Prometheus

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Volume 30, Number 4, Summer, 2012

Thoughts on the Prometheus Award

By Fred Curtis Moulton

The following issues and related discussion points are not exhaustive, however, I hope they act as a catalyst for more extensive discourse. I also realize that some of my statements may not be agreeable to everyone. Thus, I want to emphasize that I intend no personal insult by any of these comments. Because of the interconnected nature of many of the issues I am going to provide an opening list of issues and then a single narrative which will hopefully address each of the individual issues as well as cover the points of interconnection.

A List of Issues:

  1. Do our awards serve their intended purpose? Is the structure of nominating, determining finalists and voting on winners optimum for this purpose? Does it still make sense to have the different awards “Best Novel,” “Hall of Fame” and “Special Award”?
  2. Are the works which are finalists and winners really the works of fiction we should be honoring?
  3. How is the LFS viewed in the SF community? How about Libertarianism as a whole?

Discussion:

We probably need to periodically re-examine the purpose of the LFS and the LFS awards; however, for now, I will define for this discussion the purposes of the LFS awards as:

A. Highlight works of interest to libertarians and which bring a libertarian perspective

B. Encourage authors to create works as just mentioned above

I am concerned that our current awards structure has some weaknesses. The publishing world is changing particularly with the rise of ebooks and self publishing. There is often discussion about the variability in quality of much of the self-published works. However, that does not mean that all self-published works are of low quality. Consider the emergence of small presses which might only publish a few titles per year. It is worth noting that graphic novels, manga and other forms have an increasing influence and audience in the SF world. The emergence of ebooks further complicates the matter. Regardless of whether one likes ebooks or not, it is obvious they are becoming the dominant form of fiction publishing. The SF world is no longer just Tor, Baen and a few other publishers.

I suggest that having a one-year time window might not be the best approach long-term and that more flexibility is needed. Dropping the concept of the Best Novel award as an annual award would give flexibility for works which take a while to be discovered. Also, it helps with the problem of two or three really great works in a single year followed by a year with few if any works which are good LFS award candidates. Personally, I would rather see a list with only three finalists than a list of five where several of them are clearly of poor quality.

And I think we need to consider if focusing on the “Best Novel” is the approach we want to take long term. What if the best work of libertarian fiction is a novella or graphic novel or a short story?

I suggest seriously considering making a single award and not restricting by length of work or when the work was created. The award could get a new name such as the “Libertarian Futurist Society Speculative Fiction Award” or since there is a lot of history behind “Prometheus” it could just be called “Libertarian Futurist Society Prometheus Speculative Fiction Award” or even simply just “The Prometheus Award.” Let there be more than one given each year and also let a work be a finalist multiple times.

I suggest the LFS reconsider the timing of the entire cycle of nominations, finalists, reading, voting and awarding. The timing the LFS uses currently has some major problems. First is that the reading period typically overlaps with the reading period for the Hugo awards and typically the Hugo voting deadline is close to the LFS awards voting deadline. Attempting to read all of the Hugo finalists and all of the LFS awards finalists in the same time frame is really difficult. Now, just in case anyone asks why worry about the Hugo Awards or something similar, I will answer: because I think the Hugo Awards are important. The Hugo Awards in part give a glimpse into the current state of the SF field as viewed by the Hugo Award voters who seem to me to be more sophisticated readers than average in SF and thus are often a leading indicator of some trends in the field. In addition to the reading issue is the logistics for the authors of the winning awards. Announcing the winners as soon as they are known is one of the smarter things the LFS has done.

Currently, Worldcon occurs within a range of mid-August through the first week of September and there is increasing pressure for the mid-August dates due to early school starts and other events such as Dragoncon and Burning Man. Any date a particular Worldcon is scheduled means that an author will have about six to eight weeks to make hotel reservations, airline reservations and buy a con membership if they are not already attending. Consider that airlines are now flying full on most flights and getting a seat on a plane gets more difficult and expensive within a few weeks of the flight. Further consider that the hotel room blocks negotiated by the con expire typically much earlier, so getting a room in one of the main con hotels is possibly more difficult and expensive. Plus, consider that they may need to schedule child care or vacation time or other personal arrangements on a short notice. Why put an author through all of that hassle when there is no need for it?

I suggest making the announcement of the winning works and authors on the second Thursday of January. I suggest the second Thursday of January because that means there will be at least one full week for the world to recover from their New Year’s Eve celebrations and thus be in the mood to notice the announcement of the winning works and their authors. The rest of the schedule for nominations, finalist, reading and voting can be worked backwards from the announcement date. Also announcing the winners in January gets around the problem of the LFS asking for a time slot in April and then finding out in July that the author of a winning work can attend only on a day different from the one already requested. And by mid-July it is difficult to get a reschedule for the room and if requested it will not endear the LFS to the Worldcon staff. This is a problem we have already experienced.

Perceptions

Now I turn to some broader issues related to acceptance of the LFS. These remarks are not exhaustive or definitive but are rather some of my observations over the past few years. My observation is that the LFS and libertarians in general have a mixed reputation with SF fandom in general and Worldcon attendees in particular.

When I first started coordinating the LFS awards, once or twice we were paired up with another of the smaller awards ceremonies (the Sidewise Awards for alternate history) however this is no longer the case. Currently the LFS is able to get a good time slot and room and a listing in the program guide. This can be lost if the LFS is not diligent. Beyond the simple logistics of getting a program slot is the broader issue of the LFS, LFS awards and libertarians as a group. My perception is that the Prometheus Award has gained in reputation particularly when works such as Ha’penny and Freedom Maze win the award. This helps dispel the notion that libertarians are only interested in “Gold and Guns” or can best be characterized as “Conservatives who want to do drugs.”

One problem with that stereotype is that too often it is libertarians who are reinforcing it. If the only time a libertarian speaks on a subject is to complain about high taxes used to build a medical clinic for poor children then do not be surprised if libertarians are dismissed as selfish jerks. Fortunately there are libertarians who do not fit the stereotype who are active in SF fandom and attend cons including Worldcon. However, we need more of them.

Similarly the works selected as award finalists reflect on the LFS. Fortunately some really great works have been finalists and winners. Unfortunately there have been a few works that, in my opinion, should not have been on the finalist lists. To me for a work to be on the finalist list it needs to have literary merit as well as reflect the libertarian philosophy. I know of one case where a person told me he ignored the LFS for years thinking we were not serious after seeing a weak title as a finalist.

As I mentioned earlier, these remarks are not comprehensive but I hope that I have provided sufficient overview to convey my sense of the state of the LFS and the LFS awards in relation to Worldcon.

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