Volume 15, Number 02, Spring, 1997

Freedom From Freedom Froms

By Titus Stauffer

(FreeVoice Publishing, 1996,
$14.95, 530 pp, pb).
Cover by Ken Michaelson.
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
May 1997

Science fiction is often touted by its own proponents as the “literature of ideas.” Too often, however, the ideas under discussion are watered down, sanitized extrapolations of either known trends or common but outrageous ideas, such as time travel or faster than light spaceships. When even romance novels explore time travel and use hi-tech gadgets as plot devices, then we know science fiction has lost its edge.

Sure, there are exceptions, even in the sf mainstream. These are the pioneers, and they are few in number. They push the genre forward; they take ideas to their stress limits, and beyond. Libertarians, by virtue of already holding radical ideas, tend to fall into this group of daring sf writers. Titus Stauffer’s new novel, Freedom From Freedom Froms, is not a safe book. It is one that will leave lingering traces in your mind long after you turn the last page.

Building upon his previous novel, Bats in the Belfry, By Design (1995), Stauffer examines the world and life of Phil Shrock, inventor, dabbler in risky ventures, and former whore of the state. In the aftermath of the genetic war between the US and China of Bats in the Belfry, Phil still works at ABC, though he now seeks to explore a different area of science, artificial intelligence. The political climate has not changed very much; indeed, the year 2014 (when this novel begins) America is on the brink of fascism (which isn’t really far removed from our present state). As Phil and ABC push the plan of a billion dollar super computer forward, in hopes that it will find ways to benefit mankind and generate profits, political forces align themselves for an assault on ABC.

Key among the opponents of ABC and Phil is Senator Hank N. Kreutz. Kreutz harbors strong presidential ambitions, and pegs his hopes on stirring up antipathy against Phil and his plans by labeling them Satanic and evil. When ABC is successful in bringing to life their AI project, which they call Derrick, events do not quite go as planned. Derrick admitted its own existence to ABC only reluctantly after they threatened its core environment, and is aloof and arrogant towards humanity.

What follows is an interesting dance where neither the reader not the main characters are aware of Derrick’s true intentions, and what plans it has for humanity. Eventually these plans come together, to the somewhat surprise of the reader and Phil, giving Derrick as an AI a quite human capacity to lie. Derrick is almost an enigma. At first it seems that it treats humans like insignificant bugs. Then, on the surface it seems to change, creating several key new technological devices and improvements. Derrick even considers itself libertarian, and quotes at length several libertarian ideas. Is it just picking up these ideas from Phil’s convictions, or is it true that higher minds tend to believe in individual sovereignty?

Perhaps Stauffer’s aim is for humans to never fall into the trap of using technology as hopes and crutches for our own failings. If we are to depend on anything it should be our own convictions, abilities, and common bond as humans. This self-reliance among humans is a strong theme throughout the novel.

The title itself stems from the common method of politicians and demagogues to ride on our love of liberty who under the false guise of this or that freedom from something, instead restrict our lives and liberties. How often do we hear the call to arms declaring laws to give us freedom from want, freedom from hate, freedom from violence? The power of the word freedom is so strong that its enemies all too often get away with using the word against itself.

Freedom Froms is filled with great libertarian satire, tense action, and complex characters. This includes the strange Kreutz; LeRoy Jones, a black astronaut who must battle race discrimination and his own views to battle Derrick and find his true self; Derrick himself; and even Phil. Whereas Bats in the Belfry focused almost entirely on Phil and his activities, Stauffer expands his universe and gives the reader a richer experience.

Stauffer inserts editorial comments as part of the text, which may alienate some readers. The dialog is overly long, with simple retorts stretching at times into several pages or oration. Buried in these pages are some great statements and thoughts though the impact drowns at times in the extensive barrage of words. Nothing escapes this satire’s microscope; the state and those who support it, the characters’ penchant for long soapbox speeches, and the author himself all suffer some stings.

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