Volume 18, Number 1, March 2001

The Wardove

By L. Neil Smith

Reviewed by Chris Hibbert
July 1983

Initially published in 1986 and now back in print thanks to Pulpless.com, The Wardove is a detective story set in 2924. Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by nuclear war in the early 21st Century but humanity survived in a Lunar colony and established a libertarian society. Now, centuries later, this libertarian society, along with its two allied alien species, finds itself locked in a bitter conflict with an authoritarian human regime descended from colonists exiled immediately after the destruction of Earth.

The story focuses on the efforts of Captain-Inspector Nate Blackburn, wounded war hero and incipient drunk, to solve a series of murders aimed at sabotaging a concert tour to raise funds for the war effort.

Why is this novel worthy of the Hall of Fame? First and foremost, I think the characters in it are some of the most realistic L. Neil Smith every created. Unlike his NAC stories, the heros display many of the failings we see in human beings today. The Coordinated Arm, while still libertarian, exhibits the stresses and strains of any society that is fighting for its survival. The novel shows that human beings being human, just creating a free society is not going to ensure that everyone is happy. International problems will still occur, ambition will still take its toll, and there will be dark patches in a bright future. Add to that the interesting whodunit, some rather cool song lyrics and the enigmatic character of Chelsie Bradford, star of the show, and you have a cracking good read! I'm glad that this novel is finally back in print, since I think most folks missed it the first time around. In my opinion, it deserves a second look.

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