Saturday, September 20, 2014

Freedom and Its Not-So-Fictional Opponents


I enjoy the way science fiction novels will present a single cultural or technological change, and pursue the results of that change to its eventual conclusions. One of my favorite sub-genres shows a free society opposed to a socialist one.

Pallas

L. Neil Smith's Pallas presents just such a contrast between those who live in a free society and their neighbors who do not.  

On the terraformed asteroid Pallas, most are free people living as they please, according to the founding document they all signed. That life includes hunting (and eating) the wildlife that was brought to Pallas for the specific purpose of being hunted. It includes the right to innovate, compete, and succeed as one is able—or to fail and starve if one is not able. 

All is not Eden in this paradise of freedom, however. A regimented farm enclosed within a Berlin-like wall houses the agrarian society of the GUMP: the Greeley Union Memorial Project, which hopes to show that manual labor and a meatless diet in a preachy communal setting will result in a better life for all.

The story takes off when Emerson Ngu, a rebellious child of the "ant farm" (as the free people of Pallas name the Project), makes it over the wall to freedom. His coming of age in the greater society of Pallas illustrates the paths each of us must take to become truly free, as L. Neil Smith presents that state.

The founding philosophy of the colony, which Emerson uses to guide his growth, comes from Mirelle Stein (the character is an an obvious homage to Ayn Rand) and Raymond Louis Drake-Tealy (a similar homage to Robert Ardrey, as the novel's epigraph makes clear.)

The controlling force at the "ant farm," on the other hand, is one-time Senator Gibson Altman, a remittance man exiled to Pallas by sexual scandal. Altman's control of the Project's populace is a good illustration of the Daniel Webster quote, "In every generation, there are those who want to rule well—but they mean to rule. They promise to be good masters—but they mean to be masters."

We may dislike the Senator, but eventually Emerson Ngu accepts that all three of these larger-than-life characters, Altman, Stein, and Drake-Tealy, have a hand in making him the free man he becomes.

Freehold

I happened to read Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson just after re-reading Smith's Pallas, and thought it a slightly different illustration of freedom opposed by statism. 

In this novel, the free people, full citizens of the planet Freehold, are those who serve in the military. The statist society that opposes Freehold is back on Earth. 

In the course of the story, Earth attempts to invade Freehold, and the outcome (given the overwhelming numeric superiority of Earth) is expected to be suppression of Freehold. Unfortunately, the net result of Earth's "domestic" policies has been citizens (and soldiers) with less capability, responsibility, morality and worth than Freehold's citizens.

Add in that Freehold's populace are mostly currently serving or ex-military, and are defending their homeland, and you have the recipe for an outstanding story.

Each time I re-read Freehold, I see more dimensions to the characters. Yes, the people of Freehold are generally good (but consider Tom Callan and the "criminal" laborers Kendra supervises in the park). The invaders from Earth are presented as generally bad, or at best, clueless (but remember Kendra's friends in Earth's military who help her escape, as well as the opposing general at the end of the novel).

Just as in Pallas, the two opposed societies are presented as generally black-and-white—but this is consistent with the nature of the two societies described in each novel. 

The Freehold military reminded me of Israel's military, in that Israel is a real-world example of what the novel Freehold presents: hostile neighbors with military might who deny your homeland its right to exist, to chose a life and society based on freedom.

Freehold, with The Weapon and Rogue, also by Williamson, are some of the best pro-military, pro-freedom novels I have ever read.