To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ diverse four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as pro-freedom, anti-authoritarian or dystopian sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series of all past award-winners.
Here is an Appreciation of Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion, a 1985 Prometheus Hall of Fame co-winner for Best Classic Fiction.
By Michael Grossberg
The power of peaceful behavior and non-violent resistance is explored in The Great Explosion.
British author Eric Frank Russell’s satirical 1962 novel, which incorporates in its final third section his classic golden-age-sf 1951 short story “…And Then There Were None,” is set in an expansive interstellar future in which millions have used a faster-than-light transport system to escape an increasingly bureaucratic and statist Earth and have settled countless planets.
When ships with soldiers and bureaucrats and pompous officials from a still-statist and aggressively imperialist Earth arrive four centuries to visit and take over three of the planets, they find a penal colony with a corrupt and despotic government on the first, health and fitness fanatic nudists on the second and no signs of human life on the third planet, colonized by a religious group.
But they face their biggest mystery – and largest challenge – on a final fourth planet, filled with people who calls themselves Gands (after Gandhi) and whose agrarian culture and economy have embraced a classless libertarian anarchy based on passive resistance to unjust authority.
Despite the best bullying and threatening efforts of the Earth bureaucrats and soldiers, they find it strangely difficult to re-establish Earth authority. The farmers just say MYOB and keep farming, frustrating and mystifying the bureaucrats. (Eventually, they figure out that MYOB is the planetary culture’s slang abbreviation for a central cultural imperative: Mind Your Own Business.)
Worst of all, from the perspective of the imperialist invaders, the planet’s libertarian culture is so seductive that many soldiers, allowed on shore leave because official regulations mandate it if a planet’s population is clearly non-hostile, “go native” and decide to stay on the planet. The ironic result is that the invaders must hasten to return to Earth before they’ve lost so many crew that their ship won’t be able to fly again.
The surprisingly lighthearted tone of satire makes reading the novel a delight – as it constantly sparks smiles and even laughter. One of the best jokes involves a clever twist on the common bureaucratic attitude that “we’re the government and we’re here to help you.” Yea, right.
That type of humor and this cautionary novel reflects but also helps sustain and spread the American spirit of resilience, independence and anti-statist skepticism that continues to percolate through our culture today, despite anti-libertarian and illiberal movements on the Left and Right. Thus it may not have been a coincidence that Russell’s story did its small part to help sf fans and other outsiders to survive the “conformist 1950s” in which the germ of this novel was born and perhaps also help spark the more rebellious and quasi-libertarian anti-war, anti-draft and pro-free-speech movements that emerged in the 1960s.
In an amusing and clever fable reflecting the peaceful non-violent philosophy and live-and-let-live spirit championed by Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Russell employs his widely admired sense of irony and wit to dramatize the persuasive moral power of a society without government.
Note: Eric Frank Russell (1905-1978) was a British author best known for his science fiction novels and short stories.
Besides winning the Prometheus Hall of Fame award for The Great Explosion, Russell wrote Wasp,a later Hall of Fame finalist. He was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2000, its fifth class of two deceased and two living writers.
Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: An Appreciation of Poul Anderson’s Trader to the Stars, the other 1985 co-winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.
Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40thanniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history.
Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website.
* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.
Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans. Libertarian futurists believe upholding and advancing culture is as vital as politics (and often more fulfilling, positive and productive in the longer run) in spreading positive visions of the future, achieving a flourishing society based on cooperation instead of coercion and a better, free-er world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.