Caviar on Pringles?
By Don L. Tiggre
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
I was in my local mega-bookstore a couple days ago, buying out their stock of L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach.
Why, you ask?
It's not because it has been over ten years since I read the book. I always have a copy or two lying around -- just in case I meet someone interesting I want to share it with -- so I could have re-read it any time. But I give myself away anyway... Yes, I like to give copies of El Neil's first novel to anyone I meet that shows signs of intelligence and integrity.
Believe it or not, even though I have bought the book every time I've seen it in a bookstore (a habit I may not be able to keep up, now that it is happily back in print), I'm always running out.
And why, you might now ask, do I hand out so many copies of El Neil's first -- and by no means best -- book?
Even though -- until a few days ago -- I had not read it for more than a decade, I have found myself quoting from it regularly.
Even though I'm half-way through about six books right now, and I already knew what was going to happen, I still could not put TPB down until I had finished it.
Even though I knew every punch line in the book, I found myself laughing out loud several times.
But these are merely reasons why I love the book, not why I buy so many copies. The best answer to that is that I think TPB is one of the best -- if not the best -- depiction of a free society available anywhere, at any price.
Almost invariably, when discussing political philosophy, economics, and the like with intelligent people of good will, the conversation comes to a stop. This happens because -- even though they often feel compelled to accept many of my arguments -- they can't quite bend their minds around the notion that anarchy might actually be a good thing.
Many will follow the logic of freedom right up to the point when they realize that I don't want to leave any kind of final or central authority. That's when they balk. They just can't imagine anarchy being anything other than bloody chaos.
That's when I give them a copy of The Probability Broach.
It takes all the work out of imagining what I'm talking about. They don't have to laboriously climb out of deep mental ruts, they don't have to strain to visualize colors and spaces on the political spectrum that they never seen before.
After reading TPB, the person shares a common frame of reference with me. They can tell me why they think anarcho-capitalism won't work and I can tell them how their objection has already been met. TPB is an enabler of meaningful discussion in which progress toward understanding becomes possible.
An "enabler of meaningful discussion"?
Before you get to thinking that this is the most back-handed compliment I've ever given in any review I've written for The Libertarian Enterprise, consider what an achievement that description is for what may appear to be a cheap "shoot 'em up" sci-fi thriller.
Some books are literature. By this I do not mean that "books written by folks long-dead" that get assigned in literature classes. By this I mean books that speak to core human values, that instruct and inform, that change the reader for the better: sustaining food for the mind.
Other books do none of these lofty things, but are just plain fun to read. They are like potato chips for the mind -- very tasty, but with almost no nutritive value. The energy of this kind of writing is what the makers of "Pulp Fiction" were trying to capture.
In his very first novel, El Neil managed to write a book that keeps the reader turning the pages at near heart-attack inducing rates, but also provides an incredible amount of serious food for the mind. TPB is akin to mental Pringles -- the most personality-free and yet tasty potato chip -- covered with the most expensive caviar. The book careens from action-packed scene to action-packed scene, right up to the end, while simultaneously demonstrating detail after detail of the ethics, legalities, and economics of a truly free and prosperous society.
Sadly, The Probability Broach was originally published in a small quantity, not marketed aggressively, and went out of print before it could take off. Many advocates and students of liberty have not yet read this incredible book. Now that Tor has brought this Libertarian classic back to print, it is your chance to read it for the first time, or give a new -- uncut! -- copy to someone you know would enjoy it.
Or, heck, you could send it to some "liberals" and "conservatives" you know; it would be more fun and cause more consternation than toilet-papering their trees!
Wait, you say, I haven't even told you the name of the hero, or anything about what happens in the story!
And I'm not gonna either. Read it and find out for yourself...and enjoy!
The Probability Broach
By L. Neil Smith
Copyright (c) 1980, 1996, by L. Neil Smith
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., New York
First Tor edition: October, 1996
This edition features great new cover art by Peter Peebles, an introduction by Laissez-Faire Books' Andrea Millen Rich, and text restored to its pristine, controversial, original version.
Note from your HTMLizer: you can order this book directly over the Web from Amazon.com On-Line Bookstore via The Webley Page.
"Don L. Tiggre is a grant-writer and a would-be author of fiction. He lives with his three sons, who teach him daily lessons in effective ways to resist tyranny. Having just barely survived 16 years of 'education', Mr. Tiggre is doing his best to study the human animal in it's natural habitats."
Pallas, the new sci-fi adventure novel by L. Neil Smith is out in paperback from Tor. Is there room for a socialist utopia on an individualist asteroid?
Now available at good bookstores everywhere!
Next to advance to the next article, or Previous to return to the previous article, or Index to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 15, October 1, 1996.