Monday, June 16, 2008

My Prometheus ballot

I joined the Libertarian Futurist Society this year so I could vote for the Prometheus Award. I still making my way through all of the "Hall of Fame" entries, so I won't send my ballot in for a couple of weeks, but I've read the five novels on the ballot and made up my mind about them. Here's how I intend to vote:

1. Ha'Penny, Jo Walton.
2. The Execution Channel, Ken MacLeod.
3. The Gladiator, Harry Turtledove.
4. No award.
5. Fleet of Worlds, Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner.
6. Ragamuffin, Tobias Buckell.

The first two books are particularly good and would add luster to the award.

My favorite, Ha'penny, is an alternate world novel about a Great Britain which made peace with Hitler rather than fighting on. It's also a mystery novel about a gay, deeply-conflicted Scotland Yard detective who loathes the fascist regime but can't help doing his professional best as he battles a terrorist cell plotting to kill Hitler. I'm describing the book in terms of genre conventions, although it's so well-written it transcends genre.

There's no doubt Walton is on the side of freedom in this subtle, fascinating book, but the book is loaded with dramatic irony and complexity. Many of the people who support loathesome ideologies in the book are more sympathetic in the way they treat people than the folks who are working to oppose Hitler.

"Ha'Penny" is a sequel to the author's "Farthing," which I'm now eager to read. "Ha'Penny" works fine as a stand-alone. The author, by the way, is a native of Wales who has trouble getting her books published in Great Britain. That would seem to reflect badly on British publishers.

The MacLeod is a political thriller with nice touches of science fiction (including a nod to James Blish). The plot is so fast-moving you might not notice MacLeod is wrestling seriously with issues such as civil liberties vs. terrorism and how fear pressures us to give in to impulses of fascism.

The Turtledove reads like young adult novel although it apparently is not marketed that way. It has teenage protagonists and a narrative with little sex or violence and and a pleasing story about a Communist-dominated alternate world in which a few people are rediscovering the virtues of capitalism and free speech.

The other two books aren't bad but aren't good enough to merit an award. The Niven (and Lerner) reads as if it was written in the 1970s and sat in a drawer for three decades. It's quite readable, but recommended only for Niven completists. The Buckell has lots of glowing blurbs on the cover, so I expected it to be better. It is particularly violent, but not particularly interesting or plausible.

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