By Michael Grossberg
Libertarian futurists dream of unleashing the potential of every person to flourish, cooperate, innovate, progress, profit and pursue their happiness in peace and freedom – both here on earth, and perhaps eventually, beyond.
Yet, the politicization of society and increasingly, of our culture and arts, threatens that goal – and in the long run, undermines civility and could destroy civilization itself if this disturbing trend approaches authoritarian extremes.
In a thought-provoking article “Enslaving Art to Politics,” published recently in American Purpose magazine, writer Daniel Ross Goodman argues persuasively against the “politicization of literature.”
His essay should interest Libertarian Futurist Society members, even when Goodman makes some points about particular works and artists that we might respectfully disagree with.
“The best novelists, like all great artists, are not narrow-minded agenda-driven partisans but adventurers in the unbounded universe of the human imagination, who, through their fictions, help us better perceive vital truths about ourselves and our reality,” Goodman wrote in late September in the online magazine.
Award-winning novelist Sarah Hoyt has written a lovely and lyrical ode to Prometheus on her “According to Hoyt” blog.
Hoyt won the 2011 Prometheus Award-winner for Best Novel for Darkship Thieves, a Heinleinesque adventure-romance and the first novel in her exciting Darkship series about bioengineered humans, an insidious tyranny on Earth and a fully libertarian anarcho-capitalist society amid the asteroids in a future where humans have colonized our solar system.
Yet, Hoyt’s ode to Prometheus isn’t about the awards themselves, but a tribute to the mythical character that inspired their name.
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ history, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series to make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom works.
Here’s an Appreciation of Ayn Rand’s Anthem, a 1987 Prometheus Hall of Fame inductee for Best Classic Fiction.
For those who’ve never read Ayn Rand, Anthem is a good place to start. Imaginative and inspirational with a tone of reverence and discovery, Anthem ranks as one of the great dystopian works of 20th century literature, but also as the shortest and most poetic.
Its powerful and poignant theme: the rediscovery of the self. In Rand’s mythic and post-apocalyptic future of a primitive and very tribal society, the rediscovery of the self is tantamount to a revolutionary act amid the collectivism of forced servitude, ignorance, fear, stifling conformity and primitivism.
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society began publishing in 2019 a weekly series of Appreciations of each winner for Best Novel, the initial annual Prometheus category launched in 1979 – and is now focusing on the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction, the second annual awards category launched in 1983.
Following last week’s Appreciation by William H. Stoddard, here’s a second Appreciation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, one of the first two 1983 Prometheus Hall of Fame winners:
By Michael Grossberg
Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, a millions-selling bestseller that has remained in print since its original 1957 publication, offers the combined satisfactions of mystery, science fiction, romance and suspense thriller.
Yet Atlas Shrugged, in setting up and solving its intricate and interrelated mysteries, also resonates as an innovative, unconventional and philosophical novel about the power of ideas, for good and bad. Its fierce and noble focus is on the distinctive role played by free minds, free markets and free women and men in sustaining society and genuine life-affirming progress based on cooperation, not coercion.
To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing Appreciations of past award-winners. Here is our first Hall of Fame appreciation, by William H. Stoddard, of the first Hall of Fame co-winner: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, inducted in 1983 along with Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:
If any novelist was central to the emergence of the libertarian movement, it was Ayn Rand.
She wasn’t simply an adherent of ideas such as strict adherence to the Constitution or economic freedom, which were common among adherents of the “old right” at the time. She was also the source of such distinctive formulations as the concept of being a “radical for capitalism” (rather than a conservative) and the principle of noninitiation of force, which have been defining elements in libertarianism for half a century. And those ideas first came to widespread attention in her last and largest novel, Atlas Shrugged.
Was Atlas Shrugged “science fiction”? It certainly was received as such; it was reviewed in Astounding Science Fiction not once, but twice, by P. Schuyler Miller (who saw little value in it) and by John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding (who praised it—particularly for its insight into the cultural and psychological mechanisms that make political repression work).
It influenced some science fiction writers; in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, for example, the self-aware computer Mycroft is described as the “John Galt”of the Lunar revolution. It’s filled with marvelous inventions; not just the central ones, Rearden Metal and John Galt’s motor, but half a dozen ingenious minor devices, any one of which might have been the basis for a story in Astounding – and the Xylophone, a weapon of mass destruction based on new principles of energy transmission that plays a crucial role at the novel’s climax. And if Rand doesn’t go into detail on the scientific principles behind these inventions, or into the unexpected side effects of their use, a lot of science fiction doesn’t either.
To highlight and honor the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are providing a reader’s guide with capsule Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with the Best Novel category.
If you’ve ever wondered why a particular work of fiction has been recognized with a Prometheus Award and what libertarian sf fans see in these award-winning works, then our upcoming series of Appreciations should be must reading – as well as informative and illuminating!
Or, if you’re simply looking for something enjoyable and stimulating to read within the realm of science fiction and fantasy, which also illuminates abiding questions about the perennial tensions between Liberty and Power, an excellent place to begin is with this recommended reading list of award-winning fiction (to be published here on a regular weekly (or biweekly) schedule, starting now (September 2019).
These capsule appreciations are being written and edited by LFS members (including LFS founder Michael Grossberg, LFS President William H. Stoddard, and veteran LFS leaders and board members Chris Hibbert, Tom Jackson, Anders Monsen, Eric Raymond, and others). In a few cases, the Appreciations will be based in part on reviews printed in the Prometheus quarterly (1982-2016) or the Prometheus blog (2017-today). Since 1979, a wide array of novels, novellas, stories, films, TV series and other works of fiction have won Prometheus awards by highlighting in fascinatingly different ways the value of voluntary social cooperation over institutionalized State coercion, the importance of respecting human rights (even for that smallest minority, the individual), and the evils of tyranny (whether on the Left or the Right).