Volume 013, Number 2, Spring, 1995



Dear Anders,

I have a couple of observations about Harvest of Stars. First, it strikes me that Poul Anderson is truly a conservative, and therefore authoritarian, not libertarian. He believes, ultimately, that all order must be imposed from the top down.

It strikes me that a lot of great writers—who did much to further and sustain liberty—have been of that stripe: Mencken and Heinlein come to mind. Yes, they philandered with Liberty, but always they went home shamed and slept in their lawful wedded beds with Authority.

But, y'know, they sired bastards. Maybe those of us in the rising generation of libertarian writers can advance the cause of Liberty without shame or hesitation dances.

I suppose that's another thing that marks me as not-conservative—that I believe humankind, while not perfectible (thank goodness) can learn, and in learning, better ourselves. I think we can learn a better model for the family, in which kids are not property, and the Adam—legacy of abusive behavior passed endlessly on is finally interrupted; a better model for society, based on voluntary interaction and, ultimately, friendship, [though backed by weapons, and the knowledge and willingness to use them]. As promoters of liberty, I'm presumptuous enough to believe we can improve upon our forebears by consistency in principle, and by believing wholeheartedly, rather than reluctantly, in that which we fight for.

My second observation about Harvest is that it's two novels, or rather a novel and a novella. The latter—the tale of the love between Guthrie and Demeter Mother, is quite powerful. The former, frankly, is to me a paean to moral cowardice smugly masquerading as righteousness. Its only justification is to provide character development, character heft, for the novella.

The problem with that is the characterization of Kyra/Demeter Mother is as flagrantly inconsistent as any I've ever read. 'There is no way Kyra Davis, through any development we're privileged to witness, anyway, could possibly become Demeter Mother. Think about it: Kyra goes into a decades—long spasm because the gunjin Nero Valencia kills a guard—who if left alive, even wounded, could well have brought about his and Kyra's deaths, and ruined the whole plan. Kyra then goes sour on this whole freedom thing because—gasp-—a couple of hundred agents of oppression got killed. Very well; unless she is utterly devoid of animal empathy, she could never undergo one minute of communion with the terror, suffering, mutilation, and death to be encountered in a single acre of wild land. All those birds with broken wings, fish dying with agonizing slowness in drying pools, gophers suffocating in collapsed burrows, rabbits thrashing in a fox's' mouth—she would go insane instantly.

We simply never see Kyra undergo anything resembling the moral and psychological transformation that would enable her to survive such an experience. Nothing told or hinted about the download process would come close to explaining it. The only rational connection between Kyra and Demeter Mother is that the author tells us the one is derived from the other. I find that of a TV-movie order of implausibility.

I guess I should point out that I don't really belong to the "kill 'em a1l and let God sort 'em out" school. Yes, undoubtedly many servants of the North American Union who were killed in Harvest were honorable men—so was Brutus, as the speech goes, yes, these were all honorable men. No one gets up in the morning and says, "What will I do today that's evil?" And I'm sure they had families, mothers, daughters, sons, puppies…

And so what? However they rationalized it to themselves, they were aggressors, every bit as much as Ted Bundy cruising in his Volkswagen with the handle removed on the passenger door's inside. And indeed, those who truly are victimizers—rather than careerists simply incinerating those babies at Waco 'cause it's what they were told to do, and heck, it'll look good on a resume [hmm—maybe I am approaching a workable definition of evil, after all]—are usually so because they were earlier victimized. Unlike most libertarians, I believe victimizers are largely so because they were tortured and betrayed as children; but unlike many—including Anderson's characters in Harvest—l do not believe that understanding need be the same as making excuses.

I believe that whoever scruples to bite the hand that seeks to enslave him, deserves his chains. Or hers. I don't wish to harm anyone; I want to live in peace and disturb no one. I would even gladly see murderers of the ilks of Lon Horiuchi and Janet Reno turned out of positions of power to live out their lives free of interference, if only somehow that would guarantee an end to enormities such as the ones they participated in. But, at core, at heart, I guess I am a wolf-libertarian and I believe in my soul the truth of what Robert Anson Heinlein wrote in The Puppet Masters:

"The price of freedom is the willingness to do sudden battle, anywhere, any time, and with utter recklessness."

I can only contrast that to the behavior of Anson Guthrie—bet the name's not coincidental—who, refusing to resort to force to defend himself and those with whom he has exchanged troth from genocide, turns and flees the Solar System.

People who are unwilling to fight to defend their lives or their liberty cannot expect to keep either a heartbeat longer than the point at which anyone desires to take them away. I have to question whether they deserve to keep them.

Victor Milán

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