[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 13 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Wednesday, June 12th, 2013|
You're invited to SofaCON, an online SF convention!
Join the crew of the Hugo Award winning StarShipSofa
, their special guests, and friends from all over the world as a new tradition begins: SofaCON, An Online International Science Fiction Convention
. This live, history-making event will focus on those who are creators, scholars, and fans of the best of speculative fiction. Over the years StarShipSofa has brought together a global community of science fiction lovers; it’s time for old and new Sofanauts alike to meet in a real-time, interactive virtual venue to celebrate the genre they love.
Meet stellar authors. Watch exclusive interviews and lectures. Ask questions and offer comments. Enjoy the SF convention experience from the comfort of your home. Don’t miss this inaugural event!
Tickets and the schedule of events are available now at sofacon.org
|Monday, July 9th, 2012|
SF and Cato Unbound
FYI, this month's featured discussion at Cato Unbound
(sponsored by the Cato Institute) is "Liberty, Commerce, and Literature." Among the four participants is William H. Patterson, Jr. (the biographer of Heinlein) and yours truly. My essay focuses on SF, in particular. The rest of the month's discussion promises to include more SF, as well. Follow the link!
|Friday, September 9th, 2011|
|Friday, May 15th, 2009|
|Monday, January 5th, 2009|
now it can be told
The LFS has picked its finalists for the 2009 Hall of Fame Award. In chronological order, they're as follows:
Rudyard Kipling, "As Easy as A.B.C."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
T. H. White, The Once and Future King, including The Book of Merlyn
Lois McMaster Bujold, Falling Free
Donald Kingsbury, Courtship Rite
John C. Wright, The Golden Age( Read more...Collapse )
If you're an LFS member, now you can start reading the finalists early. If you're not a member, but you'd be interested in reading these and helping pick the next award winner, you can still join: see http://www.lfs.org/
|Tuesday, December 16th, 2008|
Is the Federation a Tyranny?
Guys, I've had this theory for a while, and I want to know if it is just me?
Now I'm not talking about the Space USA that was the Federation of the TOS
I'm talking about the Federation of Next Gen and Co.
Lets look at the facts:
*"we've long evolved beyond money"- this is suggesting some sort of a socialist economy or they are deadbeats trying to cheat natives out of the bill.
*I've never seen an actual civilian ship, or civilians for that matter.
*Star Fleet and the Federation seem to be indistinguishable- Federation = Star Fleet?
I think the Federation is some sort of stalinist military-state. Perhaps they are Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Surakist-Arch
erist. What say you? This has been bothering me for months.
|Saturday, August 23rd, 2008|
Hall of Fame nominations
The LFS's Hall of Fame committee is putting together a list of nominees for the 2009 award. If you're an LFS member, you can nominate a work; if you're not, you can suggest a work, and hope that one of the committee members here (there are at least three) will nominate it. Nominees should be works of science fiction (in the broad sense, including alternate history, fantasy, horror, and utopian fiction) that have themes of libertarian significance and that are well written. Suggestions are welcome.
|Friday, January 11th, 2008|
Fans of Ken MacLeod (winner of three Prometheus Awards for Best Novel) might like to look at his interview in Canadian Dimension
for an interesting interview with him, in which MacLeod has some explicit things to say about libertarianism and his involvement with it.
|Monday, January 7th, 2008|
|Friday, May 4th, 2007|
Hall of Fame nominees
The LFS's list of nominees for the Hall of Fame Award includes six titles this year: Burgess's A Clockwork Orange
, Kipling's "As Easy as A.B.C.," Lewis's It Can't Happen Here
, Orwell's Animal Farm
, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
, and Vinge's "True Names." I believe that I initially nominated four of the six, some of them a number of years ago. Here are some comments on them:It Can't Happen Here
is, to my mind, the least compelling of the various choices. It's a cautionary tale about a fascist takeover of the United States, written shortly before World War II when fascist takeovers were new and popular. That makes it something of a "yesterday's tomorrow": it didn't happen and it certainly doesn't look like happening now, in contrast to Robert Heinlein's "If This Goes On—" which is more relevant now than when it first appeared in the 1940s. And the values it defends are not so much libertarian as democratic, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the exiled leader of the "Jeffersonian" party. It still has some value, but it's not the best cautionary tale for us. It's also somewhat diminished by Lewis's "plain folks" characterizations, which tend to undercut the seriousness of his characters' struggles.Animal Farm
is a classic warning against communism, and more powerful in some ways than 1984
, which is already in the Hall of Fame. But it's not especially "futurist" or even "speculative": Its pigs taking over the farm are not fantasy characters in a magical world, but characters in a beast fable, which is not a fantastic genre. I'm not sure it's a suitable candidate for an award that normally goes to works of science fiction or kindred genres (fantasy, horror, utopia, dystopia, and so on).A Clockwork Orange
, on the other hand, is
set in a dystopian future, though its only truly extrapolative sfnal element is the language it's written in: Nadsat, a Russian-influence teenage slang of a disintegrating culture. It's a brilliantly ugly literary work. And its message is relevant to libertarian concerns, with its warning against the use of psychological conditioning to reshape behavior and its underlying point that people who aren't free to choose evil also aren't free to choose good: their actions have no ethical merit.
I like better, though, "True Names," which really is a no-brainer for this category: It's a major and influential work by one of the best known libertarian science fiction writers now living, which didn't get the Prometheus Award back in the day largely because that award was for novels rather than novella or novelettes. "True Names" really prefigured the whole cyberpunk movement, with its hacker heroes struggling against the system and its virtual reality where programs are spells; I've occasionally wondered if the reason there wasn't a cyberpunk movement till Gibson's Neuromancer
was that the system Gibson's protagonists fought against was Big Corporations rather than The State, thus appealing more to trendy leftism. (Though, to be sure, Neil Stephenson came out of cyberpunk and arrived at something a lot closer to libertarian views of the matter.)
Then there's the out and out fantasy to which Vinge alludes in his opening pages, with his lines about the Great Enemy: The Lord of the Rings
. Not everyone thinks this is a libertarian work. I think it at least has strongly leanings that way: First, because its central thesis is that a magical object that grants unrestrained power over others is not merely corrupting but addicting, and that the corrupting effect is especially dangerous because it can tempt people through their desire to do good and help other people; second, because it portrays a society living in freedom, the Shire, clearly modeled on ancient Iceland, and says that the ultimate justification of war and warriors is to protect such societies. And if the Shire is in many ways an idealized Edwardian England, well, in a lot of ways, Edwardian England was a freer society than we have now.
But my favorite, and the one I'll keep ranking in first place till it wins, is "As Easy as A.B.C." This is just an amazing piece of fiction. To start with, Kipling wrote it before World War I, but it not only uses the devices for indirect exposition that John Campbell pushed on his writers in the late 1930s, but shows a complete mastery of them. Its imagined future seems to baffle a lot of people—I've heard it interpreted, for example, as a portrayal of a totalitarian world dictatorship—perhaps because Kipling condemns democracy in it; but John Brunner had it right (despite Brunner's own socialist views) when he said that what Kipling wanted was not a society less free than a democracy, but one more free. It's worth noting that when a farm girl in rural Illinois traps several high officials of the "world government" in a force field and then tries to run them over with a plow, their reaction is to blow out her fuses and leave, sending back a message advising her to spend the night in the cellar while they straighten things out in Chicago. To Kipling's future society, the symbol of democracy is a statue called "The Nigger in Flames," recalling the old democratic custom of the lynch mob. Literarily his technique is stunning, from the angry crowd spreading out and melting away as the first light of dawn reaches them, to the multiple repetitions of "And all that that implies," each time with a different emotional charge. I first read "As Easy as A.B.C." in my early teens, and every time I've read it since then, I've seen more in it.
The Guardener's Tale
I initially wrote something about this new novel on my other blog last night, but I'm cross-posting it here as the author thought it worthy of consideration for the Prometheus Award. As the novel was published a few days ago on May 1st, I don't know if anyone on the Prometheus Award committee has read it yet, but I'm planning to review Bruce Boston's new novel, The Guardeners Tale
, for the Summer issue of Prometheus
One blurb opens like this: "Brave New World. Fahrenheit 451. THX 1138. A Scanner Darkly.
Bruce Boston's new novel, The Guardener's Tale
, assumes its rightful place in this noble lineage of anti-authoritarian fables." Boston in an interview
a few years ago said, " I am not a libertarian or an anarchist, but I do see government as it has existed as a necessary evil." He also views himself as somewhat left of center, but anti-authoritarianism come in many packages, and cares little for left or right. Read more about Boston at his website
I confess ( as I find happens more and more often the case these days), that although I have heard of Bruce Boston's name and seen some of his stories listed in publications, I cannot recall reading any of his fiction. I don't read sf magazines like I used to a few years ago, and only catch short stories in collections (primarily those from Golden Gryphon or some specific authors). I do look forward to reading this novel, and if anyone has read Boston's fiction and has any opinions on his work, I'd like to hear them.
|Saturday, April 21st, 2007|
My personal tastes
Over the past few years, I've written more than one essay for Prometheus
about the Libertarian Futurist Society's standards and policies for the Prometheus Award. I'm not going to rehearse those here one more time, at least not immediately. But I've not written about my personal tastes in nominees. Those might be of interest in their own right, but they also may help explain some of the LFS's choices of award winners—because five of the past seven winners were books I nominated and, usually, reviewed in Prometheus
To start with, I don't limit my choices to books whose authors identify themselves as libertarians, and still less to books by any specific inner circle of libertarian science fiction writers. If a book supports a point of view that's in harmony with libertarian values, I'm willing to vote for it whether its author is an anarchocapitalist like Vernor Vinge, or a Trotskyite like Ken MacLeod, or a British liberal like Terry Pratchett—to name three authors I did
vote for in the past few years. I do want some content that's definitely pro-libertarian (such as Pratchett's critique of gun control, MacLeod's advocacy of futures markets in the colonization of space, or Stephenson's celebration of currency metals as a safeguard against the thievishness of kings) and no positions flatly opposed to human liberty; but given that, I'll vote for a book that's well written over one that puts forth the straight libertarian party line.
And my standards of "well written" are somewhat literary. I want a writer whose prose is at least workmanlike, and ideally one whose style is reason enough to read them apart from content. I want one who doesn't inflict stereotyped characters, overused plots, or idiot lectures on me; I'm willing to reread Atlas Shrugged
and take the speeches as Ayn Rand's equivalent of the arias in grand opera or the martial arts duels in wuxia
films, but it's not every writer who can make me sit still for long expository passages. And I'd rather not read fiction by writers who aren't paying attention to what's happening in current science fiction, but are still working in the style of the 1950s or the 1930s. I don't identify libertarianism with conservatism, and that includes literary conservatism; I see it not as nostalgia for an idealized past but as hunger for a freer future—and that looking forward to the future is the lifeblood of sf in general.
Beyond that, I don't necessarily find the most interesting libertarian ideas in the works of self-identified libertarian writers. Kingsbury's Getan culture in Courtship Rite
, based on optimization through evolutionary competition as applied to genetics, economics, and ethics, and his advocacy of stoicism as an ethic for a free life; MacLeod's True Knowledge, based on the ideas of writers like Stirner, Nietzsche, and Tucker, and his strange blend of revisionist Marxism with anarchocapitalism; Stephenson's tracing the roots of scientific inquiry, religious tolerance, the gold standard, and the abolition of slavery to the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and his ingenious linking of all of them to the rejection of alchemy—all of those set off sparks in my mind; they make me think new thoughts and ask new questions, in the same way that Vernor Vinge (my favorite living libertarian sf author) does.
In my view, the Prometheus Award and the Hall of Fame are reading lists. If I meet a libertarian who's never read sf, or an sf fan who doesn't know about libertarianism, I'd like to be able to give them a list of books to read that will get them interested. If I refer them to the LFS Web page, most of the books they'll find there are suitable. But to keep it that way, I have to vote for books that even someone who doesn't agree with libertarianism could find worth reading (just as I find China Miéville's Perdido Street Station
and The Scar
worth reading despite disagreeing with Miéville's politics and economics); not for books that only someone who already agrees with libertarianism would want to read.
Of course, that's only my point of view; by itself, it doesn't explain why a lot of books that I favor have won the Prometheus Award lately. It isn't as if I had dictatorial authority over members of the LFS, or as if anyone were likely to. I like to imagine that I've been picking out books whose merits are sufficiently apparent that a bunch of libertarian science fiction fans are able to agree on recognizing them. It may even be true, though I have no indepenent basis for confirming it.
|Thursday, April 19th, 2007|
Another personal introduction
I'm William H. Stoddard—"Bill" to my friends. I'm currently serving as vice president of the Libertarian Futurist Society, and as a member of the judging committees for the Prometheus Award and the Hall of Fame. I'm the member of the Board of Directors who's familiar with LiveJournal (I've been active since early 2005), so I volunteered to serve as maintainer for this group. However, setting it up was Geoffrey's idea in the first place, so I plan to serve mainly as an administrative facilitator for his decisions as group moderator. When I participate, it will be as a community member, and not as an official spokesperson.
I've spent my life working in various branches of the scientific publishing industry; currently I'm a freelance copy editor specializing in scientific and scholarly material. A small part of my income derives from my principal hobby, which is tabletop roleplaying games; I've written several books for Steve Jackson Games, starting with GURPS Steampunk
and most recently including GURPS Fantasy
. I've been active in the Libertarian Futurist Society for over twenty years; I edited the society's print newsletter, Prometheus
, for several years, stepping down a year or two ago. I've been a libertarian since the early 1960s, when my ideas were influenced by Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land
, John Holt's How Children Fail
, and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged
—though I didn't learn the word "libertarian" until the very end of the decade.
I'll have more to say later; for now, I think this is a sufficient curriculum vita for this community.