How would Heinlein react to today’s space news and progress?

By Michael Grossberg

Have spacesuit, will travel?

If only Robert Heinlein were still alive today, what would he think of the progress humankind is making in outer space by harnessing the creative energies of free enterprise?

Heinlein (1907-1988), often called the dean of science-fiction writers, was a pioneer in hard sf who often wrote novels and stories imagining how our species would expand beyond our planet to the Moon (“Rocket Ship Galileo,” his first novel published as a book; and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” perhaps the most beloved and explicitly libertarian of his many Prometheus Hall of Fame winners and the first to be inducted in 1983), Mars (“Red Planet,” a 1996 Prometheus Hall of Fame inductee; “Podkayne on Mars,” and “Stranger in a Strange Land”) and well beyond (“Citizen of the Galaxy,” “Friday”, and “Have Space Suit – Will Travel,” among others.)

I thought of Heinlein, who I met at the 1981 Denver Worldcon and interviewed at the early-1980s L5 Society national convention in Houston, Texas, when I read a June 2019 news story in the UK newspaper “The Independent” about NASA announcing plans to let tourists, industrialists, and other private individuals into the international space station.

Excerpt: “The missions will be part of NASA’s broader plan to allow commercial companies into space. It hopes that private industry can develop the space technologies of the future, and help with its plans to return to the Moon in 2024, taking the first ever woman and the first person in decades.”

“NASA hopes that the missions help test out and encourage future private missions into space, which could provide funding for further exploration in years to come…

“The space agency will keep using the ISS as a place for research and testing in low-Earth orbit, doing work that will help contribute towards its plans to head to the Moon, it said. But it will also work with the private sector to allow it to use the ISS to test technologies, train astronauts and encourage the development of the “space economy”, it said.

NASA will also help develop a whole host of private spacecraft, floating around above the Earth, that can serve as a home for people, NASA said.

…Eventually, private companies could use floating habitations like the ISS to stop off at on their way to further destinations deeper in the solar system.”

For the generations that grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, even before the first humans went to the moon, such news stories still seem a bit like science fiction – and recall many of the sf stories and novels that we read growing up.

Dozens of novels about space travel, space exploration, space industrialization and space colonization have been nominated for the Prometheus Awards over the past four decades. Many now seem prophetic; and some inevitably are beginning to seem a bit quaint – but that’s progress.

L. Neil Smith news roundup

Science fiction writer L. Neil Smith is staying busy with a bunch of writing projects. Ares, the latest book of his Ngu Family Saga, will be out soon from Smith’s publisher, Arc Manor.  Smith’s Only the Young Die Good, the sequel to his 2011 vampire novel, Sweeter Than Wine, also will be out before too long, and Smith has begun work on the next Ngu novel, Rosalie’s World. 

Smith received our Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016 and also received Prometheus Awards for four individual works: The Probability Broach, PallasThe Forge of the Elders and the graphic novel version of The Probability Broach. (Pallas is the first book of the Ngu Family Saga.)

 

Prometheus Award finalists announced

The Libertarian Futurist Society, a nonprofit all-volunteer international organization of freedom-loving science fiction fans, has announced five finalists for the Best Novel category of the 39th annual Prometheus Awards.

The Best Novel winner will receive a plaque with a one-ounce gold coin. Plans are under way, as in past years, to present the 2019 awards at the 77th Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention): “Dublin 2019 – An Irish Worldcon,” set for Aug. 15-19, 2019 in Dublin, Ireland.

Here are the five Best Novel finalists, listed in alphabetical order by author:

Causes of Separation, by Travis Corcoran (Morlock Publishing) – In this sequel to The Powers of the Earth, the 2018 Prometheus winner for Best Novel, the renegade lunar colonists of Aristillus fight for independence and a free economy against an Earth-based invasion that seeks to impose authoritarian rule and expropriate their wealth, while the colonists struggle to maintain the fight without relying on taxation or emergency war powers. The panoramic narrative encompasses artificial intelligence, uplifted dogs, combat robots, sleeper cells and open-source software while depicting the complex struggle on the declining Earth and besieged Moon from many perspectives.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale (Ligature Pty Limited) including Rules: Book One and Order: Book Two – The author, a legal scholar, creates a world inspired by comparative law, rather as Middle-Earth was inspired by comparative linguistics. In an alternative Roman Empire, an early scientific revolution and expanding free markets led to industrialization, the abolition of slavery, increasing wealth, and modernity – and to clashes with more traditional societies. In one such clash, a Jewish preacher, Yeshua ben Yusuf, is arrested and tried on charges of terrorism in a narrative that makes ingenious use of the Gospels to reach an unexpected outcome.

State Tectonics, by Malka Older (TOR Books) – This story explores questions of governance and legitimacy in a future world shaped by technology-driven “infomocracy” and subdivided into centenals – separate micro-democracies, each an electoral district with a population of 100,000 or less. A multitude of political parties vie for control of each centenal, as well as global supermajority status in a problematic system where access to approved news is ensured by Information, which also oversees elections. In this third novel in Older’s Centenal Cycle, various parties struggle not only over election outcomes, but also whether Information’s monopoly will and should continue.

The Fractal Man, by J. Neil Schulman, (Steve Heller Publishing) – The Prometheus-winning author (The Rainbow Cadenza, Alongside Night) offers a fanciful and semi-autobiographical adventure comedy about the “lives he never lived,” set in multiple alternate realities where people and cats can fly but dogs can’t, which in one world casts him as a battlefield general in a war between totalitarians and anarchists. The space-opera-redefined-as-timelines-opera romp, full of anarcho-capitalist scenarios, also celebrates the early history of the libertarian movement and some of its early pioneers, such as Samuel Edward Konkin III.

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells (TOR Books) (including All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy) – The tightly linked series of four fast-paced novellas charts the emergence of humanity, empathy, self-awareness and free will in an android, whose origins are partly biological and partly cybernetic. The android, who guiltily dubs themself “Murderbot” because of their past acts of violence while enslaved, fights for their independence but also is motivated to save lives by growing awareness of the value of human life and human rights in an interstellar future of social cooperation through free markets driven by contracts, insurance-bond penalties, and competing corporations.

(Note: Under a recently adopted LFS award-eligibility rule, two or more books can be nominated together as one novel if the judges determine that the stories are so tightly linked and plotted, with continuing characters and unifying conflicts/themes, that they can best be read and considered as one work. Applied this year, that rule combined the two Kingdom of the Wicked volumes into one nomination and the four sequential novellas in The Murderbot Diaries into one nomination.)

All LFS members have the right to nominate eligible works for the Prometheus Awards. LFS members also nominated these 2018 works for this year’s Best Novel category: Exile’s Escape, by W. Clark Boutwell (Indigo River Publishing); Gnomon, by Nick Harkaway (Alfred Knopf); Mission to Methone, by Les Johnson (Baen Books); Anger is a Gift, by Mark Oshiro (TOR); and Crescendo of Fire and Rhapsody for the Tempest, by Marc Stiegler (LMBPN Publishing.)

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf.

For four decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power, favor voluntary cooperation over institutionalized coercion, expose the abuses and excesses of coercive government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or champion individual rights and freedoms as the ethically proper and only practical foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, mutual respect, and civilization itself.

The Prometheus Award finalists for Best Novel are selected by a 10-person judging committee. Following the selection of finalists, all LFS full members have the right to read and vote on the Best Novel finalist slate to choose the annual winner.

For a full list of past Prometheus Award winners in all categories, visit lfs.org/awards.shtml. For reviews and commentary on these and other works of interest to the LFS, visit the Prometheus blog lfs.org/blog.

Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to any science fiction fan interested in how fiction can promote an appreciation of the value of liberty.

For more information, contact LFS Publicity Chair Chris Hibbert (publicity@lfs.org).

Robert Heinlein news roundup


A new book about Robert Heinlein, The Pleasant Profession of Robert Heinlein by Farah Mendelsohn, is getting good notices. A couple of reviews:

Prometheus Award winner Ken MacLeod has posted a review and writes, “This effort to read with fresh eyes has paid off. On almost every page there’s a new insight or an arresting remark. Mendlesohn takes Heinlein seriously as a thinker, and makes you think.” More here. 

Arthur Hlavaty, nominated numerous times for a Hugo for best fan writer, chimes in, “Have I mentioned here that Farah Mendlesohn’s The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein is a brilliant book, absolutely essential for anyone interested in its subject?”

Also:

Heinlein appears as a character in Gregory Benford’s new novel, Rewrite. 

“Is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Heinlein’s All-Time Greatest Work?” By Alan Brown at Tor.com.

 

Prometheus Award winning James Hogan novel on sale

The ebook version of James Hogan’s novel The Multiplex Man, which won the Prometheus Award in 1993, has been put on sale for $1.99. The sale is only through Monday, so if you want it, act fast. I’ve just grabbed my own copy.

Details here.

Each week, Publisher’s Pick offers three deals on SF books, often for big name authors (the other two authors this week are Mike Resnick and Kevin J. Anderson.) You can sign up for an email bulletin on the latest sale, sent out every Wednesday.

New Heinlein novel announced

(Here is the press release from Phoenix Pick)

Phoenix Pick recently announced that, working with the Heinlein Prize Trust, they have been able to reconstruct the complete text of an unpublished novel written by Robert A. Heinlein.

​Heinlein wrote this as an alternate text for The Number of the THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST. This text of approximately 185,000 words largely mirrors the first third of the published text, but then deviates completely with an entirely different story-line and ending.

​This newly reconstructed text also pays extensive homage to two authors Heinlein himself admired: Edgar Rice Burroughs and E. E. “Doc” Smith, who became a good friend. Heinlein dedicated his book METHUSELAH’S CHILDREN to Smith, and partially dedicated FRIDAY to Smith’s daughter, Verna.

​The alternate text, especially the ending, is much more in line with traditional Heinlein books, and moves away from many of the controversial aspects of the published THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST.

​There has been speculation over the years about a possible alternate text, and the reason it was written, particularly since one book is not just a redo of the other ─ these are two completely different books.

​It is possible that Heinlein was having fun with the text as THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST and the new book both deal with parallel universes. Given his sense of humor, it would not be surprising for Heinlein to have written two parallel texts for a book about parallel universes.

​The new book was pieced together from notes and typed manuscript pages left behind by the author. It is currently under editorial review by award-winning editor, Patrick LoBrutto .

​Phoenix Pick expects to publish both THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST and the new book, tentatively titled SIX-SIX-SIX, just ahead of this year’s holiday season.

​A limited number of digital advance copies will be made available for purchase by fans prior to actual publication. Fans may sign up for more information about this and other news and offers related to the new book at www.arcmanorbooks.com/heinlein

​The Heinlein Prize Trust manages most of Robert A. Heinlein’s literary assets and is purposed to encourage and reward progress in commercial space activities. It also publishes the deluxe 46 volume collectors set of the complete works of Robert A. Heinlein known as the Virginia Edition.

​Phoenix Pick is the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers. It publishes some of the top names in science fiction and fantasy including Larry Niven, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, Harry Turtledove and many others. It also publishes the bi-monthly magazine GALAXY’S EDGE.

 

Hall of Fame finalists: Kipling, Anderson, Vonnegut, Vinge and Wilson

Rudyard Kipling

The Libertarian Futurist Society has selected five finalists for the 2019 Prometheus Hall of Fame award.

This year’s finalists are:
•  “As Easy as A.B.C.,” by Rudyard Kipling (first published 1912 in London Magazine), the second of his “airship utopia” stories, envisions a twenty-first century world founded on free travel, the rule of law, and an inherited abhorrence of crowds. Officials of the Aerial Board of Control are summoned to the remote town of Chicago, which is convulsed by a small group’s demands for revival of the nearly forgotten institution of democracy.

• “Sam Hall,” a short story by Poul Anderson (first published 1953 in Astounding Science Fiction): A story set in a security-obsessed United States, where computerized record-keeping enables the creation of a panopticon society. The insertion of a false record into the system leads to unintended consequences. Anderson, the first sf author to be honored with a Special Prometheus Award for Lifetime Achievement, explores political implications of computer technology that now, decades later, are widely recognized.

• “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut (first published 1961 in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), a dystopian short story, set in a United States where constitutional amendments and a Handicapper General mandate that no one can be stupider, uglier, weaker, slower (or better) than anyone else, satirizes the authoritarian consequences of radical egalitarianism taken to an extreme that denies individuality and diversity. 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.

• “Conquest by Default,” by Vernor Vinge (first published 1968 in Analog), Vinge’s first exploration of anarchism, offers a story about human civilization being overwhelmed by a superior alien force, told from the point of view of an alien sympathetic to the underdogs, who finds a way to save the humans by breaking up governments into much smaller components. The alien culture uses a legal twist to foster extreme cultural diversity, as characters draw explicit parallels between the plight of humanity in the face of superior alien tech and the fate of Native Americans faced with European invaders.

• Schrödinger’s Cat: The Universe Next Door, by Robert Anton Wilson (first published 1979 by Pocket Books), a parallel-worlds novel, draws upon theories from quantum mechanics to explore themes about the evil of violence, particularly political coercion and the carnage of the Vietnam War. The speculative fantasy features alternate versions of characters from the Illuminatus! trilogy by Wilson and Robert Shea, which won the Hall of Fame Award in 1986.

In addition to these nominees, the Hall of Fame Committee considered nine other works: “The Man Who Sold the Stars,” by Gregory Benford; “ILU-486,” by Amanda Ching; The Mirror Maze, by James P. Hogan; That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis; A Mirror for Observers, by Edgar Pangborn; A Time of Changes, by Robert Silverberg; Daemon and Freedom, by Daniel Suarez, as a combined nomination; The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn, by T.H. White, as a combined nomination; and “Even the Queen,” by Connie Willis.

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established and first presented in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include gold coins and plaques for the winners for Best Novel, Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame), and occasional Special Awards.

For four decades, the Prometheus Awards have recognized outstanding works of science fiction and fantasy that dramatize the perennial conflict between Liberty and Power, favor private social cooperation over legalized coercion, expose abuses and excesses of obtrusive government, critique or satirize authoritarian ideas, or champion individual rights and freedoms as the mutually respectful foundation for peace, prosperity, progress, justice, tolerance, mutual respect, and civilization itself.

All Libertarian Futurist Society members are eligible to nominate, vote on and help select this year’s inductee into the Prometheus Hall of Fame. After the final vote, by mid-2019, the award will be presented at the Dublin Worldcon.|

For more information or to nominate a classic work for next year, contact Hall of Fame judging committee chair William H. Stoddard (halloffame@lfs.org) at any time. Nominees may be in any narrative or dramatic form, including prose fiction, stage plays, film, television, other video, graphic novels, song lyrics, or epic or narrative verse, within the realm of science fiction and fantasy.

The Libertarian Futurist Society also presents the annual Prometheus Award for Best Novel and welcomes new members who are interested in science fiction and the future of freedom. More information is available at our website, www.lfs.org.

New Neal Stephenson book in 2019

Many libertarian SF fans enjoy the fiction of Neal Stephenson. He has won the Prometheus Award twice, in 2016 for Seveneves and in 2005 for The System of the World. He also was awarded the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2013 for Cryptonomicon.

So it’s welcome news for many of us that Stephenson will have a new novel, Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell out on June 4, 2019.

From the publisher’s blurb:

In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge’s family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge’s brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife—the Bitworld—is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls.

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . .

Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

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).