(Corcoran presented the Best Novel award to Wil McCarthy for Rich Man’s Sky; the Hall of Fame award went to Robert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy,)
By Travis Corcoran
The state of written science fiction in 2022 is a bit like the state of western civilization: under assault from all sides, hollowed out, a pale shadow of what it once was.
The soldiers who once defended our grand city have been defeated.
There are invaders inside the gates, cavorting, aping their betters,and desecrating the ancient and sacred temples.
The great bazaars are empty and only a few small peddlers haunt the windy streets.
Most of the citizens who built the city, stone by stone, have been either felled by old age or have wandered away. A few still act as if nothing has changed, but without the support of the great publishers and the cheers of the crowd, the performance rings hollow.
It’s tempting to give in to despair. Written science fiction had a great eighty-year run, from 1932 to 2012 or so, but now it’s over. The cultural center of gravity has moved on from novels and short stories to comic books, video games, and movies.
…and yet…and yet…
Cultures never truly die. At worst, they are largely extinguished ,with a few traces living on as echoes in the over culture that conquered them. …but at best, they linger on, in the margins, on the mountaintops, in the monasteries, until the conditions are ripe for their rebirth.
I am very confident in the success of written science fiction in the long term – and not just written science fiction, but the white-hot center of written science fiction, which is libertarian science fiction.
Why? First, all art starts with writing. No movie can exist without a script; no video game can exist without a plot outline and a bible.
Even in an era where technology allows Garage Kubricks, in William Gibson’s wonderful phrase, to create movies and video games in a home studio, the economy and precision of writing means that it will always be easier for a writer to create an alien species, a cursed starship, or a wormhole than it is for a creator working in any other medium to do the same.
Second, I think that libertarian science fiction has a bright future, because the two fundamentally libertarian tropes – the fight for freedom and quest for self empowerment through competence – are two fundamental human drives.
The thirst for these virtues is ageless – you can see it in stories written last week, in the Icelandic sagas, in the Old Testament, and in ancient Greek poetry.
Amusingly, the respect for these two virtues is so integral to human nature – bred into us by the crucible of evolution, which rewards competence and freedom with survival – that even when the enemies of liberty write fiction, they can’t resist using these tropes.
No onecan write about a bully crushing the innocent and get the audience to identify with the bully. No one can make a character incompetent and lazy and make an audience want him to win. So the enemies of liberty contort and strain to write stories where they and their tribe somehow embody these virtues… which leads to hysterical spectacles where representatives of the world-straddling overculture are somehow painted as underdogs struggling against enemies that haven’t existed for eighty years.
I mentioned evolution earlier, and I want to mention it again. Evolution doesn’t just operate on biological species, but also on culture. Fiction from progressives is fundamentally unsatisfying, for the reasons I just elaborated, and thus it is, I assert, maladapted for its environment and unfit for its purpose.
If we need evidence of this, we can look at the ever shrinking shelf space science fiction has at bookstores, and the slow motion death of science fiction magazines.
The invaders are inside the gates, and have taken our city … but in doing so, they destroyed the aquaducts and poisoned the wells that kept the city alive.
Where are the old inhabitants of the city, and their children?
Not dead. They were not destroyed, they were merely displaced. James C Scott explained in The Art of Not Being Governed that it is a common human experience to flee from central authority, to destroy tax records, to abjure last names, to head for the hills, to become ungovernable.
My assertion is that the community of people who both love and create written libertarian science fiction – the white hot core of all science fiction – have left the city and set up camps in the hills.
Here, in the wastelands, we don’t just sing our ancient songs. To keep our culture alive, we respect the past, but we also innovate and build on it. We do it in conventions like Liberty Con, Based Con, and others. We do it through kickstarter, indiegogo, new publishers, and self publishing.
The barbarians who have taken over the city can’t fix the wells, they can’t repair the aqueducts. Without the people who built the city, the cold stones that they left behind are useless. The people WERE the city. And in the hills, our culture survives and thrives.
THE 2022 BEST NOVEL FINALISTS AND NOMINEES
The strength of the finalists this year gives ample evidence of that.
Lionel Shriver, who first came to my attention via The Mandibles, is like a hacker in a cyberpunk novel – sneaking anti-authoritarianfiction through mainstream publishing, right under the nose of Big Brother. Bravo.
Karl Gallagher, a personal friend, is writing such an absolute torrent of pro-liberty fiction that would it make Heinlein break out in a cold sweat, and – Mackey Chandler, like Karl, self publishes.
Dennis Taylor, like Mackey and Karl, self publishes.
Kazuo Ishiguro publishes via a mainstream British publisher. At first that poses a problem for my theory, but I think we can agree that someone who’s won a Nobel Prize for Literature can be allowed to break a rule now and then.
Marc Stiegler, who caught my attention twenty years ago with his Earthweb, and made me aware of prediction markets, is publishing via recent upstart LMBPN.
And finally, the winner of this year’s Prometheus Award, Wil McCarthy,
who I’ve been reading since his The Collapsium, publishes through dissident publisher Baen.
The culture in the hills is strong. Come and join us.
* * *
Note: Travis Corcoran is the first author to win the Prometheus Award for Best Novel in two consecutive years – for The Powers of the Earth (in 2018) and for its sequel, Causes of Separation (in 2019.)
Read William H. Stoddard’s combined appreciation of Corcoran’s two Prometheus-winning novels The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.
* 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.
* Prometheus winners: For the list of Prometheus 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.
* 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.