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I’d like to urge LFS members to read all the nominees in this year’s Prometheus Award before voting, but I know that 22 novels— covering the Best Libertarian Novel of both 1981 and 1982—is a lot to read in just a few months. So I want to recommend a few of this year’s nominees as “must reading,” based on my personal response in having read all but two (Schenck’s and Maxwell’s) nominated novels: Bova’s Voyagers, Hogan’s Voyage from Yesteryear, May’s The Many-colored Land, Niven and Pournelle ’s Oath of Fealty, and Smiths’s Catching Fire. You can read my review of Voyage from Yesteryear and Oath of Fealty in the December 1982 Reason magazine. As for the others I hope that someone can write a short review of them for the next issue of Prometheus.
Among this year’s Hall of Fame nominations is Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. That was a very important book for me. I not only enjoyed it and got very involved with it, but it also provided the final step in my being able, on an emotional level, to identify myself as an anarchist. That step had further implications for how I thought about libertarianism.
One concept “science fiction” is one of the sloppiest, least meaningful concepts in existence. It is probably what Ayn Rand might call a “package deal”—or perhaps a “floating abstraction.” Its intellectual content completely evaporates the moment it is subjected to close, critical scrutiny. That’s why I am happy to see that the LFS broadened the scope of the Prometheus Award last year to include fiction of all kinds. If we embroiled ourselves in an effort to define “libertarian science fiction,” we would never stop bickering long enough to get anything done!
I am unsure of exactly what it is that is being called “Libertarian science fiction.” In fact, I defy anyone to give me a real, unambiguous definition of science fiction itself. I can conceive of definitions that would include everything from Atlas Shrugged to Star Wars to some of the dungeon/dragon stuff. The first activity on the agenda of the Libertarian Futurists had better be to define its terms very carefully.
In my mind the term “Libertarian science fiction” evokes both the anarchist revolution type of thing best represented by Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and another category which I would more simply call “good stuff.” “Good stuff” talks about the future, is romantic literature in the sense that it deals with values and volition in a positive way, and does not philosophically offend me.
What I am saying, in a typically circumlocutory fashion, is a lot of “good stuff” may not be overtly Libertarian, but it is still good stuff. How narrow does this definition have to be? I hate to exclude something that doesn’t have LIBERTARIAN screamed all over the cover.
Jody Webber Berls
Sectarianism is the biggest problem libertarians and anarchists face. I would hope that the Prometheus awarders would define “fiction expressing libertarian ideals” broadly enough to include those with individualist-anarchist and collectivist-anarchist tendencies, as well as those which simply take an intelligent look at the nature and problems of a totally free society. In other words I would hope that a novel like Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed would have been considered a suitable candidate for a Prometheus Award, had the award existed when it was published.
I hate to be negative, but most of the recent libertarian fiction I’ve read has been rather poorly done. Granted that The Probability Broach and Alongside Night are rather good, most of the rest of what I’ve seen is pretty second-rate. I recently acquired a copy of Operation Ares by Gene Wolfe, published in 1970 as a Berkeley Medallion, and suspect it may well be a candidate for the Hall of Fame. I’ve only tasted a few pages, but it looks good. I wonder if any LFS members are familiar with The Prometheus Protect by Gerald Feinberg. It’s non-fiction from 1969 and not necessarily libertarian, but it does raise a lot of interesting questions about the future.
I would like to nominate H. Beam Piper’s First Cycle for this year’s Prometheus Award. Although Piper is unfortunately dead, his overlooked notes for this novel were expanded by Michael Kurland and published just this year. (Editor’s note: Piper wrote Little Fuzzy, The Other Human Race, and Lone Star planet, all of which received some nominating votes for this year’s Hall of Fame.) I recommend Piper highly—and feel that his novel meets the criterion for the Prometheus Award better than Friday, Oath of Fealty, War of Omission, Voyage from Yesteryear, or Pride of Chanur.
Peter Michael Spagnuolo
Catching Fire, Kate Nolte Smith’s second novel, is a story of murder, romance, dramatizing the controversial issues of compulsory unionism and labor violence within the context of the New York theater world. When the theatrical workers’ union tries to coerce a small off-Broadway theater which is rehearsing a play about the resurrection of Prometheus, actor Eric Dante, the novel’s hero, refuses to sacrifice his company’s artistic freedom and personal rights. Based on Kay Nolte Smith’s own professional experience in theater, the novel is a suspenseful work of romantic literature in the tradition of Ayn Rand. It is a worthy successor to Smith’s The Watcher, which won the Mystery Writers of America’s 1981 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and was a 1982 Prometheus Award finalist.
Masks of the Illuminati, by Robert Anton Wilson. Tongue-in-cheek revelation and serious musings about twentieth-century cosmology combine in Wilson’s latest sequel —actually a prequel—to his “Illuminatus” trilogy, coauthored with Robert Shea. What begins as a simply scholarly pursuit for amateur scientist Sir John Babcock ends as a waking nightmare. In turn of the century London, Babcock stumbles upon an ancient and powerful secret society, which may or may not include as members the unknown physics professor, Albert Einstein and the wild but obscure Irishman James Joyce—both apocryphal characters in Wilson’s tale. If conspiracy is your cup of tea, then drink hearty. But a word of warning: few answers are revealed by the end of the novel. Wilson has several more historical prequels to Illuminatus planned. and he’s not giving away any more secrets than he has to. If you loved Illuminatus, you’ll like Masks of the Illuminati.
The Outlaw Josey Wales by Forrest Carter. A Dell paperback, also called Gone to Texas in hardback. Not science fiction, but I had to mention a book that has lines that go something like: “Governments lie, governments steal...Governments don’t live together, men do.”
G.C. Edmondson is a writer whose novels express some libertarian-sounding sentiments and are fun. His The Man Who Corrupted Earth (Ace, 1980) suffered from a bad editing job, but has some entertaining bureaucratic villains his novels are written better, and also published by Ace—The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream.
Jack London’s The Iron Heel and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis are a couple of American classics that seem to have been overlooked as works of anarcho-libertarianism. But they shouldn’t be, and libertarian futurists should give serious consideration to including both in their Hall of Fame.
The Iron Heel is usually referred to as “socialists” which is probably why it does not leap to mind as a libertarian classic. And It Can’t Happen Here is probably lumped with Lewis’s other works debunking religion and the middle class so it, too, is rarely thought of as libertarian. And it’s true, London was a socialist, and Lewis was a debunker, and that’s primarily what they had in mind when they wrote these novels.
But reconsider, socialist or not, London depicts a classic struggle for liberation from the despotic state in The Iron Heel—heroic guerrilla warfare against the enormously powerful elite that runs things however it pleases. And debunker Lewis does much the same in It Can’t Happen Here, with his fascist takeover of the American government and the underground struggle to bring the fascists under control again.
Not only libertarian, these books also qualify as works of “speculative” fiction—even science fiction—when viewed as alternative histories of modern America. The Iron Heel, which inspired George Orwell’s 1984, is doubly SF since it uses the device of footnotes added centuries later to give the story even greater “future shock” And It Can’t Happen Here is a classic “what if” —with Bezelius Windrip winning the 1936 presidential election and sending modern history off in a totally different direction.
Not your run-of-the-mill libertarian fare, granted. But strong anti-statist stories, nonetheless, and worthy of a place of honor among the other anarcho-libertarian classics. And definitely worth a read—or a reread of it’s been a while. Don’t overlook them.
The War Hound and the World’s Pain, by Michael Moorcock, is a parable about the dying of one world and the birth of another. Moorcock’s novel symbolically portrays the bloody nadir of the age of faith and force—the barbaric and Black Plagued medieval era when the Church was the State and Satan ruled the Earth—and its eventual replacement by a secular world (still, unfortunately, not quite yet our own world) of reason and voluntarism. At first, the plot seems all too familiar: the Devil makes a bargain with a human, a world-weary soldier corrupted by power despite his own reluctance to wield it. But—in the first of several Moorcockian twists—what the Devil wants the human to do for him is win the reviles own redemption before God, and thus, achieve mankind’s ultimate redemption. A brilliantly stylized, brightly evocative, beautifully written fantasy, it is also a serious, albeit symbolic, examination of meaning and purpose in the modern world.
While his novel’s libertarian insights often remain implicit, Moorcock himself is quite explicit about his libertarianism. In an interview with Science Fiction Review, Moorcock said, “Each person (according to good, old-fashioned anarchist ideology) should work out his own morality, his own destiny, while bearing in mind that his self-interest is very likely to be the interest of the society at large...I believe in decentralization and the destruction of the State as a concept. We must find ways of maintaining our humanity in the face of all forms of totalitarianism.” Moorcock’s comments have a great deal to do with the theme of his latest novel, which in my view should be a strong contender for the rank of Prometheus Award finalist this year.
The Power, by Frank Robinson, presents a more pessimistic view of the Superman theme, demonstrating that quote from Lord Acton, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Robinson’s novel portrays a superior human who develops telepathic mind control, and who has nothing but contempt for the lesser creatures around him. The basis for his power, however, is not merely in his accelerated physical and mental abilities, but in the belief all others hold that he is superior. This allows him consequently, to control others and manipulate them without their knowledge, until the hero is able to overcome his own belief in his inferiority. Recommended for the Prometheus Hall of Fame.
R.A. Lafferty’s novel, Past Master, concerns a planet where all citizens possess the freedom and wealth to live and do whatever they choose. An ever-growing minority, however, choose to live, not in paradise, but in a filthy, disease-ridden barrio of their own design, To rectify the situation, the powerful rulers of the planet employ the services of a great thinker from Earth’s past—Sir Thomas More, author of the original Utopia, More’s adventures in both the paradise and the ghetto make for some humorous and thoughtful reading. Highly recommended.
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