Now, this is only my opinion, you understand, but I think it was a big mistake to give Wheels Within Wheels by F. Paul Wilson (Dell, 1979) the first Prometheus Award. Wheels is the story of how Elson deBloise, a powerhungry politician, is defeated in his attempt to take over the LaNague Federation and scuttle the libertarian constitution that had guaranteed freedom and prosperity to the planets of occupied space.
A plot with lots of possibilities, you say? Alas, possibilities unfulfilled. First, Wheels is unnecessarily burdened with references to an earlier book by Wilson, Healer, which is also part of the LaNague Federation series. Standard operating procedure with a series, perhaps, but one which works against Wheels since the Healer references are irrelevant and distracting from the story at band.
A second objection, and more weighty one, is simply that Wheels is not a very well done novel. It may be a cliche to say that the characters are cardboard, but that’s what we have here and cardboard writing to go with it.
The final strawman though is that there’s really very little that’s libertarian about Wheels. Oh, sure. there’s that business about the LaNague Federation charter that keeps the Fed Central from interfering in the affairs of the individual planets, but that’s applesauce and any perceptive reader knows it instantly. What is the LaNague charter and how does it keep libertarianism flying! Wilson never hints at such issues.
Ironically, Healer, which suffers many of the same faults as Wheels, is in some ways a better and more libertarian story. At least in Healer we have an actual visit to LaNague’s home planet, Tolive, and get a brief glimpse of a libertarian society, unconvincing as it might be. Both Wheels and Healer are mediocre SF, however, and certainly deserve no awards. Wheels probably won the Prometheus award by default since there was no competition, but if there’s no competition, what’s the point of the awards.
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