Prometheus

Newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society

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Volume 17, Number 2, Summer, 1999

Rockets, Redheads and Revolution By James P. Hogan (Baen, 1999, $6.99)

James Hogan is emerging as a favorite among libertarian sf fans, if only because because he is often "volunteered" to accept the Prometheus Award for nonattending authors. Like many folks of a classic liberal, i.e., libertarian bent, he shows a strong contrarian impulse and this is both a strength and a weakness of this collection of science fiction stories (most previously published) and opinion pieces. The only piece of fiction which hasn't appeared elsewhere, "Madam Butterfly," is an interesting extrapolation of the consequences of small changes and the title does have a double meaning relevant to the story, if you remember your Arthur C. Clarke.

It is, however, Hogan's nonfiction which makes the strongest impression in this collection. Pieces range from personal in nature, "How They Got Me at Baycon" (the redhead reference in the title), to taking credit for the end of Communism ("What Really Brought Down Communism"), to addressing the question of writing a sequel to a nonsequelizable book ("Uprooted Again"), to the trials and travails of buying and remodeling a house in Ireland ("Sorry About That"). His opinion pieces begin with "Boom and Slump," exploiting the irony that it took a centrally planned and directed program to get the US to the Moon, immediately prompting the idea that strong goverment control could solve social problems as well. (How many times have I heard, "If they can put a man on the moon, surely. . . .")

His concluding piece, "Fact Free Science," follows up on three previous essays in this volume, "AIDS Heresy and the New Bishops," "Evolution Revisited," and "Ozone Politics," and it is in these essays that his contrarian impulse is most apparent. In each essay, he examines the prevailing scientific wisdom and compares it to work by dissenters from the scientific party line, essentially asking science to keep an open mind away from political influence. (In fact, I've just received a review copy of his new novel--look for a review in this space!--whose science hook derives from the theories of Velikovsky.) While I would agree with some of his view of the politics of science, I do think he has a tendency to take dissenters too much at face value. For example, in his AIDS essay, he accepts the ideas of Peter Duesberg, but ignores the fact that Duesberg's theories about HIV/AIDS fail to account for HIV/AIDS among heterosexual Western women with good nutrition and strong immune systems. Even critics of science must be viewed with a critical eye.

In sum, an enjoyable collection of fiction, especially if you haven't read it elsewhere, some interesting memoirs and recollections of fannish and other activities, and some well-crafted essays. Readers of Prometheus will enjoy this collection from a man who knows his Bushmills.

Reviewed by Lynn Maners

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