Much like exotic creatures of the wild, libertarian short stories rarely appear in the public eye. The first collection of libertarian sf stories appeared in 1980 (The Survival of Freedom, edited by ), while the second such collection came forth nearly twenty years later in 1997 (Free Space, edited by ). The latter’s rarity was noted by the Libertarian Futurist Society, which recognized Free Space with a Special Award in 1998. And now, only a few years later, we get not one but two libertarian sf anthologies.
Give Me Liberty collects eight classic works, the most recent of which is ’s “The Ungoverned,” and the rest dating from the 1950s and 1960s. Co-editor describes the book in his introduction as “a book full of favorites,” yet from my perspective only half of these stories would fill my book of favorites. Certainly, “The Ungoverned” fits this bill. The story falls into the same future universe as ’s novels, The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime. The free state of Kansas is invaded by the statist Republic of New Mexico, and a group of protection service employees (including a representative of the Michigan State Police, also a free market protection group) must defend their clients and thwart the invasion. Re-reading the story (yet again), made me realize the timelessness of this work.
Of the other stories in Give Me Liberty, three of these make the book worthwhile. ’s “And Then There Were None” highlights a society deeply grounded in the civil disobedience theories of Ghandi. It’s an amusing tale, and we all should take to heart the simple words, “I won’t.” ’s “The Weapon Shop” will cheer the hearts of all Second Amendment purists. A shop arrives overnight in a small town, advertising its wares with this simple sign: “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.” No different from our current society, this offends and riles a good portion of the populace, including Fara, a devoted loyalist to the empress, and hard-working bourgeois owner of a manufacturing shop. His battle with the weapon shop leads him to a harsh but honest voyage of discovery.
Another excellent tale, showing how crooked politicians scheme to take over desirable property, is related in’s “Monument.” At first this seems like a Christopher Columbus tale, where advanced invaders arrive and grab land from the simple natives. However, the story is bigger and more complex than this, as the natives work hard, but within the rules of nonaggression, to retain their land (yet not necessarily their way of life).
The other four stories are, in my opinion, not as strong, nor as libertarian.’s “Gadget vs. Trend” is related in snippets from news-clippings. It’s dry and one-dimensional, relating how a radical new invention granted incredible powers to individuals, who now could oppose anything the state threw at them. The story ends with a twist that might be perceived as humorous, but on the whole achieves little. ’s “Historical Note” is somewhat similar: a new invention brings about revolution behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. Much in the same manner, ’s “Committee of the Whole” also centers around a radical invention, a super-gun with enormous power (for good and evil), the plans of which are distributed world-wide and outside government control, to the horror and anger of a Senate Committee. These three stories explore the effects of one major invention, in a traditional sf-like “what if?” scenario. Grim reality casts doubt on the efficacy of such inventions in securing liberty, which instead must come from within individuals, not their tools.
The last story in Give Me Liberty is a nicely written but somewhat out of place tale. ”Second Game,” by , opposes two different planetary species and cultures. One is the expanding human culture, which attempts to contact the reclusive culture of an alien warrior culture planet. The savage power of the latter implies defeat of the former in battle, but the warrior culture has a major flaw that appears to spell their eventual doom and defeat.
The second recent libertarian sf anthology in question, Visions of Liberty, collects mainly newer fiction by more current authors. Interestingly enough, I find this book far weaker than the former. Hardly a single story stands out as memorable, and two are blatantly offensive, unless they merely misunderstand the meaning of liberty.
Most of the stories use the plot device of a narrator cast upon foreign shores who has the culture and philosophy of this new place explained by guides and natives. This is the case in’s “The Colonizing of Tharle,” ’s “Devil’s Star,” ’s “The Unnullified World,” ’s “Pakeha,” ’s “The Shackles of Freedom,” and ’s “The Right’s Tough.” That’s six of the nine stories all using the same basic plot device to introduce us to their version of free worlds.
What then of these free worlds?’s “Unnullified World” deals with asocial behavior, and how a free world reacts. Instead of a lengthy jail sentence or capital punishment, the offender is simply shut out from society. This option gives the offender an opportunity to reform or die. This same method was alluded to in ’s story “And Then There Were None,” as well as ’s ”Pakeha.” In the latter story, hope and forgiveness shows us a side not present in the other two stories. While the same methods are key to both “The Unnullified World” and “Pakeha,” their tone and voice are quite different: rough and sharp in the former, more gentle in the latter.
’s “The Right’s Tough” also employs this method, though is too short to shed much light on its implications. A group of astronauts return to Earth after a long voyage to find that society now uses a new system of instant reputation points. Updates along this point-scale govern behavior and social cooperation, and is quite alien to these astronauts. No one explains this to them upon their arrival, and they fail to blend into this society, eventually sending them back into space and the unknown.
’s “Devil’s Star,” on the other hand, seems a peculiar throw-back to the days of pulp. The characters are one-dimensional and the writing and dialog rough and unpolished, almost juvenile. This tale of a spy for the totalitarian world forces intent on invading a renegade planet seems like Soviet propaganda fiction. Along with ”The Shackles of Freedom,” they form the weakest stories of the book. Whereas ”Devil’s Star” simply is poorly written, pervert the meaning liberty in “Shackles.” A young doctor arrives on a planet settled by apparent Amish farmers, who see every event as pre-ordained by God, and thus medicine cannot replace prayer. But, by God, they sure have the freedom to let people die when medicine can save them. Where are the shackles? In the culture that submerges people’s minds so that they cannot leave to save themselves? I fail to see how it belongs in an anthology on the future of liberty.
The Voyage to Yesterday. A group of settlers with ties to Earth is visited years later by a space ship, found lacking of all central government, and taken over. They respond by absorbing the brightest minds, and react to force by unveiling a well-hidden super weapon.’s “The Colonizing of Tharle,” is a decently written story, but seems simply an echo of his much better novel,
The three remaining stories in Give Me Liberty, ’s “A Reception at the Anarchist Embassy,” ’s “According to Their Needs,” and ’s ”Renegade,” deal more from within their worlds.
’s story deals with solving a murder on a world where computers rule the social order by finding what motivates people, and catering environments best suited to this. It’s a nice story, but if the idea of such a computer is meant to be a creepy warning of abandoning control of one’s life, the story’s ending seems to undermine this. ’s entry contains some slapstick humor, with two bickering twins loosely based on the real-life peculiarities of Sam Konkin, but all amusement aside, the story never really moves beyond this one line joke.
In the last story, co-editorsteps out from behind his non-fiction introductions to these anthologies, with a work of his own fiction. Told in the style of a hardboiled detective story, “Renegade” deals with how law enforcement agents in a non-government society might go about capturing a criminal on the run. The story flows well, though the characters are sacrificed, and the two main detectives seem interchangeable.
And so, what is the fate of the libertarian short story? If these two books tell us anything, the past looks bright and the future grim. Where are the modern path breakers, the soothsayers of liberty? Not in Visions of Liberty. While it’s encouraging to see this type of anthology being published, the immediate results are mixed and disheartening.
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