Editorials

Prometheus Unbound Podcast

The new year has started off slow for us at Prometheus Unbound as we prepare some major new features and changes, but things are about to take off and I think 2013 is going to be an exciting one.

The Prometheus Unbound Podcast

The Prometheus Unbound Podcast

We’ve been republishing some science-fiction-related episodes from the Mises Institute and Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition podcast, but within the next couple of days we’ll be launching our own original podcast. You’ve probably already listened to our promo for the podcast. We hope you like it and will help us promote the podcast by sharing it around to anyone you think might be interested in liberty and speculative fiction.

For our first episode, we have for you an interview with libertarian legal theorist and patent attorney Stephan Kinsella. If you’re not familiar with Stephan and his work, you may be wondering why we interviewed a patent attorney. Well, Stephan is a leading figure in the movement against intellectual property. After talking about his favorite science fiction and fantasy novels, and the new Hobbit movie, we go on to discuss with him the history and origin of intellectual property; how copyright has shaped and distorted the publishing and film industries; how the internet, piracy, and advancing technology are undermining the intellectual property regime and the antiquated business models built on it; the rise of self-publishing; and more.

In our second episode, we’ll be discussing libertarian speculative fiction. What qualifies a work of fiction as libertarian? What are the best, or our favorite, works of libertarian speculative fiction? Do libertarian authors tend to be too heavy-handed and preachy?  Does the Prometheus Award to a good job of finding and promoting libertarian science fiction? Why are so many winners of the award written by authors who are not themselves libertarian? We’ll seek to address these questions and more.

And in episode three, in February, we’ll be interviewing Jeffrey Tucker, the editor of Laissez Faire Books.

Subscribe to our podcast-only rss feed to get episodes directly on your phone, tablet, or mp3 player: http://feeds.feedburner.com/prometheusunbound/podcast.

We hope you enjoy the show and will help us spread the word.

Site Redesign

I’m redesigning the site from the ground up on the new version 2.0 of the Thesis Theme Framework for WordPress. I think it will be much more slick, professional-looking, and powerful than the current design.

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Anthem by Ayn Rand

I’m pleased to see Laissez Faire Books publishing a new edition of this book. I may be unusual in this, but Anthem happens to be my favorite of Rand’s four major works of fiction. It is pithy, pared down to essentials, and more poetic. This guest editorial was originally published as the editorial preface of the new edition. — GAP

Anthem by Ayn Rand

“The author does not understand socialism,” read the letter from MacMillan in reply to the submission of Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem. They turned it down. Actually, the publisher didn’t understand socialism. Hardly anyone did in 1937, when this book was written. Rand, however, did understand socialism. She understood it so well that she knew it would result in the opposite of what it promised and that its proponents would eventually come to embrace its grim reality, rather than repudiate the system of thought.

In many ways, this book is one of the best dystopian novels ever written because it puts the central focus on the key failing of socialism: its opposition to progress. How is that possible given that progress is a central slogan in socialist thinking? The problem is that by collectivizing private property, socialism removes the machinery of progress itself. It abolishes prices and profits and calculation and the incentive to create. It puts a premium on political control, and politicians resent the revolutionary implications of entrepreneurship. Therefore, a consistently socialist society would not only be poor and backward; it would revel in those features and call them the goal.

Think about it. This was the 1930s, long before the environmental movement and long before the primitivist streak in socialist thinking was to emerge as an outright agenda to be imposed by force. But as a child in the old Soviet Union, Rand had seen it in action. She had seen how entrepreneurship and creativity had to be sacrificed for the collective, and how this drove civilization straight into the ground. A totalitarian society would not be a world with amazing technology and flying cars, but would exist only at a subsistence level. And it would try to stay that way.

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EDITORIAL | Why Space Is So Important Thumbnail

Robert Zubrin

The answer: freedom and opportunity.

Dr. Robert Zubrin has long been a strong proponent of Mars colonization and he has put forth a strategy for doing so with existing technology on the (relative) cheap. Hint: We don’t need to build big spaceships in orbit or colonize the moon first. If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend you check out his books Entering Space, The Case for Mars, and How to Live on Mars. These books are understandable to the layman but also include enough nitty-gritty details and formulas to satisfy the more mathematically inclined enthusiast, and they make excellent resources for science fiction authors.

In the brief video below, Zubrin is answering a question about his book, How to Live on Mars, at the 28th Annual International Space Development Conference, held March 28-31, 2009. Watch it and then continue on after the break for my thoughts on what he had to say.

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So it looks like a recently published spy thriller, Assassin of Secrets,1 was largely plagiarized by the “author” from quite a few other novels — some post-Fleming Bond novels and others.

Now, when someone like myself says he is against intellectual “property,” as an illegitimate government grant of monopoly privilege over something that cannot be owned (i.e., ideas), the responses are fairly predictable.

A common one is “Well, then what’s to stop me from copying your novel, changing the name on it, and selling it as my own?”

Well, your customers could sue you for fraud, for one thing. No need for copyright to make that possible.

For another, in the Internet age, you run a very high risk of being found out and ruining your reputation.

In this case, fans of James Bond novels discovered the plagiarism first. As you can imagine, fans can be mighty protective of their favorite books and authors. Try to rip one off and some fan is bound to spot it, and soon they’ll all be royally pissed.

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  1. A rather cheesy title, no? 

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EDITORIAL | The Perils and Importance of Futurism and Science-Fictional Speculation Thumbnail

When you make predictions about the future, there is a good chance that you’ll be wrong. People have a tendency to grow attached to certain visions of the future and become so jaded by its failure to materialize that they are blind to the technological wonders that actually are materializing around them. Some even take this attitude to an extreme that resembles making the perfect the enemy of the good.”  They become so obsessed with their ideal vision of the future that they lose all other perspective; they look back and can evaluate what they already have only in light of this perfect vision, compared to which everything else is shit: worthless and unenjoyable. They can’t be happy with what they have now.

A recent xkcd comic illustrates these points well:

The flying car and the personal jetpack were popular dreamed-of products in the last century. I remember That 70’s Show episodes in which the father, Red Foreman, complained about lacking the flying cars that his generation had been promised and daydreamed about having a robot servant and a personal jetpack. There’s even a band called We Were Promised Jetpacks. Gizmodo has a list of 10 technologies we were promised and never got. As if to underscore my point and the xkcd comic, the title of the post is 100 Years of Failure.

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EDITORIAL | American vs. British Science Fiction Thumbnail

Are there any major differences between American and British science fiction (SF)? If so, what are they and what is the reason for them? What the heck does this have to do with libertarianism?

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Prometheus Unbound

My name is Geoffrey Allan Plauché. I’m a philosopher and an academic. I decided to launch a libertarian review of fiction and literature as a sort of online “magazine” because I’m not aware of any other such site and I think there is a need for one.

The closest things I can think of to Prometheus Unbound are the quarterly newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society, similarly titled Prometheus, and a new blog called Austrian Economics and Literature. The former is print-bound and focused almost exclusively on science fiction, the latter online but narrowly focused on — you guessed it — Austrian Economics and literature. I’m glad these publications exist but, taken individually and even together, they’re not exactly what I’m looking for.

Prometheus Unbound will be entirely online. I think print-only is a dead and antiquated medium, particularly for a small niche publication with a heavy emphasis on science fiction (the literature of the future and change,1 science and technology) and catering to libertarians. We can publish more frequently online, in more discrete chunks, for less money, and reach far more people in a variety of ways (the website, myriad rss feeds, email, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and the like).

Prometheus Unbound will have a broader scope. Not simply Austrian Economics but libertarianism, albeit a libertarianism informed by Austrian Economics. Not simply literature but also popular fiction that does not (yet) qualify for that high distinction in the eyes of literary critics or the masses. Not simply science fiction but also fantasy and other genres, but still primarily science fiction and fantasy (as they are my primary interest). Not just prose but, probably to a lesser degree, other media as well — such as film, tv, comics and graphic novels, poetry, and games. Our focus will not be on libertarian fiction (though we are on the lookout for it) or fiction by libertarian authors (who are distressingly too few in number) but on reviewing and commenting on fiction from a libertarian perspective.

As I said, I plan to build Prometheus Unbound into something like an online magazine. I hope this will not be a one-man show. We will feature news, reviews, editorials and other commentary, non-fiction articles, eventually interviews (I hope), and, in the undetermined future, possibly some original fiction. I’m looking for fellow libertarians, particularly fans of science fiction and fantasy, who would be interested in contributing on either a regular or an irregular basis. We’re in need of editors, regular writers or columnists, and irregular or part-time contributors. Even if you only contribute a few reviews a year on your own schedule or lack thereof, we’d be happy to consider your submissions.

If you’re interested in becoming a regular or part-time contributor, you can send a submission query or contact me about a position via the Contact form. See the About and Submissions pages for more information.

Finally, a few words about why I chose the title Prometheus Unbound: I took inspiration from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s closet drama, a play not intended for the stage, of the same name. There also happens to be an episode of the science fantasy tv series Stargate SG-1 with the same title as well as a seminal book of economic history titled The Unbound Prometheus. The latter, by David S. Landes, was influential for labeling the Second Industrial Revolution, which was also known as the Technological Revolution for its abundance of innovations and inventions that drove modernization and technological development in Western Europe beginning in the mid-1800s.

While Landes’s book tells the economic-historical story of the results of relatively unchained minds — unprecedented progress and prosperity — Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound dramatizes a related political message in mytho-poetic form. Shelley’s play was inspired by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus’s own telling of the myth of the Titan punished by Zeus for “stealing”2 fire from the gods and giving it to Man. But whereas Aeschylus had oppressor and victim reconcile, Shelley thought such an ending to be unfitting:

But, in truth, I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the Oppressor of mankind. The moral interest of the fable, which is so powerfully sustained by the sufferings and endurance of Prometheus, would be annihilated if we could conceive of him as unsaying his high language and quailing before his successful and perfidious adversary.

Instead of reconciliation, Shelley gives us a revolution “championing free will, goodness, hope and idealism in the face of oppression.” Zeus (Jupiter) is overthrown and Prometheus is thereby freed. But rather than replace one tyrant with another, as so often happens with revolutions, particularly exemplified by the recent (at the time) French Revolution, the play ends with no one in political power at all — an anarchist’s paradise.

On the importance of dramatizing our values (pdf), Shelley ends the preface to his play:

My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that, until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness.

Fiction plays important roles in our lives and I think it is an important medium for expressing libertarian values. Our Prometheus Unbound will aim to identify libertarian values dramatized in works of fiction and literature and to bring works that contain those values to the attention of our readers. But I also hope that by doing so Prometheus Unbound will help promote the inclusion of libertarian values in more published fiction.


  1. Science fiction author David Brin recently wrote: “Science fiction is one of the most “American” literary genres, because, like America itself, SF has a relentless fascination with change. In fact, I believe that this trait — rather than technology — is what most distinguishes SF from fantasy.” 

  2. More on this in a later post. 

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