Power, empire, time travel and liberty: A review of The Collected Short Stories of Poul Anderson, Volume 1

By Anders Monsen

book cover

Between 2009 and 2014 NESFA press published seven volumes of short fiction and poetry by Poul Anderson in handsome hardcover editions for around $30 each.

These volumes were still available from the NESFA website, at least when I purchased them years ago, with volume seven released in 2017 as the final volume in the series. The stories do not appear chronologically.

Anderson, who has won several Prometheus Awards for best novel, four Hall of Fame awards, and a Lifetime Special Award, was a prolific writer who published his first science fiction story in 1947, some months before his twenty-first birthday.

He wrote fiction for more than half a century, so while these six volumes by no means collect all his short fiction, they contain a treasure trove for any fan of his fiction.

Continue reading Power, empire, time travel and liberty: A review of The Collected Short Stories of Poul Anderson, Volume 1

Alternate history as a fruitful genre for re-imagining themes of Liberty versus Power: An Appreciation and Comparison of Harry Turtledove’s The Gladiator and Jo Walton’s Ha’Penny, co-winners of the 2008 Prometheus Award for Best Novel

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 presentING a series of weekly Appreciations of Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our first category for Best Novel.

Here’s the latest Appreciation – and an intriguing comparison – of Harry Turtledove’s The Gladiator and Jo Walton’s Ha’Penny, co-winners of the 2008 Prometheus Award for Best Novel:

By William H. Stoddard

The year 2008 saw, for the first time, a tie between two Prometheus Award nominees for Best Novel: Harry Turtledove’s The Gladiator (in his Crosstime Traffic series from Tor Books) and Jo Walton’s Ha’Penny (in her Small Change series, also from Tor Books).

Ordinarily, each winner would merit its own entry; but there are interesting parallels between the two, which make it especially fitting that they shared the award, and illuminating to examine them together.

Turtledove has been known primarily as an author of alternate history, making his mark with early works such as A Different Flesh (1988), set on an Earth where the Americas are inhabited by surviving Homo erectus, and The Guns of the South, in which South African engineers help Robert E. Lee to victory, with surprising results. The six volumes of Crosstime Traffic are a young adult series about trade between parallel Earths.

Walton’s oeuvre has been more varied, but Small Change is definitely alternate history, set in a timeline where the United Kingdom came to terms with Germany in the 1930s.

It belongs to a subgenre that’s not usually considered science fictional: the cozy mystery, commonly set in a domain of wealthy and privileged people (not very different from the setting of the Jeeves and Wooster stories!) and keeping overt violence and the cruder sorts of crime offstage.

Walton mixes this with a different subgenre, the police procedural, making her continuing protagonist a Scotland Yard investigator. The science-fictional aspect comes from Walton’s careful exploration of the cultural divergence to be expected in her alternate timeline.
Continue reading Alternate history as a fruitful genre for re-imagining themes of Liberty versus Power: An Appreciation and Comparison of Harry Turtledove’s The Gladiator and Jo Walton’s Ha’Penny, co-winners of the 2008 Prometheus Award for Best Novel

God, atheism, philosophical speculation and a dying assassin in an irreverent sci-fi private-eye noir fantasy: An Appreciation of Victor Koman’s The Jehovah Contract, the 1988 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we’re posting a series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our earliest Best Novel awards.

Here’s the eighth Appreciation for Victor Koman’s The Jehovah Contract, following appreciations for novels by F. Paul Wilson, L. Neil Smith, J. Neil Schulman, James P. Hogan, Victor Milan and Vernor Vinge:

Victor Koman’s audacious 1987 thriller-noir-fantasy The Jehovah Contract centers on dying atheistic assassin Del Ammo – masquerading as a private detective, and living in the ruins of a terrorist-bombed skyscraper – who’s given a contract to kill God. Yes, God!

Clever philosophical speculations by Koman, a veteran libertarian, accent his suspenseful and prescient story, set in a near-future Los Angeles, as the assassin finds a way to excise the concept of God from the minds of humanity and enable a more laissez-faire “Creatrix” to return to power.
Continue reading God, atheism, philosophical speculation and a dying assassin in an irreverent sci-fi private-eye noir fantasy: An Appreciation of Victor Koman’s The Jehovah Contract, the 1988 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Advanced technology, global politics, authoritarianism, monopoly power and centuries of struggle for liberty: An Appreciation of Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Real Time, the 1987 Prometheus Best Novel winner

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 seventh Appreciation for Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Real Time, following recent appreciations for novels by J. Neil Schulman, F. Paul Wilson, L. Neil Smith and James P. Hogan, No Award (the 1985 choice) and Victor Milan:

By William H. Stoddard

In 1985, Vinge’s The Peace War lost out to No Award in the Prometheus voting. In 1987, its sequel, Marooned in Realtime, was recognized as Best Novel — the first of several Best Novel and Hall of Fame awards to the author.

The Peace War had shown a market-oriented and anarchistic society in a future central California. But it wasn’t portrayed in detail, and existed within a larger world that was decidedly NOT libertarian, controlled by the repressive Peace Authority. And one of the viewpoint characters was a military officer who considered the libertarian society that Vinge sketched unsustainable.

In contrast, Marooned in Realtime’s characters look back to a past in which libertarian values had triumphed, and the central character is widely admired for his role in bringing down one of the Earth’s last states (a story told in “The Ungoverned,” a novella that won the LFS’s 2004 Hall of Fame Award).

The libertarianism stands out more.
Continue reading Advanced technology, global politics, authoritarianism, monopoly power and centuries of struggle for liberty: An Appreciation of Vernor Vinge’s Marooned in Real Time, the 1987 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Pioneering cyberpunk, love, duty, justice and free will: An Appreciation of Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai, the 1986 Prometheus Best Novel winner

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.

Following recent appreciations for F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, James Hogan’s Voyage to Yesteryear and Neil Schulman’s The Rainbow Cadenza, here’s our next Appreciation for Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai:

The 1985 novel, one of the forgotten works of the early cyberpunk scene, explores the tensions between duty and free will, duty and love and duty and justice in a harsh future where some people struggle to be free within a largely totalitarian Earth.

Imagining a 21stcentury between the third and fourth world wars in a story whose hero is the world’s first sentient computer, Milan portrays a bloody and terrible future in which much of the world is destroyed but Japan becomes the last refuge of a dying free society and free market.
Continue reading Pioneering cyberpunk, love, duty, justice and free will: An Appreciation of Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai, the 1986 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Rambunctious adventure, detective drama and Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian conflicts in a rollicking multiverse: An Appreciation of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, the 1982 Best Novel winner

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS) 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. (The first Appreciation, posted recently on this blog, focused on F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, which won the first Prometheus Award in 1979.)

This second Appreciation focuses on L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, the 1982 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel presented by the Libertarian Futurist Society:

By Michael Grossberg
L. Neil Smith’s rollicking, fun-loving sf adventure novel, one of the most influential books of the Libertarian movement as its ideas were spreading in the early 1980s, imagines alternate time lines accessible through the probability broach, a portal to many worlds.

Continue reading Rambunctious adventure, detective drama and Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian conflicts in a rollicking multiverse: An Appreciation of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, the 1982 Best Novel winner

Power, liberty, galactic intrigue and how markets tend to reduce inequality and bigotry: A 40th Anniversary Celebration and Appreciation of F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, the first Prometheus award winner in 1979

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.

Continue reading Power, liberty, galactic intrigue and how markets tend to reduce inequality and bigotry: A 40th Anniversary Celebration and Appreciation of F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, the first Prometheus award winner in 1979

Back to the Moon: Lunar fiction from Heinlein to McDonald, Weir and Corcoran

By William H. Stoddard

Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a classic of libertarian science fiction; along with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, it was the first winner of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame award in 1983. Many science fiction fans, and not only libertarians, regard it as one of his best novels. But for nearly half a century after its original publication in 1966, it inspired no obvious imitators. Now, that’s started to change, with the appearance of multiple novels that explore the idea of a “free Luna” in the near future.

In 2015, Ian McDonald published Luna: New Moon, followed in 2017 by Luna: Wolf Moon; as of the time this is written, a third volume, Luna: Moon Rising is shortly to appear. In 2017, Travis Corcoran published the first volume of his Aristillus series, The Powers of the Earth, winner of the Prometheus Award for best novel, followed in 2018 by Causes of Separation. Also in 2017, Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, published Artemis. All three novels or series have important elements in common with each other and with Heinlein’s novel — but at the same time, they develop them in significantly different ways.
Continue reading Back to the Moon: Lunar fiction from Heinlein to McDonald, Weir and Corcoran

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.”

 

 

What Do You Mean ‘Libertarian’?

A bust of J.R.R. Tolkien in the chapel of Exeter College, Oxford. (Creative Commons photo). 

By William H. Stoddard

The Prometheus Award has been given annually since 1982, and the Hall of Fame Award since 1983. All through the twenty-first century, lists of four to six finalists have been announced for each award. And for much of that time, online comments on the nominations and awards have often questioned their rationale.  There have been comments suggesting that the awards could go to virtually any book, or to winners that have no libertarian content, or indeed are actively opposed to libertarianism.

“Virtually any book” is an exaggeration. There are any number of compelling books whose themes aren’t political: The Island of Dr. Moreau, At the Mountains of Madness, and Ringworld are all examples. Even past winners of the Prometheus Award have written such books, such as Michael Flynn’s brilliantly tragic The Wreck of The River of Stars. There are also books written from viewpoints opposed to libertarianism, such as Star Maker or the Foundation series. I think it’s safe to say that none of these could have been a Best Novel nominee, or can be expected to be a Hall of Fame nominee.
Continue reading What Do You Mean ‘Libertarian’?