The Hogan interview, part 3: On his Prometheus winners Voyage From Yesteryear & The Mirror Maze and writing high-tech sf thrillers

By Michael Grossberg

After working for many years in England as an electrical engineer, computer salesman and digital-information executive, James P. Hogan wrote his first novel Inherit the Wind to win an office bet.

Against the odds, he won that bet. With his first novel an acclaimed bestseller that received quotable praise from Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, Hogan was on his way – and he ultimately would write 26 novels before his untimely death in 2010 – including the Prometheus winners Voyage From Yesteryear and The Multiplex Man.

Here is the third part of a previously unpublished 2001 interview with Hogan, which sheds light on his work, philosophy and many novels:

Q: Voyage from Yesteryear, the 1983 Prometheus winner for Best Novel, ranks high among many LFS members’ favorite novels, largely because it’s one of the few that fully portrays a fully free society. What inspired you to write it?

A: In the 1980s, years before leaving England, I was talking with friends in a pub about what’s the solution to problems of Northern Ireland. (Editor’s note: During the 1970s and 1980s, significant political tensions and violence continued between Ireland and England before their endless era of Troubles finally ended with a negotiated peace and partition.)

The hatred is taught to the children, and by the time they’re teenagers, they’re terrorists. Our discussion suggested that the violence and hate would continue… unless you can separate the children from the adults for at least a generation.

Writers are strange people. Most people make a comment like that, and that’s it. But a writer starts thinking about that. Suppose you had a human society that descended from the first generation, but had never been exposed to the conditioning process? Voyage to Yesteryear does just that.

Q: How did your years as an electrical engineer and computer salesman in Great Britain in the 1960s-1970s help you as an sf writer?

A: Keep in mind that the personal computer didn’t exist back then in the 1960s and 1970s. Computers were immensely expensive, complicated pieces of equipment.
In those days, scientists were suspicious of computers. They were as nervous about the jargon as people outside their disciple were about their scientific jargon.
A salesman who could talk the scientists’ language was rare. That put them at ease. I realized that I could carry that language over into fiction very easily.

James P. Hogan (Creative Commons license)

Q: You continued to hold your full-time job for two years after your first novel, Inherit the Stars, was published. Why did you decide to switch to full-time fiction writing?

A: When anybody gets a book published, if they have lived the life of corporate wages, the full light bulb that goes off is: ‘Let’s go fulltime!’”

The imagination one has of the freedom of the full-time writer is seductive… You get to pick your hours, live where you choose, do what you want. That’s attractive, compared to the rigidity of the corporation.
But corporate work does offer security.


Q: You’ve also written high-tech sf political thrillers, such as Infinity Gambit, Endgame Enigma and The Mirror Maze, a 1990 Best Novel finalist. How do you blend or juxtapose science and politics?

A: In our world, science and politics are inseparable. Science gives politics its power, and power is nothing without weapons.
Since World War II, the merging of big government and big science has sparked a lot of very worrisome trends.

Instead of the open-minded pursuit of knowledge, following the evidence wherever it points, I see a lot of science rigidifying into a closed, dogmatic intolerant system, where dogmas are defended.

Q: Where many sf writers do alternate history to imagine alternative scenarios to today, you did something different in The Proteus Operation.

A: I used time travel in The Proteus Operation to take a cliché idea and freshen it up… The story goes back to change World War II. I imagine it initially was different, and the characters turn it back into the history that we have.

Q: So let’s talk about politics. Have you always been a libertarian?

A: No. I’ve been a socialist, a communist, even a bit of a fascist. If you’re not a communist at 19, you’re not normal.

If you haven’t changed your mind by the time you’re 30, there’s no hope for you.

Note: Read the first part of the Hogan interview here and the second part here.


* Prometheus winners: For the full 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.

Watch  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.

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.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, end slavery and war and achieve universal liberty, respect for human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.


Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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