Liberty, evolving self-government and the Rights of Man: C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher’s Alliance Rising, the 2020 Prometheus winner for Best Novel

The Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series of past Prometheus award-winners in all categories, offering review-essays that strive to make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a notable pro-freedom work.

Here is an Appreciation for C.J. Cherryh and Jane S. Fancher’s Alliance Rising, the 2020 Prometheus winner for Best Novel.

“The rights of man, in a nonfigurative sense, are what this novel is about.” – William H. Stoddard

By William H. Stoddard

Set in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe, Alliance Rising explores its backstory; it appears to take place at an earlier date than any other novel in the series.

Cherryh’s future history assumes that the new societies founded by outward migration will become politically dominant; its two great powers are the Alliance, based at Tau Ceti, and the Union, centered on Lalande 46650, with the whole of Earth as a less powerful backwater.

Alliance Rising, which Cherryh co-wrote with Jane S. Fancher, explores the emergence of this configuration of interstellar powers, taking place not long after the discovery of faster-than-light travel in the twenty-third century by a Union physicist, at a time when Earth is struggling to catch up and preserve its power by building a new ship at Alpha Station, in the solar system of Barnard’s Star.

The new ship’s name, The Rights of Man, offers a pointed bit of symbolism — but one that takes on an ironic quality when the ship’s first test run is a dismal failure that has to be aborted, largely because of the crew’s lack of practical experience.

The action of Alliance Rising centers on the founding of the Merchanters’ Alliance, at this stage in its history not a sovereign state, but an association for mutual aid and protection.

The founders are new merchant ships equipped for faster-than-light travel; but they are seeking to include the older ships that travel between the stars at subluminal speeds, taking years for each voyage, with which they share a common culture. The administrative head of Alpha Station, as a result, finds himself caught between the expectations of Earth, from which his authority derives, and those of the merchanters, now largely trading with solar systems further from Earth, who provide the station with most of its trade and many essential supplies. The Rights of Man, tying up a large share of Alpha Station’s facilities and using much of the support Earth provides it, becomes a focus of that conflict.

The rights of man, in a nonfigurative sense, are what this novel is about.

Where do those rights come from? Cherryh and Fancher offer an account rooted not in philosophical speculation, but in actual practical law, through a historical incident even earlier than Alliance Rising’s events, at the very beginning of the merchanter culture: An early interstellar ship travels to another star to set up the first orbital station, and on its return, largely crewed by a new generation who grew up on board, refuses to surrender itself to the Earth Company to have a new crew assigned. This is what legally is called adverse possession: property rights originate in the ongoing use, occupation, and defense of the things owned.

Cherryh’s story points toward the broader application of this same concept, making liberty and self-government originate through free people’s ability to defend themselves.

This makes explicit a point that underlies the much later political struggles that form the story of her classic Downbelow Station, which shows the formation of the Alliance as a sovereign entity with control of an orbital station and the planet it orbits.

This isn’t so much an action story as a dramatic one, and one where a significant part of the drama is dialectical, in the conflict of ideas and philosophies; it can be a slower read than many novels. But the ideas in conflict are certainly relevant to libertarian concerns, and Cherryh is effective in showing their impact on human lives.

Libertarian readers will find her merchanter characters and their trade-based culture appealing. The later novels in this new series are well worth looking forward to.

Biographical notes:
* C.J. Cherryh, an SFWA Grand Master perhaps best known for writing believable alien cultures and portraying realistic future human interstellar socio-economic worlds, has written more than 80 books since the mid-1970s, including her Hugo-winning novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen, both set in her Alliance-Union universe.

C.J. Cherry (Creative Commons license)

Alliance Rising, co-written with her wife, sf author Jane S. Fancher and the first book in their projected Hinder Stars trilogy within their far-reaching interstellar Alliance-Union series, is her first work to win a Prometheus Award. However, several of her novels have been nominated over the decades for the award, including Pride of Chanur in 1983, The Kif Strike Back in 1986, and Finity’s End (a Best Novel finalist) in 1998.

Jane S. Fancher (courtesy of Fancher)

* Jane S. Fancher is a science fiction and fantasy author and artist.
Besides Alliance Rising and Chernevog, co-written with C.J. Cherryh, her books include the “Groundties” series (Groundties, Uplink, Harmonies of the ‘Net and ‘NetWalkers), Blood Red Moon and the “Dance of the Rings” trilogy: Ring of Lightning (1995); Ring of Intrigue (1997), and Ring of Destiny (1999). She also illustrated Elfquest Book 2 and, with Cherryh, adaptations of Gate of Ivrel: Fever Dreams and Gate of Ivrel: Claiming Rites. She lives in Spokane, Wash., with Cherryh, her wife.

* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade-plus history.

* Other Prometheus winners: For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all published appreciation-reviews of past winners.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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