Podcast with Prometheus Award nominees (Andy Weir! Sarah Hoyt! Ken MacLeod!) etc.

“Torchship” trilogy author Karl Gallagher has organized a podcast featuring most of the authors of this year’s group of Prometheus Award nominees. The podcast will be broadcast live at 2 p.m. April 14 (that’s a Saturday) on Daddy Warpig’s Geek Gab.

Here again are the nominees:

* Drug Lord: High Ground by Doug Casey and John Hunt (High Ground Books)
* Powers of the Earth, by Travis Corcoran (Morlock Publishing)
*Torchship, Torchship Pilot and Torchship Captain, by Karl Gallagher (Kelt Haven Press)
* Darkship Revenge, by Sarah Hoyt (Baen Books)
* The Corporation Wars: Emergence by Ken MacLeod (Orbit Books)
Artemis, by Andy Weir (Crown Books)

Gallagher, who organized the event, says all of the authors have agreed to take part, except for Casey and Hunt, who have schedule conflicts.

Gallagher reports, “We’ll also be on the Krypton Radio ‘Event Horizon’ but it’s not scheduled yet. The host is reading the books to prepare. That’s recorded in advance so we should be able to find a time for everyone.”

 

 

 

 

Karen Anderson has died

Karen Anderson around 1965, from Astrid Anderson’s Facebook post. 

Karen Anderson has died. She was the widow of Poul Anderson, and co-authored a number of books with her husband.

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.

 

Neal Stephenson wins 2018 Heinlein Award

 

Neal Stephenson (Creative Commons photo) 

Neal Stephenson, a favorite of many of us in the Libertarian Futurist Society, has won the 2018 Robert A. Heinlein Award.

The award is given for “outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.”

Stephenson has won the Prometheus Award twice, for Seveneves and The System of the World, and our Hall of Fame Award, for Cryptonomicon. Heinlein has won the Hall of Fame Award seven times for works such as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. 

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society has an article with more information on the Heinlein Award, including a list of past winners.

Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

By Chris Hibbert

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

I really enjoyed reading Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, though it was more the setting than the story that had me entranced.

Doctorow envisions a relatively high tech future with a strong upper class with strict controls on many aspects of society, but there’s an informal, unsupported safety valve that makes it possible for people to get out from under the plutocrats (called Zottas here). Doctorow’s society is fraying around the edges, so there are lots of abandoned industrial facilities and vacant land that people who are fed up can Walkaway to. Once there they create informal voluntary societies, and exploit the abandoned wealth they find around them. As with Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom this is a reputation based society, but many of the people who fuel this iteration explicitly reject the ideas of ratings and rankings and tracking contributions. People work together for the joy of it, and record their ideas and plans so others can replicate what works and improve on what doesn’t.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

In a focal early scene, Limpopo and her companions have been working for months to build a habitation called the Belt and Braces in the wilderness. Limpopo leads by doing a lot of the work, and she has argued convincingly that using leaderboards and rewarding people based on their contributions are ineffective ways to encourage desirable behaviors because they incentivize the wrong kinds of effort. Jimmy had lost an earlier round of this argument and been asked to leave. He returns with a crowd of allies one day when Limpopo is working outside, and his crowd uses the lack of formal rules to rewrite the software controls and impose a reward structure. A common response to this kind of disagreement would be to wage a “revert” battle in the software, but Limpopo uses this opportunity to demonstrate the depth of her commitment to the “Walkaway” philosophy by announcing that she’s not going to fight over it. Instead, she’ll go somewhere else and start over, leaving Jimmy with full possession of an empty shell. When pressed, she declares “I didn’t make it. It wasn’t mine. I didn’t let him take it.” The Walkaway philosophy is to not have belongings, so as not be attached to your stuff. It’s impossible to steal from them because they don’t acknowledge ownership.

The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott

For me, the model that strikes home is the ability to withdraw from an existing government and decamp to a new location to just start over. The current international order doesn’t seem to leave any gaps for things like this, but I’m currently in the middle of reading James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed, which presents a history of South East Asia that says that the shape of the societies in that part of the world has been driven for millennia largely by the people who moved to less accessible locations in order to escape governments that were getting unbearable. Scott argues that the sociology of the closely related peoples living in hills and valleys were driven more by which crops and living arrangements were easy for governments to count and tax in the valleys, and hard for them to find and more durable in the remote and higher settlements.

Doctorow doesn’t try to argue that it’s easy, and in fact shows that the walkaway crowd is doing an immense amount of work in order to rebuild. I find this model of decentralized self government very sympathetic. There’s no acknowledged government with territorial exclusivity, and people are able to leave if they don’t like the way things are being run. There is plenty of open room to move to, and there’s enough generalized wealth at hand and accessible know how that people don’t feel tied down.

The unfortunate part of Walkaway is that Doctorow needed a conflict, and the one he sets up is that the Zottas are jealous of their control over society, and see the walkaways as a threat, so they’re willing to kidnap, torture and send in the troops in order to regain control. In the final battle scene, a Zotta leader’s daughter is in the target area, and the Zotta’s back down. But in the meantime, the walkaway society’s story is one of resisting violence from outside rather than the peaceful coexistence they’re working so hard to get.

I agree with Doctorow’s aesthetic sense; focusing on this society after the Zottas have ceded control wouldn’t provide conflict at the same existential level, but it would be a much nicer place to live, both for those who walk away and those who remain behind in the “default” economy.

Doctorow knows how to tell a story: There are a lot of funny and touching scenes in the story, and he covers a lot of ground. In addition to the overall situation which I’ve focused on so far, the story covers many kinds of relationships, uploading makes a major sub-plot, and the unequal distribution of society’s benefits is explored. He does have a darker outlook than I on where technology is heading. The reason there are riches lying around is that the Zottas would rather shutter outmoded plants than sell them and allow someone else to exploit the resources they contain. There are many highly trained mercenaries around that the Zottas can hire who will do their bidding, no matter how distasteful it might seem to us. But that’s visible in many of his other stories, and he still manages to be entertaining and paint a hopeful picture about how people can get along together and build something great. This book is being considered for this year’s Prometheus, and it’s my current favorite.

Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Annalee Newitz (Creative Commons photo)

By William H. Stoddard

Annalee Newitz has had a successful career as a print and online journalist, and has published several books, but until Autonomous, all of these were nonfiction. It was a happy discovery for me that her first venture into fiction showed real mastery of the craft. I laughed at her epigraph from “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate,” and promptly tracked the song down and bought it; and the opening page of her narrative hooked me and kept me reading. Both her handling of characterization and plot, and the quality of her prose, were the kind of thing I hope for when I glance at a new book and ask if I want to read it.

The title Autonomous refers to one of the novel’s plotlines and themes: an examination of the ethical and legal rights of artificial intelligences, through the struggles of various robots to deal with their “indentured” status. Ingeniously, Newitz envisions a future society where human beings, though born free, can also become indentured after falling into debt, or take on indentures to finance education and training. The complexities of the resulting laws affect a number of significant plot points, including a subplot about an indentured human being. Newitz has ingeniously combined a social satire on the problem of educational debt with an exploration of the ethical status of nonhumans.

However, the primary plot reflects a different issue: intellectual property. This has been much debated both in public policy and among libertarians; the emergence of the online world has heated up the debate, as copying and sharing texts, pictures, music, and videos has become all but costless. Libertarian views have ranged from support for indefinitely prolonged intellectual property rights to complete abolition of copyrights and patents. Newitz’s protagonist, a smuggler who sells pirated drugs to people who can’t afford to pay what the patent holders are asking, discovers that one of her products has seriously destructive side effects; ironically, it’s her efforts to set things right and make amends that entangle her in a struggle with the company that holds the patent, and with the covert operatives who try to enforce it on their behalf. I think libertarian readers will find this thought provoking. Both in the case of indentures and in the case of patents, Newitz’s story explores the possibility that some things that are called “property rights” may be unjust and exploitative.

It appeals to me, too, that Newitz’s protagonist is an entrepreneur; and that,  having discovered a problem with one of her products, she promptly sets out to make things right for her customers. Everything else follows from that, in the same way that everything in the Iliad follows from Achilles’ anger with Agamemnon. So the whole story is one of virtuous entrepreneurship. Autonomous doesn’t show us a large-scale transition to a free society, but it gives us a protagonist who has the qualities we would like such a society to nurture.

Our latest ‘Hall of Fame’ nominees span many decades

Rudyard Kipling

The Prometheus Hall of Fame Award honors classic SF that promotes individual liberty, and with our current crop of nominees, we’ve reached across decades of work — one of the nominations is for a Rudyard Kipling story published in 1912, and we also have work from the 1940s, the 1960s and the 1980s. Official press release follows.

— Tom Jackson

The Libertarian Futurist Society has selected five finalists for the 2018 Hall of Fame Award. This year’s finalists are:

• “As Easy as A.B.C.,” a short story by Rudyard Kipling (first published 1912 in London Magazine): In the second of his “airship utopia” stories, an unpopular minority in a future society calls for the revival of democracy, and a largely hands-off world government is called in to protect them from mob violence.

•”With Folded Hands . . .,” a short story by Jack Williamson (first published 1947 in Astounding Science Fiction): A cautionary tale of a future society under the control of entirely benevolent AIs.

•”Starfog,” a short story by Poul Anderson (first published 1967 in Analog): An agent of a mutual aid association spanning many solar systems seeks a way to carry out a large-scale project without taxation or central planning.

• “Conquest by Default,” a short story by Vernor Vinge (first published 1968 in Analog): Vernor Vinge’s first exploration of the possible form of an anarchistically organized society, set on a post-nuclear war Earth visited by an alien culture.

• The Island Worlds, a novel by Eric Kotani and John Maddox Roberts (first published 1986 by Baen Books): A libertarian independence movement in the asteroids struggles against domination by an Earth-based bureaucracy—and its own disagreements over strategies for attaining freedom.

In addition to these nominees, the Hall of Fame Committee considered six other works: “ILU-486,” by Amanda Ching; That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis; 2112, by Rush; A Time of Changes, by Robert Silverberg; “Harrison Bergeron,” by Kurt Vonnegut; and The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn, by T.H. White, as a combined nomination.

The final vote will take place in mid-2018. All Libertarian Futurist Society members are eligible to vote. The award will be presented at a major science fiction convention.

Nominations for the 2019 Hall of Fame Award can be submitted to committee chair William H. Stoddard (halloffame at this domain) at any time. All LFS members are eligible to nominate. 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; they must explore themes revelant to libertarianism and must be science fiction, fantasy, or related genres.

The Libertarian Futurist Society also presents the annual Prometheus Award 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.

 

Author Victor Milán has died

Author Victor Milán, who won the Prometheus Award in 1986 for Cybernetic Samurai, died on Feb. 13, age 63.

Locus has posted an obituary, and author George R.R. Martin has posted a warm appreciation. 

“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.

 

Reason magazine on our fight over ‘The Dispossessed’

My Jan. 24 blog post on the death of prominent SF writer Ursula K. LeGuin mentioned that she won our Hall of Fame Award in 1993, for The Dispossessed.

I know now a lot more about the history behind that award, thanks to a new article by Victoria Varga. 

Varga, the former editor of The Prometheus, the newsletter we sent out until we established this blog, explains that the novel came out in 1974 and she nominated it for the Hall of Fame Award in 1983, touching off years of debate. LeGuin appreciated the nominations but privately expressed doubt it would win, although it finally did. The people defending the novel included Robert Shea, who won the Hall of Fame Award in 1986 for the Illuminatus! trilogy, co-written with Robert Anton Wilson.

If you are curious, you can look at the full list of our award winners. 

— Tom Jackson

Ursula K. LeGuin has died


Ursula K. LeGuin (with Harlan Ellison) at Westercon in Portland, Oregon, in 1984. Creative Commons photo by Pip R. Lagenta. 

Ursula K. LeGuin, who has died at age 88, wrote a variety of fiction and poetry. She preferred to be known as an “American novelist.” But we science fiction fans can claim her, too, as the above photograph illustrates. Her awards included a Hugo and Nebula for The Left Hand of Darkness, but she also won our Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1993, for The Dispossessed.