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Volume 3, Number 4, (Fall, 1985)

Fiction Forum

One Overlooked

Is it kosher to nominate a book for the year in which it appeared in paperback, even though it was (unaccountably) overlooked during the year of its original hardcover publication? The book I’m thinking of is The Steps of the Sun by the late Walter Tevis (author of The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth and others). It was originally published in hardcover in late 1983 by Doubleday, and has now come out in paperback in 1985. I only got around to reading it a few months ago, and I think it would be of very great interest to libertarian science fiction readers. It concerns a big business tycoon of almost a Randian type, who, like Hank Reardon. feels guilty about his wealth, and how, by defying government and running great risks. he reinvigorates a declining world economy and almost singlehandedly succeeds in restoring life to an all but moribund New York City. Quite a book.

 

Jeff Riggenbach
Oakland. California

Seriously Impressed

I’d appreciate your informing your readers that I’ve found two 1985 novels which I believe merit their consideration for the Prometheus Award. They are: Glen Cook’s A Matter of Time (Ace) and Victor Milan’s The Cybernetic Samurai (Arbor House).

Not being an LFS members I nevertheless want to commend both books to the attention of the Prometheus Award readers. I’ve also nominated them for the Nebula. The fact that I have my own 1985 book coming out next month [It should be up next year—The editors] will indicate that I’m pretty seriously impressed with them.

 

L. Neil Smith
Fort Collins, Colorado

Libertarianoids?

After the libertarianoid sectarianism of Victor Koman and the “identic” bluster of L. Neil Smith, your strong comments in the Letters column in Volume 3. Number 3, were a breath of fresh air. I’m convinced that there is a virus afflicting the movement, one that makes readers of libertarian publications restive with unfamiliar ideas, and gives them an insatiable appetite for repetition of dogma. Perhaps you can devote an entire issue to these people: every column of every page filled with the non-aggression axiom, with a few choruses of “rah rah capitalism” and “Worship property” thrown in for diversity’s sake.

 

Milton Mueller
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A “new” entry

The following quote is from a novel I read recently, written as a narrative exposition in the author’s own name and voice:

"Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument: the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of man.

"And now the forces marshalled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.

“And this I believe: that the freed exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and this is what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost.”

Since this quote is one of the most concise and powerful statements of the credo which the Prometheus Award represents, I am hereby nominating the novel in which it appears—published in 1952—for the Hall of Fame Award.

The novel is East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Let me just add that the novel itself is a generational saga dealing with fictionalized members of John Steinbeck’s ancestral tree, and is written on the theme that human beings are ultimately free to shape their own moral characters, regardless of their genetic parentage and upbringing. It has some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in fiction, it kept my rapt attention for days, and it clearly demonstrates that a novel does not need to fit into the “What if...?” “If only … “ or “lf this goes on … “ categories in order to play with libertarian ideas.

I recommend it.

J. Neil Schulman
Jersey City, New Jersey

Slighs and whispers

Just have to mention an entertaining novel, The Doppelganger Gambit by Lee Killough. Published in 1979 by Ballantine, this a a funny story about a policewoman who has to decide whether to make a new life in one of Earth’s space colonies, or stay with the police work she loves on this grubby and restrictive planet. One of the more interesting things about the book, besides the underground society of “slighs” (those not registered with the goverment's computer), is the book’s only real hero. Andrew Kellner is an active Libertarian who is killed off early in the book because he is too honest and dedicated to the cause of getting as many people as possible off Earth, and away to freer societies. After his murder, hfs wife defends him from charges of cheating the colonists by giving a rather eloquent description of libertarian ideals and stating flatly, “…He wanted to help send everyone possible to the stars… He would have done nothing...nothing to have jeopardized the lives of his clients in any way.” Not bad for a book in which the main character is a cop who hates to see people break the law.

Lee Killough may bear watching.

 

Louise Garratt
Bolinas, California

Guns unnecessary

L. Neil Smith and his critics both miss the point on the issue of violence at least as it relates to Smith’s Confederacy novels. This is rather annoying, considering that it involves a science fiction writer and contributors to what is presumably a science fiction-oriented libertarian publication.

Like Charles Boldrick, I prefer non-violence. But in today’s world I can see the need for a Dirty Harry or even a Bernhard Goetz (if he had really been defending himself against armed attack). But today’s world is precisely what is irrelevant to science fiction set in either the future or an alternate reality.

Consider: the North American Confederacy has been evolving for nearly 200 years. Its people enjoy unprecedented peace, prosperity—and freedom. And yet they still carry arms and have frequent need to use them. Why? One would expect an armed citizenry to have exterminated the criminal element long since. Again, one would expect utopian conditions to provide little incentive for crime. And as for the statist conspiracies, one would expect them to have faded long since for lack of any real grievances to exploit.

However justified initially, the custom of carrying guns should logically have fallen into disuse. Smith contrasts Western towns with Boston, but it must be possible to find examples of towns and/or culture which lack both violence and widespread gun ownership—simply because people have learned to be decent to each other. Of course, Smith has a good reason to exploit both gunslinging and criminal or statist conspiracies, but it isn’t the one he argues: it’s just the need for an action-adventure plot. Of course, there are other solutions to the problem of writing utopian sf without becoming bored as Ursula Le Guin has shown in The Dispossessed.

 

John J. Pierce
Bloomfield, New Jersey

Vengence our Business

I keep seeing the same books on the Hall of Fame list every year—do the same people continually nominate the same things? I will continue to vote against Le Guin’s The Dispossessed every time, so is it necessary to keep nominating it?

I hesitate to suggest a rule about how often a certain book can be nominated by the same person, but I would like to hear why they keep showing up. I’d also like to propose the use of common sense. Don’t keep sending in the same names; if you haven’t found anything new, don’t send anything at all. If it’s obvious that your favorite book isn’t going to make it, either quit or try to find out why it is constantly being torpedoed. Maybe you can convince the submariner to agree with your assessment of the work.

I agree with Victor Koman that “raging controversy” is to be encouraged. In a general reply to his letter in the last issue, I don’t think the award is “diluted” by considering anything that a member thinks is eligible. This is how we find out what other people consider to be “libertarian” “science fiction” or “literature”. Agreed when I read some of this stuff I wonder why anyone would consider it to fall in even one of these categories, let alone all three—but the process is interesting. The award is only diluted if it goes to a work totally deficient in all three.

Furthermore, as we all are painfully aware, there aren’t very many libertarian authors. As much as we should be “rewarding and calling attention to libertarian writers” that much too should we be encouraging those writers who show some libertarian leanings. The purpose of the award isn’t a secret—an author, once given the award, can’t say “I got this award for my great book” but only “I got this award for certain aspects of my book.” And, if he/she’s any kind of a thoughtful writer at all, perhaps those desirable elements will multiply. We can only hope—but it’s stupid to give the award only to authors whose every word is ideologically pure. Isn’t anyone alloved to have a change of heart, or mind? I wasn’t born an anarchist and I’ll bet Mr. Koman wasn’t either. Are we going to reward, or notice only those who have never written anything of which we disapprove? BORING!

Next, a few words (1 hope) about the Smith/vigilante/violence conversations. In reply to Charles Boldrick, who stoutly maintains that he wouldn’t live in the same town as Neil Smith, all I can say is good—more room for the rest of us. If you feel unsafe with someone like Neil around, you probably are. If one reads Smith carefully. one quickly sees that it is only the “bad guys” who get in trouble with the armed citizenry—the “good guys” aren’t shooting at each other. What’s more, there is much more protection against wrongful action in Smith’s scenarios than there is in real life, where the police don’t even apologize for false arrest, wrongful deaths and general mayhem. Personally. I feel a lot safer with someone like Neil around, someone whom I know and trust, than some joker who has delusions of grandeur because he wears a uniform. Some might argue that there should be no vengeance at all, that we should abjure it completely. They are the ones I wouldn’t want to live with-a person bent on violence could get away with anything in their town, because there would be no one to stop crime, no one to punish 1t, and no defense against it. Fortunately, such silly philosophies are self-limiting.

It’s an interesting comment on our culture to see libertarians divided on this violence issue. Our religious background teaches us that vengeance does not fall to human beings, but is the exclusive purview of god. Many of us no longer buy into religion, but still believe that vengeance is someone else’s business. True, we can hire someone else to protect us, look out for us, watch over us, and generally take care of us—but isn’t that making our bodyguard into a sort of god? And isn’t that just what happens with the state police? Power still corrupts, folks, whether you trade it away in a free market or the state takes it from you. We can’t be sure of not being corrupted when we hang on to the power of defending ourselves—but we can be sure that most of the people we give power to will be affected by it. I'd rather take my chances on myself-I don’t know anyone else nearly so well.

 

Len Jackson
Louisville, Colorado

 

First, The Dispossessed lost by only one vote this year—it will probably win next year. There are only a few “classic” libertarian novels, but they can’t all win at once. Most of us would be delighted if you could find us some previously unknown ones. God knows we've all been looking, and would love to read anything you suggest.

Second, “those who argue that there shouldn’t be tenpence [??? -- Editor after OCR] at all” (pardon the paraphrase) are not necessarily those who refuse to defend themselves. The editor

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