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.

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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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Pioneering cyberpunk, love, duty, justice and free will: An Appreciation of Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai, the 1986 Prometheus Best Novel winner

Introduction: To highlight the four-decade history of the Prometheus Awards, which the Libertarian Futurist Society is celebrating in 2019, we are posting a series of weekly Appreciations of past Prometheus Award-winners, starting with our earliest Best Novel awards.

Following recent appreciations for F. Paul Wilson’s Wheels within Wheels, L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach, James Hogan’s Voyage to Yesteryear and Neil Schulman’s The Rainbow Cadenza, here’s our next Appreciation for Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai:

The 1985 novel, one of the forgotten works of the early cyberpunk scene, explores the tensions between duty and free will, duty and love and duty and justice in a harsh future where some people struggle to be free within a largely totalitarian Earth.

Imagining a 21stcentury between the third and fourth world wars in a story whose hero is the world’s first sentient computer, Milan portrays a bloody and terrible future in which much of the world is destroyed but Japan becomes the last refuge of a dying free society and free market.
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