As part of the LFS’ ongoing Appreciation series of review-essays explaining how each Prometheus Award-winner fits the distinctive libertarian and anti-authoritarian focus of the sf/fantasy award and why it deserved to win, here is an Appreciation by author Karl K. Gallagher (a frequent Best Novel finalist himself) of Robert Heinlein’s story “Free Men,” the 2023 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction.
Many writers have “trunk stories”—pieces rejected so many times that the writer shoves them into a trunk and stops sending them out again. “Free Men” seems to have been one of Heinlein’s trunk stories.
The Expanded Universe foreword says he wrote it in 1947, just a year after Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech. The story wasn’t published until 1966, in the Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein single-author collection.
I can understand why editors didn’t want it.
It’s a grim story, with the protagonist left bleeding out as his followers flee to a new hiding place.
The premise is a USA occupied after losing WWIII, by an enemy willing to nuke towns as reprisals against guerillas. The kind of story that makes readers put the terms “unpatriotic,” “defeatist,” or “advocating ‘better red than dead’” in the letters cancelling their subscriptions.
So why did Heinlein write it? And why do some readers love it?
With the annual Sept. 30 deadline coming up soon for LFS members to nominate works for the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction, this is a good time to remind ourselves what makes this annual category special.
LFS President William H. Stoddard did just that when he presented the Prometheus Hall of Fame category for Best Classic Fiction at the recent 43rd annual Prometheus awards ceremony. Here are Stoddard’s remarks:
Unlike the Best Novel Award, the Prometheus Hall of Fame can be given to works in any narrative or dramatic form — short fiction, narrative verse, plays, movies, television and video episodes or series, graphic novels, songs, and so on.
It’s restricted to works that first appeared at least twenty years ago.
A great many of our award winners are older than that, often dating to before the LFS was founded.
John Tilden, president of The Heinlein Society, spoke Aug. 19 during the 2023 Prometheus Awards ceremony to accept the Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction for Robert Heinlein’s short story “Free Men.”
Tilden spoke eloquently about Heinlein’s legacy in general and about the setting and themes of his winning story in particular, while shedding some fascinating light on its provenance and place in Heinlein’s Future History series.
For the record, here is a transcript of Tilden’s speech:
BY JOHN TILDEN
It is my pleasure to provide a few remarks on this occasion of Robert Heinlein’s short story “Free Men” being inducted into the Prometheus Award’s Hall of Fame. I add my thanks to the Libertarian Futurist Society for this honor.
Are you a fan of Sarah Hoyt? Dave Freer? Robert Heinlein?
If you love freedom-loving science fiction in the zestful, imaginative, adventurous and libertarian spirit of Heinlein – or if you just enjoy the emotional and spontaneous moments of awards shows – then you don’t want to miss the 43rd annual Prometheus Awards ceremony, set for 2-2:40 p.m. Saturday Aug. 19 (Eastern time) via Zoom.
And we’ve now got the link for that Zoom event, open to all to watch.
An intercontinental friendship between two prolific science-fiction writers will add an extra measure of celebrity to the 43rd annual Prometheus Awards ceremony.
Sarah Hoyt, who won the Prometheus Award for Best Novel in 2011 for Darkship Thieves, will present the Best Novel category to Dave Freer during the live-Zoom ceremony, now scheduled for 2-2:30 p.m. Saturday Aug. 19 (Eastern U.S. time).
Quite a few writers have won more than one Prometheus award since the awards were launched in the 1970s, but nobody has won more than the late great Robert Heinlein.
Libertarian Futurist Society members proved anew how much they remain ardent fans of Heinlein (1907-1988) by voting his 1966 novelette “Free Men” the 2023 Best Classic Fiction winner and thereby inducting it into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.
That marks the ninth novel, novelette or story by Heinlein to be recognized with a Prometheus Award – a record.
LFS members have nominated eight works for the next Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
Among them are one song, a novelette, a collection of linked short stories, two short stories and three novels – reflecting the many forms of fiction that are eligible for consideration in this Prometheus category.
With the nominations deadline having passed in September, here is the final list of this year’s nominees:
* The End of Eternity, a 1955 novel by Isaac Asimov
* “Free Men,” a 1966 novelette by Robert Heinlein
* “Primary Education of the Camiroi,” a 1966 short story by R.A. Lafferty * That Hideous Strength, a 1945 novel by C.S. Lewis
* Circus World, a 1981 collection of linked stories by Barry B. Longyear
* “The Trees,” a 1978 song by Neal Peart and Rush * The Truth, a 2000 novel by Terry Pratchett
* “Or Give Me Death,” a 1955 short story by Donald Westlake