L. Neil Smith is a writer, and libertarian political activist. He is the founder of the Prometheus award for libertarian fiction and has written volumes of libertarian centered science fiction. He has also given us what I consider our most thought-provoking interview to date. It is my pleasure to bring you L. Neil Smith.
The Hitchhiker asks…
Question 1. You are the creator of the Prometheus award can you tell us why it was needed?
I’ve been a student of social and political change as long as I can
remember. One thing you learn from such a study right away is that
political change is impossible without social change, psychological
change, to prepare the path — and the best way to accomplish that is
to “concretize” the otherwise abstract future you want to create and
H.G. Wells and Edward Bellamy both understood this and used science
fiction to criticize their times and generate a realizable alternative
in the minds of their readers. There have been others. Both Arthur C.
Clarke and Robert Heinlein created believable, desirable universes,
although their motives weren’t quite as explicitly political. Ayn Rand
did it, too, but I don’t believe she knew she was writing science
fiction. One of the few absurdities she wrote was that the detective
novel — notably Mickey Spillane’s — was the last literature of
Of course, as a lifelong science fiction reader, I knew better. So the
fundamental idea was simple: encourage writers to create new worlds in
which people are free to live their lives as they wish and to prosper
in that freedom. And the way to get that done was to offer a very
concrete award — solid gold — for doing that job best in any given
Question 2. I love the Probability Broach. I especially love the graphic novel based on it. One of the reasons I find the probability Broach so intriguing is that I live in the South Mountain section of North Carolina. This area was in an undeclared war with the federal government from the time of the Whiskey rebellion until the late 1960s. Of course the Probability Broach hinges on the fact that the Whiskey Rebellion was won by the rebels in their timeline. Do you have any other fiction based in that universe?
There are several other novels in what I call the “North American
Confederacy” or the “Win Bear” series, although my German publishers
referred to it as the Gallatin universe, and that’s probably more
appropriate, since some of the books don’t involve Win Bear or occur
I’ve skipped around a bit, so, in the order in which they should be
read, they are _The Probability Broach_, _The American Zone_, _The
Venus Belt_, _Their Majesties’ Bucketeers_, _The Nagasaki Vector_,
_Tom Paine Maru_, _The Gallatin Divergence_, _Brightsuit MacBear_, and
_Taflak Lysandra_. There’s also a tiny bit of Confederate crossover in
_Forge of the Elders_, and some minimal connection with the _Roswell,
Texas_ universe in _The American Zone_.
All of these books are available now or are in the process of being
reprinted. Tor is about to make _TPB_ an electronic book at long last;
Phoenix Pick, which does most of my stuff has electronic versions
ready practically the same day the “dead tree” book cmes out. And of
course _TPB_, as you note, is available from BigHeadPress.com as a
webcomic or graphic novel.
Last, but far from least, Brian Wilson, the libertarian radio talk
show host has recorded an audio version of _The Nagasaki Vector_
— which some folks think is my funniest book, that can be had at a
modest price through CD Baby. There will be more if sales merit it.
Question 3. As one of the founders of Big Head Press do you think your message is reaching a younger audience by means of graphic novels and comic strips?
I’m not really a founder of BigHeadPress.com. That credit belongs to
Frank Bieser, the publisher, and Scott Bieser, the brilliant artist
who is also what we call the “HMFWIC”.
That said, BigHead was created,in the beginning, to make _The
Probability Broach_ into a graphic novel. That process took a long
time, and so they published _A Drug War Carol_ first, written by Scott
and Susan Wells. It has its own website and can be had as a dead tree
graphic, as well. One of the best bargains available today.
I’m not sure it was ever our purpose to reach younger readers in
particular. I’m happy to reach anybody who’ll listen — that is, read
One problem the general freedom movement has — and which I’ve been
struggling to fix all throughout my career is that its various
“compartments” are too well insulated from one another. Today, for
example, we have libertarian supporters of Ron Paul, and Libertarian
Party members for Gary Johnson. We’ve got two flavors of Objectvist.
There are Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. We’ve got survivalists
and “preppers”. We’ve got hard money advocates and gun people. I’m not
sure how much they communicate with one another, but — given the
preparations the government seems to be making for a civil war — I
think it’s important that they do.
BigHeadPress and other efforts like it could become important conduits
for freedom-oriented ideas and communications within the various
sections of the movement. Hardline statists know that they’re in their
end-game, but there may still be time to deter them before it gets
Question 4. What does the future hold for you and your work? Are you working on anything new that may interest our readers?
What’s new? Well, the fun news is that _BrightSuit MacBear_ and
_Taflak Lysandra_ are about to be republished (I hope to sneak _Their
Majesties’ Bucketeers_ in there, somewhere, too) and will then be
followed by the five additional books I meant to write in that
sub-series. There could be two more _lamviin_ Mav and Mymy novels, as
That’s in addition to _Blade of p’Na_, a prequel to _Forge of the
Elders_ that I’m almost done with, _Ares_, which will fit between
_Pallas_ and _Ceres_ (there will be two morein that series, as well,
called _Beautiful Dreamer_ and _Rosalie’s World_) and a new project
I’ve just taken on which I can’t fully discuss yet. Brian Wilson and I
are also working on an audio version of my nonfiction book, _Down With
Power: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis_.
Oh, yes, and I’m also doing work for LinePlot Productions on a sequel
to their animated movie _The Silver Circle_ which will be released
later this year.
And finally (so far), I used to be a professional musician, and I hope
to put together an album of the various songs I’ve written in the last
half century or so. The album will be called _Do Not Remove This Tag!”
Question 5. I know you are a libertarian activist can you tell us a little about what changes in American society you would like to see? As a rational (Heinlein) conservative I can see the appeal of libertarianism but I am of the opinion that a libertarian state as depicted in the Probability Broach or in Roswell Texas can only be sustained if the population has a certain educational level or educational “background” (that may be a more appropriate word). I believe this country has fallen below that level. Do you believe that is true or that we need a certain level/background at all to implement a libertarian society?
Whatever knowledge of history and human nature I’ve managed to acquire
over the years tells me that people will rise — or fall– to meet
your expectations of them.
The people who built this country — I’m not talking about the
Founders, here, but of ordinary people doing ordinary thngs every day — were not especially well-educated, but they knew which side their bread was buttered on. That’s the whole “secret” to a freer market and a free society. they weren’t always consistent, either, but they did create the most prosperous, peaceful, and progressive society that ever existed at any time, anyplace on Earth.
It was their “leaders” who undermined that and are in the process of deliberately destroying it. They dream of a new form of high-tech feudalism, a dream that must be shattered if freedom is to survive.
It’s presumptuous for you — or for anybody else — to think you know how much liberty people “deserve”, or are prepared to use in ways that you may think are “wise”. You have no such right. Nobody has. That’s as bad as the criminals, cretins, and crazies who think they have a
right to rule us now.
Look: the two hardest things in the world to learn, the two things
that make us genuine adults, the two things that many people — maybe even most people — never really manage to get through their thick collectivist skulls are these:
A. Other people are as real as you are.
B. You must learn to let go of their lives.
Instead of prescribing for others, ask yourself, instead, how much
liberty _you_ deserve and are prepared to use wisely. Otherwise, MYOB: mind your own business. If everybody did that, we could have a free society tomorrow.
And no, I don’t believe we need just a “little bit” of government
(that’s like a “little bit” of cancer), for example, to build the
Like Doc Brown said, “Where we’re going, we don’t _need_ roads
Thank you for doing this interview.