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.”

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An Appreciation of Ken MacLeod’s The Stone Canal, the 1998 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 see in each of our past winners that made them deserve recognition as pro-freedom or anti-authoritarian 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 The Stone Canal, by Ken MacLeod:

Ken MacLeod’s The Stone Canal ranges widely in its exploration of different political systems on different planets in a future marked by wars, revolutions, space colonization and a cyberworld in which people’s memories and personalities can be downloaded or uploading to clones on demand.

Among the many exciting ideas that MacLeod explores in his ambitious 1997 novel – Book 2 in his Fall Revolution series, but set earlier than The Cassini Division – are several of special interest to libertarian sf fans – including his complex and ambiguous depiction of capitalist anarchy on Earth, how free markets might develop on a terraformed planet in another solar system and the possibility of independent robots with individual rights.

The settings are far-flung, too, from 20thcentury Scotland to a 21stcentury extra-solar planet called New Mars with a free market. It’s a  future of longer life-spans but also new kinds of death.

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Interview: LFS founder Michael Grossberg on how he became a writer, critic, sf fan & helped save the Prometheus Awards

 

Michael Grossberg, 2016 Photo courtesy of M.G.

Note: In this wide-ranging autobiographical interview, Grossberg shares his encounters, conversations and/or connections with Timothy Leary, George R.R. Martin, L. Neil Smith, Bruce Sterling, David Brin, Sissy Spacek, Gore Vidal, Ray Bradbury, Roy Rogers, Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Roberto Rossellini, Nicholas Ray, Marianne Williamson, Susan Sontag, Roy Childs Jr., James Hogan and Robert Heinlein, among others.

TOM JACKSON: Could you tell us about yourself, including how you became a writer and arts critic?
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