short stories

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Prometheus Unbound has been on unannounced hiatus for a while now. We’ve all been rather busy with work and family and other projects. But I will be reviving it and the podcast. Reviving the site and keeping it going will of course be easier if we have more contributors, so if you’re interested in publishing news, reviews, articles, interviews, and the like on Prometheus Unbound, please contact me.

The main subject of this post, however, is one of the other projects that has been occupying my attention. I recently launched, in November 2013, the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association.

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading fiction but have a difficult time finding stories that truly reflect your values and interests. This discovery problem affects everyone, but is particularly acute for niche markets like ours. There are individuals and organizations (including Amazon) attempting to solve the problem for authors and readers in general, but no one was really catering to libertarians specifically. Even Prometheus Unbound cannot provide the solution: it’s primarily about providing a libertarian perspective on the fiction that interests us, particularly science fiction and fantasy, much of which is not produced by libertarians.

How many libertarians out there have published fiction? How many more are aspiring authors, who are either writing their first novel or are thinking about it but need some encouragement and guidance? I had no idea, but I was sure there were far more than I knew about personally.

As an activist, I also think that dramatizing our values through fiction is an important way to spread the message of liberty.

As an aspiring fiction author myself, I wanted to form a group made up of fellow libertarian writers who could learn from, encourage, and push each other to accomplish their goals and continually reach for new heights — and, eventually, to get my stories into the hands of new readers.

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Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

The Libertarian Futurist Society issued a press release on Saturday, July 20th, announcing this year’s winners of the Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Novel and the Hall of Fame Award.

Best Novel

Winner

Finalists

Hall of Fame

Winner

Finalists

My thoughts on the results briefly: I still wish actual libertarian authors would win more often. Step up, people!

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

There are a number of familiar names listed here, including past winners Cory Doctorow, Sarah Hoyt, Dani and Eytan Kollin, Neal Stephenson, Poul Anderson, and Donald M. Kingsbury.

Tobias S. Buckell, Daniel Suarez, Lois McMaster Bujold, Harlan Ellison, and Rudyard Kipling have been finalists before.

In other words, no newcomers made it to finalist this year. I hope this doesn’t become a trend and that fresh talent is not being overlooked.

I haven’t read Pirate Cinema, but I have reviewed three of Doctorow’s previous novels: Little Brother (2009 winner), Makers (2010 finalist), and For the Win (2011 finalist). I hope that Doctorow was able to sustain his radical momentum through the end of the book this time around, but if he follows the pattern set in these other books I expect Pirate Cinema to have a rather milquetoast ending as well. I hope I’m wrong, because it won and it deals with timely and important issues surrounding civil liberties, intellectual property, and resistance.

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Anarchist Bee

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” is a delightful fable,1 not only on account of the political themes it explores but also some very fine writing. The short story was first published in Clarkesworld Magazine (Issue 55, April 2011) and then republished by Escape Pod (Episode 343, March 2012). If you’re partial to audio fiction, you can spend a pleasant half hour listening to the story being narrated by Kate Baker (Clarkesworld) or Mur Lafferty (Escape Pod).2 Yu’s tale has been nominated for a 2011 Nebula Award and a 2012 Hugo and is a finalist for a Locus Award and the Million Writers Award, and it is deserving of all of these honors. Yu, a student at Princeton, is a new author to watch.

Yu’s tale warns of the transitive and cyclical nature of violence — from thoughtless destruction to calculated imperialism. It begins with a boy attacking a wasp nest and ending the uneasy truce between the wasps and his village. The villagers make an amazing discovery: the wasps had inked beautiful maps of the land (China) into the walls of their nest. Soon the wasps were hunted to near extinction and a group of survivors manages to escape.

The leader of the surviving wasps has learned well the hard lessons of realpolitick. Once the new nest has been established, she orders her wasps to expand aggressively. A nearby bee hive is enslaved and forced to pay tribute. The victim of violence has resolved to avoid being the victim ever again by becoming the oppressor.

But the subjugation of the bees has unintended consequences. Some of the bees are educated and trained in philosophy, science, and cartography. One day a bee with an inclination to anarchism is born and so educated and trained, and she produces a brood of anarchist sons…

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  1. Yu believes (see the comments over at Clarkesworld) her story is hard science fiction for some reason to do with studies of bees, but since wasps and bees aren’t capable of cartography, philosophy, science, and the like, the story simply cannot be classified as hard science fiction; it’s fantasy. What do you think? 

  2. If you have to choose, I’d go with Baker. To me at least, she is by far the better narrator. 

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Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

J. Neil Schulman

AM:  Right off the bat, it strikes me that I don’t know what to call you.  Will Neil work?

JNS:  Sure. It’s J. Neil Schulman in credits, and Neil in person.

AM:  Anyway, thank you for doing this interview, Neil.  You’ve had a fascinating and unique career.  You’ve written novels, short fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and other works.  Which of your works is your favorite and why?

JNS:  Every artist gets asked this question sooner or later. I asked it of Robert A. Heinlein when I interviewed him in 1973, and his answer was, “The latest one I’ve been working on.”

I’ve only completed one movie so far — Lady Magdalene’s — so it’s a Hobson’s Choice on that one. Ask me again when I’ve made two! But a lot of people also seem to like the script I wrote for The Twilight Zone, “Profile in Silver.”

I’ve written three novels. My first, Alongside Night [editor’s note: free in pdf], seems to be my most accessible and popular. I consider my second novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, to be my most layered, literary, and richest in explicit philosophy. My third novel, Escape from Heaven, is my favorite. It may not be as timely as my first novel or literary as my second novel, but it’s the one that’s closest to my heart…both the funniest thing I’ve ever written, and the one which is most deceptively simple. It appears to be a lightweight piece of comic fantasy, but it’s full of ideas that if examined more closely turn both traditional theology and rationalist philosophy on their heads.

Short stories? I’ll pick a few: “The Musician,” “Day of Atonement,” and “When Freemen Shall Stand” — all in my collection Nasty. Brutish, and Short Stories — and my latest short story, “The Laughskeller,” published on my blog, J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review.

AM:  Your worldview is, in a word, libertarian.  Why is that?  How does libertarianism come across in your writing?

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NEWS | Libertarian Author Publications: “Communitas” and “Pretty Citadel” Thumbnail

Allen Mendenhall

I’m finally getting around to writing about two short stories published late last year that were written by libertarian authors. Both are works of literary fiction.

One of the stories is by our very own Allen Mendenhall. “Communitas” was published in the online quarterly magazine of literary fiction, Full of Crow, in October 2011. You can read it online in full for free. The story is set in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and is told from the point of view of a nameless old man obsessing over a lost… loved one? It strikes me as a rather bleak tale about the modern breakdown of identity, social relationships, and moral decency.

Allen is a multi-talented writer, attorney, editor, and teacher. Visit his website to learn more about him. Also, check out his interview with Jeffrey Tucker.

The other story, “Pretty Citadel,” is by Kerry Howley and was published in The Paris Review, also an online quarterly magazine of literary fiction, in the Fall 2011 issue, No. 198. The first four paragraphs of the story can be read online for free, but you’ll have to purchase the issue for $12 in order to read it in full.

Kerry Howley

“Pretty Citadel” is set in Burma, in a local newspaper office, and is told from the point of view of a woman (I assume) who works there. Her boss talks of revolution, though it’s not clear it’s the political kind. There’s mention of most everything besides the newspaper being banned — it being an exception because it is censored before publication by a government bureaucrat — and of politically incorrect people being disappeared. I like the way the brief glimpses into the workings of the totalitarian Burmese regime are casually interspersed between cynical descriptions of Burma and the POV character’s work. But that’s about all I can tell you about this story, as I’m not about to pony up $12 for one short story, however good it may be.

Kerry Howley is a former editor of a Burmese newspaper (which would help explain the story’s setting, I suppose) and a senior editor of Defunct: A Literary Repository for the Ages. You may already know her from her work as a contributing editor for Reason Magazine as well as some tv news appearances. Visit Kerry’s website to learn more about her and for links to some of her articles online.

~*~

This post is the first in a new series in which we will highlight new and recent fiction publications by libertarian authors. If you think there are any we might have missed, please do let us know. If you’re interested in reviewing any of these stories, contact me.

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Clarkesworld Magazine is an online science fiction and fantasy magazine that features at least two original short stories per month from new and established authors as well as artwork, podcasts, and non-fiction articles. Founded in October 2006 by Neil Clarke, its online content is totally free. The magazine has been experimenting with innovative methods of funding. No paywalls or DRM or desperate IP aggression here.

While its content is freely available online, Clarkesworld sells print versions of its fiction. An annual anthology series, Realms, is available in trade paperback, hardcover, and ebook formats. Additionally, several months after online publication, each month’s fiction is collected in chapbook form; the value-add here is that the chapbooks are limited print run (100), numbered editions that are signed by the authors. If you happen to have a tablet pc or ereader, you can also purchase ebook editions of each monthly online issue in epub or mobi/kindle format.

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SHORT STORY REVIEW | “Melancholy Elephants” by Spider Robinson Thumbnail

Melancholy Elephants, a Hugo Award winner from 1983,  is the kind of story you get when a talented craftsmen, after some genuine contemplation on a topic, has come up with a unique perspective on an issue, discovered something worth thinking about.  For the libertarian, it has the added attraction of advocating freedom of artistic expression, as well as a frank depiction of government corruption.  Though Spider Robinson’s short work fizzles at the end, it’s engaging and thought-provoking and ultimately worth your time.

Despite the mildly disappointing ending, I cannot find fault with the beginning.  Even the title is exactly what a title should be: odd enough to be intriguing while encapsulating what the story is about, but this becomes obvious only afterwards.  It gives away nothing of the tale at the outset.

The short story format affords an author little time to grab his reader’s attention; Spider Robinson does it in the first paragraph.  The main character, Dorothy Martin, has such a bizarre reaction to a situation she is subjected to that any impulse to put the story down evaporates, rather like what a startle does to the impulse to yawn.

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