Volume 24, Number 3, Spring 2006

Tom Paine Maru, Uncut and Uncensored

By L. Neil Smith

First Uncensored edition, 2005 (Del Rey Books, 1985) Cover by Scott Bieser, 283 pages, $5
Reviewed by Rick Triplett

L. Neil Smith has written quite a few books of libertarian science fiction, and Tom Paine Maru (TPM) is one of my favorites. First published in 1984 by Del Rey, it was an LFS finalist for the 1985 Best Novel award. The membership that year chose “None of the Above,” partly, I believe, because the publisher edited out significant portions of Smith’s text. Last year, he took advantage of the increasing popularity of “electronic books” and released a revised version as a web download. This time, wording was entirely under Smith’s control. Retrieving the original text from decades-old 5.25 inch floppies was an adventure tale in its own right and is briefly recapped by William Stone, III in an appendix.

TPM takes place in Smith’s North American Confederacy universe a couple of centuries after the setting of The Probability Broach. The protagonist, Whitey O’Thraight, is a corporal in the military of the gloomily statist government of the planet Vespucci. On that government’s first excursion to the stars, he and his lieutenant barely survive a landing on a still gloomier planet called Sca, where they are rescued by Lucille Olson-Bear and her teammates from the Confederacy. What follows is a succession of colorful and harrowing adventures in which Whitey wrestles with the conflict between his allegiance and affection for his homeland and his growing admiration for liberty and individualism. On the way, Smith gives us his customarily clear and convincing depictions of how well freedom works in society.

What I like most about Smith’s fiction is the clear and imaginative ways he presents freedom in action—how the world might work under what he calls the “Nonaggression Principle.” In a world where we cannot depend—even among well-educated people—on reason being the method of choice for reaching ethical and political conclusions, the use of fiction is a tremendous help. Through it, people can see vividly how much peace, abundance, and happiness they could experience in a free society.

Nearly every page of TPM offers us a dose of freedom; what follows are a few choice samplings.

When Whitey demands an explanation from the Confederates who save him, Lucille tell him that “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” This sort of lesson comes up often in the story, always as a part of Whitey’s continuing education.

Later, after Whitey makes an economically naive statement about greed interfering with the need for people to be taken care of by the government, Lucille snorts with contempt and tells him, “A free market feeds more people, Corporal, more equitably, than any other system known to history. It’s the only system capable of feeding non-productive idiots like you. But you all eventually come to expect it, as a right, and that’ll probably be its undoing. That it accomplishes all of this as a by-product of greed is irrelevant—unless you care more about motivations than results!”

Whitey also gets lessons in reality from other confederates, such as Johd-Beydard Geydes, who has spent many years living amongst “primitives,” to figure out how best to introduce them to the advantages of freedom: “Just remember to avoid the likeliest paths the comin’ revolution’ll want t’ follow. Each of the major political systems has its own methods of policy-making’. Authoritarianism, such as ye have here, operates on whim, divine inspiration, the stomach-grumblin’ of the monarch. Majoritarian systems appeal to the ‘wisdom’ of the masses—too bad there ain’t any—usually a lot of votin’ gets done t’everybody’s ruination. Individualists, my friend, do ‘none of the above’.”

Frequently, the novel presents cases of victims’ finally getting the upper hand and exacting justice on their persecutors. Readers get a satisfying catharsis from such scenes. Early in the book, we learn that an evil character by the name of Voltaire Malaise had kidnapped hundreds of women and implanted them with mind-control devices to ensure their submissiveness; he plans to set up a monarchy and use the women for breeding. Later in the book, word is received that they have been discovered and that Confederates are on their way to intervene. Lucille comments, “I wouldn’t mind being there, myself. Think of it: tens of thousands of freshly-kidnapped women, free to do whatever they want with their kidnappers!”

Smith constantly praises the virtues of thinking rationally, of seeking to achieve excellence and productivity. He glories in the mind and its potential, not just in men, but in women, aliens, and sapient “animals” such as many of the characters in his books. His characters endorse replacing “mankind” with “mindkind.”

What I have said so far applies to the original TPM. But what of the revision? I read the e-book alongside my yellowed Del Rey paperback. There are many differences, some quite worthy of note. The most obvious difference is a large number of small changes, typical of the minor revisions an author might make while preparing a text for publication.

Other changes are more substantial. I’m going to cite one, which makes it clear how and why the original publisher made changes that harmed Smith’s work. The scene involves part of the growing conflict between Lucille and Whitey. Lucille has repeatedly insulted Whitey for his mindless/collectivist beliefs. This time, he snaps back at her, and one of the other Confederates, Koko, calms them down. In the old paperback version, the whole scene takes only a dozen or so lines of text and comes to an abrupt, unsatisfying halt. In the e-book, this scene is over twice as long. We learn that Smith has richly developed the sexual tension between Lucille and Whitey and even given us philosophic insight that is integral to the plot. Although the interchange is only a moment in time, the e-book tells us about how the relationship between Lucille and Whitey is developing and uses some sexual imagery to help us to understand this. The tension is greater, we learn more about Lucille’s emotional difficulties and more about why Whitey reacts as he does, and we are treated to a bit of wisdom from the character Howell, which needed to be said for a full understanding of the two central characters. I’ve reproduced only about half of the new material here.

“Nobody will hurt you,” Howell agreed with Koko, “Even if they wanted to. But what ever gave you the idea that rationality is a prerequisite to liberty? There’s a sapient right to be free, period, whatever condition we find ourselves in. We do not need to earn it. Nobody has a right to withhold it from us until we do. Nor does a society operate on reason — which is an individual attribute — any more than it operates on kindness. As I recently explained to your Lieutenant with regard to criminality, in the Confederacy, stupidity and ignorance have just been priced out of the market, made too expensive ... “

“Whitey,” Koko interrupted — these people seemed to do a lot of that —”In all of sapient history, there are only three ways that people have ever discovered to organize themselves. One individual can tell everybody what to do — that’s called monarchism. Or everybody can tell everybody else what to do — that’s called majoritarianism. Or—”

“Or nobody,” Lucille almost shouted, although I could tell she was horrified at her bodily response to the idea of fighting with me, and trying frantically to calm down. “Nobody tells anybody what to do! Always the best way, Corporal.”

There are many scenes in the e-book that have sexual content not found in the paperback. All of these are tasteful, reasonable, and help develop the plot. All are quite mild by contemporary standards, but were probably deleted by the publisher in 1984 as perhaps too suggestive. That publisher may even have thought the book too extreme overall to be a serious offering for adults, since important expressions of philosophy were also omitted. I think the publisher underestimated what an adult audience is capable of appreciating and what young adults ought to be exposed to. The e-book is suitable for both audiences.

With this new release, L. Neil Smith has given us a new chance to enjoy a work that deserves a wider audience. It is available at www.lneilsmith.org.

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