What two-time Prometheus winner wrote his first novel simply to win an office bet?

By Michael Grossberg

Would you change your life and career just to win an office bet?

Most people wouldn’t, but one adventurous, forward-thinking man did in the 1970s in Great Britain.

If not for that office bet, we might never have enjoyed the many sf novels conceived by one of the best “hard-science-fiction” writers in the field.

Even worse for liberty lovers and LFS members, we might not have benefited from the life and unlikely bestselling career of this man, a true maverick

Who was it?

Here’s a clue: Once he began writing science fiction, this native Englishman ended up writing 26 novels. Thirteen of them received Prometheus nominations for Best Novel – more than almost any other author.* Seven became Best Novel finalists and two won Prometheus Awards.

Can you guess now? (All his Best Novel nominees, finalists and winners are listed in reverse-chronological order on the LFS website on its Prometheus Awards page. Check it out.)

* Only F. Paul Wilson and L. Neil Smith, by my count, have been nominated for Best Novel more times than this prolific and popular author.

So who was it?

James Hogan (Creative Commons license)

The answer is James P. Hogan.

As he told me in a 1990s interview in advance of his appearance as a guest of honor at Marcon in Columbus, Ohio, it all started with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick’s visionary film based on Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal short story about first contact with advanced aliens and how it may have spurred human evolution.

After seeing the movie, Hogan – then working in England for Digital Equipment Corporation’s Laboratory Data Processing Group, a company in the digital-information field – was disappointed by the film’s ending.

“I was looking forward to seeing how the mystery on the moon was going to be resolved – and then I lost it, when the film ended up as mystical symbolism. I didn’t know what it all meant,” Hogan said.

“The next morning, at the office in London, I was complaining about the film and its story. Just to shut me up, somebody said: ‘Well, if you can write an sf story that can make more sense, go do it.’

‘It ended up as an office bet. We all bet five (British) pounds on it.”

So the neophyte plunged into writing his first sf story, which ultimately became his first novel Inherit the Stars, published in 1977 by Ballantine Books.

“I collected 50 pounds from the bet, on top of the advance from Ballantine Books,” Hogan said.

Inherit the Stars sets up an ingenious and imaginative science-fiction mystery that revolves around differing groups of scientists – paleontologists, physicists, biologists, linguists and others – struggling amidst government and media pressures to solve a series of unfolding mysteries after a 50,000-year-old human skeleton dressed in a spacesuit is discovered on the moon.

Ultimately, Inherit the Stars was the first of five novels that Hogan wrote in his Giants series, further exploring the history and mysteries of the fruitful fictional universe that he had conceived.

In order, the Giants sequels are The Gentle Giants of Ganymede (1978), Giants’ Star (1981), Entoverse (1991) and Mission to Minerva (2005).

Hogan, a former digital-systems engineer and computer-sales executive, quit his job to become a full-time writer in 1980.

Hogan, who died in 2010, remains well worth reading (or rereading) today.

Start with Inherit the Stars, if the above description inspires you.

But then read his two Prometheus-winning novels: Voyage From Yesteryear, the 1983 winner; and The Multiplex Man, the 1993 winner.

Coming up in the Prometheus Blog: Much more about Hogan, including a never-before-published full interview about his life, books and optimistic philosophy, and how Hogan viewed science, technology,  liberty and human progress.


* 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.

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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