THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 515, April 19, 2009
"The shot heard round the world"
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
I have just recently come across an intriguing novel called Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson. The novel is set in a future where the world and most of its colonies are ruled by the UN. The life of a citizen is overburdened by regulations, which causes everything to move slowly and inefficiently. Civil liberties are nonexistent and people find themselves implanted with computer chips that track their every movement. Despite the control that the world government has over citizens, crime is considered a part of everyday life, including rape.
The story begins when Kendra Paceilli, a noncommissioned officer in the UN Protection Force is accused of a crime she did not commit. Due to the brutal interrogation of prisoners and the slow pace of the justice system, Kendra takes it upon herself to escape to the outer colony known as the Freehold.
The Freehold is an independent colony that is outside the control of the UN. When she moves into the Freehold she meets Robert McKay, a veteran of the Freehold Military Services. Kendra also meets Marta Hernandez, who works as a high-priced escort. During the early part of her stay in the Freehold, Kendra has to adjust to the culture shock of individual freedom. In the Freehold society there are no restrictions on private ownership of firearms and even though crime still exists it is not the norm. Hallucinogen drugs are sold freely by drink vendors. Taxation is voluntary. Commerce is unregulated.
What seems to shock Kendra the most is the causal attitude that the Freehold natives have about sex. The sexual freedom of the Freehold makes the sexual revolutions of the 1960's and 70's look like the Victorian era. Public nudity is so common that department stores don't even bother with dressing rooms. Prostitution is not only legal, but is also considered to be an honorable profession. Sex is also expected on a first date.
At first Kendra according to Freehold standards, seems like a prude when it comes to sex. When she finally adjusts to the culture shock, Kendra finds herself in bisexual relationship with her new friends Robert McKay and Marta Hernandez.
During her stay at the Freehold, Kendra worked in the city park services, but thanks to the sanctions imposed by the UN, she found herself laid off from her job. She later decides to enlist in the Freehold's military. One of the weakest points of the book is the excessive amount of detail about the training that Kendra had to endure. Since Williamson has a military background, I suppose he wanted to make sure that the training sequence was as authentic as possible. That is certainly understandable; however the detail was a little redundant.
Not too long after Kendra's training the UN uses various forms of underhanded tactics to provoke a war with the Freehold. Eventually the UN gets their wish, but they soon learn that the conquest of the Freehold doesn't come cheap. Even though the UN has the numbers on their side, the Freehold forces fight viciously through the use of guerrilla warfare to repel their invaders.
One of Williamson's strengths is that he does not glamorize the reality of war. He shows war for what it is; brutal, horrific and tragic. Williamson didn't even try to sugarcoat it. He even shows how war can bring out the worst in the best people. Even Kendra finds herself torturing and killing enemy prisoners.
Even though the good guys get the upper hand, the ending is far from glamorous. The main characters, Kendra, Robert and Marta find themselves traumatized physically and mentally by the brutal reality of war. Another tragic outcome was the series of nuclear attacks that cost the lives of billions of civilians on earth. Even though the people of the Freehold were able to beat back the UN forces, they knew that they wouldn't be able to withstand another attack. The leaders of the Freehold decided that the only way that they could ensure victory was by counter attacking with nuclear weapons.
By now, you are probably wondering why I chose to review a book that has been out since 2004. That was when I first heard about the book, but it wasn't until a year ago that I finally got around to reading it. Even though it was a decent book, the ending seemed unsettling. I know that war is hell and that moral concepts such as the Zero Aggression Principle don't always apply. However, I found it difficult to get pass the billons of noncombatants that were killed. This was one of the reasons why I was compelled to write this review. Is it acceptable to kill billons of civilians in the name of freedom? It seems to me that the Freehold forces became just as bad as their enemies. This was one of the things that made the victory over the UN seem hollow.
Despite the excessive amount of detail regarding Kendra's military training and the questionable ending, the book was excellent. Williamson made the Freehold society believable by not portraying it as a utopia. The Freehold may have been the freest society, but it was far from perfect. The colony still had its share of snake oil salesmen and conmen that never hesitated to prey on the innocent. Poverty still existed. Corporations in the Freehold unfortunately were not that different from what we have in our society. That is how I always pictured a truly free society. As imperfect as the Freehold may be, I would take it over any society that we have now.