Aliens, clashing cultures, alternate history and communism vs. anarchocapitalism: An Appreciation of L. Neil Smith’s The Forge of the Elders, the 2001 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society began celebrating in 2019, and to make clear what libertarian futurists saw in each of our past winners that made them deserve recognition as pro-freedom sf/fantasy, we’re continuing in 2020 to present a series of weekly Appreciations of Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our first category for Best Novel.

Here’s the latest Appreciation for L. Neil Smith’s The Forge of the Elders, the 2001 Prometheus winner for Best Novel:

Rollicking adventure, mystery, a sense of humor and explicit libertarian ideology mark L. Neil Smith’s The Forge of the Elders.

The novel was reworked from two previously published novels Contact And Commune (retitled First Time The Charm) and Converse And Conflict (retitled Second To One), and combined with the story’s finale (Third Among Equals), belatedly published a decade later.

Set in the late 21st century within our solar system and beyond, this fun 2000 novel concerns the culture clash and political differences between the human members of an expedition to asteroid 5023 Eris, and the multitude of aliens they find when they arrive.

The humans, sent to the asteroid by a monolithic socialist/communist world government back on Earth, come into conflict with the libertarian aliens over control of the asteroid 5023 Eris, coveted because of valuable minerals.

The culture clash results in a few mysterious deaths, and the investigation of the possible murders reveals much about the motivations of the perpetrators and suspects.

Meanwhile, the different intelligent species, including giant-squid-like aliens with a sophisticated Elders culture, come from alternate historical realities but share anarcho-capitalist economic practices and basic, peaceful, cooperative and non-violent libertarian values.

“Smith gives free rein to his imaginative faculties in dreaming up sentient beings from evolutionary branches as different as birds, mollusks, trilobites and sea scorpions,” Bill Howell write in his review for Prometheus quarterly (Vol. 19, March 2001).

“The immense (534-page) tale progresses through a multiple murder mystery and the solution of several fascinating scientific enigmas to the expected happy ending. Oh yeah, there’s a space battle in this book, too!” Howell wrote.

Reminiscent of early Heinlein, the novel also incorporates links to Smith’s North American Confederacy storyline, best known for his Prometheus-winning The Probability Broach and its sequels.

Full of political discussions, lectures and analysis that provocatively challenge conventional beliefs, especially in its first two parts, the story concludes with several twists and explores new ideas – including how justice might operate in a society without coercive government.

Note: L. Neil Smith had won the Prometheus Award for Best Novel twice before: in 1984 for The Probability Broach, and in 1994 for Pallas.

L. Neil Smith (Creative Commons photo)

He later won a Special Award, shared with illustrator Scott Bieser, in 2005 for The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel, and the Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016.

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: A 40thAnniversary Celebration and appreciation of the next novel to be recognized with a Prometheus Award: Donald Kingsbury’s Psychohistorical Crisis, the 2002 winner for Best Novel.

* 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.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for 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 five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio (for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason and Libertarian Review magazines, was a regional columnist for years for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including 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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