Science Fiction

Vonnegut, Heinlein, Kipling, and Others Battle It Out for a Libertarian Award

Finalists for a libertarian literary prize


The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced its finalists for this year's Hall of Fame award. This is one of two prizes the group gives out annually: The Prometheus Award honors the best libertarian-themed novel of the past year, while the Hall of Fame Award goes to libertarian fiction that first appeared at least half a decade ago. The focus is on science fiction—hence that word "Futurist"—but non-sf works are occasionally added to the mix. (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Fountainhead have both been nominated for the Hall of Fame in the past, and in 2000 that prize went to Hans Christian Anderson's "The Emperor's New Clothes.")

This year's nominees are unusual in that they're all short stories rather than novels. From the press release:

London Magazine

• "As Easy as A.B.C.," by Rudyard Kipling (first published 1912 in London Magazine), the second of his "airship utopia" stories, portrays a crisis in a twenty-first century society where an unpopular minority calls for the revival of democracy, and a largely hands-off world government is forced to step in and protect them.

• "Conquest by Default," by Vernor Vinge (first published 1968 in Analog) is his first exploration of the idea of anarchism, in which a stateless alien society visits an Earth recovering from nuclear war. The story combines a novel approach to the problem of avoiding the decay of anarchy into government with an evocation of the tragic impact of cultural change.

• "Coventry," by Robert A. Heinlein (first published 1940 in Astounding Science Fiction) envisions the Covenant, a social compact under which breaking the law, as such, cannot be punished unless actual harm to someone has been demonstrated. The story contrasts that society with a lawless "anarchy" into which those who break the covenant are sent.

• "Harrison Bergeron," by Kurt Vonnegut (first published [1961] in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), satirizes the idea of radical egalitarianism with a portrayal of a society where all talented people are compulsorily brought down to average—until one gifted youth rebels against the system.

• "Starfog," by Poul Anderson (first published 1967 in Analog) envisions a widespread interstellar society millennia after the fall of a Galactic Empire, unified by the Commonality, a mutual aid organization. The story explores methods of carrying out large-scale projects through voluntary cooperation and market incentives under conditions where central control is unworkable.

• "With Folded Hands…" by Jack Williamson (first published 1947 in Astounding Science Fiction), uses science fiction to satirize the modern "nanny state" and explore an ethical theme: the peril of unrestricted authority, even (or especially) when it is used totally altruistically to take care of those subjected to it.

The press release also mentions some nominees that didn't make this year's cut of finalists, including Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Philip K. Dick's "The Exit Door Leads In," among others. (They really should give the Dick story the prize sometime. It may be the most anti-authoritarian thing he ever wrote, and it has new resonance in the age of Snowden. Read it here.) Another also-ran is William Golding's Lord of the Flies, which I remember as being rather anti-libertarian, but I read it around 1981 so I might not argue if you tell me I'm wrong down in the comments.

For a list of past winners, go here.