Championing cooperation over coercion: A Tor.com survey of some of the most intriguing sf, fantasy that finds alternatives to violence as the plot solution

Libertarian futurists champion peaceful, non-violent behavior over acts of aggression, whether committed by individuals, groups or governments.
In fact, modern libertarian political philosophy is based on the principle of non-aggression – coupled with self-ownership (and self-defense against aggression) as the core of property rights, the strongest and most practical base for all human rights, properly understood.
So it’s fascinating to read science fiction and fantasy that explores such themes.
In the latest issue of Tor.com, writer James Davis Nicoll surveys the sf/fantasy literature and offers several examples of works that fit that focus in “SFF Works In Which Violence is Not the Solution.”


Partly because most of his selections lean toward fantasy, and more recent works at that, few libertarian sf fans may be familiar with his list.
Since hard-sf writers Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven won the 1992 Prometheus Award for Best Novel for co-authoring Fallen Angels (with Michael Flynn), LFS members may be more familiar with Nicoll’s highlighting of Pournelle’s and Niven’s The Mote in God’s Eye, a gripping and epic dangerous-first-contact saga focused on the seemingly unavoidable prospect of interstellar war.
Nicoll writes: “It was an unexpected plot twist that the Empire of Man, though capable of turning whole worlds into parking lots, didn’t incinerate the dangerous alien Moties. The Empire settled for a solution (well, perhaps “response” is more apt)… a response that kicked the can down the road in the hope that a non-genocidal solution might be found.”


Among the most intriguing unfamiliar titles (at least, to me) that Nicoll highlights is Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Times series, which includes Children of Time (TOR Books, 2015) and its sequel Children of Ruin (TOR, May 2019).
According to Nicholl, the novels feature two terraforming projects that create worlds populated by alien life that humans might find disturbing because they resemble Earth species that often trigger human phobias.
From Nicoll’s description, at least, the latter 2019 novel – eligible for consideration for this year’s Prometheus Award for Best Novel – may have some libertarian potential because of his aliens:
“The planet of the intelligent spiders featured in Time is bad enough.  Ruin offers not just a civilization of anarchistic octopuses, but true aliens straight out of Who Goes There? One might expect resolutions featuring an abundance of nuclear weapons or a well-aimed asteroid, perhaps. Tchaikovsky’s cast make entirely different decisions.”

Anarchistic octopuses? (I knew that species was smart!) Sounds fascinating…

But there are quite a few classic science fiction novels – among them, several Prometheus Award winners – that Nicholl leaves off his list (although he graciously invites readers to suggest others in their comments.)
And quite a few readers have responded with other suggestions  – including a few who recommend Prometheus-winning authors and books.


For example, mdhughes offers a comment recommending Vernor Vinge, who’s won two Prometheus Awards (including for his story “The Ungoverned”), as well as Heinlein, who’s won more Prometheus recognition than any other author:
“Vernor Vinge’s The Peace War and “The Ungoverned” are peaceful people with the setting’s One Weird Gadget trying to prevent armed people from imposing tyrannies or starting shooting wars.
Many Heinlein books are resolved by suing their enemies in lieu of just going out and shooting them.
And the case where it doesn’t always work: Richard Matheson wrote a couple of westerns. The Gun Fight has an elder gunfighter trying for the entire book to avoid duelling a dumb kid who took offense. Every step of the way, gossipping idiots make that harder,” mdhughes wrote.

Also: Commenter AndyLove recommends James Hogan, who won the Prometheus award twice for Voyage From Yesteryear and The Multiplex Man:
“James Hogan’s early works are refreshingly violence free – “Inherit the Stars” has the only plot-relevant violence having occurred 50,000 in the past, and “Thrice Upon a Time” has no violence at all as I recall,” AndyLove wrote.

After reading all that, I couldn’t resist adding my own comment and Prometheus-winning recommendations to the dozens already made to the TOR feature:

“Eric Frank Russell’s 1950s golden-age-sf novel The Great Explosion and F. Paul Wilson’s La Nague Federation series, especially An Enemy of the State and Wheels within Wheels, both ingeniously explore the issue of how to defend liberty against aggressive invaders, or an existing tyranny, without resorting to violence and war.
Although the use of force in self-defense is morally justified, both authors focus on passive resistance or the use of indirect incentives (such as economic pressures) to fight aggression, or in the case of Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, to oppose and undermine bigotry and racism.
All of these Prometheus Award-winning novels, thus, reflect the libertarian core principles of non-aggression, voluntary social cooperation (through society, culture and the marketplace, etc.) and respect for other people’s moral autonomy, human dignity (with Wilson, also applied to alien’s rights).
P.S. These are just a few of many award-winning novels, in some cases inspired by Gandhi, Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment to nonviolence as a moral and practical strategy, on the Prometheus Award-winning list of past winners available at www.lfs.org “


As a bonus, my comment sparked this positive comment from someone who doesn’t appear to be a libertarian.
Commenter weequahic wrote:  “Your reference to “the libertarian core principles of non-aggression . . .” makes me wonder if I’ve fallen victim to my sub-group’s prejudices. I’d always assumed “libertarian” meant “stand your ground–hard–even if no one is threatening you.” Amazing to realize there’s always at least two sides, with decent people all around.”

How refreshing, especially in this polarized and increasingly tribal post-9/11 era, to find someone who has a different perspective but is willing to listen to and consider yours, with respect and an open mind.

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Membership in the Libertarian Futurist Society is open to all freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for more than five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio Society of Professional Journalists awards for Best Critic in Ohio (also won in 2015, for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason magazine, was a regional columnist for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including 1990s critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook, and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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