Volume 2, Number 4, Fall 1984


Better System

I am glad to see that we are considering a better screening system for Prometheus nominations, but to make it work, we’ll have to keep the feedback bouncing. Maybe we should have a Clearing House each issue where such potential nominees can be listed and discussed.

By the way, a couple of titles nominated for the 1984 Prometheus Award were copywritten in 1983, but actually published in 1982 or 1984. Have we settled which date is to count in such cases?

Neal Wilgus
Albuquerque, New Mexico

I presume that the novels you are talking about are Manna by Lee Correy, and Double Crossing, by Erika Holzer. Many members read Manna in 1983 since it was serialized in Analog that year. After being nominated be several people, in error. it was disqualified for the final voting. It is, however, eligible, and highly recommended for next year’s award since the book was published In 1984. As for Erika Holzer’s Double Crossings it was published in 1982, but was so difficult to obtain that we decided to wait until It was republished by Putnam (in 1983) in order to give it the chance it deserved.

The editor

Power misused

I am compelled to disagree with one passage in your excellent review of Poul Anderson's Orion Shall Rise. I refer to your comment that "…he demonstrates that nuclear power can be (if used in weapons) misused by the power-hungry." Certainly this is true, but the events of the novel do not demonstrate that, and in fact they provide an example to show that nuclear weapons need not always be misused.

Nuclear weapons are used twice by the Wolf Lodge in Anderson's novel: once against a Mong army invading the Northwest Union; and once against a Maurai navy doing the same thing. In both cases, they are relatively small weapons & unlikely to cause major problems with contamination of the environment, and are used in uninhabited areas, with no target except enemy military personnel invading a country not theirs. By the strictest interpretation of the old (and unhappily lost) laws of war, this counts as legitimate force; and by any reasonable libertarian standard it also counts as legitimate force. If anyone can properly be subjected to defensive force, it is the members of an invading army or navy.

Libertarianism does not have room for taboos on specific weapons as such; only for restrictions based on how they are used. Nuclear weapons are hard to use in an acceptable way, both because they usually kill noncombatants and because they contaminate large surrounding areas for large periods of time. Nevertheless, Anderson has managed to portray a situation in which their use is justifiable. The effects are horrible, but then all weapons have horrible effects, and are intended to have.

Anderson in fact clearly shows that the prohibition on nuclear weapons is an irrational taboo when the commander of Skyholm, invading the Northwest Union uses laser weapons quite as destructive as atomic bombs to destroy every inhabited area on an island community not in any way responsible for the Wolf Lodge’s actions, solely as a form of blackmail, and feels no sense of guilt or horror in doing so, even though his actions are at least as destructive and far harder to justify by military need or libertarian ethics. In fact, Anderson’s imagined world is dominated by an unreasoned (if understandable) taboo on nuclear technology, and his story clearly shows that not only are such taboos no substitute for a reasoned ethic based on awareness of consequences, but that they can themselves engender violence and horror, especially in a world that continues to rely on them for guidance when they have been outgrown by the rise of new ideas, institutions, and technologies.

William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, California

What I referred to by "nuclear power can be (if used in weapons) misused by the power-hungry," was the actions of Mikli Karst, chief of security operations for the Northwest Territory. Without telling his countrymen, he used the materials from a peaceful project to create and then employ weapons that killed tens of thousands of men and women in one blow. Whether or not his actions were expedient, whether or not his actions may have saved other lives, the reader feels horror at his subterfuge and his pride at the slaughter. And Anderson, by his very means of describing the incident, means for us to be shocked. The great horror of any very powerful weapon is that just one man or woman can use (or misuse) it to horrible ends. How does a libertarian society control its blood-thirsty maniacs? As Anderson shows, there are no easy answers to this, or any other of the many questions he asks in Orion.

The editor

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