Volume 06, Number 04, Fall, 1988

An Open Letter to LFS

By J. Neil Schulman
Long Beach, California

This is not a letter I wished to write; frankly I find it demeaning to have to discuss publicly issues related to the qualify of my writing. But I feel I have now been placed in a position, due to Michael Grossberg's "Proposal" in the Summer 1988 issue of Prometheus, where I must go on the record.

First let me state that—God only knows why—Michael Grossberg and I are friends; remarkably, since the first I heard of Michael was his trashing my first novel, Alongside Night, in one of the more influential libertarian publications of the time, Libertarian Review. I responded in print to Michael; and he became the first person to read the manuscript of Rainbow Cadenza which he liked much, much better, reviewed favorably, supported for the Prometheus Award, and eventually wrote one of the afterwords for the Avon Edition.

I thought and still think that Michael's LR review of Alongside Night reviewed the endorsements my novel received from Anthony Burgess and Milton Friedman rather than comparing what the author had written with what the author wanted to achieve. I believe Michael now shares my view.

For the record, what Alongside Night was written to be— and I think has succeeded in being—was a fast-moving adventure story that would act as a hook for libertarian philosophy. I thought of myself writing a Looking Backwards with a plot, an Atlas Shrugged that didn't give you eyestrain, a Moon is a Harsh Mistress that took place in a near-present New York City.

In spite of its 17-year-old protagonist, Alongside Night is not a juvenile novel, any more than Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies is a juvenile. No library I've checked has shelved my novel in the children's or young adult section nor, considering its explicitly portrayed sexuality, can I conceive any librarians doing so. Further, I have received compliments on the novel from readers as old as eighty and most of the interest it generates has been from readers in their thirties.

I did, however, write the novel to appeal to someone (hopefully as open to new ideas as many teenagers) who previously knew nothing of libertarianism and who might possibly even be prejudiced against reading science fiction. As C. S. Lewis put it so well, I wrote the novel to get past the "watchful dragons"—the grab-bag of knee-jerk reactions most people have which get in the way of their looking at new ideas. The reaction I wanted from a reader was to put the book down with the desire to learn more about the ideas that motivated the action.

Because of this, the novel is spartan; I left out anything that I thought might get in the way of expressing the possibility of achieving liberty through human action. Alongside Night is not a novel to read if one's primary interest is static description or internal struggle. What might strike a reader already familiar with libertarian ideas as an "in joke" strikes a reader not familiar with libertarian ideas as a radical departure from conventional wisdom. (it is not by accident that the first line of the novel is "Eliot Vreland felt uneasy…"— "felt uneasy" is where Ludwig von Mises begins his study of Human Action.

And this is precisely why I always wanted Alongside Night to win the Prometheus Award. It is lovely that The Rainbow Cadenza won the award; it is certainly arguable that The Rainbow Cadenza is the more interesting of my two novels. What is also clear, however, is that the Prometheus Award was designed to promote those works of fiction that are likely to generate interest in the ideas of liberty … and of my two novels, Alongside Night does this more directly than The Rainbow Cadenza.

This is why I was unhappy that Michael Grossberg, when he reincarnated the Prometheus Award, instituted a "catch-up" period wherein novels published in two different years would compete for a single award. By Michael's design, Alongside Night, published in 1979, competed head to head with L. Neil smith's The Probability Broach, published in 1980. But, as far as I'm concerned, there was never a Prometheus Award for 1979. Michael Grossberg, who had negatively reviewed Alongside Night, saw to that.

I thought the question was dead and buried until, several months ago, Michael Grossberg telephoned to inform me that Alongside Night was far ahead in nominations for the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. Michael was not phoning to congratulate me. Michael was phoning to ask me to withdraw Alongside Night from consideration on the grounds that it was too recently published for the "judgement of history" to render its verdict. (Thanks, Mike; you really know how to make someone feel good about himself.) I declined to withdraw my novel from consideration on the grounds that (a) it was not proper to change the rules in the middle of the game; and (b) if the membership of the Libertarian Futurist Society chose to disagree with Michael Grossberg's estimation of the novel, I saw no reason to deny them the opportunity to do so.

Michael then requested that I support the "rule change" for next year. The rule change that Michael proposes shifts the eligibility cut-off from 1979 to 1975. What are the reasons Michael gives? That 1975 is an "easily remembered date, marking off the last quarter of the century from earlier eras." Why not 1980, Michael, which is even easier to remember, since it ends with a nice round zero? Michael also gives 1975 as the year that the Illuminatus trilogy was published. Why not 1980, Michael, the year The Probability Broach was published, which was the first year for which the Libertarian Futurist Society awarded the Prometheus Award?

As Michael stresses in his article, only one recent novel has achieved any substantial support for the Hall of Fame award: Alongside Night. Only one novel is assuredly affected by the proposed rule change. Michael's real reason for the rule change is now revealed: 1975 is safely four years before Alongside Night was published.

After Michael Grossberg asked me to withdraw Alongside Night from Hall of Fame consideration, and I declined to do so, Michael asked me to support his rule change proposal for next year when, presumably—since Michael told me Alongside Night was far ahead in nominations—Alongside Night would have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Since Alongside Night was the only novel affected by the rule change, I gave Michael conditional support.

Michael did not meet my condition: he then went on to publish his "Proposal" in the Summer, 1988 Prometheus while the voting was still going on. This was, once again, Michael Grossberg attempting to manipulate the results, as he did when he arranged for Alongside Night and The Probability Broach to compete for one award.

Tory Varga has informed me that several LFS members told her that they had intended to vote for Alongside Night until they read Michael's article. Alongside Night, which was so in danger of winning that Michael called me to ask for me to withdraw it, was then defeated by Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, a fine novel that, however, will influence no one to seek out further reading about the ideas of liberty.

Michael's tactics have succeeded: Alongside Night is currently available in an Avon paperback edition, a situation that is ephemeral at best. Awards do no good to books that are out of print.

I am wearied by Michael's manipulations of the Libertarian Futurist Society; I am angered that Michael did not see fit to wait until after the voting was completed to raise the question of a rule change; I am outraged that Michael Grossberg did not inform Victoria Varga, when she was considering whether to publish his "Proposal," that before he solicited my support for the rule change, he had asked me to withdraw my novel from consideration.

It is of small consequence whether Alongside Night ever wins the Hall of Fame award. The plane fare to accept the award is several times the value of the medal; few outside the libertarian community understand what the award means; and yes, I already have one. Frankly, my libertarian philosophy has been more of a hindrance to my career in this Age of Statism than I can possibly express here.

But I do not intend for Michael Grossberg's lone opinion to speak for the whole of the Libertarian Futurist Society. The members of the LFS should have the right to make up their own minds about the value to the literature of liberty in Alongside Night. I wrote Alongside Night as outreach literature and a Prometheus Hall of Fame award just might help it reach out.

For the record, I do not lend my support to any rule change that eliminates Alongside Night from consideration. And also for the record, I think the members of the Libertarian Futurist Society should also consider some sort of mechanism which will prevent the Prometheus Awards from becoming the private endorsement of any one individual.

All trademarks and copyrights property of their owners.
Creative Commons License
Prometheus, the newsletter of the Libertarian Futurists Society, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.