One of the best choices that LFS members have made in voting annually in the Best Classic Fiction category, in my opinion, was the decision to induct “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in 2000 into the Prometheus Hall of Fame.
Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless anti-authoritarian parable isn’t merely a fable for children but a cautionary tale for everyone about the presumptions and illusions of power — not to mention the dangers of sheep-like conformity…. lessons that still apply today. (Perhaps especially today.)
Possibly because the Danish author’s 1837 story is often grouped somewhat diminutively with Anderson’s other stories as mere “children’s” literature or perhaps for other reasons, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” often seems to be overlooked or dismissed by contemporary columnists and bloggers as a still-resonant metaphor for the blind spots and knee-jerk tribalism of our increasingly conformist, censorious, culture-cancelling and fearful era.
So it’s a pleasure to come across a relatively rare reference to Andersen’s classic among today’s vast social commentary – moreover, not just a brief reference, but a full column from a regular Substack writer who makes the story central to his insightful and timely themes.
The column is even titled in honor of the fable: “The Emperor’s New Art.”
Although 2023 has ended, it’s interesting and illuminating to look back at the highlights of the past year – and perhaps read an article that you may have overlooked. For the Prometheus Blog, there were quite a few memorable posts.
Among my personal favorites:
* author Karl Gallagher’s tribute to Robert Heinlein and appreciation for his 2023 Hall of Fame winner, “Free Men.”
* William H. Stoddard’s illuminating essay on “Economics in Science Fiction” (along with a critique of the common “overproduction” myth), and
* a commentary on one of the most unheralded firsts of the year: basically, the first libertarian-individualist-themed sci-fi film to ever win the Oscar for best picture.
Almost four dozen classic works of science fiction and fantasy have been inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame, first presented four decades ago in 1983.
Libertarian Futurist Society members will select the next Best Classic Fiction inductee from four finalists, all first published or released more than 20 years ago.
The 2024 Hall of Fame finalists – just announced to the media in an LFS press release that’s already been reported on in full by File 770, a leading sf-industry trade publication – is varied in artistic form (including three novels and one song) and in its balance of the old and the new.
The current finalist slate, selected from 10 works of fiction (novels, stories and song) nominated by LFS members, recognizes both a first-time nominee and several stalwart candidates that have found favor with judges and voters in recent years.
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.
With less than two weeks left until the Sept. 30 nominating deadline, Libertarian Futurist Society members have nominated ten works for the next Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
Among the Hall of Fame nominees so far this year: six novels, two stories, a film and a song. That includes novels by Poul Anderson, Cecilia Holland, C.S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett and E.C. Tubb; both a novel and a story by Harry Turtledove; a story by R.A. Lafferty; a song by the Canadian art-rock group Rush; and, for the first time, a feature film written and directed by and starring Woody Allen.
Such varied forms of art and fiction reflects the broad scope of the Hall of Fame – an annual Prometheus Awards category that incorporates stories, novellas, novels, graphic novels, songs, albums, musicals, operas, plays, poems, films, TV episodes/series, anthologies or trilogies.
Read on to see the current list of nominees so far and how to nominate works (if you’re an LFS member) or submit works for consideration by members (if you’re an author, publisher or non-member).
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.
Rush, the Canadian art-rock group, stopped touring in 2015 and retired three years later, but still has legions of admirers around the world.
Many are science fiction fans, who appreciate their sf- or fantasy-themed songs (“The Trees”) and albums (2112). And quite a few are libertarians, who appreciate their themes affirming individualism and individual liberty (such as “Free Will” and “Tom Sawyer.”)
Those and other Rush fans should appreciate a recent Law and Liberty article paying tribute to Neil Peart, Rush’s late great drummer.
“Early on, Peart’s lyrics reflected a devotion to individualism, and his protagonists in songs such as “2112,” “Red Barchetta,” and “Tom Sawyer,” are driven primarily by their desire for free expression,” Jordan T. Cash writes in his essay.
Everyone has their favorites among the fiction works that have won the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
And by everyone, I mean virtually everyone – since at least some of the 46 winning works are enjoyed by libertarians and non-libertarians alike, and by both science fiction/fantasy fans and those who don’t often read that genre.
Censorship, suppression of literature and “bowdlerization” of our culture has a long, harmful and shameful history – and is anathema to libertarians, who favor full freedom of expression and artistic liberty.
The Prometheus blog has posted several articles recently about the disturbing recent spate of efforts to suppress or change the original wording and author’s intent of Roald Dahl in his children’s fantasy classics.
Similar suppression sadly has been reported about efforts to shove down the Orwellian memory hole some wording in the original editions of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.
It’s even extended to the Goosebumps children’s horror-comedy series, many books of which were changed by the publisher without the knowledge or consent of the series’ still-living author R.L. Stine.
This is a troubling time for libertarians, classical liberals and all lovers of liberty and art – which is why it’s important to seek out, read and digest the best insights about the roots of this anti-authoritarian trend and how we might strive to better support both liberty and literature that reflects the intent of its creators.
Perhaps the most illuminating, historically aware and wisest commentary I’ve come across about this disturbing modern recurrence of bowdlerization was written recently by J. Daniel Sawyer as a guest post on the Substack blog of Holly Math Nerd.