40th Anniversary Celebration: An Appreciation of Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai, the 1986 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are posting a series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our earliest Best Novel awards.

Following recent appreciations for F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, James Hogan’s Voyage to Yesteryear and Neil Schulman’s The Rainbow Cadenza, here’s our next Appreciation for Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai:

The 1985 novel, one of the forgotten works of the early cyberpunk scene, explores the tensions between duty and free will, duty and love and duty and justice in a harsh future where some people struggle to be free within a largely totalitarian Earth.

Imagining a 21stcentury between the third and fourth world wars in a story whose hero is the world’s first sentient computer, Milan portrays a bloody and terrible future in which much of the world is destroyed but Japan becomes the last refuge of a dying free society and free market.

Although the computer-being, named Tokugawa by his female creator Dr. O’Neill, is imbued with personality and a sense of honor and immediately can access the world’s accumulated knowledge, he begins his self-aware life as ignorant and as innocent as a child and develops to maturity with help from an unauthorized “half-pacifist libertarian” mentor Michiko.

For example, when Tokugawa asks Michiko what dictatorship means and learns that such tyranny is established by an absolute ruler with an army and secret police to make people obey, the computer wonders if that isn’t a good thing: “Dr. Neill says people should obey their lords. The trouble with people today is they have so few lords worth obeying.”
Michiko’s frowning response: “She said what? I’ll agree there are few lords worth obeying these days – but I’d say there are none worth obeying, ever.”

When confronted with the question of power, and the destruction this often brings, how will the sentient computer Tokugawa choose?

The Cybernetic Samurai (and its sequel) poignantly raises perennial questions for liberty lovers: Is power inevitable? Can anyone wield proper and limited power responsibly without abusing it?  Can something with ultimate power consider and act on the ultimate sacrifice?

Victor Milan (Creative Commons photo)

Note: Victor Milan (1954-2018), an American writer known for exploring cybernetics themes and libertarian science fiction, wrote a sequel The Cybernetic Shogun, a 1991 Best Novel finalist, and CLD, a 1996 Best Novel finalist.
During his career, Milan published almost 100 novels and many short stories, including several shared-universe works for the Star Trek, BattleTech, Wild Cards and Forgotten Realms series; several “The Guardians” books under the pseudonym Richard Austin, several “Steele” books under the pseudonym S. L. Hunter, and at least nine novels under the house name of James Axler for the Heathlands and Outlanders series.

*  Read the Prometheus blog obit about Victor Milan, posted Feb. 14, 2018.

Victor Milan, dressed up as emcee for Archon’s annual masquerade. (Creative Commons photo)

* Read the Prometheus blog author’s update about Victor Milan writing on Tor.com’s excellent “Five Books” section with recommendations of five classic sf/fantasy works “by Authors We Must Not Forget.” (Among them: Jirel of Joiry by C.L. Moore, The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark by Leigh Brackett, The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance, Berserker (Berserker Series Book 1) by Fred Saberhagen and Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.)

* See related introductory essay about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: A 40thAnniversary Celebration and appreciation of the next novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Award: Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Real Time, the 1987 winner for Best Novel.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – of the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit volunteer association of libertarian sf/fantasy fans and freedom-lovers.
Libertarian futurists believe cultural change is as vital as political change (and often more fun!) in achieving universal individual rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for more than five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio Society of Professional Journalists awards for Best Critic in Ohio (also won in 2015, for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason magazine, was a regional columnist for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including 1990s critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook, and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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