“What Bujold has done is to come up with a concept of an aristocratic society that isn’t based on coercion — and from a libertarian perspective, that’s an interesting and novel theme.”
By William H. Stoddard
After bringing the Vorkosigan series (including Prometheus Hall of Fame winner Falling Free) to an apparent conclusion, Lois McMaster Bujold turned to fantasy in two series: the loosely connected World of the Five Gods novels, and the Sharing Knife series, an actual tetralogy.
Both are set in invented worlds, where real-world political issues don’t arise, sparing the reader the sort of heavy-handed allegory that J.R.R. Tolkien famously objected to.
No book in either series was ever considered for a Prometheus Award. Indeed, the Sharing Knife series started out as a love story, seemingly reflected Bujold’s acknowledged fondness for authors such as Georgette Heyer. But having read it several times since its publication, I’ve come to feel that it has less obvious depths, some of which are potentially of interest to members of the Libertarian Futurist Society.
From his first stories published in Astounding Science Fiction to such late novels as Friday and Job, Robert Heinlein was recognized as an outstanding science fiction writer.
For many of us, though, our introduction to his writing, and often to science fiction as a genre, came from the twelve novels he published through Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Categorized as “juvenile” and aimed at an audience ranging from boys in junior high school to young men in the armed forces, these books in fact speak to a far wider audience, and are more sophisticated both in literary technique and in the ideas they present, than almost any other boys’ books and indeed than many books for adults.
And those ideas are often relevant to libertarian concerns.
The late great Robert Heinlein has received his eighth Prometheus Awards recognition over more than four decades, with his 1957 novel Citizen of the Galaxy recently inducted into the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Prometheus Hall of Fame.
Although Heinlein passed in 1988, his fans are fortunate to have two organizations carrying on his legacy in related and cooperative ways: the Heinlein Trust, established by his wife Ginny after his death, and the Heinlein Society.
Art Dula, Trustee of the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust, gave an eloquent and informative extemporaneous speech accepting the 2022 Prometheus Hall of Fame award in Heinlein’s name and memory. Like the entire 40-minute ceremony, broadcast and recorded Aug. 13 on Zoom, Dula’s speech is available to watch on YouTube.*
Meanwhile, John Tilden, president of the Heinlein Society, followed Dula in delivering an interesting and insightful second acceptance speech, for which we do have the text, which we share here for posterity:
The Libertarian Futurist Society’s Appreciation series continues with review-essays about fiction that has won Special Prometheus Awards. Here’s an appreciation of the graphic novel Alex + Ada, the 2016 Special Prometheus Award winner.
Libertarians describing their legal and political goals often use the original wording of the Declaration of Independence, referring to rights to life, liberty, and property. The order is important: on one hand, property rights grow out of the liberty to use and appropriate material objects without interference from others; on the other, liberty rights implement the right to life, seen not as a passive state of endurance but as an active process of self-creation and self-sustenance.
A central question for libertarian thought is which beings have rights to life and liberty? Libertarians influenced by Ayn Rand’s idea that freedom is a requirement for rational beings tend to think that every rational being has rights: rather than applying only to human beings, they would extend to such science fictional entities as aliens, enhanced animals —and robots.
In Alex + Ada, a graphic novel in three volumes (published in 2013-2015 by Image Comics), artist Jonathan Luna and writer Sarah Vaughn explore the question of robot rights, not through abstract philosophical analysis, or through a story of political conflict, but in an intensely personal narrative.
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade-plus 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 a series of Appreciations of all past award-winners.
Here is an Appreciation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Falling Free, the 2014 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction:
By Michael Grossberg Falling Free is a Nebula-award-winning sf novel that explores free will and self-ownership, two important concepts at the foundation of our humanity and liberty that also happen to be at the core of modern libertarianism and classical liberalism.
Lois McMaster Bujold’s 1988 (1987) novel, part of her bestselling Vorkosigan Saga, considers the legal and ethical implications of human genetic engineering.
In particular, the story conveys the personal impact on the rights and liberties of “manufactured beings” owned by corporations – a theme also explored in F. Paul Wilson’s Prometheus-winning novel Sims.
Serendipity and seized opportunity enhanced the star power and appeal of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s panel discussion at the 2020 online North American Science Fiction Convention.
Unexpectedly but delightfully, the Hugo-winning Grand Master novelist C.J. Cherryhand her partner Jane. S. Fancher joined past Prometheus winners Sarah Hoytand F. Paul Wilson and several LFS veteran leaders including LFS President William H. Stoddard in answering a variety of thought-provoking questions during the NASFiC/LFS panel on “Visions of SF, Liberty, Human Rights: The Prometheus Awards Over Four Decades, from F. Paul Wilson and Robert Heinlein to Today.”
When panel moderator Tom Jackson noticed that Cherryh and Fancher were still hanging out within the Zoom “meeting room” after accepting their 2020 Best Novel award for co-writing Alliance Rising to watch the post-ceremony panel discussion, he noted their presence and ability to participate.
After a few questions to the other panelists, Jackson invited Cherryh and Fancher to come into the discussion with their comments.
Which they graciously did, and fascinatingly so.
Thus, the long-planned NASFiC panel celebrating the recent 40th anniversary of the Prometheus Awards – first presented by L. Neil Smith to F. Paul Wilson in 1979 – expanded into an event with interesting comments from not two but four bestselling, Prometheus-award-winning novelists.
Here is the full panel discussion, part of an 80-minute two-part NASFiC/LFS video that begins with the 2020 Prometheus Awards ceremony, including Cherryh and Fancher’s Best Novel acceptance speech and Astrid Anderson Bear’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech for her late father Poul Anderson; and concludes with the 50-minute panel discussion:
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear what makes each winner deserve recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is presenting weekly Appreciations of past award-winners. Our anniversary series was launched in 2019 – 40 years after the first Prometheus Award was presented – starting with appreciation/reviews of the earliest winners in the original Best Novel category, and continuing in chronological order.
Here’s the latest Appreciation for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, one of two 2012 Prometheus Award winners for Best Novel:
By Michael Grossberg
Some stories teach the young and remind their elders of core truths about civilization, justice and humanity – such as the goodness of liberty and the evils of slavery. One of the best is Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, a young-adult historical fantasy novel that focuses on an adolescent girl of 1960 who is magically sent back in time to 1860 when her family owned slaves on a Louisiana plantation.
Sophie, 13, explores a maze while spending the summer at her grandmother’s old Bayou house, part of an old pre-Civil-War plantation, and makes an impulsive wish for escape and grand adventure. Thanks to a mysterious and tricky spirit, her wish is granted and she finds herself unexpectedly stranded a century into the past.
To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society began celebrating in 2019, and to make clear why past winners deserve recognition as pro-freedom sf/fantasy, we’re continuing in 2020 to present a series of weekly Appreciations of Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our first category for Best Novel.
Here’s the latest Appreciation for Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World, the 2006 Prometheus Best Novel winner:
MacLeod’s inventive first-contact novel explores the politics and uncertainties involved from two perspectives: the natives of the planet and the “alien” (human) visitors.
In some ways modeled on classic Heinlein juveniles and a departure from his other future-Earth-solar-system novels exploring the implications of libertarian and Marxist ideas, Learning the World offers as a primary viewpoint character a teen girl living on an interstellar colony ship about to enter a new solar system.