Volume 23, Number 02, Winter 2005


By Michael Z. Williamson

BAEN, 2004: $6.99 ISBN: 0743471792
Reviewed by Fran Van Cleave
November 2005

Freehold starts out promisingly, with the heroine, Sgt. Kendra Pacelli, going AWOL from her U.N. Peacekeepers unit to the Freehold of Grainne after being unjustly accused of theft. She discovers life as a truly free human being: economically tough, full of disconcerting moments, and lots of fun in bed with both sexes. So far, so good.

Though Williamson is hardly in Stephenson’s class as a writer, he tells the story competently from a libertarian viewpoint—until he gets to the war between the Freehold and the U.N.-ruled Earth. Kendra joins the Freehold military, and here Williamson turns neo-con.

First, on the military training, which most of the time seems designed to contemporary specifications for people with little self-discipline. No, the drill sergeant doesn’t spray the troops with tear gas and make them sing the Marine’s Hymn, but he comes insultingly close. Second, when they finally go to war—about a hundred pages later—Kendra and her fellow freedom fighters find themselves torturing prisoners for information.

Apart from the fairly obvious point that this is not libertarian, and an extremely unreliable way to obtain factual information, is this something people will be “forced” to do hundreds of years in the future? When we have ships spanning lightyears in a week, won’t we have better truth-detection than torture? Actually, I would argue that we have better truth-detection than that now. It’s called drugs and brain-scans. So this is worse than a failure of imagination, it’s either willful ignorance, or a shameful attempt to justify inhumane treatment with an expired utilitarian argument.

And if you think that’s bad, wait till you get to the part about Freehold nuking Minnesota, along with other parts of the world. The reason? A weak plot device to ratchet up suspense, married to the pathetic logic that nobody on Earth overthrew these grasping socialist rulers, so therefore everyone remaining on Earth shares equally in the guilt of their evil behavior. So we can nuke them all with impunity. Interestingly, those settlers who left Earth for Freehold because they couldn’t overthrow the grasping socialist rulers seem to see no logical contradiction here.

Finally, the “Freehold’s” awarding of medals at the end of the book, rather than land or other real property for heroic behavior, is inextricably mired in the concepts of Napoleonic empire.

Hell will freeze over before I vote for this neo-con fantasy.

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