Interview: LFS President William H. Stoddard on fandom, freedom, favorite novels and the power of language

Few individuals have made more of a difference to the Libertarian Futurist Society and the Prometheus Awards in the 21st century than William H. Stoddard.

Bill, as he’s known to friends and fellow LFS members, has led the nonprofit, all-volunteer group of freedom-loving sf fans for more than a decade as president of the board of directors.

William H. Stoddard (File photo)

But Stoddard has done far more for many years, writing reviews of sf/fantasy for the Prometheus newsletter and more recently, this blog, and serving for decades as a key judge on both finalist-judging committees for the Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction categories of the Prometheus Award.

Here is LFS Secretary Michael Grossberg’s interview with Stoddard about how he became an sf fan, a libertarian and an active LFS member and what are some of his favorite writers and Prometheus-winning works.

Q: What Prometheus Award winners especially excited you or pleased you when they won for Best Novel?

A: For the Best Novel Award, I’d name two.

Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind (1991 award) asked “what if Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine had come into use in the nineteenth century?” in the form, not of an alternate history, but of a hidden history where multiple secretive groups used predictive social science (made possible by Analytical Engines) to create the actual history of the twentieth century from behind the scenes; it was one of my main influences when I wrote GURPS Steampunk for Steve Jackson Games in 2000.

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How does sf lend itself to exploring freedom & other ideas? Watch the NASFIC 2020 Prometheus Awards and “Visions of SF, Liberty & Human Rights” panel with authors Hoyt, Wilson; surprise guests Cherryh & Fancher; & LFS leaders

Serendipity and seized opportunity enhanced the star power and appeal of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s panel discussion at the 2020 online North American Science Fiction Convention.

Unexpectedly but delightfully, the Hugo-winning Grand Master novelist C.J. Cherryh and her partner Jane. S. Fancher joined past Prometheus winners Sarah Hoyt and F. Paul Wilson and several LFS veteran leaders including LFS President William H. Stoddard in answering a variety of thought-provoking questions during the NASFiC/LFS panel on “Visions of SF, Liberty, Human Rights: The Prometheus Awards Over Four Decades, from F. Paul Wilson and Robert Heinlein to Today.”

When panel moderator Tom Jackson noticed that
Cherryh and Fancher were still hanging out within the Zoom “meeting room” after accepting their 2020 Best Novel award for co-writing Alliance Rising to watch the post-ceremony panel discussion, he noted their presence and ability to participate.

Tom Jackson

After a few questions to the other panelists, Jackson invited Cherryh and Fancher to come into the discussion with their comments.

Which they graciously did, and fascinatingly so.

Thus, the long-planned NASFiC panel celebrating the recent 40th anniversary of the Prometheus Awards – first presented by L. Neil Smith to F. Paul Wilson in 1979 – expanded into an event with interesting comments from not two but four bestselling, Prometheus-award-winning novelists.

Here is the full panel discussion, part of an 80-minute two-part NASFiC/LFS video that begins with the 2020 Prometheus Awards ceremony, including Cherryh and Fancher’s Best Novel acceptance speech and Astrid Anderson Bear’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech for her late father Poul Anderson; and concludes with the 50-minute panel discussion:

 

Continue reading How does sf lend itself to exploring freedom & other ideas? Watch the NASFIC 2020 Prometheus Awards and “Visions of SF, Liberty & Human Rights” panel with authors Hoyt, Wilson; surprise guests Cherryh & Fancher; & LFS leaders

Libertarian Futurist Society raises visibility at CoNZealand, the first all-online World Science Fiction Convention, with Prometheus-winning novelist F. Paul Wilson leading timely panel (watch it here!) on “Freedom in SF: Forty Years of the Prometheus Awards”

CoNZealand, the 78th World Science Fiction Convention and the first Worldcon in history to be presented entirely online, pulled off the unprecedented feat with impressive organization and the dedication of countless volunteers and organizers.

In the process, the July 29 to Aug. 1 event offered the annual Hugo Awards ceremony and a dizzying variety of interesting panel discussions – including one suggested by the Libertarian Futurist Society to honor the Prometheus Awards’ recent 40thanniversary.

With a vast and potentially larger worldwide online audience watching from many countries on Zoom and Discord platforms but avoiding direct physical contact for safety during the pandemic, the New Zealand Worldcon seized the potential to be seen more widely. One happy consequence was raising the visibility worldwide of the Libertarian Futurist Society and the Prometheus Awards.

 

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Action, passion, humor, mystery, sf, the evils of evasion and the liberating power of facing reality: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a 1983 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society began publishing in 2019 a weekly series of Appreciations of each winner for Best Novel, the initial annual Prometheus category launched in 1979  – and is now focusing on the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction, the second annual awards category launched in 1983.
Following last week’s Appreciation by William H. Stoddard, here’s a second Appreciation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, one of the first two 1983 Prometheus Hall of Fame winners:

By Michael Grossberg
Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, a millions-selling bestseller that has remained in print since its original 1957 publication, offers the combined satisfactions of mystery, science fiction, romance and suspense thriller.

Yet Atlas Shrugged, in setting up and solving its intricate and interrelated mysteries, also resonates as an innovative, unconventional and philosophical novel about the power of ideas, for good and bad. Its fierce and noble focus is on the distinctive role played by free minds, free markets and free women and men in sustaining society and genuine life-affirming progress based on cooperation, not coercion.

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The Libertarian Futurist Society, Prometheus Awards, LFS writers hailed in Quillette article about the persistence of libertarian sf as a key strand in mainstream science fiction

By Michael Grossberg
Libertarian science fiction has always been a seminal strand in the ever-evolving genre of science fiction and fantasy – and in significant and honorable ways, that socially conscious and liberty-loving subgenre continues as a force today, even amid regressive and reactionary forces flirting with the perennial temptations of statism, authoritarianism and centralized, institutionalized coercion on the Left and Right.

Libertarian futurists – within and outside the Libertarian Futurist Society (not to mention other organizations within the far broader libertarian movement, from Reason and Liberty magazines to the Cato Institute)  – have understood that for a long time.

Yet, it’s salutary and newsworthy when our understanding of the broader intellectual and artistic currents that have helped shape the four-decade-plus history and diversity of the Prometheus Awards is shared and appreciated by an international, cosmopolitan publication outside the libertarian movement.

The cover illustration of the Quillette article on Libertarian Science Fiction Photo: a Quillette illustration, copied here to help people find the article on their website

Such a relatively rare occasion has materialized this month (June 2020) with a fair-minded, open-minded, rich and rewarding essay on “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction” published in Quillette, an influential web-magazine that embraces what modern libertarians might generally recognize as classically liberal principles.

According to its mission statement, Quillette offers “a platform for free thought. We respect ideas, even dangerous ones. We also believe that free expression and the free exchange of ideas help human societies flourish and progress.”

Indeed, LFS members might say as much, using virtually the same words, to uphold important Bill of Rights aspects of our libertarian vision of a fully free future in which people strive to respect other people’s rights and live together through the voluntary cooperation and enterprise of a free society and a free market while steadfastly abjuring violence, the initiation of force or fraud and the institutionalized coercion of the unchecked State.

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40th Anniversary Celebration: An Appreciation of No Award, the 1985 Prometheus Best Novel choice

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.

Here’s the fifth Appreciation, for No Award (1985), following recent appreciations for novels by F. Paul Wilson, L. Neil Smith, James Hogan and J. Neil Schulman:

By William H. Stoddard

When the Libertarian Futurist Society started giving regular awards for Best Novel, ballots mailed to members offered the option of voting for None of the Above.

In 1985, None of the Above won, for the first and – up to now – the only time.

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A 40th Anniversary Retrospective: Introducing a Reader’s Guide to the Prometheus Award Winners

By Michael Grossberg

To highlight and honor the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are providing a reader’s guide with capsule Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with the Best Novel category.

If you’ve ever wondered why a particular work of fiction has been recognized with a Prometheus Award and what libertarian sf fans see in these award-winning works, then our upcoming series of Appreciations should be must reading – as well as informative and illuminating!

Or, if you’re simply  looking for something enjoyable and stimulating to read within the realm of science fiction and fantasy, which also illuminates abiding questions about the perennial tensions between Liberty and Power, an excellent place to begin is with this recommended reading list of award-winning fiction (to be published here on a regular weekly (or biweekly) schedule, starting now (September 2019). These capsule appreciations are being written and edited by LFS members (including LFS founder Michael Grossberg, LFS President William H. Stoddard, Tom Jackson and Anders Monsen), in a few cases based on reviews printed in the Prometheus quarterly (1982-2016) or the Prometheus blog (2017-today).

Since 1979, a wide array of novels, novellas, stories, films, TV series and other works of fiction have won Prometheus awards by highlighting in fascinatingly different ways the value of voluntary social cooperation over institutionalized State coercion, the importance of respecting human rights (even for that smallest minority, the individual), and the evils of tyranny (whether on the Left or the Right).


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Interview: LFS founder Michael Grossberg on how he became a writer, critic, sf fan & helped save the Prometheus Awards

 

Michael Grossberg, 2016 Photo courtesy of M.G.

Note: In this wide-ranging autobiographical interview, Grossberg shares his encounters, conversations and/or connections with Timothy Leary, George R.R. Martin, L. Neil Smith, Bruce Sterling, David Brin, Sissy Spacek, Gore Vidal, Ray Bradbury, Roy Rogers, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Roberto Rossellini, Nicholas Ray, Marianne Williamson, Susan Sontag, Roy Childs Jr., James Hogan and Robert Heinlein, among others.

TOM JACKSON: Could you tell us about yourself, including how you became a writer and arts critic?
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Interview: 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.

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Tor.com looks at the Prometheus Award on its 40th anniversary

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.
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