Volume 15, Number 03, Summer, 1997

Free Space

Edited By Brad Linaweaver and Edward Kramer
(TOR, 1997, $24.95, 352 pp, hc)
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
May 1997

Free Space is the first ever libertarian science fiction anthology, and could not arrive at a better time. Published by TOR, perhaps the most important publisher of science fiction, Free Space should become the rallying cry for libertarian sf. It proves at once the largeness of the genre, and breaks ground for future works. Collecting together a round dozen and a half stories, by libertarians and non-libertarians alike, Linaweaver and Kramer provide a new freshness and hope for libertarian sf.

Free Space spans a fictional 300 years, from the early rise of free enterprise and space exploration, to the far reaches of humanity throughout the galaxy. There are a few stops and starts, but overall it's a smooth and extravagant ride. Free Space is a book many readers will revisit from time to time.

Gregory Benford’s “Early Bird” is stunning in its daring and very tightly written. A wormhole is discovered near the sun, and a spacefaring miner is hired to examine it. In the midst of her survey, she is forced to make a quick decision, very libertarian and quite a surprise. Benford throws in some great humor for free, and makes this a great tale.

Another giant in the field, Poul Anderson, crafts the wonderful story, “Tyranny.” Anderson’s story is thoughtful, deep with social and political implications. A group of individuals with disparate backgrounds embark on a mission to destroy a computer that governs their world. Their motives apparently are not to liberate this world from the computer. Instead, they are bitter that it refuses to change the world as they wish it. The story is a powerful essay on the meaning of liberty, and the various reasons why some people feel the need to control the lives of others.

Former Prometheus editor William Alan Ritch’s “If Pigs Had Wings,” is perhaps the most endearing story of this anthology. Through the eyes of a young Federation girl we see the power to dream and be free. Reminiscent of Heinlein, Ritch's story is superbly realized, and probably my favorite.

Dafydd ab Hugh’s “Nerfworld,” is very reminiscent of Victor Koman's recent novel Kings of the High Frontier. It sets the tone of Free Space early on, with a willful entrepreneur trying to build a better way to reach space, but being beaten down and hampered by stifling bureaucratic regulations. One can feel the endless sense of frustration of dealing with blind and timid people in government, although the speech at the end it a tad overdone.

The well known trio of hardcore libertarian writers,—Victor Koman, J. Neil Schulman, L. Neil Smith—prove that not only can they write compelling and award-winning novels, they also can create deft short fiction. Koman, known for such serious topics as abortion and the nature of God, gives us a satirical tale of pure democracy gone amuck. “Demokratus” shows us that tyranny can wear soft clothing and slippers, yet still stifle individualism and control people. Smith, in his story “A Matter of Certainty,” shows us the horror of ceaseless wars without reason, yet also the chance of redemption. As usual, his non-human beings are almost as real as the human characters of most writers. Schulman’s “Day of Atonement,” his first piece of fiction in years, proves that this superb writer never lost his touch. This is a very intense tale of a saboteur sent on a mission to expose arbitrary and cruel authority.

In “Madame Butterfly,” master of hard sf and favorite of libertarian fans, James Hogan, contrasts two worlds, that of spacefarers dragging asteroids across the solar system, and day to day events back on earth. This is hard-edged science fiction, yet Hogan manages to squeeze more into a short story than lesser writers could pack into a novel.

William F. Wu gives us a delicate, very reflective tale in “Kwan Tingui.” It is a wonderful, almost lyrical gem, where two individuals meet over tea in a space station, prompted by the desire of one of them to determine if the other is a relative. Robert J. Sawyer offers us another view of a society “in The Hand You’re Dealt”. This detective story involves a puzzling murder, and a resolution that isn't too improbable

Peter Crowther’s “The Killing of Davis-Davis” is perhaps the strangest story, with unexplained time travel, characters that pop in and out, and an at-times jarring style. John DeChancie’s “Planet in the Balance” is a hilarious, rollicking piece, about a freelance planetologist forced to set down due to an emergency on an isolated planet. The problem is this is a deep ecology planet, where the inhabitants strive for total harmony with nature, and this planetologist converts planets through nanotech. It makes makes an amusing contrast.

Arthur Byron Cover’s “The Performance of a Lifetime” tackles the very idea of freedom, and shows us how a wrong but logical interpretation of a word can lead to tragedy. When a person with a twisted but brilliant mind declares that freedom means to do as one chooses, absent any moral guidelines, a mass murderer is born. To pervert his definition even further, he calls himself an artist and stages each murder to reflect certain ironies and visions. The court scene is a riot, and the ending quite vicious. Still, the aftertaste is quite unpleasant for any libertarian.

Jared Lobdell’s “The Last Holosong of Christopher Lightning” is a curious yet compelling story. Full of charming images and bold language, it tells the story of our galactic hero, Christopher Lightning, and his epic battle against the Free Spacers. Few heroes fall on the side against liberty, and Lightning's last Holosong explores his choices as he prepares for this battle.

The name William F. Buckley, Jr in an sf anthology may give some readers a surprise. He opens the anthology with very brief fragment of a fictionalized newscast, “Crisis in Space.” The humor is aptly restrained. It is a wonderful introduction, and clearly reveals that this book is about people who want to be free.

Ray Bradbury, another giant in the field of sf, graces the book with a brief but memorable and original poem. He has a wonderful gift with words that inspire all ranges of emotion. Wendy McElroy’s poem “How Do You Tell the Dreamer from the Dream?” is a defiant paean to life and liberty. All libertarian are dreamers, and this poem speaks especially to us.

“No Market for Justice,” by Brad Linaweaver, sits amid the timeline of Free Space, and is more a commentary on the underpinnings of the universe of the book. The narrator, a former inhabitant of the Nuevo Monticello colony, has exiled himself from that society. He criticizes it for having lost the ideals of freedom, of having betrayed the ideals of the person from whom it took its name. It is, perhaps, the most overtly libertarian story, though not as fiction-oriented as the other stories.

John Barnes, who but for a short and vivid poem by Robert Anton Wilson, concludes the book, does a piece of meta-fiction; “Between Shepherds and Kings” may well please the literary, post-structuralist camp of science fiction. The narrator ruminates about which story to write for an sf anthology called Free Space, and wonders more about his girlfriend and other problems. Perhaps the wisest decision the editors made is to have Wilson conclude the anthology. What better way to sum up Free Space than with these final words:


Now we dare the great
Promethean sin
And bring back fire to heaven
on our rockets.

 

Free Space is a book that belongs not just on the shelves of libertarian sf fans. Any science fiction fan can enjoy this book of space stories. Linaweaver and Kramer have simultaneously expanded and rewritten the rules for libertarian sf with this book. Whereas many shared world books suffer from limited visions, Free Space is a boundless and varied book. In this group of 17 stories are several classics that I believe will inspire both the readers of libertarian sf, and new writers. We can only hope that there will be a Free Space II, or maybe even a series of such collections. The world needs it. We demand it.

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