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 Libertymagazines 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.
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.
The lifelong libertarian idealism of Neil Peart, the Rush songwriter-drummer who died Jan. 7 and whose passing the LFS noted in a previous blog, has been highlighted in several of the major media essays and obituaries that have followed his death at 67 after struggling privately for three years with cancer.
“Fan polls routinely agreed he was the greatest rock drummer of his time (or indeed of all time, I would argue, though some would go with Keith Moon). I’m not sure any rock track boasts drumming that can match Peart’s breathtaking work on the 1981 song “Tom Sawyer.”
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 and moving forward to today.
Here’s the first Appreciation for F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, which won the first Prometheus Award in 1979.
At the end, we also include a few recent comments by Wilson, looking back 40 years at the very-different era and context in which he wrote his novel.
By Michael Grossberg An sf murder mystery hailed by the Library Journal for its “cleverly planted clues” and “all the satisfaction of a good Agatha Christie,” this 1978 novel was the first work of fiction to receive the Prometheus Award, initially established by writer L. Neil Smith to recognize more libertarian sf fiction.
With the benefit of hindsight, looking back at Wilson’s work from the perspective of the 40thanniversary of the Prometheus Awards in 2019, one appreciates this novel even more as part of a fascinating larger whole: Wilson’s LaNague Federation series, set in an interstellar future in which an imperialist central State is toppled by a decentralized libertarian social order that unleashes an era of peace, prosperity, progress and broad respect for individual rights.
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, and veteran LFS leaders and board members Chris Hibbert, Tom Jackson, Anders Monsen, Eric Raymond, and others). In a few cases, the Appreciations will be based in part 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).
Kurt Vonnegut’s cautionary fable “Harrison Bergeron” was inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame at the 2019 Worldcon in Dublin, Ireland – where acceptance statements by the late Vonnegut’s family and by the Vonnegut Museum and Library were read.
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.
Anderson is believed to be the first person to use the term “filk music” in print. She was active in costuming. The Andersons’ daughter Astrid Anderson, who is married to SF author Greg Bear, also has been active in costuming.
From Astrid Bear’s posting on Facebook: “My mother, Karen Anderson, died last night. It was a peaceful and unexpected passing — she died in her bed and was found by the Sunday visiting nurse. Thank you to Martin Tays for being on the ground and being there today. Memorial gathering plans to be announced later, but in the meantime, raise a glass to the memory of a fine woman. If you are moved to make a donation, please consider the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund or the UCLA Medical School.”
Karen Anderson attended the first LFScon in 2001 in Columbus, Ohio, as part of Marcon, to speak on LFS panels and also to accept the Prometheus Special Lifetime Achievement Award for her ailing husband Poul Anderson, who at the last minute couldn’t make the trip because of illness.
“With her personal warmth, big smile, intelligence, insight and broad knowledge and perspective on golden-age sf and the legendary authors who wrote it, Karen made a memorable impression on those who attended LFScon/Marcon,” said Michael Grossberg, who organized the first LFScon in 2001.
“I first met Vic not long after I moved to Santa Fe in 1979. Outgoing, funny, friendly, and incredibly bright, he was one of the cornerstones of the New Mexico SF crowd for decades, a regular at Bubonicon in Albuquerque, the perennial masquerade host at Archon in St. Louis, a fan, a lover of ferrets and collector of guns, a gamer (I can’t tell you how many times we stayed up till dawn playing Superworld, Call of Cthulhu, and other RPGs with Vic, and laughing at the outrageous antics of the characters he created). But above all, he was a writer,” Martin writes.
“He wrote all sorts of things, in and out of our genre: westerns, historicals, men’s action adventure, more books than I could possibly list… but it was in science fiction that he did his best work. CYBERNETIC SAMURAI and CYBERNETIC SHOGAN were two of the best known from the old days. More recently, he was finding new readers by the score all around the world with his DINOSAUR LORDS series,” Martin wrote.