Edited by Brad Linaweaver and Edward E. Kramer
Tor Books, July 1997, $24.95 (hardbound)
Reviewed by Claire Wolfe
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
"Space is a dream, like flight was.
And dreams need dreamers to become real ...
people who dance on the cliff for answers
to "Why?" and "How?" ... "What if?"
-- Wendy McElroy
"How Do You Tell the Dreamer From the Dream?"
is libertarian. Oh, yes, there's plenty of
statist SF, or SF with no overt philosophical bent. But SF is ours
in the same way the Internet is ours.
lends itself to individualists and individualism,
something that has been true since Eric Frank Russell, A.E. Van Vogt
and, most of all, Robert Heinlein. SF is, after all, largely about
creating the future, taking risks, discovering new worlds -- notions
that don't come naturally to groupthinkers or securitarians, but that
do grow healthily in the minds of libertarian neophiles.
as Enterprise publisher L. Neil Smith emphasized in
his speech before this year's Arizona Libertarian Party convention,
the (no)forces of freedom are in a culture war with the forces of
statism, and SF is a vivid, important expression of our culture.
it's more than a little mind-boggling that the first
explicitly libertarian SF anthology has just been introduced, now, in
Free Space, a labor of love from editors Brad Linaweaver
and Edward E. Kramer and 20 notable authors.
the 20 stories and poems in the collection were written
expressly for Free Space. The authors include Prometheus Award
winners, Nebula and Hugo winners, famous names and lesser knowns. Not
all contributors are libertarian, but the theme of the book most
began by proposing a very loose structure, that of a
future human society divided into three major segments. In this
galactic society, members of the Federation are planet-bound and
government-ridden. (The name is a deliberate dig at Star Trek's
insipid overlordship.) Spacers roam the galaxy as anarchistic free
traders and adventurers. "Jeffies" operate spaceports and space
colonies, serving as a liaison between inimical planet dwellers and
the editors turned the authors free to create their own
visions. The resulting tales range over 300 years and are as wildly
different as their authors.
J. Neil Schulman's
contribution, "Day of Atonement," is an
intellectually challenging story of Jewish activists battling a
biblical-style Israeli theocracy.
exquisite "Kwan Tingui," William Wu uses ancient Chinese
techniques of negotiation and indirection to recount the life of a
woman exiled from her Singaporian family. The reasons for Tingui's
exile are both ancient and painfully contemporary.
by Dafydd ab Hugh pulls the reader through frustration
after frustration, as bureaucrats attempt to subvert a promising
private-enterprise space endeavor.
by Gregory Benford -- the hardest hard-science story
in the collection -- shows a young woman spacer working herself out of
debt in a manner possible only in a free society.
opens as a cleaning woman in Tokyo finds a
flower she believes represents one of the gods of her home village.
She nurtures the plant, hoping its god will protect her son, engaged
in dangerous and prohibited activities in space. How that flower
does, in fact, touch the life of far-away Icoro Shimoto is a wonderful
tale of science, character and coincidence that only James P. Hogan
could relate so well.
L. Neil Smith
meets one of SF's most difficult challenges by
putting us into the mind of an alien being in "A Matter of Certainty."
This warring alien must negotiate with a peace emissary -- a creature
more loathsome to him than any bug-eyed monster to thee and me. A
Neilism: "You'll have to achieve peace the hard way, with a gun in
your hand. Civilizations can't disinvent technology. They either
die of it or learn to live with it."
weighs in with the wickedly, wittily satiric
"Demokratus," in which a descendent of his greatest fictional hero
becomes a statist wannabe. Welder Volnos, a born spacer, exiles
himself to a Federation planet, " ... where I don't have to be
so ... responsible for my life." Victor also gives us a useful new
epithet (not to be uttered in the presence of ladies): "Taxers!"
William Alan Ritch
counters Koman with a Heinleinesque juvenile,
"If Pigs Had Wings," in which a young "ground hog" girl dreams and
plots to get into space.
"Planet in the Balance" John DeChancie writes a howlingly funny
conclusion to a story of a freelance planetologist forced to land on a
planet run by devout preservationists.
contributors include William F. Buckley, Jr., Ray Bradbury,
Poul Anderson, Peter Crowther, Wendy McElroy, Arthur Byron Cover,
Robert J. Sawyer, Jared Lobdell, John Barnes, Robert Anton Wilson and
Free Space co-editor Brad Linaweaver.
SUCCESSES; MINOR MISSES
for libertarian fiction are impossibly high. I want
every work in the collection to be as good as The Probability
Broach or Kings of the High Frontier -- that is, a perfect blend of
storytelling and philosophy, in which the reader vicariously
experiences libertarianism in action.
doesn't meet that expectation. But that may be all
for the best, because it also means the book offers a very wide
variety of themes and styles for different tastes.
enchanted with "Kwan Tingui." "Madame Butterfly" left me
breathless. One of the finest "stories" in the collection is Wendy
McElroy's profound poem, "How Do You Tell the Dreamer from the Dream?"
All are delicate, subtle or lyrical works. For people who prefer
other styles, there's plenty to choose from in Free Space.
"The Killing of Davis-Davis," for instance, is
totally non-linear and a huge challenge to read. As Brad notes in his
introduction, it's "An odd one -- a sophisticated meditation about the
game of power politics." But Crowther delivers a worthwhile reward
for your hard work; the fragmented narrative is the perfect expression
for one of the most complex time paradoxes you're likely to encounter.
I read the
book twice. On second reading, I found that even
stories with little initial appeal contained gems. There is not a
single truly weak story in the book, and there are many strong ones.
Am I still
going to find something to complain about? Oh, sure.
Three or four authors seemed more focused on delivering a philosophy
lecture than telling an engaging story. I won't mention any names.
You know who you are, guys.
will mention one: In an interview with Prometheus,
Brad Linaweaver laughingly admitted his own story was, "The most
brilliant essay in the book.")
other stories only peripherally have libertarian themes,
and two struck me as being at odds with the very concept of the book.
Yet each was enjoyable on its merits.
A MINOR MIRACLE
mind-boggling that it took generations for the genre to
give birth to its first libertarian anthology, it's also a minor
miracle that the book survived to publication.
year collecting stories, the editors were forced to spend
an additional year battling the publisher to keep their vision intact.
Tor wanted to cut the works of some of the most libertarian writers
(sometimes in favor of those with more salable names). Prometheans L.
Neil Smith, Robert Anton Wilson, Victor Koman, and William Alan Ritch
were among those who might have hit the proverbial cutting room floor.
to say that, had Tor had its way, we'd still be
waiting for the first thoroughly libertarian SF anthology. Free
Space might have been a good anthology without its most hardcore
writers, but it wouldn't have been what it is.
Linaweaver and Kramer passionately defended both art
and philosophy, and prevailed in all but a few cases. The result is a
book they can be proud of, and a book I hope tens of thousands of
libertarians will purchase.
I have a
selfish motive in urging you to buy it, of course. I
want to read Volume II.
View the Cover
Claire Wolfe is the author of 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution
(Loompanics Unlimited), a compendium of ideas for people who've had it
with conventional, polite, totally ineffective political activism.
Until recently, she was also a respected corporate communications
writer. Maintaining the facade of normalcy became too difficult,
however, and she is now starving in a garret while writing her next
book, I Am Not a Number! (Loompanics Unlimited, 1998). Number
will feature ideas and resources for people who refuse to cooperate
with various new federal ID laws and databases.