This week I'm in Lansing doing some work for the state, so I decided to catch up on my reading since I get some peace and quite from my five children. The book I choose to read for fun this time around is a book called The Probability Broach, by L. Neil Smith, published in 1980.
The book begins in a 'futuristic' version of our world that is controlled by an anti-business, ecofascist faction- imagine lots of TSA agents, EPA officials, and progressives/neoconservatives together. A detective (the main character in the story) goes through a wormhole into another version of our world, a version which embraced libertarian ideals and has thrived and is now quite advanced. The book is essentially two stories in one- the main story is to figure out why our main character went through the wormhole, why people are trying to kill him, and what sort of conspiracy theory the bad guys are trying to enact; and the second story is hidden in the form of arguments between characters and explanations of why things are the way they are and is in reality a way to argue for a range of libertarian ideas and ideals.
There were things I didn't like about the book- I wasn't a fan of the talking animals, there were too many coincidences which cleared up loose ends, I found it unrealistic that our main character of course got in a physical relationship with the blond bombshell he met early in the book, it seemed as if every bad guy couldn't shoot straight and yet every good guy was an expert marksman, and the book seemed to go on a little too long at the end. But there was a lot more I did like the book that leads me to recommend it highly to you if you haven't read it before.
The book was highly readable, well-written, and the main plot was entertaining enough to keep you interested while you read about and explored a model libertarian society. This libertarian world- the so-called Gallatin Universe- is a world where people have made some very important decisions on how to govern themselves.
For example, the government of America in this world is a confederacy- the North American Confederacy- and not a federalist government like ours, and has all of the advantages that a confederacy has- local governance, less powerful/corrupt/tyrannical national government, less regulated markets, etc. The NAC is not involved in any major wars as a country, but instead volunteers rise up to fight whenever they see injustices occurring- imagine that instead of the national government fighting the Nazi's or terrorists that private citizens armed themselves and fought against them, much like privateers fought against the British in the War of 1812, the Rough Riders fought against the Spanish in the Spanish-American War, or the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Another very important idea in the books in the strong tradition of firearm ownership in the NAC, where it appears L. Neil Smith had developed a real expertise in discussing and arguing coherent and well-thought out systems for gun ownership and rights. It really reminded me about recent debates regarding gun ownership and more so than any other idea expressed in the book this concept is going to stick with me and make me an even more thoughtful supporter of gun rights.
At a little over 300 pages and $14, this book is an entertaining and thought-provoking read and is not dated yet. It won the 1982 Prometheus Award (which includes other great books like Ken MacLeod's The Stone Canal, Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky, and Terry Pratchett's Night Watch), and I recommend you buy it today and check it out. Chick on the links below for a great book!