Interview: LFS President William H. Stoddard on fandom, freedom, favorite novels and the power of language

Few individuals have made more of a difference to the Libertarian Futurist Society and the Prometheus Awards in the 21st century than William H. Stoddard.

Bill, as he’s known to friends and fellow LFS members, has led the nonprofit, all-volunteer group of freedom-loving sf fans for more than a decade as president of the board of directors.

William H. Stoddard (File photo)

But Stoddard has done far more for many years, writing reviews of sf/fantasy for the Prometheus newsletter and more recently, this blog, and serving for decades as a key judge on both finalist-judging committees for the Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction categories of the Prometheus Award.

Here is LFS Secretary Michael Grossberg’s interview with Stoddard about how he became an sf fan, a libertarian and an active LFS member and what are some of his favorite writers and Prometheus-winning works.

Q: What Prometheus Award winners especially excited you or pleased you when they won for Best Novel?

A: For the Best Novel Award, I’d name two.

Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind (1991 award) asked “what if Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine had come into use in the nineteenth century?” in the form, not of an alternate history, but of a hidden history where multiple secretive groups used predictive social science (made possible by Analytical Engines) to create the actual history of the twentieth century from behind the scenes; it was one of my main influences when I wrote GURPS Steampunk for Steve Jackson Games in 2000.

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Interstellar travel, mercantile networks, bureaucracy and decentralization: An Appreciation for Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, the 2000 Prometheus Best Novel winner

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 continuing in 2020 to present a series of weekly Appreciations of Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our first category for Best Novel.

Here’s the latest Appreciation for Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky:

By William H. Stoddard and Michael Grossberg

   Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky is an exemplary example of the New Space Opera of the 1990s, and a fascinating and complex sequel to his Hugo-winning novel A Fire Upon the Deep.

Set in the inner Milky Way galaxy with fully realized characters, both alien and human, the story highlights the threats to civilization from centralized power while illuminating the civilizing dynamics of free-trade networks.

Vinge’s epic novel imagines a complex future with many human-inhabited planets that have developed over several thousand years through slower-than-light interstellar travel, terraforming, life-extension techniques, and advanced computer networks.

Yet many of these advanced societies repeatedly have collapsed into barbarism and decay through the failed dream of collectivism, statism, or subtle computational failures.
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