Volume 4, Number 04, Fall, 1986

Space, Law and Justice


By Melinda M. Snodgrass

Berkley, 232 pages, $2.95.

Reviewed by Carol B. Low
October 1986

By the year 2023, all of the Earth's heavy industry exists off-world in mining colonies and space stations. The off-world colonies are governed loosely by the various corporations which own the stations, and, even more loosely, by the various Earth governments whose citizens reside there. As the spacers become more self-sufficient, the political types on Earth get very nervous: Earth is absolutely dependent on raw materials and energy from space. What if the System should decide to break free of Earth's influence completely?

American President Tomas DeBaca decides to assert control over the wayward spacers by creating the Fifteenth U.S. Circuit court and sending it to replace the arbitration boards which have served the System for some thirty years.

DeBaca chose an old friend—Cabot Huntington—for the job, expecting his loyalty to ensure the success of the project. Accompanying Cabot was his partner-turned-law clerk, Jennifer McBride. Jenny, starry-eyed, dreamed of representing truth, justice, and the American way, and was shocked by the icy reception afforded her and her boss by the manager of EnerSun I. It is a puzzlement that Melinda Snodgrass's libertarian heroine would be so naive as to head into space unaware of the true purpose of the Circuit she would be serving. Here is the novel's first conflict: Cabot is serving the law and the government and Jenny is serving the law and the people.

The Court sits idly awaiting its first case. The denizens of EnerSun I aren't about to trust just anyone to administer justice to them, especially anyone carrying the clout of government. (A pointedly ethnic mix is depicted, which disputes the assumption that ethnic lines will disappear as mankind opens its mind and its horizons.

Then DeBaca gets a call from the USSR. (Little has changed in forty years between the two world powers —again stirring the question: if so little has changed socially and politically, how did all those people get into space?) The Russian premier requests that the U.S. Circuit be used to halt trading between a Soviet mining collective and a U.S. corporation.

Here is a chance for both governments to send a political message to their colonists—if DeBaca can get Cabot to do the requisite legal (illegal?) dance. A decision is rendered by the Fifteenth Circuit, and the ensuing events make good fiction. Snodgrass shows both governments in their true, totalitarian colors. When the troops arrive, she has some fun with her anarchist spacers clogging the toilets of the barracks and lacing the trooper food with Exlax as a means of protesting the military presence.

Circuit is certainly libertarian and lots of fun to read. Snodgrass raises some valid points about the uses for law in libertarian society. Unfortunately, she doesn't answer them clearly or satisfactorily enough. For instance: by what right did those Earth governments begin all of a sudden, to impose their laws on the space stations. which are depicted as being private property'? Snodgrass makes some very well-phrased anarchist arguments. For example:

"In the System a man can seek redress directly against any person or power that tries to deny him his basic freedom. Out here I can pursue any professions at any time, in any place so long as I take the responsibility for my actions... Isn't that a saner way to manage things than relying upon the glacial movement of government?"

But the author seems to let what may be her own love of the law gloss over her own arguments. Her main character, Jenny, is willing, even at the book's end, to find the American system of law workable, which blunts the impact of the very libertarian colonists she has created.

But despite the philosophical inconsistencies, Circuit is a well-written book with believable characters, lively dialogue, and a quick pace. An excellent way to start this year's nominations.

Carol B. Low is a strict anarchist, currently educating her three children at home so that they can grow up with free minds.

All trademarks and copyrights property of their owners.
Creative Commons License
Prometheus, the newsletter of the Libertarian Futurists Society, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.