To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a pro-freedom and/or anti-authoritarian work, the Libertarian Futurist Society has been publishing since 2019 an Appreciation series of all past award-winners.
Here is an Appreciation for Poul Anderson’s story “Sam Hall,” the 2020 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction.
In “Sam Hall,” published in 1953 in Astounding Science Fiction, Poul Anderson offers one of the earlier visions of a dystopian possibility based on the computers that had been invented only a few years before: a society with ubiquitous surveillance.
This is our age’s version of the panopticon described by Jeremy Bentham – one not confined to local sites such as prisons, but having an entire nation, or an entire planet, in its view. Anderson’s vision of computer technology is primitive, with a gigantic machine in a central government office that receives and stores information on punched cards. It has no hint of artificial intelligence, or of the ability to interpret voice or vision. But the job he sees it as doing is still the stuff of our nightmares.