Review: Nancy Kress novel The Eleventh Gate imagines pros, cons & conflicts of future libertarian, authoritarian worlds

By Michael Grossberg and Adam Tuchman

Many sf and fantasy novels imagine different visions of free societies and how they might function in the future – including quite a few Prometheus Award finalists and winners.

In recent years, more authors seem to be incorporating future libertarian worlds into their novels, so many that it’s becoming harder to keep track of them all.

While few of these sf authors may be outright libertarians, they appear to be curious about exploring in fiction how future societies might be based on libertarian principles, in full or in part. They appreciate how that can provide fresh and interesting sf scenarios to explore dramatically – especially given inevitable human flaws and conflicts that tend to occur, no matter what kind of laws, customs and norms define different cultures.

One illustrative recent case in point: The Eleventh Gate, by Nancy Kress, an award-winning sf author known for space opera who previously has been nominated four times for a Prometheus Award for Best Novel.

This 2020 novel is intriguing for several reasons to Libertarian Futurist Society members and other freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Set in a future interstellar society of loosely linked human-colonized planets, The Eleventh Gate portrays several different polities – including most intriguingly the Landry Libertarian Alliance (LLA).

The LLA alliance spans three worlds, named Galt, Rand and New Hell.

Libertarian sf fans will immediately spot the explicit references to Ayn Rand, whose magnum-opus novel Atlas Shrugged (one of the first two works inducted into the Prometheus Hall of Fame) revolves around a mysterious and initially unseen character named John Galt.

Other future planetary societies in The Eleventh Gate represent very different cultures – including the three worlds of New California, New Utah and New Yosemite, all controlled by the Peregoy Corporation – and Polyglot, a planet that is divided into different nations, just like our current Earth. Only in this future, Earth itself is in a Dark Age after having been destroyed by war.

Without any means of faster-than-light travel, all these different planets are linked via gates. All but one are near habitable worlds, but several months travel away, thus making a surprise attack difficult and warfare complicated.

But these gates – which aren’t high-tech or mechanical, like the advanced-alien-produced ones in the Stargate film and its three different spin-off TV series, but “natural” – only exist in a few places. (You do the math to figure out the novel’s title: Polyglot has four gates, while each pf the other settled human worlds have one gate each…)

The Eleventh Gate begins when a new gate is discovered, sparking great interest and potential rivalry among the two superpowers.

LFS Best Novel judge Adam Tuchman, who recently discovered and read The Eleventh Gate and brought it to our attentiondescribes its various political-economies and different cultures as both fascinating and thought-provoking.

“Both polities are de facto monarchies (though the book doesn’t call them that), run by the descendants of their prime world’s discoverers. Pergoy is run as a corporation with an all-inclusive welfare state, while LLA is libertarian/anarchist in nature,” Tuchman writes.

“Although there haven’t been any wars, the LLA had to develop a military due to rivalry with Polygot, a planet with many nations founded by refugees from different Earth nations. The LLA founding family is also set up as a corporation for their economic interests, with the military emerging out of its security force.”

“The ‘monarchs’ are roughly 90 years old, though look young due to rejuvenation technology.  This doesn’t provide immortality and they both are feeling their age and thinking of their successors, of which there aren’t good prospects (at least within the families).”

Hoping to unite the two major polities against a third in what’s basically a false-flag operation, someone creates an incident at an unexplored planet past the new gate, which has strange lights and perhaps aliens, Tuchman writes.

When the incident has unexpected consequences, a war is sparked – but without faster-than-light drive, it takes months to reach a gate and then an enemy world, so the war is slow moving, with several space battles.

Both societies are flawed in Kress’s story – including from a libertarian perspective.

For instance, Peregoy allows conscription (which libertarians view as a massive violation of human rights and basically a form of involuntary servitude) – although it’s limited to emergencies such as wars and natural disasters. “A lot of folks don’t want to be drafted to actually fight, which causes violent social unrest,” Tuchman writes.

Meanwhile, one of Galt’s colony worlds has had a plague, with refugees fleeing to Galt, sparking unrest due to their voluntary charity system being overwhelmed. Yet, despite this, remarkably little violence has resulted, even though people there should have routine access to weapons.

Peregoy also faces a technical challenge.

While the LLA planets respect and support unrestricted research, even if it creates risk, Polyglot restricts science and research based on the precautionary principle.

Perego also requires tests before allowing people to enter certain fields or careers, due to education being “free” (i.e. government-subsidized) and can mandate people to go into certain fields based on society’s needs – another major violation of personal liberty from a libertarian perspective.

Aside from its exploration of libertarian ideas, Kress’ novel develops some strong anti-authoritarian themes.

“While the CEO of Peregoy is somewhat decent though authoritarian, his wife takes over when he gets isolated for a few months from his realm and sets up a police state with gulags and executions to deal with the unrest,” Tuchman writes.

Meanwhile, on the LLA planets, the woman who leads the system is shown as being “somewhat reasonable in not wanting to make the same mistakes as Earth,” he writes. “But the woman who is her intended heir, and is in charge of the military, is too aggressive and will consider secret actions that violate libertarian principles.”

In the end, both societies must change, and both move toward introducing democracy with mixed results, Tuchman writes: “The Libertarian Alliance planets create modest taxes and some welfare, while Perego loosens up in regard to individual freedoms.”

“Not sure if Kress knows much about libertarianism, but she seems to believe that there is some preferable point between unrestricted freedom and a suffocating welfare state,” Tuchman concludes.

Even if The Eleventh Gate doesn’t end up with scenarios that libertarians can be entirely satisfied with, fiction can be enjoyable and thought-provoking even if its drama falls short of our hopes and ideals.

Overall, Kress explores the politics and conflicts of the different planets to make her novel of interest to libertarians – and interesting to read.

Coming up: A broader profile of Nancy Kress, with descriptions of her four novels that have been nominated for the Prometheus Award over the decades – including one that became a Prometheus finalist.


* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.

Watch  videos of the 2022 Prometheus ceremony with Wil McCarthy, and past Prometheus Awards ceremonies, Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.

Through recognizing the literature of liberty and the many different but complementary visions of a free future via the Prometheus Awards, the LFS hopes to help spread better visions of the future that help humanity overcome tyranny, slavery and war and achieve universal liberty and human rights and a better world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

One thought on “Review: Nancy Kress novel The Eleventh Gate imagines pros, cons & conflicts of future libertarian, authoritarian worlds”

  1. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. There are so many interesting books I’d never know about if it weren’t for LFS…

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