‘Causes of Separation’ wins Prometheus AWard

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced the 2019 winners of the Prometheus Awards for Best Novel and Hall of Fame (Best Classic Fiction).

The LFS has chosen Causes of Separation (Morlock Publishing), by Travis Corcoran, as the 2019 winner of the Best Novel category of the 39th annual Prometheus Awards.

LFS members also voted to induct “Harrison Bergeron,” a dystopian 1961 short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., into the Hall of Fame.

In Causes of Separation, renegade lunar colonists fight for independence and a free economy against an Earth-based invasion that seeks to impose authoritarian rule and expropriate their wealth, while the colonists strive to prevail without relying on taxes or declaring emergency war powers. The panoramic narrative encompasses artificial intelligence, uplifted dogs, combat robots, sleeper cells and open-source software while depicting the complex struggle on the declining Earth and besieged Moon from many perspectives. The novel is a sequel to The Powers of the Earth, the 2018 Prometheus winner for Best Novel.

This is the first Prometheus Awards recognition for Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007). In “Harrison Bergeron,” first published in 1961 in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Vonnegut blends a satirical and tragic tone in depicting a dystopian future in the United States where constitutional amendments and a Handicapper General mandate that no one can be stupider, uglier, weaker, slower (or better) than anyone else. Vonnegut dramatizes the destruction of people’s lives and talents and the obliteration of basic humanity via a denial of emotions and knowledge that leaves parents unable to mourn a son’s death. “Harrison Bergeron” exposes and mourns the chilling authoritarian consequences of radical egalitarianism taken to an inhuman and Orwellian extreme that denies individuality, diversity and the opportunity to excel.

Plans are under way to present the awards at the World Science Fiction Convention, as in past years. LFS members John Christmas and Fred Moulton will co-present the annual Prometheus Awards ceremony at the 77th Worldcon, “Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon,” set for Aug. 15-19, 2019, in Dublin, Ireland.

The other Best Novel finalists were Kingdom of the Wicked (including Order: Book One and Rules: Book Two), by Helen Dale (Ligature Pty Limited); State Tectonics, by Malka Older (TOR Books); The Fractal Man, by J. Neil Schulman (Steve Heller Publishing); and The Murderbot Diaries (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy, by Martha Wells (TOR Books).

The other Hall of Fame finalists were “Sam Hall,” a novelette (1953) by Poul Anderson; “As Easy as A.B.C.,” a novelette (1912) by Rudyard Kipling; “Conquest by Default,” a novelette (1968) by Vernor Vinge; and The Universe Next Door, a novel (1979) by Robert Anton Wilson.

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019, having been first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf.

Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners – with a one-ounce gold coin for Best Novel and a smaller gold coin for the Prometheus Hall of Fame (for Best Classic Fiction in all written and broadcast/on-screen media) and the occasional Prometheus Special awards.

The Prometheus Awards recognize outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power, champion cooperation over coercion, expose the abuses and excesses of government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or uphold individual rights and freedoms as the mutually respectful foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, and civilization itself.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit www.lfs.org. Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote a broader appreciation of the value of liberty and respect for natural rights.

L. Neil Smith on his work, the Prometheus Award and his influences

L. Neil Smith in June 2019. (Photo courtesy L. Neil Smith).

L. Neil Smith is a libertarian activist and pundit, a musician, the founder of the Prometheus Award, a firearms enthusiast and a longtime Colorado resident. (Born in Denver, he grew up all over as an Air Force brat but eventually returned to Colorado for good.)

But he’s perhaps best known as a prolific science fiction writer, who often incorporates libertarian ideas into his novels, which usually have plenty of action and humor. He has written more than 35 books, including many science fiction novels, but also graphic novels, a vampire novel and political/philosophical commentary.

Smith founded the Prometheus Award by awarding it in 1979 to F. Paul Wilson for Wheels Within Wheels.   He did not, however, establish it as a regular award, but the award was continued when Michael Grossberg organized the Libertarian Futurist Society. Since 1982, the Prometheus Award and Prometheus Hall of Fame award have been awarded every year.

Smith himself has won awards from the Libertarian Futurist Society five times. Three times he received the Prometheus Award, for The Probability Broach (probably still his best-known novel), and  Pallas and Forge of the Elders. He also received a Special Award (with Scott Bieser) for The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel and a Special Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ares, the latest book of his Ngu Family Saga, will be out soon from Smith’s publisher, Arc Manor. His publisher also plans to soon issue another new completed Smith book, Only the Young Die Good, the sequel to his 2011 vampire novel, Sweeter Than Wine. Smith is currently working on a new Ngu novel, Rosalie’s World.

Smith, 73, lives in Fort Collins, Colo., with his wife, Cathy, and roots for the Colorado Rockies baseball team.  The couple have a grown daughter.

Smith immediately agreed when I asked for an email interview. He answered all of my questions and tossed in some additional tidbits. We didn’t get around to asking what he thinks of the designated hitter in major league baseball or query him about his favorite beer, but we did try to cover quite a few of his many interests. [UPDATE: Smith says, “I detest the designated hitter or any
‘pinch’ hitter or runner at all. My favorite beer is Budweiser Chelada.“]

Tom Jackson: You have two new novels about to come out, and you are working on another Ngu Family Saga novel. Can we infer that you still enjoy writing and have no intention of stopping?

L. Neil Smith: You may, indeed. A long life, filled with … shall we say,
“events”? … couldn’t stop me. Thanks to a stroke in 2014, I can’t walk
or use my left arm. But I can still write. I intend to die just like Bat
Masterson, slumped over my keyboard.

Tom Jackson: Can you clear up a bibliographic point? You said that Ares, your about-to-be-published novel, is the fourth installment of the Ngu Family Saga, but I couldn’t figure out what the third book is. Your Wikipedia entry only lists two Ngu Family Saga books,  Pallas and Ceres, and I couldn’t clear up the mystery looking at Goodreads, either. What’s the third book?

L. Neil Smith: Your confusion is entirely my fault. I wrote Pallas. I wrote Ceres. Halfway through the latter, I realized how odd it was that, as one of Heinlein’s “children,’ I had never written a book about Mars. I also realized that for many plot-driven reasons, it had to be set, chronologically, between Pallas and Ceres, before Llyra Ngu and Jasmeen Khalidov were born. It took me an unbelievable sixteen years, but I wrote it and called it  Ares the Greek name for Mars. So those are the three,  Pallas, Ceres and Ares. Now I’m writing a fourth novel, Rosalie’s World, in which Llyra is grown up and married. She has four kids! Jasmeen is married, too, to Llyra’s brother, Wilson, and together they’re raising Wilson’s daughter by Fallon O’Driscoll, Tieve. There may be a fifth Ngu family novel, Beautiful Dreamer, if I stay healthy and live long enough.     I’m looking forward to doing five more MacBear/Lysandra novels, too.

Tom Jackson: You’ve won three Prometheus Awards for your novels. Which of your works is your personal favorite, and which do you think you are likely to be remembered for?

L. Neil Smith: Actually, I’ve won four and a half Prometheus Awards. My favorite is usually the novel I’m writing right now, although I do love working and living with the Ngu family in particular. They almost seem like real folks to me. As far as being remembered, rather than for any individual work (it’ll probably be The Probability Broach, which is more than okay by me), I want to be remembered as a writer who worked very hard — thirty-seven books and counting, so far — and never wavered in his belief in and defense of the free individual. I’ve been a committed libertarian since I was fifteen, some fifty-seven years.


Tom Jackson: I have not read The Probability Broach yet, but my favorite among the ones I’ve read so far as The Forge of the Elders. How pleased are you with that work when you think about it?

L. Neil Smith: It’s certainly up there; it has depths that I’m proud of, which is why I wrote the prequel, Blade of p’Na and hope I can do a couple more. I’ve become very fond of Sam, and of Eichra Oren’s would-be girlfriend, Lornis.

I confess I like writing Ngu Family novels more. They’re like my
own family, and they are leading the rest of humanity out into space, to the planets, and now, in _Rosalie’s World_, out of the Solar System to
the stars. They also have a lot of attractive characters — Gretchen,
Rosalie, Ardith, Llyra, Jasmeen, Julie, Tieve — it is great fun to
write about.

Tom Jackson: You mentioned you are sorry your 1997 novel, Bretta Martyndid not get more attention. Why is that novel special to you? Does it stand alone well, or do readers need to read the two previous  Coordinated Arm series books books first?

L. Neil Smith: I don’t know if Bretta Martyn stands alone. It’s hard for an author to tell. I do urge people to read Henry Martyn and The
Wardove. The former is a real space pirate story that leans a little on
_Captain Blood, and the latter follows a rock ‘n’ roll band (drawn
from Fleetwood Mac) raising money for the free side in an interstellar
war. It’s also a swell love story and my most neglected novel. It has
lyrics in it I wrote over thirty years.

I do know I have a tendency to “fall in love” with my leading
ladies (Jasmeen Khalidov most recently — also, watch for Tieve Ngu),
and Robretta Islay was definitely one of those, as was her mother, the
“tiny dancer” Loreanna Daimler-Wilkinson. You can actually _see_ Bretta in a grand graphic novel from BigHead Press called Phoebus Krumm, another swashbuckling space pirate story. One reason I love Bretta is that she got to put a well-deserved crossbow bolt through Chuck Schumer’s eye.

Check out BigHead Press for the graphic The Probability Broach, the
magnificent Roswell Texas, and Timepeeper.

Tom Jackson: Aside from your many other novels, you are known to Star Wars fans for your Lando Calrissian novels. Do you keep up with the series? Have you seen the last few movies?

L. Neil Smith: I do not keep up with the series, and I have not seen the last few movies. I was brought in, essentially, by my friend, the late Brian Daly, and an editor at Random House. At the time, I desperately needed the money. In the end, I was treated so unprofessionally, and paid so poorly, I lost all interest.

The movies eventually became a politically correct dog’s breakfast.
I detest operatives who destroy great works of art to advance their
agendas. With me, you knew I was a snake when you brought me in.

Tom Jackson: Am I correct in thinking that Robert Heinlein and Robert Shea/Robert  Anton Wilson are among your biggest influences? What other writers influenced you when you were starting out?

L. Neil Smith: Heinlein I think of as my mentor, from Sixth Grade on, almost like a second father, although we never communicated until I was published and I discovered that he had known about me for some time and read all my books. Wilson and Shea I met somewhat later in life; they were my friends. I and a handful of others formed sort of an informal little club around their writings.

Poul Anderson was both, mentor and friend, and I have always
striven to write as well as Theodore Sturgeon and as funny as Robert
Sheckley. Detective author Rex Stout, and his forty-odd Nero Wolfe books, have been a tremendous influence on me. And I wish, above all, that we’d been in time to save H. Beam Piper, after whose most attractive and winsome character I named my daughter Rylla. His novella, Last Enemy is probably my favorite bit of science fiction.

Tom Jackson: How did you find out that Robert Heinlein had read your work? Did you get to talk to him very much? Did you read the William Patterson biographies, and the J. Neil Schulman interview?

L. Neil Smith: Several people told me that Heinlein thought well of my work. One couple  — our midwife and her husband — actually visited him; I gave them my latest, for him, but it turned out he already had it and, in fact, read everything I wrote. He said things about my work to them and others — and to his gardener, believe it or not — that I won’t repeat here because it’ll just seem like bragging. Needless to say, however, I have never paid any attention to critics since then, and they pretty much leave me alone. If I can please the Master, then to what else do I aspire?

I never talked to Heinlein directly (more’s the pity) but I did visit with his widow, Ginny, over the Internet, quite a lot after he died, back when it was simple and easy to do. She had outlived all her family and friends and was nearly blind. It was so sad. I didn’t know what to say, so I just visited.

 I gave up on Heinlein biographies back when Alexei Panshin wrote his. And I confess I never read the Schulman interview (sorry, Neil). Basically, I want my mental picture of the Old Man unsullied.

Tom Jackson: How did you discover Illuminatus! and what did you think of it when you first read it? Did Robert Anton Wilson or Robert Shea give you any writing advice?   

L. Neil Smith: I have been wracking my brain to remember how I first heard of Wilson and Shea, and how I acquired that book. (I read most of Wilson’s follow-ups, as well; I especially like Masks of the Illuminati, about Aleister Crowley.) That’s a major reason why it took me a while to get back to you this time. I consulted my wife, Cathy. Shea seemed particularly fond of her, but she couldn’t remember, either. I loved it from the first page, although I felt lucky I didn’t read it while smoking dope. It would have taken me so far out, I’d still be gone.

 And since you didn’t ask, my favorite part is Hagbard Celine and the self-destructing Mynah birds.

The two Bobs seemed to accept me as a colleague and contemporary, although Wilson was closer to my dad’s age, and never offered me advice.

Tom Jackson: Do you like being known as a “libertarian science fiction writer?” Or would you rather be labeled a “science fiction writer/” Or would you prefer yet another label, on none at all?

L. Neil Smith: “Libertarian science fiction writer” suits me perfectly. I have struggled for that title for decades. I also like being known as a
worthy successor to Robert A, Heinlein.

Tom Jackson: We talked a bit about writers who influenced you, but I think everyone you mentioned is deceased. Who are some of your favorite living writers?

L. Neil Smith: It may surprise you to learn that I don’t read contemporary science fiction. I started writing, among other reasons, because there wasn’t enough decent to read. I have read every one of Rex Stout’s forty-odd Nero Wolfe books aloud, twice, to my wife, partly because they’re such a pleasure to read aloud. Now and again exceptions occur, such as the splendid novels of the great Vin Suprynowicz.

Tom Jackson: I like to buy ebooks when I can (because they are cheap, and cut down on all of the books cluttering up pretty much every room of my house.) Are many of your current sales ebook sales? Do you read ebooks yourself, or do you prefer paper?

L. Neil Smith: My house is the same — I call it “well-insulated.”

Everything I write or have written is available as an e-book.
Kindle and its little brothers and sisters have probably tripled my
income. I have read a great many e-books, myself, with perfect
satisfaction. Not so much for a while; I developed cataracts which I’m
right in the middle of getting removed. Also, manipulating dead-tree
books has become very difficult since the stroke cost me the use of my
left hand. A lot of good people whose books I promised to read must
think I’m an asshole.

Tom Jackson: Could you talk about what kind of music you like? Didn’t you play in a band for years?

L. Neil Smith: I started during the folk “revolution” of the 1960s. But nothing moves me quite like genuine bluegrass — Flatt and Scruggs, the Monroe Brothers, the Dillards, most of all the New Lost City Ramblers. The late Pete Seeger once said that every newborn baby should be issued a five-string banjo, so it will always be happy, demonstrating that even a communist (“Ah, but he’s our communist.”) can be right occasionally.

I always thought that my future lay in music. I have performed
solo, in duos with an occasional beautiful girl, and led bands, The
Roughriders I and II and the Original Beautiful Dreamer Marching Jug
Band, doing bluegrass, what’s called “old timey music”: and, of course
jug band music. We covered Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, the Even Dozen Jug Band, and Dave van Ronk and the Jug Band. See a pattern there?

My favorite old-timey songs are “Down With The Old Canoe” (a silly
song about the sinking of the Titanic) and “When The War Breaks Out In Mexico (I’m A-headin’ Up To Montreal)”; my favorite jug band song is “The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me,” my favorite bluegrass is “I’m A-goin’ Down To North Carolina,”;my favorite folk song — bar none — is “Flora/ the Lily of the West.” Check out Joan Baez’s version, or that of Peter, Paul. and Mary — I blended the two together in the arrangement I used.

In the early 60s, in my humble attic bedroom in college, I started
watching a PBS TV show, “The Turn of The Century” with pianist/scholar Max Morath, that was mostly about the unutterably brilliant Scott Joplin. My favorite composition of his is “Ragtime Dance,” which sounds to me like a 1920s Disney cartoon sound-track. I do like some later music: Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, and the astonishing genius of the Beatles, which I believe will last for 500 years; I go to the 1964 The Tribute concert every August at Red Rocks. I also like Barenaked Ladies.

Lately, doing karaoke with my lovely and talented wife and daughter, I
find myself gravitating toward country-western. I sang Jim Reeves’
“He’ll Have To Go” the other night.

Is that enough about music?

Tom Jackson: You gave out the first Prometheus Award, in 1979, for F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels Within Wheels. What possessed you to originate the award? How did that first awards process go?

L. Neil Smith: Well, I realized that, given my convictions, I would never win a conventional literary award — “social justice warriors” are not a new phenomenon by any means; the current specimens are just the older
generation’s pathetic spawn. Later, I sold the idea — an award, in
gold, for the best libertarian science fiction novel of the year — as a
way to persuade new writers to come out of the libertarian closet. I
didn’t need any such persuasion myself, so I was surprised when years
later, I won. But very happy.

Tom Jackson: After you awarded the first Prometheus Award, Michael Grossberg organized the Libertarian Futurist Society, and with the help of others, has kept the Prometheus Award going for about four decades now. How have we done? And have you ever played an active role in the LFS, or have you chosen to stay out of it?

L. Neil Smith: The latter. Having handed off to someone else, I’ve stayed out of it. It’s only courtesy. Michael has done a splendid job and I only hope he will continue. He makes libertarians everywhere feel proud. There
are, as you would imagine, a couple of things I would have done
differently, but I understand Michael’s slant on them, I think, and it
isn’t easy to write the following ….

First, in designating an award in gold, I had in mind something
equal to the miserable pittance paid as an advance to the average
beginning author — four thousand dollars was what I got for The
Probability Broach. For a long, long time, it was all I got. But the
organization couldn’t afford that — believe me, I understand — so a
smaller amount was awarded. If I were running things (which I am not, thank Somebody), I would hire a professional fund-raiser to scratch up the money throughout the year. I wonder what advances are like now. Still the same pittance, I’d wager.

Second, there has been an annoying tendency to give the award to
collectivists if they have just inserted the word “freedom” at the
bottom of Page 75. The Ursula LeGuin debacle was an instance of that,
and a stain on the award. I’m told that even she was bemused by having won it. LeGuin is an avowed socialist; I meant for the award to go to libertarians or proto-libertarians. I have not followed events closely enough to know if this travesty has been repeated, but it shouldn’t be.

Tom Jackson: Isn’t the controversy over the  decision to give an award to The Dispossessed the sort of thing that’s always going to occur with awards? I’ve been a judge on the nominating committee several years, and while I can’t discuss specific arguments (deliberations are supposed to be confidential), I know that sharp disagreements are part of the process. Also, isn’t this an argument among friends? Robert Shea is one of the LFS members who argued LeGuin should get the award.

L. Neil Smith: This is easy. I created the award. I never intended that it be given to enemies of individual liberty and Western Civilization, like those who call themselves “socialists”. It would be like giving it to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Bob Shea was a wonderful fellow, but in this case he was wrong. However, I had passed the torch to somebody else, and it became their decision to make.

Tom Jackson: You originally established the Prometheus Award, and since then you’ve received the award five times, and it seems to me those two facts taken together could be misunderstood. (I’ve been heavily involved in the award for 10 years, and I know you have not “lobbied” us.) Is one of the reasons you stayed away was to avoid “conflict of interest” complaints?

L. Neil Smith: Exactly. For a number of reasons, mostly personal, I was unable to follow through with administering the award — I am most definitely not a “leader of men” — and I was extremely fortunate and grateful that Mike Grossberg was willing to take over. I never expected to win the award myself, several years later; I never needed any encouragement to write libertarian novels. But I was very pleased and flattered when it happened.

Tom Jackson: Do you enjoy going to science fiction conventions? And have you continued to be accessible to your fans, writing back when they contact you?

L. Neil Smith: I hardly ever attend conventions, but when I do, I generally enjoy it very much. I especially like pontificating on a panel. I don’t like all this “social justice warrior” crap. They’re little bullies, no different from Chinese communist thugs running “self criticism” sessions.

I have always made a point of being, as you say, “accessible”
(although it is my preference to have friends, instead of fans). Hey,
these folks pay me the enormous compliment of taking my work, my ideas, into their minds. And, of course, they feed my family and keep a roof over our heads. I do wish there were a couple million more of them.

As to writing back, I love the Internet. It has made communicating
with people who read my books and essays so much easier than it was when I started in the early 80s. Guess I should add that I greatly prefer
plain “old-fashioned” e-mail to abominations like Twitter, Facebook, and Messenger.

Tom Jackson: I have fantasized about living in Colorado. This seems unlikely, although I did often visit when I lived in Oklahoma. Why do you choose to live in Colorado, and what do you like about it?

L. Neil Smith: When I was in college, and I got off the plane from Colorado to northern Florida, it was like walking into a hot, wet sponge. The air in Colorado is cool and dry and I love it. Also, Colorado was a relatively free state back then. It’s a blue state now, but it may turn in 2020. We work and we have hope.

Tom Jackson: What libertarian blogs or websites do you like to read? Who are your favorite libertarian philosophers?

L. Neil Smith. I don’t really read much on the Internet. When I sit down at my computer, I’m there to write. Some exceptions: The Libertarian  Enterprise (of course), Sarah Hoyt’s excellent columns, Marc Morano’s Climate Depot, and I look at Breitbart and Drudge every morning, just like my dad read his newspaper.

I have a lot of favorite “philosophers,” which I’ll define as
individuals who have taught me how to think about ethics: Robert A.
Heinlein, Ayn Rand, and Robert LeFevre foremost, Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea (that’s a hell of a lot of Roberts), H. Beam Piper and Poul Anderson. I would be an absolute ingrate to exclude Jeff Cooper (look him up), John Wayne, and Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Tom Jackson: When you write, do you outline a complete plot first? Or do you just start with a premise and let your instincts guide you?

L. Neil Smith: I have written over 35 books so far (at this moment, I don’t know exactly how many), every single one of which was different. I’ve never written a formal outline, as they taught us to do in school, but I have written synopses as long as 10,000 words, not only as writing guides, but as tools for selling book ideas to publishers. A colleague once called it “the unknown art”. Sometimes I write synopses as I go along, anticipating the next few chapters. Sometimes I just write “by the seat of my pants”. Mostly I have learned to trust my unconscious
mind implicitly; it’s a much cleverer writer than my conscious mind. I
reward it with chocolate and lots of naps.

Tom Jackson: Who is the best editor you ever worked with? We’ll keep this on a positive plane and avoid asking about the worst, unless you want to volunteer something.

L. Neil Smith: I always enjoyed working with James R. Frenkel at Tor, although we  differed philosophically and we had our occasional ups and downs. My best editor is the one I have now, a charming lady who works for Arc Manor/Phoenix Pick named Lezli Robyn. She clearly understands what I am trying to do, literarily, and whether she agrees with me or not (I don’t know), honestly helps me to do it. She also gets my jokes and cares about my characters. I am endlessly grateful to my publisher, Shahid Mahmud, for assigning her to me.

The worst editor is one I never had, who retired from one of my
several earlier publishers, lamenting that she and her husband could
no longer act as “gatekeepers.” She actually used that word, which I
would be deeply ashamed to do. These days, we all know what it means: it’s Social Justice Warriorese for “concentration camp guard.”

Actually, I’ve had far worse difficulties with agents, of which
I’ve had — and fired — two. They were both from shockingly famous
and “prestigious” agencies. One of them lied to me and wouldn’t answer my phone calls. The other helped his crooked boss steal from me.
Neither of them ever did me a bit of good and one of them set me back
considerably. I do not have an agent any more.

Tom Jackson: I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but it’s an obligatory question: What is your advice for people who want to become writers?  

L. Neil Smith:  Lie down until the symptoms go away — I’m kidding. My serious advice is to read a lot, write what you are moved to write, and put not thy trust in agents, editors, or publishers. Their interests do not run parallel with yours. Today’s technology allows you to write and publish on your own terms. The Internet will let you advertise and distribute.

How would Heinlein react to today’s space news and progress?

By Michael Grossberg

Have spacesuit, will travel?

If only Robert Heinlein were still alive today, what would he think of the progress humankind is making in outer space by harnessing the creative energies of free enterprise?

Heinlein (1907-1988), often called the dean of science-fiction writers, was a pioneer in hard sf who often wrote novels and stories imagining how our species would expand beyond our planet to the Moon (“Rocket Ship Galileo,” his first novel published as a book; and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” perhaps the most beloved and explicitly libertarian of his many Prometheus Hall of Fame winners and the first to be inducted in 1983), Mars (“Red Planet,” a 1996 Prometheus Hall of Fame inductee; “Podkayne on Mars,” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”) and well beyond (“Citizen of the Galaxy,” “Friday”, and “Have Space Suit – Will Travel,” among others.)

I thought of Heinlein, who I met at the 1981 Denver Worldcon and interviewed at the early-1980s L5 Society national convention in Houston, Texas, when I read a June 2019 news story in the UK newspaper “The Independent” about NASA announcing plans to let tourists, industrialists, and other private individuals into the international space station.

Excerpt: “The missions will be part of NASA’s broader plan to allow commercial companies into space. It hopes that private industry can develop the space technologies of the future, and help with its plans to return to the Moon in 2024, taking the first ever woman and the first person in decades.”

“NASA hopes that the missions help test out and encourage future private missions into space, which could provide funding for further exploration in years to come…

“The space agency will keep using the ISS as a place for research and testing in low-Earth orbit, doing work that will help contribute towards its plans to head to the Moon, it said. But it will also work with the private sector to allow it to use the ISS to test technologies, train astronauts and encourage the development of the “space economy”, it said.

NASA will also help develop a whole host of private spacecraft, floating around above the Earth, that can serve as a home for people, NASA said.

…Eventually, private companies could use floating habitations like the ISS to stop off at on their way to further destinations deeper in the solar system.”

For the generations that grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, even before the first humans went to the moon, such news stories still seem a bit like science fiction – and recall many of the sf stories and novels that we read growing up.

Dozens of novels about space travel, space exploration, space industrialization and space colonization have been nominated for the Prometheus Awards over the past four decades. Many now seem prophetic; and some inevitably are beginning to seem a bit quaint – but that’s progress.

L. Neil Smith news roundup

Science fiction writer L. Neil Smith is staying busy with a bunch of writing projects. Ares, the latest book of his Ngu Family Saga, will be out soon from Smith’s publisher, Arc Manor.  Smith’s Only the Young Die Good, the sequel to his 2011 vampire novel, Sweeter Than Wine, also will be out before too long, and Smith has begun work on the next Ngu novel, Rosalie’s World. 

Smith received our Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016 and also received Prometheus Awards for four individual works: The Probability Broach, PallasThe Forge of the Elders and the graphic novel version of The Probability Broach. (Pallas is the first book of the Ngu Family Saga.)


Tor.com looks at the Prometheus Award

James Davis Nicoll, a recent nominee for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer, writes about “40 Years of the Prometheus Award,” for Tor.com.  He concludes that “following this particular award can be rewarding for readers of all stripes. Probably not every work above will be to your taste, but certainly some will be.”

The comments, including back and forth between Nicoll and readers, also are interesting.



Prometheus Award finalists announced

The Libertarian Futurist Society, a nonprofit all-volunteer international organization of freedom-loving science fiction fans, has announced five finalists for the Best Novel category of the 39th annual Prometheus Awards.

The Best Novel winner will receive a plaque with a one-ounce gold coin. Plans are under way, as in past years, to present the 2019 awards at the 77th Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention): “Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon,” set for Aug. 15-19, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland.

Here are the five Best Novel finalists, listed in alphabetical order by author:

Causes of Separation, by Travis Corcoran (Morlock Publishing) – In this sequel to The Powers of the Earth, the 2018 Prometheus winner for Best Novel, the renegade lunar colonists of Aristillus fight for independence and a free economy against an Earth-based invasion that seeks to impose authoritarian rule and expropriate their wealth, while the colonists struggle to maintain the fight without relying on taxation or emergency war powers. The panoramic narrative encompasses artificial intelligence, uplifted dogs, combat robots, sleeper cells and open-source software while depicting the complex struggle on the declining Earth and besieged Moon from many perspectives.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale (Ligature Pty Limited) including Rules: Book One and Order: Book Two – The author, a legal scholar, creates a world inspired by comparative law, rather as Middle-Earth was inspired by comparative linguistics. In an alternative Roman Empire, an early scientific revolution and expanding free markets led to industrialization, the abolition of slavery, increasing wealth, and modernity – and to clashes with more traditional societies. In one such clash, a Jewish preacher, Yeshua ben Yusuf, is arrested and tried on charges of terrorism in a narrative that makes ingenious use of the Gospels to reach an unexpected outcome.

State Tectonics, by Malka Older (TOR Books) – This story explores questions of governance and legitimacy in a future world shaped by technology-driven “infomocracy” and subdivided into centenals – separate micro-democracies, each an electoral district with a population of 100,000 or less. A multitude of political parties vie for control of each centenal, as well as global supermajority status in a problematic system where access to approved news is ensured by Information, which also oversees elections. In this third novel in Older’s Centenal Cycle, various parties struggle not only over election outcomes, but also whether Information’s monopoly will and should continue.

The Fractal Man, by J. Neil Schulman, (Steve Heller Publishing) – The Prometheus-winning author (The Rainbow Cadenza, Alongside Night) offers a fanciful and semi-autobiographical adventure comedy about the “lives he never lived,” set in multiple alternate realities where people and cats can fly but dogs can’t, which in one world casts him as a battlefield general in a war between totalitarians and anarchists. The space-opera-redefined-as-timelines-opera romp, full of anarcho-capitalist scenarios, also celebrates the early history of the libertarian movement and some of its early pioneers, such as Samuel Edward Konkin III.

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells (TOR Books) (including All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy) – The tightly linked series of four fast-paced novellas charts the emergence of humanity, empathy, self-awareness and free will in an android, whose origins are partly biological and partly cybernetic. The android, who guiltily dubs themself “Murderbot” because of their past acts of violence while enslaved, fights for their independence but also is motivated to save lives by growing awareness of the value of human life and human rights in an interstellar future of social cooperation through free markets driven by contracts, insurance-bond penalties, and competing corporations.

(Note: Under a recently adopted LFS award-eligibility rule, two or more books can be nominated together as one novel if the judges determine that the stories are so tightly linked and plotted, with continuing characters and unifying conflicts/themes, that they can best be read and considered as one work. Applied this year, that rule combined the two Kingdom of the Wicked volumes into one nomination and the four sequential novellas in The Murderbot Diaries into one nomination.)

All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for the Prometheus Awards. LFS members also nominated these 2018 works for this year’s Best Novel category: Exile’s Escape, by W. Clark Boutwell (Indigo River Publishing); Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway (Alfred Knopf); Mission to Methone, by Les Johnson (Baen Books); Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro (TOR); and Crescendo of Fire and Rhapsody for the Tempest, by Marc Stiegler (LMBPN Publishing.)

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf.

For four decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power, favor voluntary cooperation over institutionalized coercion, expose the abuses and excesses of coercive government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or champion individual rights and freedoms as the ethically proper and only practical foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, mutual respect, and civilization itself.

The Prometheus Award finalists for Best Novel are selected by a 10-person judging committee. Following the selection of finalists, all LFS full members have the right to read and vote on the Best Novel finalist slate to choose the annual winner.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit lfs.org/awards.shtml. For reviews and commentary on these and other works of interest to the LFS, visit the Prometheus blog lfs.org/blog.

Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

For more information, contact LFS Publicity Chair Chris Hibbert (publicity@lfs.org).

Robert Heinlein news roundup

A new book about Robert Heinlein, The Pleasant Profession of Robert Heinlein by Farah Mendelsohn, is getting good notices. A couple of reviews:

Prometheus Award winner Ken MacLeod has posted a review and writes, “This effort to read with fresh eyes has paid off. On almost every page there’s a new insight or an arresting remark. Mendlesohn takes Heinlein seriously as a thinker, and makes you think.” More here. 

Arthur Hlavaty, nominated numerous times for a Hugo for best fan writer, chimes in, “Have I mentioned here that Farah Mendlesohn’s The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein is a brilliant book, absolutely essential for anyone interested in its subject?”


Heinlein appears as a character in Gregory Benford’s new novel, Rewrite. 

“Is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s All-Time Greatest Work?” By Alan Brown at Tor.com.


Back to the Moon

By William H. Stoddard

Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a classic of libertarian science fiction; along with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, it was the first winner of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame award in 1983. Many science fiction fans, and not only libertarians, regard it as one of his best novels. But for nearly half a century after its original publication in 1966, it inspired no obvious imitators. Now, that’s started to change, with the appearance of multiple novels that explore the idea of a “free Luna” in the near future.

In 2015, Ian McDonald published Luna: New Moon, followed in 2017 by Luna: Wolf Moon; as of the time this is written, a third volume, Luna: Moon Rising is shortly to appear. In 2017, Travis Corcoran published the first volume of his Aristillus series, The Powers of the Earth, winner of the Prometheus Award for best novel, followed in 2018 by Causes of Separation. Also in 2017, Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, published Artemis. All three novels or series have important elements in common with each other and with Heinlein’s novel — but at the same time, they develop them in significantly different ways.

What did Heinlein do that these later writers have found worthy of imitation? He portrayed the lunar environment as harsh and indeed potentially lethal (his original title was The Moon Is a Harsh Schoolmistress). Despite this, he showed it as having potentially permanent human communities of some size, including Lunar-born inhabitants. He envisioned these communities as multiethnic and culturally hybridized. He imagined them as supported by a largely unregulated economy. His storyline focused on a lunar struggle for political autonomy against Earth’s much larger states and population. A further element was the presence of a fully self-aware computer that became involved in the human struggles.

Heinlein’s lunar environment was potentially threatened by vacuum, and offenders against its customary law were likely to be thrown out an airlock without a space suit; but his characters were much more hindered by having adapted to low gravity, to the point where returning to Earth left them disabled and at risk of death. McDonald picked up on this point in a major way, with visitors from Earth carefully monitoring how long it would be before they couldn’t return. But he also makes a point of confrontation with vacuum, both in a brilliant early scene where lunar teenagers show their bravery by walking on the surface without vacuum gear, and in a later one where two young lunar inhabitants make a desperate journey with the air in their suits running out—one that recalls another Heinlein novel, Have Space Suit—Will Travel. Corcoran also emphasizes vacuum in multiple scenes, starting with a tourist from Earth taking foolish risks in exploring the lunar surface. And Weir’s dramatic climax involves both a journey on the Moon’s surface and a threat to the lunar air supply.

Only Corcoran picks up on Heinlein’s having a self-aware computer as a character. His character Gamma carries forward Heinlein’s effort to show how such a being’s mentality might differ from a human one, with the benefit of decades of advances in both artificial intelligence and cognitive science to inform his portrayal. He also provides a vehicle for Corcoran to acknowledge Heinlein’s work — and argue with it — because Gamma has read Heinlein and has opinions about why some of his ideas wouldn’t work; the scene where he explains to Max, an uplifted dog, that “throwing rocks” will only make the situation worse is both well reasoned and hilarious.

Heinlein’s Luna was a prison colony for the major nations of Earth, and thus multiethnic, with such cities as Novy Leningrad and Hong Kong Luna, and his viewpoint character’s descent was racially mixed: white American, Hispanic American, black South African, and Tatar. One minor incident has him jailed in North American because he’s revealed that his Lunar marriage includes spouses of diverse races — Heinlein wrote only two years before Loving v Virginia did away with American miscegenation laws, and assumed they would still be in force a century later. Corcoran shows major American, Chinese, and American populations, and one of his best drawn characters is a preadolescent Nigerian girl. McDonald goes even further, with the five corporations that dominate the Moon’s economy being Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Ghanaian, and Russian. Artemis has a viewpoint character of Arabian descent, a colonial administration established by Kenya, and the air supply controlled by a Brazilian firm. None of these authors envisions a purely American future in space!

However, all of them portray a relatively unregulated economy that reflects libertarian ideas about free markets; and most of them also envision stateless legal systems—The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was one of the main inspirations for the anarchocapitalism of David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom. (The exception is Artemis, in which there’s an appointed “city administrator,” an arrangement somewhat like Hong Kong under British rule.) Heinlein’s Loonies are left free largely because of the general indifference of the Lunar Authority to most of what they do, and their arrangements tend to be small-scale and informal. McDonald’s lunar society is governed entirely by contract law, having no criminal law and no government capable of imposing it; it reads like an attempt to envision the kind of society Friedman wrote about in anthropological terms — in many ways it’s the most alien of the various fictional worlds — with an emphasis not on ethical principles but on the grungy realities of how markets actually work. Even so, he portrays a society that has both freedom and opportunity, as well as hardship and conflict. Corcoran’s Aristillus is more focused on ethical and legal principles in its portrayal of a society founded by a libertarian visionary; however, he doesn’t hesitate to explore its failure modes, from difficulties in establishing clear title to real property to the challenge of funding collective goods such as military defense. Taken all together, these four authors thoroughly explore the idea of a free lunar society —and the challenges of defending it.

One of the appeals of science fiction, for many decades, has been its character as an ongoing dialogue about ideas. After a long gap, we are now seeing The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress inspire such a dialogue — explicitly for Corcoran, implicitly for the other two. Happily, Heinlein has found worthy successors: All of these books were worth reading. Having them all come out close together was a fortunate coincidence—or, possibly, a reflection of a new hope of establishing a human presence in space.

Prometheus Award winning James Hogan novel on sale

The ebook version of James Hogan’s novel The Multiplex Man, which won the Prometheus Award in 1993, has been put on sale for $1.99. The sale is only through Monday, so if you want it, act fast. I’ve just grabbed my own copy.

Details here.

Each week, Publisher’s Pick offers three deals on SF books, often for big name authors (the other two authors this week are Mike Resnick and Kevin J. Anderson.) You can sign up for an email bulletin on the latest sale, sent out every Wednesday.

New Heinlein novel announced

(Here is the press release from Phoenix Pick)

Phoenix Pick recently announced that, working with the Heinlein Prize Trust, they have been able to reconstruct the complete text of an unpublished novel written by Robert A. Heinlein.

​Heinlein wrote this as an alternate text for The Number of the THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST. This text of approximately 185,000 words largely mirrors the first third of the published text, but then deviates completely with an entirely different story-line and ending.

​This newly reconstructed text also pays extensive homage to two authors Heinlein himself admired: Edgar Rice Burroughs and E. E. “Doc” Smith, who became a good friend. Heinlein dedicated his book METHUSELAH’S CHILDREN to Smith, and partially dedicated FRIDAY to Smith’s daughter, Verna.

​The alternate text, especially the ending, is much more in line with traditional Heinlein books, and moves away from many of the controversial aspects of the published THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST.

​There has been speculation over the years about a possible alternate text, and the reason it was written, particularly since one book is not just a redo of the other ─ these are two completely different books.

​It is possible that Heinlein was having fun with the text as THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST and the new book both deal with parallel universes. Given his sense of humor, it would not be surprising for Heinlein to have written two parallel texts for a book about parallel universes.

​The new book was pieced together from notes and typed manuscript pages left behind by the author. It is currently under editorial review by award-winning editor, Patrick LoBrutto .

​Phoenix Pick expects to publish both THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST and the new book, tentatively titled SIX-SIX-SIX, just ahead of this year’s holiday season.

​A limited number of digital advance copies will be made available for purchase by fans prior to actual publication. Fans may sign up for more information about this and other news and offers related to the new book at www.arcmanorbooks.com/heinlein

​The Heinlein Prize Trust manages most of Robert A. Heinlein’s literary assets and is purposed to encourage and reward progress in commercial space activities. It also publishes the deluxe 46 volume collectors set of the complete works of Robert A. Heinlein known as the Virginia Edition.

​Phoenix Pick is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers. It publishes some of the top names in science fiction and fantasy including Larry Niven, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, Harry Turtledove and many others. It also publishes the bi-monthly magazine GALAXY’S EDGE.