A cyberspace, cyberpunk landmark in sf history: Vernor Vinge’s True Names, a 2007 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ diverse four-decade-plus history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a pro-freedom and/or anti-authoritarian work of sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society has been publishing since 2019 a series of Appreciations of all past award-winners.

Here is an Appreciation of Vernor Vinge’s story “True Names,” a 2007 Prometheus Hall of Fame co-winner for Best Classic Fiction.
By Michael Grossberg  
 and Chris Hibbert

“True Names” is a seminal work of the cyberpunk genre.

A landmark when it was published in 1981, Vernor Vinge’s now-classic story gave the public their first glimpse of cyberspace and showed how the struggle for control might penetrate the new medium.

One of the earliest works of fiction to present a fully detailed concept of cyberspace, the story also explores themes of anarchism and trans-humanism that are of great interest to libertarian futurists.

The story follows the progress of a group of computer hackers who keep their true identities secret while being among the first to adopt a new full-immersion virtual-reality technology. They do so out of curiosity or an entrepreneurial desire to profit – both respectable and even laudable motivations from the libertarian perspective that appreciates the crucial role of innovation and free markets in advancing human progress, prosperity, well-being and knowledge.

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Freedom and free will in a dystopian welfare-state: Anthony Burgess’ darkly humorous A Clockwork Orange, the 2008 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ impressive and diverse four-decade track record, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series of all of our award-winners. Here’s an Appreciation for Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, the 2008 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction:

“When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” – Anthony Burgess

By Michael Grossberg

A Clockwork Orange may not be remembered or read as widely today as some other dystopian novels, but it arguably ranks among the best-written, most shocking and most plausible works of that seminal 20th century genre.

Today, British writer Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel is far better known from director Stanley Kubrick’s vivid 1971 film. Yet, the nightmarish novel rightly was included on Time magazine’s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.

Even if you’re a fan of the controversial film version (as I am), Burgess’ novel is well worth reading for its own sake – especially for its imaginative style, dark humor, inventive slang language, and insightful portrait of a disturbing future in a culture corrupted by a bloated and obtrusive welfare state.

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Action, passion, humor, mystery, sf, the evils of evasion and the liberating power of facing reality: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a 1983 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

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.

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Rationality, objectivity, a mysterious new motor and civilization collapse: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the first co-winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame in 1983

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:

By William H. Stoddard

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.

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Slavery, liberty, racism and the lessons of history: An Appreciation of Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, a 2012 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear what makes each winner deserve recognition as notable pro-freedom sf/fantasy, the Libertarian Futurist Society is presenting weekly Appreciations of past award-winners. Our anniversary series was launched in 2019 – 40 years after the first Prometheus Award was presented – starting with appreciation/reviews of the earliest winners in the original Best Novel category, and continuing in chronological order.
Here’s the latest Appreciation for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, one of two 2012 Prometheus Award winners for Best Novel:

By Michael Grossberg
Some stories teach the young and remind their elders of core truths about civilization, justice and humanity – such as the goodness of liberty and the evils of slavery.
One of the best is Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, a young-adult historical fantasy novel that focuses on an adolescent girl of 1960 who is magically sent back in time to 1860 when her family owned slaves on a Louisiana plantation.

Sophie, 13, explores a maze while spending the summer at her grandmother’s old Bayou house, part of an old pre-Civil-War plantation, and makes an impulsive wish for escape and grand adventure. Thanks to a mysterious and tricky spirit, her wish is granted and she finds herself unexpectedly stranded a century into the past.

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Free trade, private property, civil liberties, classical liberalism and modern libertarianism: An Appreciation of Neal Stephenson’s The System of the World, the 2005 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 Neal Stephenson’s The System of the World, the 2005 Prometheus Best Novel winner:

By William H. Stoddard

The development in the late 1600s and early 1700s of the modern world’s classical liberal institutions, which paved the way for modern libertarianism, is explored in Neal Stephenson’s epic 2004 novel, the climax of the author’s ambitious Baroque Cycle trilogy (preceded by Quicksilver and The Confusion), which has been hailed by Entertainment Weekly as “the definitive historical-sci-fi-epic-pirate-comedy-punk love story.”

In the complex, multi-threaded plot of The System of the World, Stephenson traces the distant ancestors of many key characters from his earlier novel Cryptonomicon through encounters with major figures in the science and politics of the era, among whom Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz are key figures. In effect, this is a secret history of the origins of experimental natural science, the British monetary system, and the antislavery movement, among other elements of modernity.


The Baroque Cycle – which touches upon the development in the 1700s of such classical-liberal institutions as the rule of law, limited government, due process, civil liberties, free trade, private property, and separation of church and state – can be read as a straightforwardly historical novel drawing on such sources as the French Annales school of historiography — if a wildly inventive one that fully lives up to the label “baroque.”

Continue reading Free trade, private property, civil liberties, classical liberalism and modern libertarianism: An Appreciation of Neal Stephenson’s The System of the World, the 2005 Prometheus Best Novel winner