As was noted in the letters column in this issue, Manna was nominated in error by many members for the 1984 Prometheus Award. (It had been published as a serial in Analog during the summer of 1983, but the book was not released until January of 1984.)’s
I have no doubt that other members will renominate it this year, because in this bookattempts to do something that should be very exciting to most libertarians: he creates an anarchist society which exists, not on some other planets but on Earth—and not in the distant future, but in the mid-twenty-first century.
Not only does it exist within the lifetimes of most of us, this society also survives the wars (both economic and real) waged by jealous world powers as we know them. Recent history demonstrates that any attempt to establish a stateless "state" either scares the pants off world leaders (god forbid their own subjects find out that freedom works!), or the fledgling nation is expropriated by a greedy neighbor. Witness the Republic of Minerva.
It’s not that no country tries to conquer the United Mitanni Commonwealth. But the Commonwealth won its first encounter with an acquisitive neighbor in the year 2000, and thus discouraged others with similar ideas. After that it concealed its advances under a low-tech profile, and was dismissed for decades as an experiment that "couldn’t work."
But it prospered, this small African nation, peopled by the mixed descendants of native Africans and immigrants from everywhere else. Work, including the business of defense, is done by shared-ownership corporations. The incentives of partial ownership and freedom from regulation have created a very successful economy—a sort of anarchist Japan. But the primary building block of Commonwealth society is not corporate, but familial. Families are extended and close-knit, taking up the bulk of what passes for social services in other countries with any gaps in the net covered by small but well-funded private charities.
In a world shaped by an "economics of scarcity," the Commonwealth's profession of "abundancy economics" (i.e. that the new space technologies and use of newly available raw materials from the solar system make it possible for everyone on Earth to have enough, thus the "manna from heaven" in the title) is both misunderstood and feared.
In addition, the Commonwealth runs a free spaceport which levies no duties, charges no taxes and offers its customers good service and fair prices. Of course, many developing countries find it worthwhile to use Vamori Free Space Port over the statist competition, especially since Commonwealth companies also supply many of them with power and food.
Naturally, the free Spaceport enrages the other spacing nations, and at the Santa Fe Space Commerce Conference economic pressure on the Commonwealth begins. Manna’s narrator and primary hero, Sandy Baldwin, must organize the country’s defense as the economic war degenerates into a shooting war.
follows through with a believable and realistic adventure. The novel is so full of action, however, that there’s little room for character development. When Baldwin falls in love we have no idea why—the reader is told about, rather than allowed to see and feel, his growing affection. I won’t mention dialogue except to say that it is no worse than most fiction in Analog.
Art it ain't. It is a believable and creditable scenario about how a group of people can create a free society, defend themselves from those who fear or covet the results, and stay uncorrupted by the process. May we all take heart.
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