libertarian fiction

Sarah Hoyt’s “Darkship Revenge”

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt - photo Baen Books

Darkship Revenge by Sarah Hoyt – photo Baen Books

I’ve had more time to read fiction since I gave up my subscription to The Economist, which has abandoned its tradition of support for free markets and classical liberalism. I’ll try to review the best of these….

Sarah Hoyt’s latest, Darkship Revenge, is set in the same Darkship setting as her last,
Through Fire. As in that book, a genengineered woman from the secret space colony Eden ends up embroiled in war between the Usaians and Good Men on Earth, but this time the stakes are higher: Athena and her husband Kit are on a run to collect power pods when Kit is kidnapped. Athena and her newborn baby have to make their way alone to Earth to try to find Kit.

It turns out the ship which left Earth carrying many of the genengineered “master race” on a mission of colonization has returned and sent its youngest clones down to Earth supposedly to negotiate peace and a territory for the returning colonists. But all is not as it appears, and soon Athena, Kit, and their baby are fighting for their lives against the forces of both the Good Men and the returned starship. The fate of the world’s human population hangs in the balance!

This story is beautifully told and Hoyt makes time for both a kind of family drama (since the clones feel like younger siblings or children to their older originals) and action-packed fight scenes. Family ties form between strangers who’ve grown up abused and disowned, and the loyalties strengthen as the odds — and the sacrifices — pile up. Luce and Nate from A Few Good Men show up to play secondary roles, but you don’t need to read any of the other Darkship series books to follow the story.

A good read which deepens the understanding of the Darkship setting and demonstrates real wisdom about parenthood and its emotions in the midst of a battle for survival.

Review: Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson

"Freehold" by Michael Z. Williamson - cover photo by Baen Books

“Freehold” by Michael Z. Williamson – cover photo by Baen Books

On the plane back from LibertyCon I was able to finish up Freehold, first in the series by Michael Z. Williamson.

Looking over the reviews at Amazon, I see many five-star reviews (completely justified) and lots of one-star reviews apparently motivated by hatred of the book’s libertarian bent. One review starts out, “I really wanted to like this book, but it quickly became a tired repetition of Libertarian fantasy…” — that review’s not marked as verified purchase, so I suspect it’s just anti-libertarian axe-grinding.

What’s amusing is that Williamson’s “libertarian paradise” of planet Freehold, a breakaway colony of an Earth ruled by a micromanaging UN, is far from a paradise — it’s just different, relying on individualist philosophy, much as in the US Blue Tribe urban areas are politically very different from rural Red Tribe areas. These differences are exaggerated in this future, but neither Earth under the UN or Freehold under its minimal government are portrayed as perfect. Those negative reviewers illustrate exactly the issue addressed in the book — the collectivist Earth government can’t tolerate even the peaceful co-existence of a civilizational cousin that shows them up by thriving and outdoing them in growth and technological progress without the endless regulatory bureaucracy they believe in. People who believe in the One True Church of Government cannot tolerate even a fictional exploration of alternatives, where every individual is held accountable for their actions and those who don’t work, don’t eat. Heresy!

Aside from the politics, this tale of conflict is superbly-written and engrossing. Kendra Pacelli is a UN Forces worker in logistics, framed for embezzlement and forced to escape to Freehold. Williamson spends the first half of the book detailing Kendra’s escape, exposure to the individualist culture of Freehold, and training for the armed forces of Freehold. She goes through old-school boot camp, contrasted with the soft training she had received on Earth for the much less disciplined UN force. She also meets two attractive love interests and loosens up enough to enjoy Freehold’s casual nudity and permissive attitudes toward sex, which are contrasted with Earth’s prudery and acceptance of rape as something that happens but is no big deal.

So there is more on Williamson’s mind here than libertarian politics. Some action-oriented readers will find the first half slow as he builds up detail about Kendra’s character and contrasts her military training with Earth’s (and we are seeing this relaxing of training standards going on right now in the US.) But this buildup pays off in the second half, as UN forces invade Freehold and the surviving Freehold forces fight back with guerrilla warfare and incredible sacrifices to free their planet.

The lack of respect for liberty and military mindsets is an increasing problem with the academic, government-reliant culture of the pampered urban citizenry in the US. If you are unable to identify with Kendra, who is one of the best active female characters I’ve seen in fiction, you need to get outside your bubble more. Government schools no longer teach the history of Western civilization, and it shows when supposedly educated people recoil in horror at realistic depictions of war and frontier society.

Williamson is an increasingly rare type — the fully-civilized man, capable of violence and aggression when called for, but also a well-read student of history capable of great emotional sensitivity. Some passages brought me to tears, and he keeps the political commentary incisive and plot-driven.

Sarah Hoyt’s “Through Fire” – Darkship Book 4

Through Fire - Darkship Book 4 by Sarah Hoyt - photo Baen Books

Through Fire – Darkship Book 4 by Sarah Hoyt – photo Baen Books

Through Fire, Book 4 in Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship series, came out last month and I bought it immediately, but despite its can’t-put-it-down action, I had to put it down until this week.

It’s a fine entry in the series, plunging us into action on the Seacity Liberté, which unlike the last book in the series I read, A Few Good Men (review here) is dominated by French cultural influences, with the rebellion set in motion in the first scene modeled on the French Revolution and its Terror.

The book is set on Earth hundreds of years from now, after war and nanoplagues have devastated continental civilization. Genetically-engineered Good Men run the world as a feudal dictatorship from Seacities established as refuges. Simon St. Cyr, the Good Man of his Seacity Liberté, is hosting visitor Zen Sienna, a bioenhanced woman from the space habitat where genengineered refugees fled to escape persecution. She has fled her own people after the trauma of sacrificing her own husband to evade capture in a previous book. The rebels who take control of the city are out to guillotine the genetically-enhanced, and so both Zen and the Good Man’s retainers are on the chopping block of revolt. The USAians of A Few Good Men are less important to this story, though they do appear in force to help fight the rebels and assist in the final defense of Liberté from the forces of the Good Men.

Simon, insulated from the real world by his status as a Good Man and ruler, is contrasted with his security man Alexis, a rough-hewn hulk who has been a rebel betrayed by his fellows and saved by Simon, now in Simon’s service. Or is he? The book opens with an attack on Simon’s palace, and Alexis is given the duty to get Zen away from the scene and safe. Much as in A Few Good Men, a subtle romance begins as Zen and Alexis fight their way to safety and return to rescue Simon and hold off both a French-style revolution and an attack from the remaining Good Men.

Hoyt’s writing is smooth and serves the adventure story well. The story is told in first person from Zen’s point of view, and there are a few places where the dialog is overlong to fill her in on matters she (and the reader) needs to know to make sense of the different factions, but Hoyt keeps the story moving fast enough. Swashbuckling and understated romance combine in a tale to satisfy all audiences.

Now that I’ve enjoyed #3 and #4, I need to go back and read the first two!

“Shrivers” Reviewed by Jimbo’s Awesome SFF Reviews

Shrivers Kindle Cover

Shrivers Kindle Cover

This review turned up this morning. This guy gets it!:

…Have you ever missed your stop and had to do extra walking on tired feet because you couldn’t wait to see what was next? Your latest book, Shrivers: The Substrate Wars 3 had me hanging on every word. It’s hard to watch out of a window to see how close I am to my stop when my nose is stuck in an e-reader.


Seriously folks, this is a good one. Fans of the site (both of you) will remember that I have reviewed both of the first two books in the series, The Red Queen and Nemo’s World and enjoyed them both but this is easily the best of the three. Once again we see the fight against Big Government and a crackdown on the dirty little guy, this time on an existential level. It’s not even about a human government anymore. This one is all about the fight of humanity to survive against a force that is regulating the substrate. If you don’t know what the substrate is, it’s because you haven’t read the first two books and that is a mistake you need to fix quickly….

As a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy, one of my favorite things is an epic plot and an existential threat. Kinnison got both of those into this book in spades. The Red Queen was about a renegade group of students rebelling against oppression. That’s good stuff. Nemo’s World was about setting up a government and what to do with dangerous criminals. It was a lot of fun as well. This one is not just bigger than either, it’s bigger than both put together. The impressive part about the whole thing is really about how well Kinnison humanizes it though.

The previous cast of characters is all still here and they’re all doing their thing. Some are perhaps a bit older, wiser and more mature but things tend to work that way in real life so that’s hardly surprising. What is incredibly surprising is the inclusion of a young girl on whom the fate of the entire human race depends. Whether she is up to the challenge or not… well… read the book. I don’t do spoilers. I will say that she gets put into her position because she is a unique young lady and that the decision is not made by a human being. Humans have friends among those who would try to kill them. And that’s one of the things that I really, really enjoyed about this book.

Look, I’m okay with a cardboard villain if it fits the story. Battle: Los Angeles was a good movie that pretty much went “The bad guys are here to steal water and they’re going to kill us all to get it,” and left things at that. This book is not that way. Kinnison’s villains are every bit as much motivated as they are dangerous and they have very clear motivations that MAKE SENSE. I get the fact that alien reasoning may not always be obvious to a human mind, especially given the fact the motivations of a person from another human culture can be opaque at times. Still, the enemy, known as the First because they were the first culture to discover the substrate, is looking to perpetuate their own existence against anyone they see as a threat. New species are, to them, a threat to take up the space they need to live.  The Shrivers that Kinnison named his book after are their method of doing so.  Nuclear annihilation awaits those that aren’t unique and impressive enough.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about the ability of anyone to wipe out an enemy that has access to the substrate when I first read about it. That lasted until I had read a little further. It turns out that there is a fairly simple way to mess with a computer program (a virus) and that a society who has had access to the substrate for billions of years is better at using it than we would be. Go figure. It works here though because it’s so familiar. I had missed the possibility but the reasoning was sound and it made the story easy to follow.

This tome cooks from beginning to end. It just doesn’t let up. Problems come up and are solved just in time to set up the next round of problems… The politics of the story drift a bit in the work as well. At first it was a plucky bunch of kids rebelling against an overreaching government. Then it was those kids a few years later finding a way to turn things into a government in which everyone has a say. Those were impressive. But now things are shifting a bit. Control of the substrate is control over the future of humanity and its use is restricted to just a few people who are planning to pass that control on to their children. This has potential to lead to a government even more repressive than the one they overthrew. So far they haven’t gone down that road but the possibility to do so is certainly there. If Kinnison will steer his series away from that eventuality. If he does so it will be interesting to see how he pulls it off. So I’m waiting (im)patiently for the sequel to see what comes next.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Micro Black Holes

The first book of the series (Red Queen) is on sale for $0.99 here. The second book, Nemo’s World, is here, and Shrivers (the one Jimbo is reviewing) is here.

Or you can buy all three as a Kindle bundle for $6.97 here.

Sarah Hoyt’s “A Few Good Men”

A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt

A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt

I’ve been too busy writing to do much reading, but I finally read A Few Good Men by Sarah Hoyt after several people mentioned its similarities in theme to my work, and Sarah herself mentioned it as something she is particularly proud of. So I bought it and plunged in without reading the two earlier books in the series.

Which turns out not be a problem, since the book stands alone despite some connections to others in the series — this book is set in the same universe and time as the others, but shows what is happening on Earth. A few characters from previous books make brief appearances toward the end, but nothing from previous books is required to enjoy the story.

And what a fabulous story it is. Several hundred years from now, after war and nanoplague have devastated continental civilization, genetically-engineered Good Men run the world as a feudal dictatorship from Seacities established as refuges. Enlightenment traditions of freedom and constitutional rights survive in the “religion” of the Usaians, an underground group which keeps them alive under the stagnant, repressive regime of the Good Men. Don’t be put off by the cover, which reminds me of that Star Trek episode with the Yangs and the Kohms (“Omega Glory”) — this story is a lot more sophisticated than the cover would indicate.

Luce, son of a genetically-engineered Good Man, has been in prison for 14 years when rebels attack his prison and free him. He makes his way back to his father’s Seacity and discovers that he is now the rightful heir to rule it since both his father and brother have been killed, but that the other Good Men are already plotting to take over his city. His allies are the family of retainers, also genetically-engineered, who have served his family for generations — and they happen to be secretly central to the rebels, who are trying to free the world from the Good Men and their tyrannical rule to restore what they remember of the freedoms won by the American (and French) revolutions.

I won’t give away too much of the plot, but it begins like a tale told by Dumas or Victor Hugo, and the hero and language are both reminiscent of the best of the 19th century adventure tales. Luce is a big man, full of self-doubt and guilt from killing his best friend and lover, Ben, and his first-person narration throughout is both a strength and a weakness — we see exactly where he came from and learn with him how his world really works, but when he is left behind to serve as revolutionary figurehead while others battle toward the end of the book, the story lags a bit because we don’t see the action. This would be a stronger story if Nat’s viewpoint had been expressed in a few alternating chapters.

Luce is an engaging narrator and despite his self-image as violent and unworthy, the reader grows to appreciate his kindness and sensitivity (when he’s not fighting his way out of danger by killing bad guys.) I enjoyed how the story went from The Count of Monte Cristo to 1776 to a subtle romance in a time of war with no actual sex. It’s accessible and quite appropriate for a high-school audience, yet with enough depth for even advanced readers.

A good story well-told. I plan to read others in the series soon.