Libertarian

Barry, Max. Jennifer Government. New York: Vintage Books, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-3092-7.
When you try to explain personal liberty to under-thirty-fivers indoctrinated in government schools, their general reaction is, “Well, wouldn't the big corporations just take over and you'd end up with a kind of corporate fascism which relegated individuals to the rôle of passive consumers?” Of course, that's what they've been taught is already the case—even as intrusive government hits unprecedented new highs—but then logic was never a strong point of collectivist kiddies. Max Barry has written the rarest of novels—a persuasive libertarian dystopia—what it would look like if the “big corporations” really did take over. In this world, individuals take the surname of their employer, and hence the protagonist, Jennifer, is an agent of what is left of the Government—get it? It is a useful exercise for libertarians to figure out “what's wrong with this picture” and identify why corporations self-size to that of the predominant government power: the smaller the government, the more local the optimal enterprise. This is another excellent recommendation by a visitor to this page.

November 2004 Permalink

Bastiat, Frédéric. The Law. 2nd. ed. Translated by Dean Russell. Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: Foundation for Economic Education, [1850, 1950] 1998. ISBN 1-57246-073-3.
You may be able to obtain this book more rapidly directly from the publisher. The original French text, this English translation, and a Spanish translation are available online.

April 2002 Permalink

Brin, David. The Transparent Society. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books, 1998. ISBN 0-7382-0144-8.
Having since spent some time pondering The Digital Imprimatur, I find the alternative Brin presents here rather more difficult to dismiss out of hand than when I first encountered it.

October 2003 Permalink

Bussjaeger, Carl. Net Assets. Internet: North American Samizdat, 2002.
Net Assets is published as an electronic book which can be purchased on-line and downloaded in a variety of formats. Befitting its anarcho-libertarian theme, you can even pay for it with real money.

October 2002 Permalink

Bussjaeger, Carl. Bargaining Position. Lyndeborough, NH: http://www.bussjaeger.us/, [2010] 2011.
In Net Assets (October 2002) the author chronicled the breakout of lovers of liberty from the Earth's gravity well by a variety of individual initiatives and their defeat of the forces of coercive government which wished to keep them in chains. In this sequel, set in the mid-21st century, the expansion into the solar system is entirely an economy of consensual actors, some ethical and some rogue, but all having escaped the shackles of the state, left to stew in its own stagnating juices on Earth.

The Hunters are an amorous couple who have spent the last decade on their prospecting ship, Improbable, staking claims in the asteroid belt and either working them or selling the larger ones to production companies. After a successful strike, they decide to take a working vacation exploring Jupiter's leading Trojan position. At this Lagrangian point the equilibrium between the gravity of Jupiter and the Sun creates a family of stable orbits around that point. The Trojan position can be thought of as an attractor toward which objects in similar orbits will approach and remain.

The Hunters figure that region, little-explored, might collect all kinds of interesting and potentially lucrative objects, and finance their expedition with a contract to produce a documentary about their voyage of exploration. What they discover exceeds anything they imagined to find: what appears to be an alien interstellar probe, disabled by an impact after arrival in the solar system, but with most of its systems and advanced technology intact.

This being not only an epochal discovery in human history, but valuable beyond the dreams of avarice, the Hunters set out to monetise the discovery, protect it against claim jumpers, and discover as much as they can to increase the value of what they've found to potential purchasers. What they discover makes the bargaining process even more complicated and with much higher stakes.

This is a tremendous story, and I can't go any further describing it without venturing into spoiler territory, which would desecrate this delightful novel. The book is available from the author's Web site as a free PDF download; use your favourite PDF reader application on your computer or mobile device to read it. As in common in self-published works, there are a number of copy-editing errors: I noted a total of 25 and I was reading for enjoyment, not doing a close-proof. None of them detract in any way from the story.

April 2013 Permalink

Cody, Beth. Looking Backward: 2162–2012. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4681-7895-1.
Julian West was a professor of history at Fielding College, a midwestern U.S. liberal arts institution, where he shared the assumptions of his peers: big government was good; individual initiative was suspect; and the collective outweighed the individual. At the inauguration of a time capsule on the campus, he found himself immured within it and, after inhaling a concoction consigned to the future by the chemistry department, wakes up 150 years later, when the capsule is opened, to discover himself in a very different world.

The United States, which was the foundation of his reference frame, have collapsed due to unsustainable debt and entitlement commitments. North America has fragmented into a variety of territories, including the Free States of America, which include the present-day states of Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and North and South Dakota. The rest of the former U.S. has separated into autonomous jurisdictions with very different approaches to governance. The Republic of Texas has become entirely Texan, while New Hampshire has chosen to go it alone, in keeping with their porky-spine tradition. A rump USA, composed of failed states, continues to pursue the policies which caused the collapse of their railroad-era, continental-scale empire.

West returns to life in the Free States, which have become a classical libertarian republic as imagined by Rothbard. The federal government is supported only by voluntary contributions, and state and local governments are constrained by the will of their constituents. West, disoriented by all of this, is taken under the wing of David Seeton, a history professor at Fielding in the 22nd century, who welcomes West into his home and serves a guide to the new world in which West finds himself.

West and Seeton explore this world, so strange to West, and it slowly dawns on West (amidst flashbacks to his past life), that this might really be a better way of organising society. There is a great amount of preaching and didactic conversation here; while it's instructive if you're really interested in how a libertarian society might work, many may find it tedious.

Finally, West, who was never really sure his experience of the future mightn't have been a dream, has a dream experience which forces him to confront the conflict of his past and future.

This is a book I found both tiresome and enlightening. I would highly recommend it to anybody who has contemplated a libertarian society but dismissed it as “That couldn't ever work”. The author is clear that no solution is perfect, and that any society will reflect the flaws of the imperfect humans who compose it. The libertarian society is presented as the “least bad discovered so far”, with the expectation that free people will eventually discover even better ways to organise themselves. Reading this book is much like slogging through Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged (April 2010)—it takes some effort, but it's worth doing so. It is obviously derivative of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward which presented a socialist utopia, but I'd rather live in Cody's future than Bellamy's.

June 2013 Permalink

Gabb, Sean. The Churchill Memorandum. Raleigh, NC: Lulu.com, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4467-2257-2.
This thriller is set in Britain in the year 1959 in an alternative history where World War II never happened: Hitler died in a traffic accident while celebrating his conquest of Prague, and Göring and the rest of his clique, opting to continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the nation rather than risk it all on war, came to an accommodation with Britain and France where Germany would not interfere with their empires in return for Germany's being given a free hand in Eastern Europe up to the Soviet border. With British prosperity growing and dominance of the seas unchallenged, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, Britain was able to arrange a negotiated settlement under which the Royal Navy would guarantee freedom of the seas, Hawaii, and the west coast of the U.S.

The U.S., after a series of domestic economic and political calamities, has become an authoritarian, puritanical dictatorship under Harry Anslinger and his minions, and expatriates from his tyranny enrich the intellectual and economic life of Europe.

By 1959, the world situation has evolved into a more or less stable balance of powers much like Europe in the late 19th century, with Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan all engaged in conflicts around the margin, but in an equilibrium where any one becoming too strong will bring forth an alliance among the others to restore the balance. Britain and Germany have developed fission bombs, but other than a single underground test each, have never used them and rely upon them for deterrence against each other and the massive armies of the Soviets. The U.S. is the breadbasket and natural resource supplier of the world, but otherwise turned inward and absent from the international stage.

In this climate, Britain is experiencing an age of prosperity unprecedented in its history. Magnetically levitated trains criss-cross the island, airships provide travel in style around the globe, and a return to the gold standard has rung in sound money not only at home but abroad. Britain and Germany have recently concluded a treaty to jointly open the space frontier.

Historian Anthony Markham, author of a recently published biography of Churchill, is not only the most prominent Churchill scholar but just about the only one—who would want to spend their career studying a marginal figure whose war-mongering, had it come to fruition, would have devastated Britain and the Continent, killed millions, destroyed the Empire, and impoverished people around the world? While researching his second volume on Churchill, he encounters a document in Churchill's handwriting which, if revealed, threatens to destabilise the fragile balance of power and return the world to the dark days of the 1930s, putting at risk all the progress made since then. Markham finds himself in the middle of a bewilderingly complicated tapestry of plots and players, including German spies, factions in the Tory party, expatriate Ayn Rand supporters, the British Communist party, Scotland Yard, the Indian independence movement, and more, where nothing is as it appears on the surface. Many British historical figures appear here, with those responsible for the decline of Britain in our universe skewered (or worse) from a libertarian perspective. Chapter 31 is a delightful tour d'horizon of the pernicious ideas which reduced Britain from global hegemon to its sorry state today.

I found that this book works both as a thriller and dark commentary of how bad ideas can do more damage to a society and nation than any weapon or external enemy, cleverly told from the perspective of a world where they didn't prevail. Readers unfamiliar with British political figures and their disastrous policies in the postwar era may need to brush up a bit to get the most out of this novel. The Abolition of Britain (November 2005) is an excellent place to start.

As alternative history, I found this less satisfying. Most works in the genre adhere to the rule that one changes a single historical event and then traces how the consequences of that change propagate and cascade through time. Had the only change been Hitler's dying in a car crash, this novel would conform to the rule, but that isn't what we have here. Although some subsequent events are consequences of Hitler's death, a number of other changes to history which (at least to this reader) don't follow in any way from it make major contributions to the plot. Now, a novelist is perfectly free to choose any premises he wishes—there are no black helicopters filled with agents of Anslinger's Bureau of Genre Enforcement poised to raid those who depart from the convention—but as a reader I found that having so many counterfactual antecedents made for an alternative world which was somewhat confusing until one eventually encountered the explanation for the discordant changes.

A well-produced Kindle edition is available.

May 2011 Permalink

Graham, Kathryn A. Flight from Eden. Lincoln, NE: Writer's Showcase, 2001. ISBN 0-595-19940-2.

December 2002 Permalink

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1944] 1994. ISBN 0-226-32061-8.

May 2002 Permalink

Hayek, Friedrich A. The Fatal Conceit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. ISBN 0-226-32066-9.
The idiosyncratic, if not downright eccentric, synthesis of evolutionary epistemology, spontaneous emergence of order in self-organising systems, free markets as a communication channel and feedback mechanism, and individual liberty within a non-coercive web of cultural traditions which informs my scribblings here and elsewhere is the product of several decades of pondering these matters, digesting dozens of books by almost as many authors, and discussions with brilliant and original thinkers it has been my privilege to encounter over the years.

If, however, you want it all now, here it is, in less than 160 pages of the pellucid reasoning and prose for which Hayek is famed, ready to be flashed into your brain's philosophical firmware in a few hours' pleasant reading. This book sat on my shelf for more than a decade before I picked it up a couple of days ago and devoured it, exclaiming “Yes!”, “Bingo!”, and “Precisely!” every few pages. The book is subtitled “The Errors of Socialism”, which I believe both misstates and unnecessarily restricts the scope of the actual content, for the errors of socialism are shared by a multitude of other rationalistic doctrines (including the cult of design in software development) which, either conceived before biological evolution was understood, or by those who didn't understand evolution or preferred the outlook of Aristotle and Plato for aesthetic reasons (“evolution is so messy, and there's no rational plan to it”), assume, as those before Darwin and those who reject his discoveries today, that the presence of apparent purpose implies the action of rational design. Hayek argues (and to my mind demonstrates) that the extended order of human interaction: ethics, morality, division of labour, trade, markets, diffusion of information, and a multitude of other components of civilisation fall between biological instinct and reason, poles which many philosophers consider a dichotomy.

This middle ground, the foundation of civilisation, is the product of cultural evolution, in which reason plays a part only in variation, and selection occurs just as brutally and effectively as in biological evolution. (Cultural and biological evolution are not identical, of course; in particular, the inheritance of acquired traits is central in the development of cultures, yet absent in biology.)

The “Fatal Conceit” of the title is the belief among intellectuals and social engineers, mistaking the traditions and institutions of human civilisation for products of reason instead of evolution, that they can themselves design, on a clean sheet of paper as it were, a one-size-fits-all eternal replacement which will work better than the product of an ongoing evolutionary process involving billions of individuals over millennia, exploring a myriad of alternatives to find what works best. The failure to grasp the limits of reason compared to evolution explains why the perfectly consistent and often tragic failures of utopian top-down schemes never deters intellectuals from championing new (or often old, already discredited) ones. Did I say I liked this book?

March 2005 Permalink

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Democracy: The God That Failed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-7658-0868-4.
As of June 2002, the paperback edition of this book cited above is in short supply. The hardcover, ISBN 0-7658-0088-8, remains generally available.

June 2002 Permalink

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. A Short History of Man. Auburn, AL: Mises Institute, 2015. ISBN 978-1-61016-591-4.
The author is one of the most brilliant and original thinkers and eloquent contemporary expositors of libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism, and Austrian economics. Educated in Germany, Hoppe came to the United States to study with Murray Rothbard and in 1986 joined Rothbard on the faculty of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he taught until his retirement in 2008. Hoppe's 2001 book, Democracy: The God That Failed (June 2002), made the argument that democratic election of temporary politicians in the modern all-encompassing state will inevitably result in profligate spending and runaway debt because elected politicians have every incentive to buy votes and no stake in the long-term solvency and prosperity of the society. Whatever the drawbacks (and historical examples of how things can go wrong), a hereditary monarch has no need to buy votes and every incentive not to pass on a bankrupt state to his descendants.

This short book (144 pages) collects three essays previously published elsewhere which, taken together, present a comprehensive picture of human development from the emergence of modern humans in Africa to the present day. Subtitled “Progress and Decline”, the story is of long periods of stasis, two enormous breakthroughs, with, in parallel, the folly of ever-growing domination of society by a coercive state which, in its modern incarnation, risks halting or reversing the gains of the modern era.

Members of the collectivist and politically-correct mainstream in the fields of economics, anthropology, and sociology who can abide Prof. Hoppe's adamantine libertarianism will probably have their skulls explode when they encounter his overview of human economic and social progress, which is based upon genetic selection for increased intelligence and low time preference among populations forced to migrate due to population pressure from the tropics where the human species originated into more demanding climates north and south of the Equator, and onward toward the poles. In the tropics, every day is about the same as the next; seasons don't differ much from one another; and the variation in the length of the day is not great. In the temperate zone and beyond, hunter-gatherers must cope with plant life which varies along with the seasons, prey animals that migrate, hot summers and cold winters, with the latter requiring the knowledge and foresight of how to make provisions for the lean season. Predicting the changes in seasons becomes important, and in this may have been the genesis of astronomy.

A hunter-gatherer society is essentially parasitic upon the natural environment—it consumes the plant and animal bounty of nature but does nothing to replenish it. This means that for a given territory there is a maximum number (varying due to details of terrain, climate, etc.) of humans it can support before an increase in population leads to a decline in the per-capita standard of living of its inhabitants. This is what the author calls the “Malthusian trap”. Looked at from the other end, a human population which is growing as human populations tend to do, will inevitably reach the carrying capacity of the area in which it lives. When this happens, there are only three options: artificially limit the growth in population to the land's carrying capacity, split off one or more groups which migrate to new territory not yet occupied by humans, or conquer new land from adjacent groups, either killing them off or driving them to migrate. This was the human condition for more than a hundred millennia, and it is this population pressure, the author contends, which drove human migration from tropical Africa into almost every niche on the globe in which humans could survive, even some of the most marginal.

While the life of a hunter-gatherer band in the tropics is relatively easy (or so say those who have studied the few remaining populations who live that way today), the further from the equator the more intelligence, knowledge, and the ability to transmit it from generation to generation is required to survive. This creates a selection pressure for intelligence: individual members of a band of hunter-gatherers who are better at hunting and gathering will have more offspring which survive to maturity and bands with greater intelligence produced in this manner will grow faster and by migration and conquest displace those less endowed. This phenomenon would cause one to expect that (discounting the effects of large-scale migrations) the mean intelligence of human populations would be the lowest near the equator and increase with latitude (north or south). This, in general terms, and excluding marginal environments, is precisely what is observed, even today.

After hundreds of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers parasitic upon nature, sometime around 11,000 years ago, probably first in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, what is now called the Neolithic Revolution occurred. Humans ceased to wander in search of plants and game, and settled down into fixed communities which supported themselves by cultivating plants and raising animals they had domesticated. Both the plants and animals underwent selection by humans who bred those most adapted to their purposes. Agriculture was born. Humans who adopted the new means of production were no longer parasitic upon nature: they produced their sustenance by their own labour, improving upon that supplied by nature through their own actions. In order to do this, they had to invent a series of new technologies (for example, milling grain and fencing pastures) which did not exist in nature. Agriculture was far more efficient than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in that a given amount of land (if suitable for known crops) could support a much larger human population.

While agriculture allowed a large increase in the human population, it did not escape the Malthusian trap: it simply increased the population density at which the carrying capacity of the land would be reached. Technological innovations such as irrigation and crop rotation could further increase the capacity of the land, but population increase would eventually surpass the new limit. As a result of this, from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 1800, income per capita (largely measured in terms of food) barely varied: the benefit of each innovation was quickly negated by population increase. To be sure, in all of this epoch there were a few wealthy people, but the overwhelming majority of the population lived near the subsistence level.

But once again, slowly but surely, a selection pressure was being applied upon humans who adopted the agricultural lifestyle. It is cognitively more difficult to be a farmer or rancher than to be a member of a hunter-gatherer band, and success depends strongly upon having a low time preference—to be willing to forgo immediate consumption for a greater return in the future. (For example, a farmer who does not reserve and protect seeds for the next season will fail. Selective breeding of plants and animals to improve their characteristics takes years to produce results.) This creates an evolutionary pressure in favour of further increases in intelligence and, to the extent that such might be genetic rather than due to culture, for low time preference. Once the family emerged as the principal unit of society rather than the hunter-gatherer band, selection pressure was amplified since those with the selected-for characteristics would produce more offspring and the phenomenon of free riding which exists in communal bands is less likely to occur.

Around the year 1800, initially in Europe and later elsewhere, a startling change occurred: the Industrial Revolution. In societies which adopted the emerging industrial means of production, per capita income, which had been stagnant for almost two millennia, took off like a skyrocket, while at the same time population began to grow exponentially, rising from around 900 million in 1800 to 7 billion today. The Malthusian trap had been escaped; it appeared for the first time that an increase in population, far from consuming the benefits of innovation, actually contributed to and accelerated it.

There are some deep mysteries here. Why did it take so long for humans to invent agriculture? Why, after the invention of agriculture, did it take so long to invent industrial production? After all, the natural resources extant at the start of both of these revolutions were present in all of the preceding period, and there were people with the leisure to think and invent at all times in history. The author argues that what differed was the people. Prior to the advent of agriculture, people were simply not sufficiently intelligent to invent it (or, to be more precise, since intelligence follows something close to a normal distribution, there was an insufficient fraction of the population with the requisite intelligence to discover and implement the idea of agriculture). Similarly, prior to the Industrial Revolution, the intelligence of the general population was insufficient for it to occur. Throughout the long fallow periods, however, natural selection was breeding smarter humans and, eventually, in some place and time, a sufficient fraction of smart people, the required natural resources, and a society sufficiently open to permit innovation and moving beyond tradition would spark the fire. As the author notes, it's much easier to copy a good idea once you've seen it working than to come up with it in the first place and get it to work the first time.

Some will argue that Hoppe's hypothesis that human intelligence has been increasing over time is falsified by the fact that societies much closer in time to the dawn of agriculture produced works of art, literature, science, architecture, and engineering which are comparable to those of modern times. But those works were produced not by the average person but rather outliers which exist in all times and places (although in smaller numbers when mean intelligence is lower). For a general phase transition in society, it is a necessary condition that the bulk of the population involved have intelligence adequate to work in the new way.

After investigating human progress on the grand scale over long periods of time, the author turns to the phenomenon which may cause this progress to cease and turn into decline: the growth of the coercive state. Hunter-gatherers had little need for anything which today would be called governments. With bands on the order of 100 people sharing resources in common, many sources of dispute would not occur and those which did could be resolved by trusted elders or, failing that, combat. When humans adopted agriculture and began to live in settled communities, and families owned and exchanged property with one another, a whole new source of problems appeared. Who has the right to use this land? Who stole my prize animal? How are the proceeds of a joint effort to be distributed among the participants? As communities grew and trade among them flourished, complexity increased apace. Hoppe traces how the resolution of these conflicts has evolved over time. First, the parties to the dispute would turn to a member of an aristocracy, a member of the community respected because of their intelligence, wisdom, courage, or reputation for fairness, to settle the matter. (We often think of an aristocracy as hereditary but, although many aristocracies evolved into systems of hereditary nobility, the word originally meant “rule by the best”, and that is how the institution began.)

With growing complexity, aristocrats (or nobles) needed a way to resolve disputes among themselves, and this led to the emergence of kings. But like the nobles, the king was seen to apply a law which was part of nature (or, in the English common law tradition, discovered through the experience of precedents). It was with the emergence of absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, and finally democracy that things began to go seriously awry. In time, law became seen not as something which those given authority apply, but rather something those in power create. We have largely forgotten that legislation is not law, and that rights are not granted to us by those in power, but inhere in us and are taken away and/or constrained by those willing to initiate force against others to work their will upon them.

The modern welfare state risks undoing a thousand centuries of human progress by removing the selection pressure for intelligence and low time preference. Indeed, the welfare state punishes (taxes) the productive, who tend to have these characteristics, and subsidises those who do not, increasing their fraction within the population. Evolution works slowly, but inexorably. But the effects of shifting incentives can manifest themselves long before biology has its way. When a population is told “You've made enough”, “You didn't build that”, or sees working harder to earn more as simply a way to spend more of their lives supporting those who don't (along with those who have gamed the system to extract resources confiscated by the state), that glorious exponential curve which took off in 1800 may begin to bend down toward the horizontal and perhaps eventually turn downward.

I don't usually include lengthy quotes, but the following passage from the third essay, “From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy”, is so brilliant and illustrative of what you'll find herein I can't resist.

Assume now a group of people aware of the reality of interpersonal conflicts and in search of a way out of this predicament. And assume that I then propose the following as a solution: In every case of conflict, including conflicts in which I myself am involved, I will have the last and final word. I will be the ultimate judge as to who owns what and when and who is accordingly right or wrong in any dispute regarding scarce resources. This way, all conflicts can be avoided or smoothly resolved.

What would be my chances of finding your or anyone else's agreement to this proposal?

My guess is that my chances would be virtually zero, nil. In fact, you and most people will think of this proposal as ridiculous and likely consider me crazy, a case for psychiatric treatment. For you will immediately realize that under this proposal you must literally fear for your life and property. Because this solution would allow me to cause or provoke a conflict with you and then decide this conflict in my own favor. Indeed, under this proposal you would essentially give up your right to life and property or even any pretense to such a right. You have a right to life and property only insofar as I grant you such a right, i.e., as long as I decide to let you live and keep whatever you consider yours. Ultimately, only I have a right to life and I am the owner of all goods.

And yet—and here is the puzzle—this obviously crazy solution is the reality. Wherever you look, it has been put into effect in the form of the institution of a State. The State is the ultimate judge in every case of conflict. There is no appeal beyond its verdicts. If you get into conflicts with the State, with its agents, it is the State and its agents who decide who is right and who is wrong. The State has the right to tax you. Thereby, it is the State that makes the decision how much of your property you are allowed to keep—that is, your property is only “fiat” property. And the State can make laws, legislate—that is, your entire life is at the mercy of the State. It can even order that you be killed—not in defense of your own life and property but in the defense of the State or whatever the State considers “defense” of its “state-property.”

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License and may be redistributed pursuant to the terms of that license. In addition to the paperback and Kindle editions available from Amazon The book may be downloaded for free from the Library of the Mises Institute in PDF or EPUB formats, or read on-line in an HTML edition.

May 2015 Permalink

Koman, Victor. Kings of the High Frontier. Centreville, VA: Final Frontier, 1998. ISBN 0-9665662-0-3.

April 2002 Permalink

Raimondo, Justin. An Enemy of the State. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000. ISBN 978-1-57392-809-0.
Had Murray Rothbard been a man of the Left, he would probably be revered today as one of the towering intellects of the twentieth century. Certainly, there was every reason from his origin and education to have expected him to settle on the Left: the child of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, he grew up in a Jewish community in New York City where, as he later described it, the only question was whether one would join the Communist Party or settle for being a fellow traveller. He later remarked that, “I had two sets of Communist Party uncles and aunts, on both sides of my family.” While studying for his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in the 1940s and '50s, he was immersed in a political spectrum which ranged from “Social Democrats on the ‘right’ to Stalinists on the left”.

Yet despite the political and intellectual milieu surrounding him, Rothbard followed his own compass, perhaps inherited in part from his fiercely independent father. From an early age, he came to believe individual liberty was foremost among values, and that based upon that single desideratum one could deduce an entire system of morality, economics, natural law, and governance which optimised the individual's ability to decide his or her own destiny. In the context of the times, he found himself aligned with the Old Right: the isolationist, small government, and hard money faction of the Republican Party which was, in the Eisenhower years, approaching extinction as “conservatives” acquiesced to the leviathan “welfare-warfare state” as necessary to combat the Soviet menace. Just as Rothbard began to put the foundations of the Old Right on a firm intellectual basis, the New Right of William F. Buckley and his “coven of ex-Communists” at National Review drove the stake through that tradition, one of the first among many they would excommunicate from the conservative cause as they defined it.

Rothbard was a disciple of Ludwig von Mises, and applied his ideas and those of other members of the Austrian school of economics to all aspects of economics, politics, and culture. His work, both scholarly and popular, is largely responsible for the influence of Austrian economics today. (Here is a complete bibliography of Rothbard's publications.)

Rothbard's own beliefs scarcely varied over his life, and yet as the years passed and the political tectonic plates shifted, he found himself aligned with the Old Right, the Ayn Rand circle (from which he quickly extricated himself after diagnosing the totalitarian tendencies of Rand and the cult-like nature of her followers), the nascent New Left (before it was taken over by communists), the Libertarian Party, the Cato Institute, and finally back to the New Old Right, with several other zigs and zags along the way. In each case, Rothbard embraced his new allies and threw himself into the cause, only to discover that they were more interested in factionalism, accommodation with corrupt power structures, or personal ambition than the principles which motivated him.

While Rothbard's scholarly publications alone dwarf those of many in the field, he was anything but an ivory tower academic. He revelled in the political fray, participating in campaigns, writing speeches and position papers, formulating strategy, writing polemics aimed at the general populace, and was present at the creation of several of the key institutions of the contemporary libertarian movement. Fully engaged in the culture, he wrote book and movie reviews, satire, and commentary on current events. Never discouraged by the many setbacks he experienced, he was always a “happy warrior”, looking at the follies of the society around him with amusement and commenting wittily about them in his writings. While eschewing grand systems and theories of history in favour of an entirely praxeology-based view of the social sciences (among which he counted economics, rejecting entirely the mathematically-intense work of pseudoscientists who believed one could ignore human action when analysing the aggregate behaviour of human actors), he remained ever optimistic that liberty would triumph in the end simply because it works better, and will inevitably supplant authoritarian schemes which constrain the human potential.

This is a well-crafted overview of Rothbard's life, work, and legacy by an author who knew and worked with Rothbard in the last two decades of his career. Other than a coruscating animus toward Buckley and his minions, it provides a generally even-handed treatment of the many allies and adversaries (often the same individuals at different times) with which Rothbard interacted over his career. Chapter 7 provides an overview and reading guide to Rothbard's magisterial History of Economic Thought, which is so much more—essentially a general theory of the social sciences—that you'll probably be persuaded to add it to your reading list.

April 2011 Permalink

Rawles, James Wesley. Land Of Promise. Moyie Springs, ID: Liberty Paradigm Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-475605-60-0.
The author is the founder of the survivalblog.com Web site, a massive and essential resource for those interested in preparing for uncertain times. His nonfiction works, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (July 2011) and Tools for Survival (February 2015) are packed with practical information for people who wish to ride out natural disasters all the way to serious off-grid self-sufficiency. His series of five novels which began with Patriots (December 2008) illustrates the skills needed to survive by people in a variety of circumstances after an economic and societal collapse. The present book is the first of a new series of novels, unrelated to the first, providing a hopeful view of how free people might opt out of a world where totalitarianism and religious persecution is on the march.

By the mid 21st century trends already evident today have continued along their disheartening trajectories. The world's major trading currencies have collapsed in the aftermath of runaway money creation, and the world now uses the NEuro, a replacement for the Euro which is issued only in electronic form, making tax avoidance extremely difficult. As for the United States, “The nation was saddled by trillions of NEuros in debt that would take several generations to repay, it was mired in bureaucracy and over-regulation, the nation had become a moral cesspool, and civil liberties were just a memory.”

A catastrophically infectious and lethal variant of Ebola has emerged in the Congo, killing 60% of the population of Africa (mostly in the sub-Saharan region) and reducing world population by 15%.

A “Thirdist” movement has swept the Islamic world, bringing Sunni and Shia into an uneasy alliance behind the recently-proclaimed Caliphate now calling itself the World Islamic State (WIS). In Western Europe, low fertility among the original population and large-scale immigration of more fecund Muslims is contributing to a demographic transition bringing some countries close to the tipping point of Islamic domination. The Roman Catholic church has signed the so-called “Quiet Minarets Agreement” with the WIS, which promised to refrain from advocating sharia law or political subjugation in Europe for 99 years. After that (or before, given the doctrine of taqiya in Islam), nobody knows what will happen.

In many countries around the world, Christians are beginning to feel themselves caught in a pincer movement between radical Islam on the one side and radical secularism/atheism on the other, with the more perspicacious among them beginning to think of getting out of societies becoming ever more actively hostile. Some majority Catholic countries have already declared themselves sanctuaries for their co-religionists, and other nations have done the same for Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Christians. Protestant Christians and Messianic Jews have no sanctuary, and are increasingly persecuted.

A small group of people working at a high-powered mergers and acquisitions firm in newly-independent Scotland begin to explore doing something about this. They sketch out a plan to approach the governments of South Sudan and Kenya, both of which have long-standing claims to the Ilemi Triangle, a barren territory of around 14,000 square kilometres (about ⅔ the size of Israel) with almost no indigenous population. With both claimants to the territory majority Christian countries, the planners hope to persuade them that jointly ceding the land for a new Christian nation will enable them to settle this troublesome dispute in a way which will increase the prestige of both. Further, developing the region into a prosperous land that can defend itself will shore up both countries against the advances of WIS and its allies.

With some trepidation, they approach Harry Heston, founder and boss of their firm, a self-made billionaire known for his Christian belief and libertarian views (he and his company got out of the United States to free Scotland while it was still possible). Heston, whose fortune was built on his instinctive ability to evaluate business plans, hears the pitch and decides to commit one billion NEuros from his own funds to the project, contingent on milestones being met, and to invite other wealthy business associates to participate.

So begins the story of founding the Ilemi Republic, not just a sanctuary for Christians and Messianic Jews, but a prototype 21st century libertarian society with “zero taxes, zero import duties, and zero license fees.” Defence will be by a citizen militia with a tiny professional cadre. The founders believe such a society will be a magnet to highly-productive and hard-working people from around the world weary of slaving more than half their lives to support the tyrants and bureaucrats which afflict them.

As the story unfolds, the reader is treated to what amounts to a worked example of setting up a new nation, encompassing diplomacy, economics, infrastructure, recruiting settlers, dealing equitably with the (very small) indigenous and nomadic population, money and banking, energy and transportation resources, keeping the domestic peace and defending the nation, and the minimalist government and the constitutional structure designed to keep it that way. The founders anticipate that their sanctuary nation will be subjected to the same international opprobrium and obstruction which Israel suffers (although the Ilemi Republic will not be surrounded by potential enemies), and plans must anticipate this.

You'll sometimes hear claims that Christian social conservatism and libertarianism are incompatible beliefs which will inevitably come into conflict with one another. In this novel the author argues that the kind of moral code by which devout Christians live is a prerequisite for the individual liberty and lack of state meddling so cherished by libertarians. The Ilemi Republic also finds itself the home of hard-edged, more secular libertarians, who get along with everybody else because they all agree on preserving their liberty and independence.

This is the first in a series of novels planned by the author which he calls the “Counter-Caliphate Chronicles”. I have long dreamed of a realistic story of establishing a libertarian refuge from encroaching tyranny, and even envisioned it as being situated in a lightly-populated region of Africa. The author has delivered that story, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing it develop in future novels.

December 2015 Permalink

Ross, John F. Unintended Consequences. St. Louis: Accurate Press, 1996. ISBN 1-888118-04-0.
I don't know about you, but when I hear the phrases “first novel” and “small press” applied to the same book, I'm apt to emit an involuntary groan, followed by a wince upon hearing said volume is more than 860 pages in length. John Ross has created the rarest of exceptions to this prejudice. This is a big, sprawling, complicated novel with a multitude of characters (real and fictional) and a plot which spans most of the 20th century, and it works. What's even more astonishing is that it describes an armed insurrection against the United States government which is almost plausible. The information age has changed warfare at the national level beyond recognition; Ross explores what civil war might look like in the 21st century. The book is virtually free of typographical errors and I only noted a few factual errors—few bestsellers from the largest publishers manifest such attention to detail. Some readers may find this novel intensely offensive—the philosophy, morality, and tolerance for violence may be deemed “out of the mainstream” and some of the characterisations in the last 200 pages may be taken as embodying racial stereotypes—you have been warned.

December 2003 Permalink

Royce, Kenneth W. Hologram of Liberty. Ignacio, CO: Javelin Press, 1997. ISBN 1-888766-03-4.
The author, who also uses the nom de plume “Boston T. Party”, provides a survey of the tawdry machinations which accompanied the drafting and adoption of the United States Constitution, making the case that the document was deliberately designed to permit arbitrary expansion of federal power, with cosmetic limitations of power to persuade the states to ratify it. It is striking the extent to which not just vocal anti-federalists like Patrick Henry, but also Thomas Jefferson, anticipated precisely how the federal government would slip its bonds—through judiciary power and the creation of debt, both of which were promptly put into effect by John Marshall and Alexander Hamilton, respectively. Writing on this topic seems to have, as an occupational hazard, a tendency to rant. While Royce never ascends to the coruscating rhetoric of Lysander Spooner's No Treason, there is a great deal of bold type here, as well as some rather curious conspiracy theories (which are, in all fairness, presented for the reader's consideration, not endorsed by the author). Oddly, although chapter 11 discusses the 27th amendment (Congressional Pay Limitation)—proposed in 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights, but not ratified until 1992—it is missing from the text of the Constitution in appendix C.

July 2004 Permalink

Royce, Kenneth W. Môlon Labé. Ignacio, CO: Javelin Press, [1997] 2004. ISBN 978-1-888766-07-3.
Legend has it that when, in 480 B.C. at Thermopylae, Emperor Xerxes I of Persia made an offer to the hopelessly outnumbered Greek defenders that they would be allowed to leave unharmed if they surrendered their weapons, King Leonidas I of Sparta responded “μολὼν λαβέ” (molōn labe!)—“Come and take them!” Ever since, this laconic phrase has been a classic (as well as classical) expression of defiance, even in the face of overwhelming enemy superiority. It took almost twenty-five centuries until an American general uttered an even more succinct reply to a demand for capitulation.

In this novel, the author, who uses the nom de plume “Boston T. Party”, sketches a scenario as to how an island of liberty might be established within a United States which is spiraling into collectivism; authoritarian rule over a docile, disarmed, and indoctrinated population; and economic collapse. The premise is essentially that of the Free State Project, before they beclowned themselves by choosing New Hampshire as their target state. Here, Wyoming is the destination of choice, and the author documents how it meets all criteria for an electoral coup d'état by a relatively small group of dedicated “relocators” and how the established population is likely to be receptive to individual liberty oriented policies once it's demonstrated that a state can actually implement them.

Libertarians are big thinkers, but when it comes to actually doing something which requires tedious and patient toil, not so much. They love to concentrate on grand scenarios of taking over the federal government of the United States and reversing a century of usurpation of liberty, but when it comes to organising at the county level, electing school boards, sheriffs, and justices of the peace, and then working up to state legislature members, they quickly get bored and retreat into ethereal arguments about this or that theoretical detail, or dreaming about how some bolt from the blue might bring them to power nationwide. Just as Stalin rescoped the Communist project from global revolution to “socialism in one country”, this book narrows the libertarian agenda to “liberty in one state”, with the hope that its success will be the spark which causes like-minded people in adjacent states to learn from the example and adopt similar policies themselves.

This is an optimistic view of a future which plausibly could happen. Regular readers of this chronicle know that my own estimation of the prospects for the United States on its present course is bleak—that's why I left in 1991 and have not returned except for family emergencies since then. I have taken to using the oracular phrase “Think Pinochet, not Reagan” when describing the prospects for the U.S. Let me now explain what I mean by that. Many conservatives assume that the economic circumstances in the U.S. are so self-evidently dire that all that is needed is a new “great communicator” like Ronald Reagan to explain them to the electorate in plain language to begin to turn the situation around. But they forget that Reagan, notwithstanding his world-historic achievements, only slowed the growth of the federal beast on his watch and, in fact, presided over the greatest peacetime expansion of the national debt in history (although, by present-day standards, the numbers look like pocket change). Further, Reagan did nothing to arrest the “long march through the institutions” which has now resulted in near-total collectivist/statist hegemony in the legacy media, academia from kindergarten to graduate and professional education, government bureaucracies at all levels, and even management of large corporations who are dependent upon government for their prosperity.

In an environment where the tax eaters will soon, if they don't already, outnumber and outvote the taxpayers, the tipping point has arrived, and the way to bet is on a sudden and complete economic collapse due to a “debt spiral”, possibly accompanied by hyperinflation as the Federal Reserve becomes the only buyer of U.S. Treasury debt left in the market.

When the reality of twenty dollar a gallon gasoline (rising a dollar a day as the hyperinflation exponential starts to kick in, then tens, hundreds, etc.) hits home; when three and four hour waits to fill up the tank become the norm after “temporary and emergency” price controls are imposed, and those who have provided for their own retirement see the fruits of their lifetime of labour and saving wiped out in a matter of weeks by runaway inflation, people will be looking for a way out. That's when the Man on the White Horse will appear.

I do not know who he will be—in all likelihood it's somebody entirely beneath the radar at the moment. “When it's steam engine time, it steam engines.” When it's Pinochet time, it Pinochets.

I do not know how this authoritarian ruler will come to power. Given the traditions of the United States, I doubt it will be by a military coup, but rather the election of a charismatic figure as President, along with a compliant legislature willing to rubber-stamp his agenda and enact whatever “enabling acts” he requests. Think something like Come Nineveh, Come Tyre (December 2008). But afterward the agenda will be clear: “clean out” the media, educators, judiciary, and bureaucrats who are disloyal. Defund the culturally destructive apparatus of the state. Sunset all of the programs which turn self-reliant citizens into wards of the state. Adjust the institutions of democracy to weight political influence according to contribution to the commonwealth. And then, one hopes (although that's not the way to bet), retire and turn the whole mess over to a new bunch of politicians who will proceed to foul things up again, but probably sufficiently slowly there will be fifty years or so of prosperity before the need to do it all over again.

When I talk about an “American Pinochet” I'm not implying that such an outcome would involve “disappeared people” or other sequelæ of authoritarian tyranny. But it would involve, at the bare minimum, revocation of tenure at all state-supported educational institutions, review of educators, media figures, judges, and government personnel by loyalty boards empowered to fire them and force them to seek employment in the productive sector of the economy, and a comprehensive review of the actions of all government agents who may have violated the natural rights of citizens.

I do not want this to happen! For my friends in the United States who have not heeded my advice over the last 15 years to get out while they can, I can say only that this is the best case scenario I can envision given the present circumstances. You don't want to know about my darker views of the future there—really, you don't.

This novel points to a better way—an alternative which, although improbable is not impossible, in which a small cadre of lovers of liberty might create a haven which attracts like-minded people, compounding the effect and mounting a challenge to the illegitimate national government. Along with the price of admission, you'll get tutorials in the essentials of individual liberty such as main battle rifles, jury nullification, hard money, strong encryption, and the balancing act between liberty and life-affirming morality.

What more can I say? Read this book.

March 2011 Permalink

Schulman, J. Neil. Stopping Power. Pahrump, NV: Pulpless.Com, [1994] 1999. ISBN 1-58445-057-6.
The paperback edition is immediately available from the link above. This and most of the author's other works are supposed to be available in electronic form for online purchase and download from his Web site, but the ordering links appear to be broken at the moment. Note that the 1999 paperback contains some material added since the original 1994 hardcover edition.

February 2004 Permalink

Schulman, J. Neil. The Robert Heinlein Interview. Pahrump, NV: Pulpless.Com, [1990, 1996, 1999] 2017. ISBN 978-1-58445-015-3.
Today, J. Neil Schulman is an accomplished novelist, filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, journalist, and publisher: winner of the Prometheus Award for libertarian science fiction. In the summer of 1973, he was none of those things: just an avid twenty year old science fiction fan who credited the works of Robert A. Heinlein for saving his life—replacing his teenage depression with visions of a future worth living for and characters worthy of emulation who built that world. As Schulman describes it, Heinlein was already in his head, and he wanted nothing more in his ambition to follow in the steps of Heinlein than to get into the head of the master storyteller. He managed to parlay a book review into a commission to interview Heinlein for the New York Sunday News. Heinlein consented to a telephone interview, and on June 30, 1973, Schulman and Heinlein spoke for three and a half hours, pausing only for hourly changes of cassettes.

The agenda for the interview had been laid out in three pages of questions Schulman had mailed Heinlein a few days before, but the letter had only arrived shortly before the call and Heinlein hadn't yet read the questions, so he read them as they spoke. After the interview, Schulman prepared a transcript, which was edited by Robert Heinlein and Virginia, his wife. The interview was published by the newspaper in a much abridged and edited form, and did not see print in its entirety until 1990, two years after Heinlein's death. On the occasion of its publication, Virginia Heinlein said “To my knowledge, this is the longest interview Robert ever gave. Here is a book that should be on the shelves of everyone interested in science fiction. Libertarians will be using it as a source for years to come.”

Here you encounter the authentic Heinlein, consistent with the description from many who knew him over his long career: simultaneously practical, visionary, contrary, ingenious, inner-directed, confident, and able to observe the world and humanity without the filter of preconceived notions. Above all, he was a master storyteller who never ceased to be amazed people would pay him to spin yarns. As Schulman describes it, “Talking with Robert Heinlein is talking with the Platonic archetype of all his best characters.”

If you have any interest in Heinlein or the craft of science fiction, this should be on your reading list. I will simply quote a few morsels chosen from the wealth of insights and wisdom in these pages.

On aliens and first contact:
The universe might turn out to be a hell of a sight nastier and tougher place than we have any reason to guess at this point. That first contact just might wipe out the human race, because we would encounter somebody who was meaner and tougher, and not at all inclined to be bothered by genocide. Be no more bothered by genocide than I am when I put out ant poison in the kitchen when the ants start swarming in.
On the search for deep messages in his work:
[Quoting Schulman's question] “Isn't ‘Coventry’ still an attempt by the state (albeit a relatively benign one) to interfere with the natural market processes and not let the victim have his restitution?” Well, “Coventry” was an attempt on the part of a writer to make a few hundred dollars to pay off a mortgage.
On fans who complain his new work isn't consistent with his earlier writing:
Over the course of some thirty-four years of writing, every now and then I receive things from people condemning me for not having written a story just like my last one. I never pay attention to this, Neil, because it has been my intention—my purpose—to make every story I've written—never to write a story just like my last one…I'm going to write what it suits me to write and if I write another story that's just like any other story I've ever written, I'll be slipping. … I'm trying to write to please not even as few as forty thousand people in the hardcover, but a million and up in the softcover. If an author let these self-appointed mentors decide for him what he's going to write and how he's going to write it, he'd never get anywhere….
On his writing and editing habits:
I've never written more than about three months of the year the whole time I've been writing. Part of that is because I never rewrite. I cut, but I don't rewrite.
On the impact of technologies:
When I see how far machine computation has gone since that time [the 1930s], I find it the most impressive development—more impressive than the atom bomb, more impressive than space travel—in its final consequences.
On retirement:
Well, Tony Boucher pointed that out to me years ago. He said that there are retired everything else—retired schoolteachers, retired firemen, retired bankers—but there are no retired writers. There are simply writers who are no longer selling. [Heinlein's last novel, To Sail Beyond the Sunset, was published in 1987, the year before his death at age 80. —JW]
On the conflict between high technology and personal liberty:
The question of how many mega-men [millions of population] it takes to maintain a high-technology society and how many mega-men it takes to produce oppressions simply through the complexity of the society is a matter I have never satisfactorily solved in my own mind. But I am quite sure that one works against the other, that it takes a large-ish population for a high technology, but if you get large populations human liberties are automatically restricted even if you don't have legislation about it. In fact, the legislation in many cases is intended to—and sometimes does—lubricate the frictions that take place between people simply because they're too close together.
On seeking solutions to problems:
I got over looking for final solutions a good, long time ago because once you get this point shored up, something breaks out somewhere else. The human race gets along by the skin of its teeth, and it's been doing so for some hundreds of thousands or millions of years. … It is the common human condition all through history that every time you solve a problem you discover that you've created a new problem.

I did not cherry pick these: they are but a few of a multitude from the vast cherry tree which is this interview. Enjoy! Also included in the book are other Heinlein-related material by Schulman: book reviews, letters, and speeches.

I must caution prospective readers that the copy-editing of this book is embarrassingly bad. I simply do not understand how a professional author—one who owns his own publishing house—can bring a book to market which clearly nobody has ever read with a critical eye, even at a cursory level. There are dozens of howlers here: not subtle things, but words run together, sentences which don't begin with a capital letter, spaces in the middle of hyphenated words, commas where periods were intended, and apostrophes transformed into back-tick characters surrounded by spaces. And this is not a bargain-bin special—the paperback has a list price of US$19.95 and is listed at this writing at US$18.05 at Amazon. The Heinlein interview was sufficiently enlightening I was willing to put up with the production values, which made something which ought to be a triumph look just shabby and sad, but then I obtained the Kindle edition for free (see below). If I'd paid full freight for the paperback, I'm not sure even my usually mellow disposition would have remained unperturbed by the desecration of the words of an author I cherish and the feeling my pocket had been picked.

The Kindle edition is available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

July 2017 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. The WarDove. Culver City, California: Pulpless.Com, [1986] 1999. ISBN 1-58445-027-4.

December 2001 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. The American Zone. New York: Tor Books, 2001. ISBN 0-312-87369-7.

February 2002 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. Lever Action. Las Vegas: Mountain Media, 2001. ISBN 0-9670259-1-5.

March 2002 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. Ceres. Unpublished manuscript, January 2005.
I read this book in manuscript form; I'll add the ISBN when it is published. An online plot summary is available.

January 2005 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. The Lando Calrissian Adventures. New York: Del Rey, [1983] 1994. ISBN 0-345-39110-1.
This volume collects together the three Lando Calrissian short novels: Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, Lando Calrissian and the Flamewind of Oseon, and Lando Calrissian and the StarCave of ThonBoka, originally published separately in 1983 and now out of print (but readily available second-hand). All three novels together are just 409 mass market paperback pages. I wouldn't usually bother with an item of Star Wars merchandising, but as these yarns were written by one of my favourite science fiction authors, exalted cosmic libertarian L. Neil Smith, I was curious to see what he'd make of a character created by the Lucas organisation. It's pretty good, especially as a gentle introduction for younger readers who might be more inclined to read a story with a Star Wars hook than the more purely libertarian (although no more difficult to read) The Probability Broach (now available in a comic book edition!) or Pallas.

The three novels, which form a continuous story arc and are best read in order, are set in the period after Lando has won the Millennium Falcon in a card game but before he encounters Han Solo and loses the ship to him the same way. Lando is the only character in the Star Wars canon who appears here; if the name of the protagonist and ship were changed, one would scarcely guess the setting was the Star Wars universe, although parts of the “back-story” are filled in here and there, such as how a self-described interstellar gambler and con artiste came to be an expert starship pilot, why the steerable quad-guns on the Falcon “recoil” when they fire like World War II ack-ack guns, and how Lando laid his hands on enough money to “buy an entire city” (p. 408).

Lando's companion in all the adventures is the droid Vuffi Raa, also won in a card game, who is a full-fledged character and far more intriguing than any of the droids in the Star Wars movies. Unlike the stilted and mechanical robots of the films, Vuffi Raa is a highly dextrous starfish-like creature, whose five fractal-branching tentacles can detach and work independently, and who has human-level intelligence, a mysterious past (uncovered as the story progresses), and ethical conflicts between his built-in pacifism and moral obligation to his friends when they are threatened. (The cover art is hideous; Vuffi Raa, an elegant and lithe creature in the story, is shown as something like a squared-off R2-D2 with steel dreadlocks.) Now that computer graphics permits bringing to film any character the mind can imagine, Vuffi Raa would make a marvelous addition to a movie: for once, a robot fully as capable as a human without being even remotely humanoid.

The first novel is more or less straightforward storytelling, while the second and third put somewhat more of a libertarian edge on things. StarCave of ThonBoka does an excellent job of demonstrating how a large organisation built on fear and coercion, regardless how formidably armed, is vulnerable to those who think and act for themselves. This is a theme which fits perfectly with the Star Wars movies which occur in this era, but cannot be more than hinted at within the constraints of a screenplay.

August 2005 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. Down with Power. Rockville, MD: Phoenix Pick, 2012. ISBN 978-1-61242-055-4.
In the first chapter of this superb book, the author quotes Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert”, describing himself as being “a libertarian minus the crazy stuff”, and then proceeds to ask precisely what is crazy about adopting a strict interpretation of the Zero Aggression Principle:

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever; nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim. (p. 20)

The subsequent chapters sort out the details of what this principle implies for contentious issues such as war powers; torture; money and legal tender laws; abortion; firearms and other weapons; “animal rights”; climate change (I do not use scare quotes on this because climate change is real and has always happened and always will—it is the hysteria over anthropogenic contributions to an eternally fluctuating process driven mostly by the Sun which is a hoax); taxation; national defence; prohibition in all of its pernicious manifestations; separation of marriage, science, and medicine from the state; immigration; intellectual property; and much more. Smith's viewpoint on these questions is largely informed by Robert LeFevre, whose wisdom he had the good fortune to imbibe at week-long seminar in 1972. (I encountered LeFevre just once, at a libertarian gathering in Marin County, California [believe it or not, such things exist, or at least existed] around 1983, and it was this experience that transformed me from a “nerf libertarian” who was prone to exclaiming “Oh, come on!” whilst reading Rothbard to the flinty variety who would go on to author the Evil Empires bumper sticker.) Sadly, Bob LeFevre is no longer with us, but if you wish to be inoculated with the burning fever of liberty which drove him and inspired those who heard him speak, this book is as close as you can come today to meeting him in person. The naïve often confuse libertarians with conservatives: to be sure, libertarians often wish to impede “progressives” whose agenda amounts to progress toward serfdom and wish, at the least, for a roll-back of the intrusions upon individual liberty which were the hallmark of the twentieth century. But genuine libertarianism, not the nerf variety, is a deeply radical doctrine which calls into question the whole leader/follower, master/slave, sovereign/subject, and state/citizen structure which has characterised human civilisation ever since hominids learned to talk and the most glib of them became politicians (“Put meat at feet of Glub and Glub give you much good stuff”).

And here is where I both quibble with and enthusiastically endorse the author's agenda. The quibble is that I fear that our species, formed by thousands of generations of hunter/gatherer and agricultural experience, has adapted, like other primates, to a social structure in which most individuals delegate decision making and even entrust their lives to “leaders” chosen by criteria deeply wired into our biology and not remotely adapted to the challenges we face today and in the future. (Hey, it could be worse: peacocks select for the most overdone tail—it's probably a blessing nakes don't have tails—imagine trying to fit them all into a joint session of Congress.) The endorsement is that I don't think it's possible to separate the spirit of individualism which is at the heart of libertarianism from the frontier. There were many things which contributed to the first American war of secession and the independent republics which emerged from it, but I believe their unique nature was in substantial part due to the fact that they were marginal settlements on the edge of an unexplored and hostile continent, where many families were entirely on their own and on the front lines, confronted by the vicissitudes of nature and crafty enemies.

Thomas Jefferson worried that as the population of cities grew compared to that of the countryside, the ethos of self-sufficiency would be eroded and be supplanted by dependency, and that this corruption and reliance upon authority founded, at its deepest level, upon the initiation of force, would subvert the morality upon which self-government must ultimately rely. In my one encounter with Robert LeFevre, he disdained the idea that “maybe if we could just get back to the Constitution” everything would be fine. Nonsense, he said: to a substantial degree the Constitution is the problem—after all, look at how it's been “interpreted” to permit all of the absurd abrogations of individual liberty and natural law since its dubious adoption in 1789. And here, I think the author may put a bit too much focus on documents (which can, have been, and forever will be) twisted by lawyers into things they never were meant to say, and too little on the frontier.

What follows is both a deeply pessimistic and unboundedly optimistic view of the human and transhuman prospect. I hope I don't lose you in the loop-the-loop. Humans, as presently constituted, have wired-in baggage which renders most of us vulnerable to glib forms of persuasion by “leaders” (who are simply those more talented than others in persuasion). The more densely humans are packed, and the greater the communication bandwidth available to them (in particular, one to many media), the more vulnerable they are to such “leadership”. Individual liberty emerges in frontier societies: those where each person and each family must be self-sufficient, without any back-up other than their relations to neighbours, but with an unlimited upside in expanding the human presence into new territory. The old America was a frontier society; the new America is a constrained society, turning inward upon itself and devouring its best to appease its worst.

So, I'm not sure this or that amendment to a document which is largely ignored will restore liberty in an environment where a near-majority of the electorate receive net benefits from the minority who pay most of the taxes. The situation in the United States, and on Earth, may well be irreversible. But the human and posthuman destiny is much, much larger than that. Perhaps we don't need a revision of governance documents as much as the opening of a frontier. Then people will be able to escape the stranglehold where seven eighths of all of their work is confiscated by the thugs who oppress them and instead use all of their sapient facilities to their own ends. As a sage author once said:

Freedom, immortality, and the stars!

Works for me. Free people expand at a rate which asymptotically approaches the speed of light. Coercive government and bureaucracy grow logarithmically, constrained by their own internal dissipation. We win; they lose.

In the Kindle edition the index is just a list of page numbers. Since the Kindle edition includes real page numbers, you can type in the number from the index, but that's not as convenient as when index citations are linked directly to references in the text.

October 2012 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil. Blade of p'Na. Rockville, MD: Phoenix Pick, 2017. ISBN 978-1-61242-218-3.
This novel is set in the “Elders” universe, originally introduced in the 1990 novels Contact and Commune and Converse and Conflict, and now collected in an omnibus edition with additional material, Forge of the Elders. Around four hundred million years ago the Elders, giant mollusc-like aquatic creatures with shells the size of automobiles, conquered aging, and since then none has died except due to accident or violence. And precious few have succumbed to those causes: accident because the big squid are famously risk averse, and violence because, after a societal adolescence in which they tried and rejected many political and economic bad ideas, they settled on p'Na as the central doctrine of their civilisation: the principle that nobody has the right to initiate physical force against anybody else for any reason—much like the Principle of Non-Aggression, don't you know.

On those rare occasions order is disturbed, the services of a p'Nan “debt assessor” are required. Trained in the philosophy of p'Na, martial arts, psychology, and burnished through a long apprenticeship, assessors are called in either after an event in which force has been initiated or by those contemplating a course which might step over the line. The assessor has sole discretion in determining culpability, the form and magnitude of restitution due, and when no other restitution is possible, enforcing the ultimate penalty on the guilty. The assessor's sword, the Blade of p'Na, is not just a badge of office but the means of restitution in such cases.

The Elders live on one of a multitude, possibly infinite, parallel Earths in a multiverse where each planet's history has diverged due to contingent events in its past. Some millennia after adopting p'Na, they discovered the means of observing, then moving among these different universes and their variant Earths. Some millennia after achieving biological immortality and peace through p'Na, their curiosity and desire for novelty prompted them to begin collecting beings from across the multiverse. Some were rescues of endangered species, while others would be more accurately described as abductions. They referred to this with the euphemism of “appropriation”, as if that made any difference. The new arrivals: insectoid, aquatic, reptilian, mammalian, avian, and even sentient plants, mostly seemed happy in their new world, where the Elders managed to create the most diverse and peaceful society known in the universe.

This went on for a million years or so until, just like the revulsion against slavery in the 19th century in our timeline, somesquid happened to notice that the practice violated the fundamental principle of their society. Appropriations immediately ceased, debt assessors were called in, and before long all of the Elders implicated in appropriation committed suicide (some with a little help). But that left the question of restitution to the appropriated. Dumping them back into their original universes, often war-torn, barbarous, primitive, or with hostile and unstable environments after up to a million years of peace and prosperity on the Elders' planet didn't make the ethical cut. They settled on granting full citizenship to all the appropriated, providing them the gift of biological immortality, cortical implants to upgrade the less sentient to full intelligence, and one more thing…. The Elders had developed an unusual property: the tips of their tentacles could be detached and sent on errands on behalf of their parent bodies. While not fully sentient, the tentacles could, by communicating via cortical implants, do all kinds of useful work and allow the Elders to be in multiple places at once (recall that the Elders, like terrestrial squid, have ten tentacles—if they had twelve, they'd call them twelvicles, wouldn't they?). So for each of the appropriated species, the Elders chose an appropriate symbiote who, upgraded in intelligence and self-awareness and coupled to the host by their own implant, provided a similar benefit to them. For humanoids, it was dogs, or their species' canids.

(You might think that all of this constitutes spoilers, but it's just the background for the Elders' universe which is laid out in the first few chapters for the benefit of readers who haven't read the earlier books in the series.)

Hundreds of millions of years after the Great Restitution Eichra Oren (those of his humanoid species always use both names) is a p'Na debt assessor. His symbiote, Oasam Otusam, a super-intelligent, indiscriminately libidinous, and wisecracking dog, prefers to go by “Sam”. So peaceful is the planet of the Elders that most of the cases Eichra Oren is called upon to resolve are routine and mundane, such as the current client, an arachnid about the size of a dinner table, seeking help in tracking down her fiancé, who has vanished three days before the wedding. This raises some ethical issues because, among their kind, traditionally “Saying ‘I do’ is the same as saying ‘bon appétit’ ”. Many, among sapient spiders, have abandoned the Old Ways, but some haven't. After discussion, in which Sam says, “You realize that in the end, she's going to eat him”, they decide, nonetheless, to take the case.

The caseload quickly grows as the assessor is retained by investors in a project led by an Elder named Misterthoggosh, whose fortune comes from importing reality TV from other universes (there is no multiverse copyright convention—the p'Na is cool with cultural appropriation) and distributing it to the multitude of species on the Elders' world. He (little is known of the Elders' biology…some say the females are non-sentient and vestigial) is now embarking on a new project, and the backers want a determination by an assessor that it will not violate p'Na, for which they would be jointly and separately responsible. The lead investor is a star-nosed mole obsessed by golf.

Things become even more complicated after a mysterious attack which appears to have been perpetrated by the “greys”, creatures who inhabit the mythology and nightmares of a million sapient species, and the suspicion and fear that somewhere else in the multiverse, another species has developed the technology of opening gates between universes, something so far achieved only by the now-benign Elders, with wicked intent by the newcomers.

What follows is a romp filled with interesting questions. Should you order the vegan plate in a restaurant run by intelligent plants? What are the ethical responsibilities of a cyber-assassin who is conscious yet incapable of refusing orders to kill? What is a giant squid's idea of a pleasure yacht? If two young spiders are amorously attracted, it only pupæ love? The climax forces the characters to confront the question of the extent to which beings which are part of a hive mind are responsible for the actions of the collective.

L. Neil Smith's books have sometimes been criticised for being preachy libertarian tracts with a garnish of science fiction. I've never found them to be such, but you certainly can't accuse this one of that. It's set in a world governed for æons by the principle of non-aggression, but that foundation of civil society works so well that it takes an invasion from another universe to create the conflict which is central to the plot. Readers are treated to the rich and sometime zany imagination of a world inhabited by almost all imaginable species where the only tensions among them are due to atavistic instincts such as those of dogs toward tall plants, combined with the humour, ranging from broad to wry, of our canine narrator, Sam.

July 2017 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil and Scott Bieser. The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel. Round Rock, TX: Big Head Press, 2004. ISBN 0-9743814-1-1.
What a tremendous idea! Here is L. Neil Smith's classic libertarian science fiction novel, Prometheus Award winning The Probability Broach, transformed into a comic book—er—graphic novel—with story by Smith and artwork by Scott Bieser. The artwork and use of colour are delightful—particularly how Win Bear's home world is rendered in drab collectivist grey and the North American Confederacy in vibrant hues. Lucy Kropotkin looks precisely as I'd imagined her. Be sure to look at all the detail and fine print in the large multi-panel spreads. After enjoying a couple of hours back in the Confederacy, why not order copies to give to all the kids in the family who've never thought about what it would be like to live in a world where free individuals entirely owned their own lives?

January 2005 Permalink

Smith, L. Neil, Rex F. May, Scott Bieser, and Jen Zach. Roswell, Texas. Round Rock, TX: Big Head Press, [2007] 2008. ISBN 978-0-9743814-5-9.
I have previously mentioned this story and even posted a puzzle based upon it. This was based upon the online edition, which remains available for free. For me, reading anything, including a comic book (sorry—“graphic novel”), online a few pages a week doesn't count as reading worthy of inclusion in this list, so I deferred listing it until I had time to enjoy the trade paperback edition, which has been sitting on my shelf for several months after its June 2008 release.

This rollicking, occasionally zany, alternative universe story is set in the libertarian Federated States of Texas, where, as in our own timeline, something distinctly odd happens on July 4th, 1947 on a ranch outside the town of Roswell. As rumours spread around the world, teams from the Federated States, the United States, the California Republic, the Franco-Mexican Empire, Nazi Britain, and others set out to discover the truth and exploit the information for their own benefit. Involved in the scheming and race to the goal are this universe's incarnations of Malcolm Little, Meir Kahane, Marion Morrison, Eliot Ness, T. E. Lawrence, Walt Disney, Irène Joliot-Curie, Karol Wojtyla, Gene Roddenberry, and Audie Murphy, among many others. We also encounter a most curious character from an out of the way place L. Neil Smith fans will recall fondly.

The graphic format works very well with the artfully-constructed story. Be sure to scan each panel for little details—there are many, and easily missed if you focus only on the text. The only disappointment in this otherwise near-perfect entertainment is that readers of the online edition will be dismayed to discover that all of the beautiful colour applied by Jen Zach has been flattened out (albeit very well) into grey scale in the print edition. Due to the higher resolution of print, you can still make out things in the book edition which aren't discernible online, but it's a pity to lose the colour. The publisher has explained the economic reasons which compelled this decision, which make perfect sense. Should a “premium edition” come along, I'll be glad to part with US$40 for a full colour copy.

January 2009 Permalink

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Black Arrow. Las Vegas: Mountain Media, 2005. ISBN 0-9762516-0-4.
For more than a decade, Vin Suprynowicz's columns in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (collected in Send In The Waco Killers and The Ballad of Carl Drega) have chronicled the closing circle of individual freedom in the United States. You may find these books difficult to finish, not due to any fault in the writing, which is superb, but because reading of the treatment of citizens at the hands of a government as ignorant as it is imperious makes your blood boil. Here, however, in his first venture into fiction, the author has written a book which is difficult to put down.

The year is 2030, and every complacent person who asked rhetorically, “How much worse can it get?” has seen the question answered beyond their worst nightmares. What's left of the United States is fighting to put down the secessionist mountain states of New Columbia, and in the cities of the East, people are subject to random searches by jackbooted Lightning Squads, when they aren't shooting up clandestine nursery schools operated by anarchist parents who refuse to deliver their children into government indoctrination. This is the kind of situation which cries out for a superhero and, lo and behold, onto the stage steps The Black Arrow and his deadly serious but fun-loving band to set things right through the time-tested strategy of killing the bastards. The Black Arrow has a lot in common with Batman—actually maybe a tad too much. Like Batman, he's a rich and resourceful man with a mission (but no super powers), he operates in New York City, which is called “Gotham” in the novel, and he has a secret lair in a cavern deep beneath the city.

There is a modicum of libertarian background and philosophy, but it never gets in the way of the story. There is enough explicit violence and copulation for an R rated movie—kids and those with fragile sensibilities should give this one a miss. Some of the verbal imagery in the story is so vivid you can almost see it erupting from the page—this would make a tremendous comic book adaptation or screenplay for an alternative universe Hollywood where stories of liberty were welcome.

May 2005 Permalink

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Ballad of Carl Drega. Reno: Mountain Media, 2002. ISBN 978-0-9670259-2-6.
I was about write “the author is the most prominent libertarian writing for the legacy media today”, but in fact, to my knowledge, he is the only genuine libertarian employed by a major metropolitan newspaper (the Las Vegas Review-Journal), where he writes editorials and columns, the latter syndicated to a number of other newspapers. This book, like his earlier Send In The Waco Killers, is a collection of these writings, plus letters from readers and replies, along with other commentary. This volume covers the period from 1994 through the end of 2001, and contains his columns reacting to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, which set him at odds with a number of other prominent libertarians.

Suprynowicz is not one of those go-along, get-along people L. Neil Smith describes as “nerf libertarians”. He is a hard-edged lover of individual liberty, and defends it fiercely in all of its aspects here. As much of the content of the book was written as columns to be published weekly, collected by topic rather than chronologically, it may occasionally seem repetitive if you read the whole book cover to cover. It is best enjoyed a little at a time, which is why it did not appear here until years after I started to read it. If you're a champion of liberty who is prone to hypertension, you may want to increase your blood pressure medication before reading some of the stories recounted here. The author's prognosis for individual freedom in the U.S. seems to verge upon despair; in this I concur, which is why I no longer live there, but still it's depressing for people everywhere. Chapter 9 (pp. 441–476) is a collection of the “Greatest Hits from the Mailbag”, a collection of real mail (and hilarious replies) akin to Fourmilab's own Titanium Cranium Awards.

This book is now out of print, and used copies currently sell at almost twice the original cover price.

February 2009 Permalink

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Testament of James. Pahrump, NV: Mountain Media, 2014. ISBN 978-0-9670259-4-0.
The author is a veteran newspaperman and was arguably the most libertarian writer in the mainstream media during his long career with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He earlier turned his hand to fiction in 2005's The Black Arrow (May 2005), a delightful libertarian superhero fantasy. In the present volume he tells an engaging tale which weaves together mystery, the origins of Christianity, and the curious subculture of rare book collectors and dealers.

Matthew Hunter is the proprietor of a used book shop in Providence, Rhode Island, dealing both in routine merchandise but also rare volumes obtained from around the world and sold to a network of collectors who trust Hunter's judgement and fair pricing. While Hunter is on a trip to Britain, an employee of the store is found dead under suspicious circumstances, while waiting after hours to receive a visitor from Egypt with a manuscript to be evaluated and sold.

Before long, a series of curious, shady, and downright intimidating people start arriving at the bookshop, all seeking to buy the manuscript which, it appears, was never delivered. The person who was supposed to bring it to the shop has vanished, and his brothers have come to try to find him. Hunter and his friend Chantal Stevens, ex-military who has agreed to help out in the shop, find themselves in the middle of the quest for one of the most legendary, and considered mythical, rare books of all time, The Testament of James, reputed to have been written by James the Just, the (half-)brother of Jesus Christ. (His precise relationship to Jesus is a matter of dispute among Christian sects and scholars.) This Testament (not to be confused with the Epistle of James in the New Testament, also sometimes attributed to James the Just), would have been the most contemporary record of the life of Jesus, well predating the Gospels.

Matthew and Chantal seek to find the book, rescue the seller, and get to the bottom of a mystery dating from the origin of Christianity. Initially dubious such a book might exist, Matthew concludes that so many people would not be trying so hard to lay their hands on it if there weren't something there.

A good part of the book is a charming and often humorous look inside the world of rare books, one with which the author is clearly well-acquainted. There is intrigue, a bit of mysticism, and the occasional libertarian zinger aimed at a deserving target. As the story unfolds, an alternative interpretation of the life and work of Jesus and the history of the early Church emerges, which explains why so many players are so desperately seeking the lost book.

As a mystery, this book works superbly. Its view of “bookmen” (hunters, sellers, and collectors) is a delight. Orthodox Christians (by which I mean those adhering to the main Christian denominations, not just those called “Orthodox”) may find some of the content blasphemous, but before they explode in red-faced sputtering, recall that one can never be sure about the provenance and authenticity of any ancient manuscript. Some of the language and situations are not suitable for young readers, but by the standards of contemporary mass-market fiction, the book is pretty tame. There are essentially no spelling or grammatical errors. To be clear, this is entirely a work of fiction: there is no Testament of James apart from this book, in which it's an invention of the author. A bibliography of works providing alternative (which some will consider heretical) interpretations of the origins of Christianity is provided. You can read an excerpt from the novel at the author's Web log; continue to follow the links in the excerpts to read the first third—20,000 words—of the book for free.

February 2015 Permalink

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Miskatonic Manuscript. Pahrump, NV: Mountain Media, 2015. ASIN: B0197R4TGW. ISBN 978-0-9670259-5-7.
The author is a veteran newspaperman and was arguably the most libertarian writer in the mainstream media during his long career with the Las Vegas Review-Journal (a collection of his essays has been published as Send In The Waco Killers). He earlier turned his hand to fiction in 2005's The Black Arrow (May 2005), a delightful libertarian superhero fantasy. In The Testament of James (February 2015) we met Matthew Hunter, owner of a used book shop in Providence, Rhode Island, and Chantal Stevens, a woman with military combat experience who has come to help out in the shop and, over time, becomes romantically involved with Matthew. Since their last adventure, Matthew and Chantal, their reputation (or notoriety) as players in the international rare books game bolstered by the Testament of James, have gone on to discover a Conan Doyle manuscript for a missing Sherlock Holmes adventure, which sold at auction for more than a million dollars.

The present book begins with the sentencing of Windsor Annesley, scion of a prominent Providence family and president of the Church of Cthulhu, which regards the use of consciousness-expanding plant substances as its sacraments, who has been railroaded in a “War on Drugs” prosecution, to three consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole. Annesley, unbowed and defiant, responds,

You are at war with us? Then we are at war with you. A condition of war has existed, and will continue to exist, until you surrender without condition, or until every drug judge, including you, … and every drug prosecutor, and every drug cop is dead. So have I said it. So shall it be.

Shortly after the sentencing, Windsor Annesley's younger brother, Worthington (“Worthy”) meets with Matthew and the bookstore crew (including, of course, the feline contingent) to discuss a rumoured H. P. Lovecraft notebook, “The Miskatonic Manuscript”, which Lovecraft alluded to in correspondence but which has never been found. At the time, Lovecraft was visiting Worthy's great-uncle, Henry Annesley, who was conducting curious experiments aimed at seeing things beyond the range of human perception. It was right after this period that Lovecraft wrote his breakthrough story “From Beyond”. Worthy suspects that the story was based upon Henry Annesley's experiments, which may have opened a technological path to the other worlds described in Lovecraft's fiction and explored by Church of Cthulhu members through their sacraments.

After discussing the odd career of Lovecraft, Worthy offers a handsome finder's fee to Matthew for the notebook. Matthew accepts. The game, on the leisurely time scale of the rare book world, is afoot. And finally, the manuscript is located.

And now things start to get weird—very weird—Lovecraft weird. A mysterious gadget arrives with instructions to plug it into a computer. Impossible crimes. Glowing orbs. Secret laboratories. Native American shamans. Vortices. Big hungry things with sharp teeth. Matthew and Chantal find themselves on an adventure as risky and lurid as those on the Golden Age pulp science fiction shelves of the bookstore.

Along with the adventure (in which a hero cat, Tabbyhunter, plays a key part), there are insightful quotes about the millennia humans have explored alternative realities through the use of plants placed on the Earth for that purpose by Nature's God, and the folly of those who would try to criminalise that human right through a coercive War on Drugs. The book concludes with a teaser for the next adventure, which I eagerly await. The full text of H. P. Lovecraft's “From Beyond” is included; if you've read the story before, you'll look at it an another light after reading this superb novel. End notes provide citations to items you might think fictional until you discover the extent to which we're living in the Crazy Years.

Drug warriors, law 'n order fundamentalists, prudes, and those whose consciousness has never dared to broach the terrifying “what if” there's something more than we usually see out there may find this novel offensive or even dangerous. Libertarians, the adventurous, and lovers of a great yarn will delight in it. The cover art is racy, even by the standards of pulp, but completely faithful to the story.

The link above is to the Kindle edition, which is available from Amazon. The hardcover, in a limited edition of 650 copies, numbered and signed by the author, is available from the publisher via AbeBooks.

December 2015 Permalink

Zelman, Aaron and L. Neil Smith. Hope. Hartford, WI: Mazel Freedom Press, 2001. ISBN 0-9642304-5-3.

March 2002 Permalink