Authority, responsibility and a “man from Mars”: Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, a 1987 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing review-essays of past award-winners that make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a pro-freedom work.  Here is an Appreciation of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, inducted into the 1987 Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.

By William H. Stoddard
Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land wasn’t just a best seller, and the book that made publishers take science fiction seriously as a commercial proposition; it was a major influence on the hippie movement, the counterculture more generally, and neo-pagan and New Age thought.

Given all this, it seemed paradoxical to some readers that Heinlein was also the author of Starship Troopers,with its praise of military service and especially, as Heinlein said, of the “poor bloody infantry” — the foot-soldiers who stood between their native planets and the desolation of war. Heinlein himself saw no such paradox; he said, in fact, that the two books reflected the same ethical and political ideas.

What did these two seemingly disparate works have in common? At the deepest level, the answer is “a sort of libertarianism”: not advocacy of the free market, or of specific constitutional arrangements, or of constitutional goverment as such (though such ideas appear in Heinlein’s other works), but a basic ethical principle.

Continue reading Authority, responsibility and a “man from Mars”: Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, a 1987 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

Interview (part 2): William Stoddard on the challenges, rewards and future of the Prometheus Hall of Fame

“I think a full understanding of justice also has to include honoring and rewarding worthy acts and accomplishments. ” – William H. Stoddard

Here is part 2 of the Prometheus Blog interview with LFS President William H. Stoddard.

Editor-writer William H. Stoddard in his library, with his GURPS book on Fantasy, published in 2004 (Photo courtesy of Stoddard)

This part of the interview focuses on the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction, which Stoddard has been closely involved with for two decades.

As chair of the Hall of Fame finalist judging committee, Stoddard leads a group of LFS members who read, discuss and rank the annual nominees to select a slate of typically five finalists for the entire LFS membership to rank and vote on. The winner is inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame, established in 1983.

 

Continue reading Interview (part 2): William Stoddard on the challenges, rewards and future of the Prometheus Hall of Fame

How far can struggles against tyranny go without becoming tyrannical? C.M. Kornbluth’s The Syndic, a 1986 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 and/or anti-authoritarian works, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series of all past award-winners. Here is an Appreciation of C.M. Kornbluth’s The Syndic, one of two 1986 Prometheus Hall of Fame inductees for Best Classic Fiction.

By William H. Stoddard

C.M. Kornbluth’s novel The Syndic was an early winner of the Hall of Fame Award, in 1986.

Originally published in 1953, it was an example both of what Isaac Asimov called “social science fiction,” envisioning a change in technology or human behavior and working out its cultural implications, and of “thought variant” fiction, seeking to explore provocative ideas.

Such ideas were supposed to stir up discussion by going against conventional beliefs, in the style Robert Heinlein envisioned in Space Cadet as a required seminar in “Doubt”:

The seminar leader would chuck out some proposition that attacked a value usually attacked as axiomatic. From there on anything could be said.

Kornbluth picked a really provocative premise: A future North America ruled by organized crime, with the government driven into exile, creating a freer and happier society than that of his own time. This led to a story with a lot of action, but one where social speculation was never far from sight.

Continue reading How far can struggles against tyranny go without becoming tyrannical? C.M. Kornbluth’s The Syndic, a 1986 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

How does sf lend itself to exploring freedom & other ideas? Watch the NASFIC 2020 Prometheus Awards and “Visions of SF, Liberty & Human Rights” panel with authors Hoyt, Wilson; surprise guests Cherryh & Fancher; & LFS leaders

Serendipity and seized opportunity enhanced the star power and appeal of the Libertarian Futurist Society’s panel discussion at the 2020 online North American Science Fiction Convention.

Unexpectedly but delightfully, the Hugo-winning Grand Master novelist C.J. Cherryh and her partner Jane. S. Fancher joined past Prometheus winners Sarah Hoyt and F. Paul Wilson and several LFS veteran leaders including LFS President William H. Stoddard in answering a variety of thought-provoking questions during the NASFiC/LFS panel on “Visions of SF, Liberty, Human Rights: The Prometheus Awards Over Four Decades, from F. Paul Wilson and Robert Heinlein to Today.”

When panel moderator Tom Jackson noticed that
Cherryh and Fancher were still hanging out within the Zoom “meeting room” after accepting their 2020 Best Novel award for co-writing Alliance Rising to watch the post-ceremony panel discussion, he noted their presence and ability to participate.

Tom Jackson

After a few questions to the other panelists, Jackson invited Cherryh and Fancher to come into the discussion with their comments.

Which they graciously did, and fascinatingly so.

Thus, the long-planned NASFiC panel celebrating the recent 40th anniversary of the Prometheus Awards – first presented by L. Neil Smith to F. Paul Wilson in 1979 – expanded into an event with interesting comments from not two but four bestselling, Prometheus-award-winning novelists.

Here is the full panel discussion, part of an 80-minute two-part NASFiC/LFS video that begins with the 2020 Prometheus Awards ceremony, including Cherryh and Fancher’s Best Novel acceptance speech and Astrid Anderson Bear’s Hall of Fame acceptance speech for her late father Poul Anderson; and concludes with the 50-minute panel discussion:

 

Continue reading How does sf lend itself to exploring freedom & other ideas? Watch the NASFIC 2020 Prometheus Awards and “Visions of SF, Liberty & Human Rights” panel with authors Hoyt, Wilson; surprise guests Cherryh & Fancher; & LFS leaders

Lunar revolution, rational anarchism, a self-aware computer & TANSTAAFL: An Appreciation of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a 1983 Prometheus Hall of Fame co-winner for Best Classic Fiction

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 has been publishing since 2019 a weekly series of Appreciations of past award-winners, beginning with the first category for Best Novel and now focusing on the Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.

Here is an Appreciation of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein’s 1966 Hugo-winning novel, widely considered to be his masterpiece, and a bestseller that popularized the libertarian slogan TANSTAAFL (“There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”) as a rallying cry in a story that persuasively imagines a future American-Revolution-style revolt for liberty on the moon.

By William H. Stoddard

Science fiction writers have been exploring ideas that we now call “libertarian” since before the genre was named. Rudyard Kipling, E.E. Smith, Robert Heinlein, C.M. Kornbluth, Eric Frank Russell, Poul Anderson, Edgar Pangborn, and others presented such ideas – along with other, unlibertarian ideas such as Smith’s portrayal of a literal War on Drugs. But it was Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress that established libertarian science fiction as a distinct genre. Nothing could have been more fitting than its being one of the first two books elected to the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Hall of Fame.

Continue reading Lunar revolution, rational anarchism, a self-aware computer & TANSTAAFL: An Appreciation of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a 1983 Prometheus Hall of Fame co-winner for Best Classic Fiction

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 a series of Appreciations of past award-winners.
With the series of Best-Novel appreciations now completed after a 10-month weekly run, the LFS has begun its next series of appreciations of each of our Hall of Fame winners for Best Classic Fiction – a Prometheus Awards category first presented in 1983.
If you’ve missed any of the weekly Best-Novel appreciations, all are available to read now with links from the Prometheus Awards page of the LFS website (lfs.org). Just click on the word “Appreciation” next to each winning title.
Alternatively, on the Prometheus Blog itself, just scroll down the left side of the page past the list of most-recent blog posts, the daily update of the most-popular posts read each day and our comprehensive Archives of monthly posts to the Categories (which includes handy access to Interviews, Essays, Award Standards, Best of the Blog, News, Reviews, Tributes, Obits, Author Updates and much more). Then click on Appreciations (or the Best Novel subhead) to access all past blogs in that category in one scroll.
Happy reading!

Meanwhile, here is our first Hall of Fame appreciation, by William H. Stoddard, of our first Hall of Fame co-winner: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which was 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.

Continue reading 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

The Libertarian Futurist Society, Prometheus Awards, LFS writers hailed in Quillette article about the persistence of libertarian sf as a key strand in mainstream science fiction

By Michael Grossberg
Libertarian science fiction has always been a seminal strand in the ever-evolving genre of science fiction and fantasy – and in significant and honorable ways, that socially conscious and liberty-loving subgenre continues as a force today, even amid regressive and reactionary forces flirting with the perennial temptations of statism, authoritarianism and centralized, institutionalized coercion on the Left and Right.

Libertarian futurists – within and outside the Libertarian Futurist Society (not to mention other organizations within the far broader libertarian movement, from Reason and Liberty magazines to the Cato Institute)  – have understood that for a long time.

Yet, it’s salutary and newsworthy when our understanding of the broader intellectual and artistic currents that have helped shape the four-decade-plus history and diversity of the Prometheus Awards is shared and appreciated by an international, cosmopolitan publication outside the libertarian movement.

The cover illustration of the Quillette article on Libertarian Science Fiction Photo: a Quillette illustration, copied here to help people find the article on their website

Such a relatively rare occasion has materialized this month (June 2020) with a fair-minded, open-minded, rich and rewarding essay on “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction” published in Quillette, an influential web-magazine that embraces what modern libertarians might generally recognize as classically liberal principles.

According to its mission statement, Quillette offers “a platform for free thought. We respect ideas, even dangerous ones. We also believe that free expression and the free exchange of ideas help human societies flourish and progress.”

Indeed, LFS members might say as much, using virtually the same words, to uphold important Bill of Rights aspects of our libertarian vision of a fully free future in which people strive to respect other people’s rights and live together through the voluntary cooperation and enterprise of a free society and a free market while steadfastly abjuring violence, the initiation of force or fraud and the institutionalized coercion of the unchecked State.

Continue reading The Libertarian Futurist Society, Prometheus Awards, LFS writers hailed in Quillette article about the persistence of libertarian sf as a key strand in mainstream science fiction

Heinleinesque adventure, romance, bioengineered humans and anarchy in the asteroids: An Appreciation of Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves, the 2011 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ history and track record while making clear what makes each winner deserve recognition as pro-freedom or anti-authoritarian 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 in chronological order with appreciation/reviews of the earliest winners in the original Best Novel category.
Here’s the latest Appreciation for Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves, the 2011 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel:

By Anders Monsen and Michael Grossberg

Few sf/fantasy novels attempt to envision a fully free future, and only a fraction of those efforts prove fruitful and plausible, not to mention gripping in narrative and appealing in characters.

Darkship Thieves, with central characters to care about and a suspenseful, fast-paced plotis especially intriguing to libertarians for its plausible portrait of a high-tech anarchist society among the asteroids.

With this 2010 novel, Sarah Hoyt launched a series of novels in the same future solar-system-wide scenario focusing on a heroic woman from an anarchist colony in the asteroid belt who must fight for her freedom and identity against a tyrannical Earth.

Hoyt, a deft master of many genres, blends science fiction with romance, adventure, political intrigue and individualist-feminist themes.

Continue reading Heinleinesque adventure, romance, bioengineered humans and anarchy in the asteroids: An Appreciation of Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship Thieves, the 2011 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel

Rambunctious adventure, detective drama and Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian conflicts in a rollicking multiverse: An Appreciation of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, the 1982 Best Novel winner

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS) is celebrating in 2019, we are posting a series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our earliest Best Novel awards and moving forward to today. (The first Appreciation, posted recently on this blog, focused on F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, which won the first Prometheus Award in 1979.)

This second Appreciation focuses on L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, the 1982 Prometheus Award winner for Best Novel presented by the Libertarian Futurist Society:

By Michael Grossberg
L. Neil Smith’s rollicking, fun-loving sf adventure novel, one of the most influential books of the Libertarian movement as its ideas were spreading in the early 1980s, imagines alternate time lines accessible through the probability broach, a portal to many worlds.

Continue reading Rambunctious adventure, detective drama and Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian conflicts in a rollicking multiverse: An Appreciation of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, the 1982 Best Novel winner

A 40th Anniversary Retrospective: Introducing a Reader’s Guide to the Prometheus Award Winners

By Michael Grossberg

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, in some cases based 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).


Continue reading A 40th Anniversary Retrospective: Introducing a Reader’s Guide to the Prometheus Award Winners