Volume 3, Number 1, Winter, 1985

Dire Straits

Tom Paine Maru

By L. Neil Smith

Balantine/Del Rey, PA. , 1984, 273 pages, $2.75

The Sword of Allah

By Richard Elliot
Fawcett, PA., 1984, 28l pages, $2.95
Reviewed by Neal Wilgus

It’s interesting to juxtapose these two books, both of which I’m nominating for the 1985 Prometheus Award. Tom Paine Maru is the fifth book in Smith’s Confederacy series and takes the familiar cast of characters from earlier titles out into interstellar space to do battle with their o1d Hamiltonian enemies. The Sword of Allah is the first of two volumes by “Richard Elliott” (f.e., Richard Gels and Elton Elliott) dealing with a planetary disaster which takes place in 1991-92.

In Maru the main character is Whitey O'Thraight (YD-038), a refugee from a Hamiltonian planet called Vespucci, who gradually comes to discover his anarchistic potential. In Allah the hero is John Norris, a sort of cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones who, ironically, is the one who talks the libertarian survivalists out of their melodramatic stand against the state. Two more opposite characters would be hard to find.

Two more opposite stories would be hard to find, too, for Maru is laidback and easygoing, while Allah is fast paced and (as the front cover blurb has it) riveting. Whitey 0'Thraight does get into some dire straits, of course, but in much of Maru he spends his time socializing with the ship's crew, discussing libertarian principles and learning about the nearly unbelievable technology the Confederacy has developed through its oh-so-right thinking. John Norris, in contrast, only has a few pages of rest in Allah for most of the time he is battling with mad scientists, angry Arabs, pigheaded bureaucrats, and misguided libertarians.

Maru begins with Whitey in the hands of the savages on Sca, a planet Vespucci had planned to subjugate, but he is soon rescued by the Confederacy, along with his boss, Lt. Enson Sermander, a Hamiltonian louse. Allah begins with American agents striving to find out how and why the north African nation of Ubari has launched the Sword of Allah, a state-of-the-art hunter-killer satellite with horrendous capabilities. Whitey is soon in the lap of luxury on board the starship Tom Paine Maru, while Norris is soon captured and tortured by the devious scientists who operate the Sword of Allah.

Whitey and his Confederate cohorts are in the business of liberating planets, while Norris is engaged in saving one—both with mixed results. In Maru the Confederates work their way through various Hamiltonian dystopias, toppling one after another, until they reach Sodde Lydfe, which is about to destroy itself with newly discovered nuclear knowledge—but it’s sometimes hard to tell the libs orators from the liberators, ideologically. In Allah the rabidly anticapitalist scientists program the Sword of Allah to trigger a burst of radiation from the sun which will wipe out the western hemisphere-but Norris manages to foul things up so that the results are just the opposite of those intended.

After Whitey is rescued from Sca early in Maru the story is pretty predictable if you’ve followed the Confederacy series from the start. And after the Sword has triggered the solar flare Allah is fairly predictable too, but in a more exciting way. Smith fans will expect (perhaps demand) the usual tokes and pontificating followed by chase and gunfight scenes, climaxed by the ritual sacrifice of the Hamiltonian goat—while disaster fans will expect (and get) in Allah the obligatory destruction of half the world and crippling of the other half, together with the frantic scramble for survival by statists and anarchists alike.

Both Smith and Geis (the primary author of Allah) are in the libertarian camp—but what a difference in their treatment of the theme! Smith approaches the universe in a monolithic and missionary manner— “We’re right and everybody else is wrong,” as he says in an interview I conducted with him which will appear shortly in Geis’s Science Fiction Review. Geis, both in Allah and in SF Review, appears to be saying, “The libertarian view is the right one, but in the struggle for survival the right view is often irrelevant.”

The results are strange and often ironic. In Maru Smith insists that there are no differences between Nazi and Communist tyrannies on the one hand and social democracies on the other, but his own pure libertarians travel around the universe imposing their system on whomever they please, simply because they have the means. In Allah Geis shows the group of libertarian survivalists, who have correctly prepared for the disaster, being superseded by the surviving federal government, simply because it has the means...

Smith’s Maru is the more obviously libertarian of this pair of titles, but Geis’s Allah was, for me much more interesting—yes, even riveting —to read. There are a projected 25 additional titles in Smith’s Confederacy series, all of them preaching the same libertarian sermon: no doubt. There is a sequel to Allah called The Burnt Land which is projected to come out in late 1985 and which I’m hoping will be more truly libertarian than Allah. So stay tuned. There’s more to come.

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