Volume 15, Number 03, Summer, 1997


The Price of Free Space

An Interview with Brad Linaweaver

MONSEN: Let’s start with the obvious question: How did Free Space come about?

LINAWEAVER: Every year I go to DragonCon in Atlanta, which is the biggest multimedia convention in the country. I believe last year it drew 14,000 people, and this year it may be even bigger. (It topped 18,000—editor) The convention is run by Ed Kramer. Ed and I have many interests in common, and he has been involved in editing a number of anthologies to which I’ve sold stories.

What happened two summers ago was that he took me out to dinner and suggested that the two of us might be able to do a significant libertarian science fiction anthology. There had been a conservative anthology by Jerry Pournelle [Survival of Freedom, 1981], which appeared only in paperback a few years ago, but something that was strictly a libertarian anthology just hadn’t been done yet. I pointed out that the whole raison d'etre of the Prometheus Awards is to try to encourage libertarian science fiction, and that I’ve always felt that since the publishing establishment has not paid sufficient attention to libertarian works, so why not a Prometheus Award oriented anthology? Ed agreed this was a good idea.

MONSEN: How difficult was it getting a libertarian sf anthology out with TOR, one of the largest sf publishers in the business?

LINAWEAVER: It's an odd thing. The first year of this project was smooth sailing. The second year of the project was very difficult. The first year I had put together what I would consider the ideal libertarian science fiction anthology. The first problem I ran into was that not every Prometheus Award winner had the time or the inclination to do a story for the book. I am especially happy with every Prometheus Award winner in the book.

We had a very famous author who won the award, Poul Anderson. Another prominent winner is James Hogan. And let's not forget that the one and only Ray Bradbury is a Hall of Fame winner! Need I point out the importance of Robert Anton Wilson to this project?

Unfortunately, Ursula K. Le Guin and F. Paul Wilson were not able to participate, and neither was Victor Milán. J. Neil Schulman had not written a short story in quite a number of years, but he wrote what may be the most controversial story in Free Space. Finally, I had to get a story from L. Neil Smith. That was essential!

So, I started to put this thing together. I managed to get one of the top science fiction writers in sf right now, Robert J. Sawyer, who's not a libertarian, but who wrote an ideal story. Likewise I managed to persuade John Barnes to contribute. He is not a libertarian, but he wrote this great piece dealing with the theme of the entire book. That was the rule: if I brought in someone who was not a libertarian, —I didn’t care if they were liberal or conservative or communist or national socialist, all I cared was that the story fit into the libertarian mosaic.

The final book was very much what Ed and I wanted. That’s when we ran into problems.

MONSEN: What kind of problems?

LINAWEAVER: There are two kinds of frustrations with this project. First, there are the stories that you would like to acquire, but for some reason the authors are not able to participate; every editor undergoes this. The other problem was that there were six or seven stories that Ed and I liked that were dropped. The common denominator was that the writers weren’t particularly famous. In other words, we had the problem of a book that came in too long. There were people with significant libertarian credentials, who had very good stories but because they were not as well known as writers of science fiction yet, they ended up on the chopping block. One of those stories will appear in this issue of Prometheus, Kent Hastings, "The Blue Light."

MONSEN: Apart from space considerations (no pun intended), were there ever any questions regarding the libertarian content of these stories?

LINAWEAVER: One of the stories they wanted dropped was by Bill Ritch, the previous editor of Prometheus. But whatever reasons were given, officially, the real reason, I will always believe, was a lack of faith. Bill Ritch first got published by doing collaborations with me. But Bill also writes very good solo stories. I don’t believe that Bill Ritch has written anything better than what he did for Free Space. He was going to be eliminated along with the others, and I was given all kinds of reasons about his story, but I knew the real reason was because he wasn't enough of a name. I didn’t fall off the potato truck yesterday. Bill wrote a story that was the closest to a Heinlein juvie of anyone in this book. I wanted a story with that feeling—the stories Bill and I loved very much and was clearly an influence on his piece. And since Bill Ritch and I are both friends of Ginny Heinlein and this book is dedicated to Robert Heinlein and to the people who named a crater on Mars after him, I had this extra motivation for Bill's story to make the final.

That was not the biggest battle I had to fight. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that in-house editorial decisions were going to kick out three Prometheus Award winners from Free Space: L. Neil Smith, Victor Koman, and Robert Anton Wilson. That's when I knew I had to fight. If I'd surrendered on those three, it would have been a betrayal of the whole idea of this anthology. They also wanted more cutting than I thought was artistically justified in stories by L. Neil Smith, Dafydd ab Hugh, and Arthur Byron Cover. Furthermore, they also were reluctant to go with the John Barnes story, which I guarantee will win us kudos in the reviews. I wasn't willing to surrender on any Prometheus Award winning writers. Indeed, I would not surrender on Smith, or Koman, or Wilson, for perfectly obvious reasons. As long as I was fighting the battle for them, I might as well fight the battle for Dafydd, Art and John. And, as long as I was fighting the battle for them, I might as well try to get to get one of the lesser known writers stories back in. Since I honestly believe that the best of those stories was the one by Bill Ritch, I fought for him as well. I could not have won if Ed Kramer had not stood with me. The result is Free Space is amazingly the book we wanted it to be. Besides, I learned that to defend the work of Art Cover, is to defend Art itself. (Laughs)

MONSEN: You call the statists in Free Space The Federation. Why?

LINAWEAVER: As I say in the introduction to the book, This book suggests that the kind of person who prefers living under tyranny is more at home at the bottom of a gravity well. But if people with this kind of mentality ever manage to function in space, we have a ready-made term for the: the Federation. Of course, Ed laughed at that, because I have never been a fan of Star Trek. I’ve had problems with Star Trek all my life. Ed thought that was funny and agreed that if you’re going to have a name for the statists why not call them the Federation. The reason I love the British space series Blakes 7 is that it was the first TV space series after Star Trek that was clearly making something like the Federation the bad guys, and the enemies of the Federation the good guys. I think part of the reason Babylon 5 is so successful is because it is the anti-Federation space show of our time.

MONSEN: TOR really has done a great job with this final version of Free Space.

LINAWEAVER: Once the ideological battle was over, the professionalism of TOR was a pure treat. This is a fine job of publishing craftsmanship.

MONSEN: Any authors or stories included in the book that you were particularly excited about?

LINAWEAVER: Well, obviously, this is a very special book to me, because theres not a single story in this book that isn't what I wanted it to be, and I feel the same way about the three poems. It sounds like pure PR, but I love everything in this book. I think Poul Anderson has turned in one of his finest short stories in a long time, and I think that fans should try very hard to promote his story, Tyranny, for the Hugo and Nebula.

Demokratus, by Victor Koman is one of the best stories, and it makes fun of one of the things I hate most, which is pure democracy. In fact, the New Libertarian writers, that is to say writers who have been associated with New Libertarian, a publication by Samuel E. Konkin III, all came through. I think J. Neil Schulman gave us one of the best stories he has ever written.

Neil Smith's story was fine in the original version. The version that came out was shortened. Not fundamentally, but Neil did go back and do some editing on the story. He drew a line that he wouldn’t go past where if he had done any more editing than he did, it would have hurt the story. But he stopped at exactly the point where the story didn’t lose anything. Neil Smith's story is excellent, the version that appears in the book. It would have been a crime against Free Space if he didn’t appear. I fought for Neil Smith harder than anyone else I had to fight for in this book.

Now, regarding other stories in this book, I would say that Dafydd ab Hugh, my writing partner on the Doom books did a story a that was completely out of character for him, and that it is what we might call a "talking head" story. It is exactly what we need because he writes a story right at the beginning of the book, Nerfworld, right after William Buckley's piece. Nerfworld is the first long piece of fiction anyone reads in Free Space, if they read it consecutively, and he deals with the same subject that Victor Koman is dealing with in his magnum opus, Kings of the High Frontier. Dafydd's story deals with how private enterprise space programs can get off the ground (pun intended). He agreed to shorten his story but like Neil Smith, he drew a line.

Dafydd is mainly known for doing action-adventure books, which is how he and I got together on the Doom books. And yet theres a side to Dafydd that a lot of people never see. His Arthur Warlord stories are very seriously thought out historical novels. If I had picked the one piece of science fiction that is most unlike what people assume he always writes, it would be the story he wrote for Free Space. Because its not a knock-em, sock-em action adventure story. It is a purely intellectual, conflict of ideas story. I wish Dafydd would do more stories like this, and I'm glad he did this for Free Space.

MONSEN: Do you think the label "libertarian sf" will affect the way this book is received?

LINAWEAVER: The answer to that is in the May issue of Locus, which I have in my hands right here. I thought it was rather amusing, that in the ad for Free Space it says, "A big rich varied compendium of politically engaged science fiction", which never mentions the word "libertarian". Right across from this ad, is the TOR special edition of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein. The ad says, T"he greatest science fiction writer of the modern age. Hugo Award winning classic that helps launch modern libertarianism." So, since they're side by side, hopefully some of the word "libertarianism" will leak over from the Heinlein ad to the Free Space ad.

MONSEN: Clearly TOR is aware of the market out there for libertarian science fiction.

LINAWEAVER: When you look at the jacket cover of Free Space, it has the F. Paul Wilson endorsement, which I absolutely love: Its been a long time coming. In fact an anthology like Free Space is long overdue. It was worth the wait: don’t miss this. The endorsement from F. Paul Wilson is as important as if he had done a story—our Prometheus Award winning plug. But, on the flap itself, which is what people will see in the stores when they open this book, the second paragraph on the flap is, "The adventure stories in Free Space address many of what those challenges may be. Free Space features stories from some of the finest living writers of science fiction, from Hugo and nebula Award winning writers such as Poul Anderson, Gregory Benford, and Robert J. Sawyer, and"— get this—"particularly from winners of the Prometheus Award of the Libertarian Futurist Society such as L. Neil Smith, Victor Koman, James P. Hogan, and Brad Linaweaver." That is right on the jacket flap itself. There is no denying that we have crossed the Rubicon, to quote Julius Caesar. This book means a whole new dimension for the Prometheus Awards and LFS. Let me also take this opportunity to thank Harry Turtledove for a swell endorsement, that also appears on the book jacket flap.

MONSEN: You make several references to LFS and the Prometheus Awards. This is truly the first libertarian sf anthology.

LINAWEAVER: LFS and Prometheus are mentioned several times, and even though I wasn't able to get stories in by Kent Hastings and Samuel Edward Konkin III, I mention them both in the book itself. The result is, this book could not be much more libertarian. You know, in some ways this major TOR release, is the follow up to Konkin's special Heinlein issue of New Libertarian.

MONSEN: It's really amazing how many big names you have in Free Space.

LINAWEAVER: Gregory Benford came out with a story at the very beginning which helped the book move forward. I'm not convinced that this book would have happened except for Benford's support at the very start. James Hogan coming through was absolutely essential. The trouble is there's not anybody in the final cut of the book that has a story I can fault in any shape of form. I think John DeChancie wrote the funniest story in the book. It really cracks me up.

But if I was going to be asked to pick a story over everybody else, I'll be completely honest with you, as objective as I can possibly be, and say that No Market for Justice, by Brad Linaweaver is without question the most brilliant essay. Wait a minute, this is a book of short stories, isn't it? Damn.

MONSEN: You don’t see many poems in fiction anthologies these days. In Free Space you have three poems, by Robert Anton Wilson, Ray Bradbury, and surprisingly to some libertarians who only know her through non-fiction works, Wendy McElroy.

LINAWEAVER: I tried to get Lois McMaster Bujold. I tried to get Ursula Le Guin. I tried to get a number of female contributors, and just trying to get one in was very difficult. Where have I heard that before? As I say in the introduction to her poem, she was the only babe I managed to talk between the covers of this book. It helped that she has had poetry published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But the thing that really helped me get Wendy in the book was that she was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review section for her book, XXX, A Woman’s Right to Pornography. I am so proud of Wendy breaking in to the New York Times on that level that I can't even put it into words. I wanted Wendy McElroy in this book terribly, and all I can say is I would have been heartbroken if I failed to get Wendy's poem in Free Space.

With Ray Bradbury, the thing is you can get a poem easier from him than a short story, and it all depends entirely on what you can afford to pay. That is to say we could not afford Playboy rates for an original Ray Bradbury story. But Ray Bradbury, giving me this poem that has never appeared anywhere else, I think is an act of friendship and support and is a fine poem that fits the theme of the book. I would consider this book as far less a success without Bradbury's poem in it.

Finally there's Robert Anton Wilson. Now I had to fight to get them all in the book, and his is a perfect example why. I love the book beginning with one of the most famous Roman-Catholic conservatives in the world, William Buckley, and ending with this long-time foe of the Church, Robert Anton Wilson. Many people will be confused by a book that can have both Buckley and Wilson in it. My point is that in libertarian fiction there is no contradiction in having Buckley and Wilson in the same book, because Bill Buckley and Bob Wilson both believe in freedom. The thing that is destroying the world right now, is what I call the fascism of the center. It is all the nice, moderate, middle of the road types who are destroying everything that America stands for.

MONSEN: Yes, Free Space demonstrates the very largeness of libertarianism.

LINAWEAVER: As a matter for fact for a number of years I’ve been complaining how the science fiction magazines have betrayed the legacy of science fiction. John Campbell would not recognize his magazine. Anthony Boucher would feel the same about his. H. L. Gold's fine achievement—Galaxy—doesn't exist anymore. An awful lot of what passes for science fiction nowadays is not science fiction in any way, shape or form. It's like some of the people winning the [Hugo and Nebula] Awards on a regular basis wouldn’t be caught dead writing actual science fiction.

People sitting around in the fan parties at science fiction conventions are always complaining about the lousy editors not bringing out quality sf. If they were given an opportunity, what would they do? Well, I have shown what I would do. I believe that the classic vision of science fiction sees ideas as exciting. It stimulates the intellect, and also is emotionally engaging.

One of my favorite science fiction writers is H. G. Wells. Most of his career he was promoting a kind of technocratic socialism that no one would ever confuse with libertarianism, but I like the artistry of what he did. To me, Free Space is not only a libertarian statement. It's a statement of what science fiction ought to be from in terms of what it used to be. I believe that people who complain about the state of current sf sometimes could do a better job given the chance. Anders, we don’t just run into trouble with readers who don’t like libertarianism; we run into trouble with readers who don’t want any ideas in their entertainment at all!

MONSEN: What do you think is the future of libertarian science fiction after Free Space?

LINAWEAVER: In answering that question, I am reminded of an editorial you wrote, in a recent issue of Prometheus, where you pointed out that there is less serious libertarian science fiction being done right now than we had only a few years ago. You’re right. There's been a decline in serious libertarian science fiction.

I hope Free Space will encourage more serious, left wing and right wing science fiction novels. Or, if I'm using too many catch phrases, just plain radical, serious science fiction novels that force, and I do mean force, the readers to think.

If Free Space plays any role in increasing the number of thinking people in science fiction I will feel that Free Space has succeeded.

As a last comment, I would like to thank the good job done by Tad Zembinski of TOR books. He always went that extra mile on this project.

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