Science Fiction

Prometheus Award Nominees for Best Libertarian Science Fiction Announced

Harlan Ellison to get Hall of Fame award for classic short story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman."


The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced this year's nominees for their Prometheus Award, honoring science fiction with libertarian themes.

Libertarian Futurist Society

The nominees for this year's novel award are:

The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (TOR Books)
Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett (Knopf Doubleday)
A Better World, by Marcus Sakey (Amazon, Thomas & Mercer)
Influx, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton Adult)

I'm pleased to see the Hall of Fame award this year going to Harlan Ellison for his story "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," which first appeared in Galaxy magazine in 1965.

Ellison was for many years in my pre- and early teens my very favorite writer. I never saw him, and am sure he never saw himself, as libertarian in the movement sense. If you must pigeonhole him politically, he's more a cranky New Deal liberal with civil rights movement radical cred.

But he delighted in sticking up, in fiction and life, for those squashed by societal repression. He saw himself as a rebel conscience for his community and culture. He once said his preferred self image was a cross between Jiminy Cricket and Zorro. It was interesting to me to see that libertarian-ish thread that likely resonated with my young mind honored by the Libertarian Futurist Society this year.

The story "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman," begins with a great quote from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" about how those who serve the state with their consciences are "commonly treated as enemies by it." (I'd prefer the locution, serve their community by their consciences, but Thoreau is Thoreau.) 

The story is allegorical, slaloming off of one of Ellison's own bugaboos, an inability to be punctual. It's about a world of tyranny via the enforcement of complete punctuality and full accounting for every second of one's time to the state, in the person of the tyrant timekeeper the Ticktockman who can literally revoke moments of your life via your "cardioplate."

No one now literally fears that tyranny is going to come through harshly enforced time management. But readers will still delight to the little rebel Harlequin who upsets the constrictions of his time-mad culture with madcap antics like dumping heaps of jelly beans on the "expresstrip." (Ellison amusingly grants within the story itself that this seems wildly improbable, playing with the conventions of mimetic realism in science fiction. "Now wait a second—a second accounted for!—no one has manufactured jelly beans for over a hundred years. Where did he get jelly beans? That's another good question. More than likely it will never be answered to your complete satisfaction.")

I happened to have re-read "Harlequin" myself a month or so ago. It still maintains its energy, comedy, and charm, and despite not having likely read or re-read it since my mid-teens, certain sentences in their lunatic outpourings of rhythm still rang with a memory unfaded by time, sentences that as soon as I started reading them I realized I still remembered them, nearly word for word. "He was not purring smoothly. Timewise, it was jangle." "foof! air-boat indeed! swizzleskid is what it was, with a tow-rack jerry-rigged." "…a laughing, irresponsible japer of jabberwocky and jive could disrupt our entire economic and cultural life with a hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of jelly beans…"

Ellison's story is still fun, still passionate, and beyond the specifics of time management still has an inspirational message of individual senses' of life, purpose, and fun defeating grim, crabbed forces of central control acting for an alleged "social good."

All the Prometheus Award winners of bygone days.

Past Reason discussion of the Promethus awards.

Hat tip:, a website dedicated to Robert Anton Wilson, the favorite writer of the rest of my teens and some of my adulthood.

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  1. No HPMOR?

    1. That was a fantastic series. The ending took my breath away — clever, explained almost everything, didn’t pull any Agatha Christie surprises.

  2. Has Sad Puppy commented on the slate yet?

  3. Ellison is a complete asshole. He was a decent TV screenwriter and YA SF short story writer.

    1. I cannot think of a more succinct biography of the man. You’ve said all there was that needed to be said.

      1. It’s worth repeating that Ellison is an asshole. But he can write some good stories. Repent Harlequin is an excellent short.

        On a separate topic, I was a bit disappointed in Raising Steam.

  4. Speaking of books. I’m looking for a something new to read. Anyone have a suggestion for a good post-apocalyptic book or, better, a series? Just finished up re-reading this series by S M Stirling and if you’ve never read it I recommend it.

    1. You’ve read a Canticle for Leibowitz already, right?

      1. Nope. Who is it by?

          1. Thank you.

        1. Forget it, Google is my friend. Looks like a nuclear version of How the Irish Saved Civilization. I’ll check it out.

    2. Anyone have a suggestion for a good post-apocalyptic book or, better, a series?

      Check out Hugh Howey’s Silo or Sand series.

      I have Emberverse on my to-do list.

      1. The Howey Silo stuff (also called Wool, right?) is really quite good, but it’s…depressing. If anything can go wrong for his protagonists, it does. Still, I found it to be a pretty gripping read, there’s a fair amount of it, and it was free or really cheap when I read it (this would have been like 3 or 4 years ago or so).

        Other thoughts:

        I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (one of my personal favorites)
        The Death of Grass (also called No Blade of Grass) or The Tripods series by John Christopher
        Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven
        The Postman by David Brin (very, very different from the stupid movie)
        Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
        A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison

        1. I think Wool is the name of the first “novel” (it was released in stages by Amazon… i.e. not as a proper book, so the names can get a bit confusing). But yeah I was hooked from the start – he’s really good.

          1. Howey’s Wool Trilogy is awesome for the fact he made a fucking staircase the silent but dominant character of the novels.

            1. It has a shit-ton of fan fiction available for Kindle too – Greatfall is particularly good, especially if you feel that Silo just isn’t depressing enough.

              1. It was absolute genius on Howey’s part. He has fifty silos to mine, and an eager fan base to mine them all.

        2. People, don’t give David Brin money.

          Just don’t. Baxter? Yes. Bear? Why not? Benford? Of course! Brin? Never.

          1. Have you actually read any pre-Earth Brin, HM (basically anything he wrote from 1980-1989 including the first Uplift Trilogy)? Because I don’t care what he’s become or if it gives him money or not, that shit is good.

            1. I’ll give you Uplift, but I really disliked Glory Season. I mean, if I want lesbian porn, I’d read lesbian porn.

              1. Existence wasn’t bad. Had some interesting concepts (OK, one).

                And no one mentioned The Survivalist? Tut, tut.

            2. I read Sundiver but just didn’t get hooked enough to continue the series. Been meaning to.

    3. Stirling and David Drake collaborated on Raj Whitehall series. Human trans-stellar empire falls apart after their hyperspace highway network thingie gets sabotaged, planets fall into darkness, on one planet a young officer and his friend find a military computer that decides it is time to unite the planet and start making way back to the stars.

      The basic plot is retelling of the life of Belisarius, modified to make his wife less horrible than she was described in Secret History. Planet is basically at the level of mid 19th century, so fights involve cavalry using one-shot breechloaders or seven shot carbines, horse artillery and such. It’s got some very grim parts, and some hilarious ones. Particularly regarding the religion of protagonists, which promises to return Man to the Stars, if he follows the Program, avoids the Virus and obeys the advice of his SysOp.

      1. Those I have read. Great books.

        1. There are three ‘sequels’ – Raj & Center guiding similar programs on other planets. (I think there were supposed to be more, but plans went awry.) ,Anyhow, the first – “The Chosen” – is really, really good; similar in many ways to Stirling’s Draka series (which is really fucking grim, if you haven’t read it, I mean, Jesus), but in a single volume and with very early 20th tech rather than WWII & later.

          The others are eminently skippable, however.

    4. Try ‘Alas, Babylon’ by Pat Frank. Good story, easy read. I read it in a day.

    5. I hear the Left Behind series is good.

      (I just said that to annoy F d’A, I don’t actually know if they’re any good)

    6. The Stand, by Stephen King, for my more-or-less serious suggestion.

      It *does* rip off Lord of the Rings in places, but not to a really annoying extent.

    7. The Pelbar Cycle from Paul O Williams. 7 novels, I think. I read them as a kid.

    8. “a suggestion for a good post-apocalyptic book”

      Iain M Banks Culture series: Depicts an absolute tyranny created by AI who reduce several species to pets through eugenics and artificially constructed language.

  5. I’m liking Marcus Sakey’s “Brilliance” series (“A Better World” mentioned above is book 2). I would call it more of a thriller though it does have some speculative elements.

  6. Will they serve tacos at the ceremony?

    1. What kind of lunatic would have a problem with that?…(scans archives) hmmm…oh, yes, the extra-stupid kind of lunatic.

      1. Possibly.

        But burritos look like dune cat, and Dune reminds us that blue-eyed people might have a purpose after all.

        So, racist.

        1. Awwwww – so cute! And terrifying!

  7. I know Harlan and have mixed emotions about giving him this award, mainly because Harlan isn’t a “cranky New Deal Liberal,” but another aging reactionary whose dislike for authority only extends to Republican administrations as far as I can tell. I’ve listened to Harlan over the years bluntly say we should kill all the Republicans (and I don’t think he was kidding) while ignoring the creeping totalitarianism of the Democrats. Considering the fundemental principle of the Libertarians is “Question Authority,” it seems the award should be given to authors who do just that, and don’t, by their silence (and Harlan is one of the least shy people about speaking up you’ll ever meet) condone the abuses of the administration in power.

  8. They gave a Prometheus Award to Stross…

    Yeah not libertarian.

  9. (Ellison amusingly grants within the story itself that this seems wildly improbable, playing with the conventions of mimetic realism in science fiction. “Now wait a second?a second accounted for!?no one has manufactured jelly beans for over a hundred years. Where did he get jelly beans? That’s another good question. More than likely it will never be answered to your complete satisfaction.”)

    That’s cute. Used to be he’d get pissed at the mention of jellybeans.

    Harlan is so not a libertarian.

    But we here at reason are fond of accidental libertarianism–of frothing liberals who can’t seem to create anything but libertarian themes in their art.

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