Volume 16, Number 4, Fall, 1998

Operation Damocles

By Oscar L. Fellows

Baen, 1998: $5.99, ISBN 0-671-57771-9
Reviewed by Lynn Maners

Operation Damocles is a member of that interesting species, the libertarian thriller, in which the forces of liberty are aligned against that of the all-seeing, all-controlling would-be world state. Parts of this novel force us to ask the question about the moral authority of liberty and whether the deaths of innocent millions are acceptable to combat statist coercion.

A new US administration, set on establishing a dictatorship, slowly destroys both individual lives and the citizens’ civil rights. Using the fight against terrorism as their cover, an underground group of scientists conspires to place an orbital weapon on the High Frontier, which will act as both a deterrent and as retribution. The action of the novel begins as an assassin with second thoughts is tasked to kill a female newscaster who has publicly opposed the government’s program (you’ll enjoy her putting the interviewee on the hot seat as she demolishes the justification for the government’s draconian security program). As the assassin, James Reed, realizes that he has become a target as well, he rescues the newscaster from a second hit team and flees with her.

Establishing new identities, they begin their work against the state, attempting to contact the conspirators. Meanwhile, the government receives a message that, unless a series of very libertarian reforms are put in place, massive destruction will occur. And it does, first wiping out power stations from Washington to Boston, then five days later the eastern seaboard from North Carolina to Maine is disintegrated by the orbital weapon. After this demonstration, the remaining government quickly passes the reforms, while the military feverishly attempts to locate and destroy the orbital menace.

Not giving up easily, once the satellite is apparently destroyed, the government rapidly reintroduces its anti-terror state, enforced by foreign troops occupying the US, in order that they might not sympathize with American protesting their loss of civil liberties (including the confiscation of all firearms—remember that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to allow the citizenry to resist tyranny). The President even orders a giant fire bombing of LA in order to blame it on the “terrorists.” Meanwhile, the original libertarian conspiracy locates and destroys the spider at the center of this New World Order’s web.

Finally, as the statist conspiracy is dismantled a new order arises in the reformed US, with a number of features familiar to libertarians—oddly enough, this newer world order is to be supervised by an International Union of Scientists (our conspirators). Methinks the author is not too familiar with the real world of academic politics. I can hardly imagine a world run by my faculty senate!

Although this novel is a bit preachy (but, hey, so was Ayn Rand), it brings up the difficult question, in novelistic guise, of the moral limits to suasion. Does an anonymous group of unelected physical scientists have the right to kill millions in pursuit of liberty? Must the blood of innocents water the roots of the tree of liberty along with the blood of patriots? Disturbing questions, interestingly addressed, in this libertarian thriller.

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