Some love for L. Neil Smith at Tor.com

As part of a “bi-weekly series reviewing classic science fiction and fantasy books,” Alan Brown writes an appreciation of The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith for Tor.com. (Smith won the Prometheus Award for the book in 1982.)

Brown writes, “Smith’s writing voice is witty, snarky, and entertaining, and there is always plenty of action to keep the story moving.”

Brown’s take on Smith’s libertarian philosophy: “In the early 1980s, I worked in a variety of jobs in Washington, D.C., and it was here that I encountered Smith’s work. During that time, spending an evening here and there reading a book set in worlds of free-wheeling anarchy was often a refreshing break from the sluggish bureaucracy I worked in during the days. While I am a political centrist myself, I always enjoy reading works that advocate different points of view, especially when they do so in an entertaining manner.”

 

 

Finding free ebooks by Robert Shea

By Tom Jackson

Writer Robert Shea (1933-1994) was a member of the Libertarian Futurist Society, a Playboy magazine editor and the co-author of Illuminatus!, which won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1986.

He also wrote several entertaining historical novels, and his literary executor and son, Mike Shea, has decided to concentrate on distributing them as widely as possible. You can purchase them as used books and as ebooks, but Mike Shea also has made them available as free ebooks under a Creative Commons license. Here is a guide to what is available.

All Things Are Lights 

Set in the 12th century, All Things Are Lights is about a knight and troubadour named Roland. He gets himself into many adventures, including participating rather against his well in Crusades against the Cathars in southern France and the Muslims of Egypt, and also has a complicated love life.

As I’ve implied, All Things Are Lights can be read as a straightforward action novel. But as I’ve written elsewhere, “there is rather more material than I expected about secret societies and secret occult teachings. The Templars and Cathars feature prominently in the book, and Gnosticism, paganism, sexual tantra and the Assassins also are referenced. The book’s hero, Roland de Vency, has a skeptical attitude toward authority and an agnostic attitude toward religions.”

Simon Moon in Illuminatus! explains Shea’s title: “”An Irish Illuminatus of the ninth century, Scotus Ergina, put it very simply— in five words, of course —when he said Omnia quia sunt, lumina sunt: ‘All things that are, are lights.’ ”

I’ve read quite a few historical novels, and All Things Are Lights is one of my favorites. You can download it as an HTML file, which formats nicely on a Kindle ebook reader. The opening of the book draws you in.

Shaman

A frontier novel that focuses on Native Americans. Available as a free download in various formats from Project Gutenberg.

Saracen: Land of the Infidel and its sequel Saracen: The Holy War

The son of the main characters in All Things Are Lights is one of the characters in these two related novels. Available as free ebooks at Project Gutenberg.

Shike: Time of the Dragons and Shike: Last of the Zinja

Both of these books are set in medieval Japan.

Although it isn’t publicized on BobShea.net, the Wikipedia article on the Shike books has a link to a Creative Commons version of the two books.

(From a similar post at RAWIllumination.net, which has other articles on Shea).

Travis Corcoran’s acceptance speech for ‘The Powers of the Earth’

Travis Corcoran

Travis Corcoran won the Prometheus Award for his excellent novel, The Powers of the Earth. He couldn’t make it to the Worldcon for this weekend’s awards ceremony, but here is the text of his acceptance speech, read by Chris Hibbert. 

I’m sorry I couldn’t be here tonight, but I live on a farm and it’s harvest season in the Granite State. Live free or die!

I first heard of the Prometheus Award a quarter century ago and put “writing a novel worthy of winning it” on my bucket list. It was an amazing honor to be nominated alongside so many other worthy authors, and I can still barely wrap my head around having won.

Eric S Raymond said it best: “Hard SF is the vital heart of the field”. The core of hard science fiction is libertarianism: “ornery and insistent individualism, veneration of the competent man, instinctive distrust of coercive social engineering”.

I agree; science fiction is best when it tells stories about free people using intelligence, skills and hard work to overcome challenges.

This vision of science fiction is under attack by collectivists, and hard SF and libertarian SF are being pushed out of publisher lineups and off of bookstore shelves.

Very well. We have intelligence, we have skills and we’re not afraid of hard work. Let’s rise to this challenge!

The Powers of the Earth is a novel about many things.

It’s a war story about ancaps, uplifted dogs, and AI fighting against government using combat robots, large guns, and kinetic energy weapons.

It’s an engineering story about space travel, open source software, tunnel boring machines, and fintech.

It’s a cyberpunk story about prediction markets, CNC guns, and illegal ROMs.

It’s a story about competent men who build machines, competent women who pilot spaceships, and competent dogs who write code.

It’s a novel that pays homage to Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which in turn pays homage to the American Revolution.

. . . But the historical inspiration for the novel was not, actually, the American Revolution. It’s the founding of the Icelandic Free State almost a thousand years earlier. The difference is subtle, but important.

The American Revolution was an act of secession: one part of a government declaring itself independent and co-equal, and continuing to act as a government. The establishment of the Icelandic Free State is different in two important particulars. First, it did not consist of people challenging an existing government, but of people physically leaving a region governed by a tyrant. And second, the men and women who expatriated themselves from the reign of Harald Fairhair did not create a government – they wanted to flee authoritarianism, not establish their own branch of it!

Thus we get to one of the most important themes of The Powers of the Earth and its sequel, Causes of Separation: the concepts of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. The tri-chotomy was first codified in an essay—titled “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States”—by economist Albert Hirschman in 1970.

An aside: I love that this essay was penned while Americans walked on the moon.

Hirschman argued that when a vendor or government fails to deliver, people can either remain loyal, can speak out within the system, or can exit the system.

The problem we Americans have in 2018 is that there is no more frontier. Like the engineers in Christopher Priest’s “The Inverted World”, we moved west until we hit an ocean, and that has been our doom.

When there is a frontier, it is impossible to deny that the pie is growing. Want a farm? Go hack one out of the forest. Want a house? Go build one.

Once the frontier is gone, value can still be created ab initio. The pie is not fixed. For the price of a cheap computer you can create a novel or a software package. With a $100 video camera you can be a garage Kubrick. With a free Craigslist ad you can be a dog-walking entrepreneur.

. . . But the closing of the frontier made it easier for the collectivists to argue that the pie is fixed. And—worse yet—it made it impossible for the rest of us to get away.

We’d all love to live in David Friedman’s polycentric legal system, Robert Nozick’s meta-utopia, Moldbug’s patchwork, or Scott Alexander’s archipelago – a place where each of us could live by rules we choose, and people who preferred another set could live by those… but we can’t, and that’s for one reason and one reason alone: the collectivists who can’t bear to let anyone, anywhere, be ungoverned.

Totalitarian ideologies – Nazism, Communism, Islamofascism, Progressivism – all subscribe to the Mussolini quote “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

The Nazi sees any area not under Nazi control as a threat.

The communist sees any area not under communist control as a threat.

The Islamofascist sees any area outside of Dar al Islam as Dar al-Harb—a populace to be subjugated.

Collectivists sees anything not under collectivist control as a threat—and as an opportunity.

A threat, because areas not under collectivist control always work better. It is no accident that just as the Soviets jammed broadcasts from the west, Nazis outlawed American music, Chinese built a Great Firewall, so too do progressives shadow-ban free voices on Twitter and Facebook and expel people from conventions.

An opportunity, because of what totalitarians do when they see a patch of freedom: they try to take it over. “All within, nothing outside”.

When the patch of freedom is a state, we get the long march through the institutions, as outlined by communist Antonio Gramsci and refined by communist Rudi Dutschke. First they become teachers, then they influence the students, then they take over the courts . . . and then it’s not too long until some O’Brien is holding up four fingers to some Winston Smith, crushing out the last of the wrongthink.

When the patch of freedom is a subculture the mechanism is different—it’s discussed in the brilliant essay “Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution” by David Chapman.

One core attribute of totalitarians is that they don’t create, they steal. And because they steal, they are both confused by and hate those who do create. As Barrack Obama said “You didn’t build that.” As the internet meme says: “You made this? <pause> I made this.”

Since the first Worldcon in 1939 science fiction has been a libertarian territory under attack from authoritarians. Futurian Donald Wollheim was a communist, and argued that all of science fiction “should actively work for the realization of the . . . world-state as the only . . . justification for their activities”.

Wollheim failed with his takeover in 1939—he was physically removed from Worldcon—but he started a Gramscian long march through the institutions, and it worked. In the current year conventions, editors, and publishing houses are all cordy-cepted. The sociopaths have pushed the geeks out and have taken over the cultural territory.

“You made this? <pause> I made this.”

When the state tries to take your home, they come with guns, and you have to fight them with guns, if at all.

When a subculture tries to take your home, they come with snark and shame and entryism . . . and you fight them by making better art.

The bad news for us libertarians is that the cities we built have fallen. The publishers? Gone. The bookstore shelves? Gone.

But what of it? We have Amazon, we have print on demand, we have Kickstarter.

And, most importantly of all, we have the vital heart, the radiant core of science fiction: we can tell great stories about ornery individualism, about competent men and women using skills and hard work to overcome challenges. This is the one thing the collectivists can never steal from us, because it is antithetical to their nature.

There is not an ocean in front of us, dooming us to captivity—there is only sky. The frontier is still open.

Onward!

Literary snobbery at the ‘Paris’ Review

Johanna Sinisalo holds her Prometheus Award. (Photo by Ryan Lackey). 

The Paris Review has a new article up, “How Finland Rebranded Itself as a Literary Country,” which purports to tell the story of how Finnish writers have acquired an international reputation.

But the article’s author, Kalle Oskari Mattila, seems to be determined to make sure that neither the science fiction community nor the Prometheus Award will receive any credit for the growing attention to Finnish writing.

The article includes a photograph Johanna Sinisalo and a brief description of her novel, The Core of the Sun. But it doesn’t mention that she received the Prometheus Award in 2017 for the book — likely the first time the award has gone to someone who isn’t an Anglo-American author.

Similarly, the article leaves out the fact that Sinisalo was one of the guests of honor for the first-ever Finnish worldcon in 2017, which drew 7,119 people. Sinisalo was given her Prometheus Award at the convention, and the award helped demonstrate that she was a guest of honor on her merits, and not just because she happens to be Finnish. The worldcon was one of the biggest ever in terms of attendance and certainly helped shine a spotlight on Finnish writers.

I thought this sort of literary snobbery had gone away but the “Paris”
Review (actually published in New York) apparently wants to take it into the 21st Century.

— Tom Jackson

Harlan Ellison has died

Harlan Ellison (Creative Commons photo)

Award-winning author Harlan Ellison has died. He was 84. Wikipedia biography here. 

Ellison won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2005 for his short story, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” He made a gracious video to thank us. 

The Los Angeles Times has posted a long obit. And John Scalzi wrote a nice piece for the same paper. 

 

 

 

Review: The Fractal Man by J. Neil Schulman

J. Neil Schulman

By Eric Raymond

The Fractal Man (written by J.Neil Schulman, now available on Amazon) is a very, very funny book – if you share enough subcultural history with the author to get the in-jokes.

If you don’t – and in particular if you never met Samuel Edward Konkin – the man known as known as “SEKIII” to a generation of libertarians and SF fans before his tragically early death in 2004 – it will still be a whirligig of a cross-timeline edisonade, but some bits might leave you wondering how the author invented such improbabilities. But I knew SEKIII, and if there was ever a man who could make light of having a 50MT nuclear warhead stashed for safekeeping in his apartment, it was him.

David Albaugh is a pretty good violinist, a science-fiction fan, and an anarchist with a bunch of odd and interesting associates. None of this prepares him to receive a matter-of-fact phone call from Simon Albert Konrad III, a close friend who he remembers as having been dead for the previous nine years.

His day only gets weirder from there, as SAKIII and he (stout SF fans that they are) deduce that David has somehow been asported to a timeline not his own. But what became of the “local” Albaugh? Before the two have time to ruminate  on that, they are both timeshifted to a history in which human beings (including them) can casually levitate, but there is no music.

Before they can quite recover from that, they’ve been recruited into a war between two cross-time conspiracies during which they meet multiples of their own fractals – alternate versions of themselves, so named because there are hints that the cosmos itself has undergone a kind of shattering that may have been recent in what passes for time (an accident at the Large Hadron Collider might have been involved). One of Albaugh’s fractals is J. Neil Schulman.

It speeds up to a dizzying pace; scenes of war, espionage, time manipulations, and a kiss-me/kill-me romance between Albaugh and an enemy agent (who also happens to be Ayn Rand’s granddaughter), all wired into several just-when-you-thought-it-couldn’t-go-further-over-the-top plot inversions.

I don’t know that the natural audience for this book is large, exactly, but if you’re in it, you will enjoy it a lot. Schulman plays fair; even the weirdest puzzles have explanations and all the balls are kept deftly in the air until the conclusion.

Assuming you know what “space opera” is, this is “timeline opera” done with the exuberance of a Doc Smith novel. Don’t be too surprised if some of it sails over your head; I’m not sure I caught all the references. Lots of stuff blows up satisfactorily – though, not, as it happens, that living-room nuke.

(Reprinted by permission from Eric Raymond’s Armed and Dangerous blog).

J. Neil Schulman completes new novel [UPDATED]

Author J. Neil Schulman, a two-time winner of the Prometheus Award, announced on Facebook that he has completed his fourth novel, The Fractal Man. Apparently it will be available soon. UPDATE: You can buy it now as a Kindle ebook for just 99 cents. If you don’t have an Amazon device, use a Kindle app to read it on your tablet or phone.

“I just finished my fourth novel, The Fractal Man. Chapters 1-25 (out of 35) are up for free reading at the publisher’s website http://stevehellerpublishing.com while we format and proof the complete Kindle edition which, when ready, will go up at Amazon for $0.99,” he reports.

Schulman won the Prometheus Award in 1984 for The Rainbow Cadenza. He also won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1989 for Alongside Night. A third novel, Escape from Heaven, was a finalist for the 2002 Prometheus Award.

Schulman also has written nonfiction books; see the bibligraphy at the Wikipedia bio. 

Radio drama production of ‘Lone Star Planet’

The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company in performance.

The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company has done a great many audio dramas, including plenty of science fiction. And now the company has announced it plans a series of dramatizations of libertarian science fiction classics — beginning with Lone Star Planet by H. Beam Piper, which was recently released and is available now for purchase and downloading. 

It’s an adaptation of a work that won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1999. 

Here’s more from William Allan Ritch, president of the Atlanta Theatre Company:

“Lone Star Planet had a soft release (within the local SF conventions) last year. This year we have started podcasting it and making it available for paid downloads.It is a finalist for the Mark Time Awards (episodes #3 and #4 submitted) Mark Time Awards – as given by the Hear Now Festival (formerly The National Audio Theatre Festival.)

“Other libertarian works that are getting imminent are Moon of Ice_by Brad Linaweaver and The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt. We are working on more. Some are public domain and some we have purchased the rights from the author.

Lone Star Planet was adapted first as a 1 hour play, which was a sever condensation of the novel,. It was performed at several SF conventions – but not offered for sale. It was available for a free podcast – one of our monthly presentation of recordings of our live show,. The full version is about 3 hours long and divided into 25-30 min episodes.

“The writer who adapted the book is Ron N. Butler and I am the director. The producer is David Benedict.”

 

 

 

Prometheus Awards podcast available for downloading and streaming

Did you miss the live podcast of Prometheus Award authors on the Geek Gab podcast? Fear not — there are time binding options!

You can listen to it on YouTube. You also have the option of searching for it on your favorite podcasting app; search for “Geek Gab” at the iTunes store or the Google Play store.

The podcast features authors of this year’s Prometheus Award nominees, with Ken MacLeod, Andy Weir, Travis Corcoran, Karl Gallagher and John Hunt. Sarah Hoyt and Doug Casey were unable to join the podcast. Along with discussion of their books, the authors say interesting things about artificial intelligence and computer programming, about anarcho-capitalism and libertarian ethics, and reveal the most surprising elements of their books for many readers. And it turns out there’s more than one fan of Iain M. Banks in the group. All I know about the host is that he goes by “Daddy Warpig,” but he does a great job.

— Tom Jackson

 

Podcast with Prometheus Award nominees (Andy Weir! Sarah Hoyt! Ken MacLeod!) etc.

“Torchship” trilogy author Karl Gallagher has organized a podcast featuring most of the authors of this year’s group of Prometheus Award nominees. The podcast will be broadcast live at 2 p.m. April 14 (that’s a Saturday) on Daddy Warpig’s Geek Gab.

Here again are the nominees:

* Drug Lord: High Ground by Doug Casey and John Hunt (High Ground Books)
* Powers of the Earth, by Travis Corcoran (Morlock Publishing)
*Torchship, Torchship Pilot and Torchship Captain, by Karl Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press)
* Darkship Revenge, by Sarah Hoyt (Baen Books)
* The Corporation Wars: Emergence by Ken MacLeod (Orbit Books)
Artemis, by Andy Weir (Crown Books)

Gallagher, who organized the event, says all of the authors have agreed to take part, except for Casey and Hunt, who have schedule conflicts.

Gallagher reports, “We’ll also be on the Krypton Radio ‘Event Horizon’ but it’s not scheduled yet. The host is reading the books to prepare. That’s recorded in advance so we should be able to find a time for everyone.”