Dani and Eytan Kollin have won the Prometheus Award for their novel “The Unincorporated Man,” which portrays a future, space-faring human society in which religion has died, people ostensibly live forever and can buy shares in each other. The brothers beat out Cory Doctrow, Harry Turtledove and Orson Scott Card with their debut work.
The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society, is one of the oldest fan-based awards, behind the Nebula and Hugo. The ceremony will be held during the 68th World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne, Australia, Sept. 2-6.
For those who won’t be able to make it to Worldcon this year, the Kollin brothers will be at the 41st annual Comic-Con on Saturday, speaking alongside writers like Samuel R. Delany and Alan Dean Foster on the ominous-titled panel: “Welcome to The Future: Are You Sure You Want to Stay?” (4:30-5:30 p.m., Room 4).
“The Unincorporated Man” as well as its sequels (“The Unincorporated War” and the forthcoming “The Unincorporated Woman”) explore an infrequently covered area of science fiction: economics. After a catastrophic depression known as the Grand Collapse, society has shifted to incorporating individuals. Funding for education and personal development comes from investors, who purchase shares in people and later determine where they will live and work. Most people struggle their whole lives to achieve a majority share in themselves in order to gain control.
When Justin Cord, a billionaire secretly frozen before the Grand Collapse in the early 21st century, is discovered and resurrected, that future system gets thrown into chaos. As the only unincorporated man in the world, Cord cannot accept part ownership of himself, even if that places him in conflict with a civilization that extends just outside the solar system. As he seeks to retain full ownership of himself, Cord’s legal fight inspires others to begin questioning their own personal freedom.
“Our protagonist represents a value – and the value is freedom,” Dani Kollin said. “Ultimately what this series of books is trying to answer across this arc is ‘What price freedom?’”
Another question—the original one that served as the inspiration for the first novel—is: What if you actually had a society that tried capitalism?
“Not this corporate socialism bullcrap and regulatory bullcrap that we’ve got,” Eytan said, “but where you can actually buy authority and power, and then bribe the political authority to let you screw over your economic/cultural adversaries.”
“So this started out as ‘look how great capitalism is.’ By the time we were done, you have a lot of questions about how great capitalism is. There was a part of me thinking, ‘Is this a direction we want to go in?’ But, for the most part, I said if this is the direction the story needs to go, then this is the where the story needs to go,” he said.
The “Unincorporated” series, the brothers say, will contain four books.
Eytan—a Pasadena history, government and economics teacher with a passion for historical re-enactments, chess, and battle recreation—doesn’t hesitate to mention Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand (in small does) as his inspiration. While Dani, an Los Angeles-based copywriter whose love for science fiction is based in television and film, looks to inspiration from Ray Bradbury, primarily for his prose and his concepts.
“This endeavor is something I really did with Eytan, because we didn’t have much to do; we were broke and unemployed,” Dani said. “We said, ‘Hey, let’s write a book together.’ We both enjoy sci-fi, but Eytan really is the sci-fi guy in terms of being immersed in the culture.”
The Kollin brothers, sons of Yona and Rabbi Gil Kollins, rabbi emeritus of Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, grew up traveling the world with their father, who served as a military chaplain. Dani, 46, was born in Ankara, Turkey, while Eytan, 43, was born in Spokane, Wash. The family moved in 1980 to Southern California, where the brothers grew up in Hollywood while their father initially worked at Temple Beth El for 11 years.
In “The Unincorporated Man,” religion is essentially non-existent.
“As we describe in the second book, man has become, or has come to think of himself, as God. The dogma is replaced by the incorporated system, and man himself becomes God by having extended lifespans or unlimited lifespans,” Dani said.
But that changes by “The Unincorporated War,” as the questions about freedom raised in first book evolve into questions of faith. And while readers find out what happens to Christianity and Islam in the second book, details are still sketchy about Judaism.
The brothers say that is about change with the third book, “The Unincorporated Woman.”
“Judaism has to shift, because the reality around Judaism has shifted,” Eytan said. “In other words, the problems, the issues, the discussions Jews have – the few that are left – deal with the fact that they’re now dealing with a humanity that is vastly more capable. So they now have opportunities and issues. It’s one thing to cure a child with Tay-Sachs; it is another thing entirely to remove the Tay-Sachs gene from your genome. One is permissible; the other is not. Why? And there you get an interesting rabbinical debate.”