Prometheus Unbound http://prometheus-unbound.org A Libertarian Review of Speculative Fiction and Literature Fri, 23 May 2014 14:07:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Prometheus Unbound Podcast is the audio counterpart of the Prometheus Unbound webzine, a libertarian review of speculative fiction and literature. It features news; commentary; interviews with your favorite authors, editors, and libertarian scholars; audio reviews; listener feedback; and special segments like Book of the Month, Today's Tomorrows Writing Prompt, and Fiction Forecasts. Join us as we talk about books, movies, and television shows in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Geoffrey Allan Plauché | Prometheus Unbound Network clean Geoffrey Allan Plauché | Prometheus Unbound Network feedback+podcast@prometheus-unbound.org feedback+podcast@prometheus-unbound.org (Geoffrey Allan Plauché | Prometheus Unbound Network) CC-BY Libertarians Talking About Speculative Fiction libertarian, science fiction, fantasy fiction, movies, television, Austrian Economics, news, reviews, interviews, writing, publishing, politics Prometheus Unbound http://prometheus-unbound.org/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/PrometheusUnbound_podcast.jpg http://prometheus-unbound.org TV-G Bi-Monthly BOOKS RECEIVED | February 2014 http://prometheus-unbound.org/2014/02/11/books-received-february-2014/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2014/02/11/books-received-february-2014/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 21:04:06 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=12029 books we've received in so far in February:

State of Terror by John Brown is a dystopian thriller set in a near-future United States following a new wave of terrorist attacks that have enabled the government to ramp up the domestic war on terror.

Drone Pilot 2061 by Thomas Diogenes is a scifi action tale about a drone pilot fighting to protect the drug trade against Christian and Muslim theocracies.]]>
In the interest of full disclosure, here are the books we’ve received in so far in February:

State of Terror by John Brown is a dystopian thriller set in a near-future United States following a new wave of terrorist attacks that have enabled the government to ramp up the domestic war on terror.

Drone Pilot 2061 by Thomas Diogenes is a scifi action tale about a drone pilot fighting to protect the drug trade against Christian and Muslim theocracies.

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NEWS | Libertarian Fiction Authors Association and Short Story Contest http://prometheus-unbound.org/2014/02/10/libertarian-fiction-authors-association-and-short-story-contest/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2014/02/10/libertarian-fiction-authors-association-and-short-story-contest/#comments Mon, 10 Feb 2014 21:54:31 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11996 Prometheus Unbound has been on unofficial hiatus for a while now. We've all been rather busy with work and family and other projects. But I will be reviving it and the podcast. Reviving the site and keeping it going will of course be easier if we have more contributors, so if you're interested in publishing news, reviews, articles, interviews, and the like on Prometheus Unbound, please contact me.

The main subject of this post, however, is one of the other projects that has been occupying my attention. I recently launched, in November 2013, the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association.]]>
LibertarianFictionAuthors.com Logo

Prometheus Unbound has been on unannounced hiatus for a while now. We’ve all been rather busy with work and family and other projects. But I will be reviving it and the podcast. Reviving the site and keeping it going will of course be easier if we have more contributors, so if you’re interested in publishing news, reviews, articles, interviews, and the like on Prometheus Unbound, please contact me.

The main subject of this post, however, is one of the other projects that has been occupying my attention. I recently launched, in November 2013, the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association.

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading fiction but have a difficult time finding stories that truly reflect your values and interests. This discovery problem affects everyone, but is particularly acute for niche markets like ours. There are individuals and organizations (including Amazon) attempting to solve the problem for authors and readers in general, but no one was really catering to libertarians specifically. Even Prometheus Unbound cannot provide the solution: it’s primarily about providing a libertarian perspective on the fiction that interests us, particularly science fiction and fantasy, much of which is not produced by libertarians.

How many libertarians out there have published fiction? How many more are aspiring authors, who are either writing their first novel or are thinking about it but need some encouragement and guidance? I had no idea, but I was sure there were far more than I knew about personally.

As an activist, I also think that dramatizing our values through fiction is an important way to spread the message of liberty.

As an aspiring fiction author myself, I wanted to form a group made up of fellow libertarian writers who could learn from, encourage, and push each other to accomplish their goals and continually reach for new heights — and, eventually, to get my stories into the hands of new readers.

So I started first an email list, then a full-blown association complete with a professional website, in order to provide

  1. a writing group and mastermind that will both nurture new talent and hone the skills of more seasoned pros,
  2. a platform for libertarian fiction authors to promote their work, and
  3. a central location for readers to find fiction written by libertarian authors.

And already, thanks to the association, in a mere few months, I have discovered many more libertarian authors than I had heard of before.

Basic membership in the association is and always will be free. At a minimum, members get a public member directory listing; their books listed and displayed on the site; a link and image-rich profile page; free promotion; and access to a private email list and social network groups.

As our first major promotional endeavor, the association has teamed up with Students for Liberty to hold a libertarian short story contest. The contest is open to everyone, except the judges and SFL staff, and the deadline to submit a story is March 4, 2014. Entrants stand to win up to $300, supporting membership in the association free for a year, and publication. Check out our announcement and the official contest page for more information.

If you’re an avid reader, check out our work and follow us to be updated about new releases and special promotions. If you’re a writer too, join us and enter the short story contest.

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NEWS | 2013 Prometheus Award Winners Announced http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/21/news-2013-prometheus-award-winners-announced/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/21/news-2013-prometheus-award-winners-announced/#comments Sun, 21 Jul 2013 12:00:12 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11805 Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Novel and the Hall of Fame Award.

Best Novel

Winner

Finalists

Hall of Fame

Winner

Finalists

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Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

The Libertarian Futurist Society issued a press release on Saturday, July 20th, announcing this year’s winners of the Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Novel and the Hall of Fame Award.

Best Novel

Winner

Finalists

Hall of Fame

Winner

Finalists

My thoughts on the results briefly: I still wish actual libertarian authors would win more often. Step up, people!

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

There are a number of familiar names listed here, including past winners Cory Doctorow, Sarah Hoyt, Dani and Eytan Kollin, Neal Stephenson, Poul Anderson, and Donald M. Kingsbury.

Tobias S. Buckell, Daniel Suarez, Lois McMaster Bujold, Harlan Ellison, and Rudyard Kipling have been finalists before.

In other words, no newcomers made it to finalist this year. I hope this doesn’t become a trend and that fresh talent is not being overlooked.

I haven’t read Pirate Cinema, but I have reviewed three of Doctorow’s previous novels: Little Brother (2009 winner), Makers (2010 finalist), and For the Win (2011 finalist). I hope that Doctorow was able to sustain his radical momentum through the end of the book this time around, but if he follows the pattern set in these other books I expect Pirate Cinema to have a rather milquetoast ending as well. I hope I’m wrong, because it won and it deals with timely and important issues surrounding civil liberties, intellectual property, and resistance.

The Unincorporated Future is the third novel in a trilogy; check out Konrad Graf’s review of the first, The Unincorporated Man.

We welcome submissions reviewing the winners, finalists, and even nominees for the Prometheus Awards, past and present.

What are your thoughts on the winners and finalists? Do you think they are deserving of the recognition they received? Was anything overlooked this year?

~*~

Read the full press release below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, July 20, 2013

2013 PROMETHEUS WINNERS ANNOUNCED

The Libertarian Futurist Society has announced the Prometheus Awards winners for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame), to be presented Friday Aug. 30, 2013 at LoneStarCon3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Cory Doctorow won the award for Best Novel for Pirate Cinema (TOR Books). Doctorow also won the Best Novel award in 2009 for Little Brother. Doctorow explores themes of artistic freedom, Internet freedom and peaceful social change while shedding light on issues of copyright and government surveillance in Pirate Cinema, an optimistic young-adult novel about a young pirate filmmaker whose Internet activity threatens his family with government reprisals and who learns to fight back against outdated forms of control.

Cryptonomicon, a 1999 novel by Neal Stephenson, has won the 2013 Prometheus Hall of Fame award for Best Classic Fiction. Set during World War II and during the early 21st century, Stephenson’s novel explores the implications for a free society in the development of computation and cryptography.

At its award ceremony to be held at 1pm on Friday, August 30th at the WorldCon in San Antonio, the Libertarian Futurist Society will present a plaque and one-ounce gold coin to Cory Doctorow. A smaller gold coin and a plaque will be presented to Neal Stephenson.

Also recognized as Best Novel finalists for the best pro-freedom novel of the past year are Arctic Rising, by Tobias Buckell (TOR Books); The Unincorporated Future, by Dani and Eytan Kollin (TOR Books); Darkship Renegades, by Sarah Hoyt (Baen Books); and Kill Decision, by Daniel Suarez (Dutton – Penguin).

Also recognized as Hall of Fame finalists: “Sam Hall”, by Poul Anderson (a short story, published 1953 in Astounding); Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold (a novel, published 1988); “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”, by Harlan Ellison (a short story, published 1965 in Galaxy); Courtship Rite, by Donald M. Kingsbury (a novel, published 1982); and “As Easy as A.B.C.”, by Rudyard Kipling (a short story, published in London Magazine in 1912).

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in SF. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners. The Prometheus awards for Best Novel, Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame), and (occasional) Special Awards honor outstanding science fiction and fantasy that explores the possibilities of a free future, champions human rights (including personal and economic liberty), dramatizes the perennial conflict between individuals and coercive governments, or critiques the tragic consequences of abuse of power–especially by the State.

The LFS is announcing the winning works before the ceremony so that fans of the works and the writers can begin to make plans for attending the awards ceremonies. Anyone interested in more information about the awards ceremony or other LFS activities at LoneStarCon3 can send email to programming@lfs.org.

Publishers who wish to submit novels published in 2013 for the 2014 Best Novel award should contact Michael Grossberg, Chair of the LFS Prometheus Awards Best Novel Finalist judging committee online at BestNovelChair@lfs.org domain or via postal mail at 3164 Plymouth Place, Columbus OH 43213.

The Hall of Fame, established in 1983, focuses on older classic fiction, including novels, novellas, short stories, poems and plays. Past Hall of Fame award winners range from Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand to Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuin.

Founded in 1982, the Libertarian Futurist Society sponsors the annual Prometheus Award and Prometheus Hall of Fame; publishes reviews, news and columns in the quarterly “Prometheus”; arranges annual awards ceremonies at the WorldCon; debates libertarian futurist issues (such as private space exploration); and provides fun and fellowship for libertarian SF fans. All members of the LFS are eligible to nominate eligible works for its awards, and to vote on the Hall of Fame. Full members are eligible to vote on the Best Novel.

A list of past winners of LFS awards can be found on the LFS web site at www.lfs.org.

For more information, contact LFS Board President William H. Stoddard (president@lfs.org); Programming coordinator Fran Van Cleave (programming@lfs.org); or Publicity Chair Chris Hibbert (publicity@lfs.org domain).

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SHORT FICTION REVIEW | “Mars Opposition” by David Brin http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/20/short-fiction-review-mars-opposition-by-david-brin/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/20/short-fiction-review-mars-opposition-by-david-brin/#comments Sat, 20 Jul 2013 16:04:03 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11758 Analog in January 2005, "Mars Opposition" has been republished in audio format in episode 298 of StarShipSofa (free). It is a well-written tale, though predictable and unsubtle, and is superbly narrated by Dave Robison. Unfortunately, Brin uses the story as a vehicle for riding some of his political hobbyhorses:
  • defending government and its officials from antigovernment criticism,
  • making government smarter with the help of the technocratic elite (such as himself),
  • and smearing libertarians as dogmatic, asocial creatures who are clueless about the human condition.
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If you’ve ever wanted a peek inside the mindset of the utilitarian pragmatist and unabashedly statist, then you would do well to read or listen to David Brin’s novelette “Mars Opposition.” Begun in 2003 with the launch of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), and originally published in Analog in January 2005, “Mars Opposition” has been republished in audio format in episode 298 of StarShipSofa (free). It is a well-written tale, though predictable and unsubtle, and is superbly narrated by Dave Robison. Unfortunately, Brin uses the story as a vehicle for riding some of his political hobbyhorses:

  • defending government and its officials from antigovernment criticism,
  • making government smarter with the help of the technocratic elite (such as himself),
  • and smearing libertarians as dogmatic, asocial creatures who are clueless about the human condition.

Fair warning, what follows is spoiler-ridden.

“Mars Opposition” opens at Cape Canaveral with the landing of a strange spaceship. What follows is an even stranger first contact with 50-odd beings who claim to be Martians. They each bear a long list of human names and offer payment in exchange for being given the location of one person on the list. When one of these people — Bruce Murray, one of the founders of the Mars Planetary Society — happens to be present, the Martian looking for him promptly walks over and “shoots him dead.” Before long, the Martians are scattering in all directions, each hunting for the next name on their list.

Why are Martians killing these people who all happen to be space enthusiasts? The unidentified narrator (from here on referring to the POV character, not Dave Robison) eventually figures everything out and explains it to us as events unfold. As fresh and interesting as this take on a first contact story is, I won’t dwell on it and will instead turn to examining Brin’s political message.

Brin himself describes “Mars Opposition” as a creepy campfire tale. That would make the Martians the boogeymen of the story. And the Martians — the boogeymen — are, as the narrator calls them at the end, ultimate libertarians.

How are they portrayed and described within the narrative? Well, since they are so powerful and advanced, each Martian is an atomistic individual, almost entirely autonomous and self-sufficient. They interact with each other only briefly by forming temporary contractual relationships in order to pursue well-defined, concrete goals that neither party can accomplish on his own. Any socializing beyond this is a waste of time and all social interactions must involve an exactingly measured quid pro quo. They are traders you see, exchanging meticulously measured values.

The Martians at first seem to favor a restitution-based form of justice. They seem to not even require a third-party arbiter to resolve disputes, each readily compensating another for any wrongdoing when formally accused. But we learn through the narrator as the story progresses that the Martians consistently inflict a very precise proportional punishment when attacked by humans.

You’re probably thinking there’s a catch, and there is. Not all libertarians see even proportional punishment in retaliation for a rights violation as justice served, but even those who do will have a problem with the way the Martians apply it. They think so highly of themselves, you see, and so little of human life, that minor annoyances to them justify inflicting severe bodily injury on a human. The death of a single Martian justifies killing tens of thousands of human beings if they are in any way involved. Suffice to say that being an involuntary taxpayer won’t absolve you. That is proportional justice to them.

The Martians cannot understand the human need and propensity to form more durable social relationships that lack an explicit accounting of mutual benefit. They have no concept of the state. They cannot conceive of cultural differences, having been monocultural themselves for hundreds of millions of years. They are rigid, asocial, crass businessmen because — thanks to their godlike power and lack of human frailty — they can be.

David Brin
Can I look any more smug. Can I.

This is one false dichotomy crafted by Brin, the caricature of the principled libertarian juxtaposed with the realistic explanation of the human condition presented by the narrator. Another false dichotomy presented by the narrator involves the two stark options for dealing with the Martians. Humanity can either stubbornly pursue a noble resistance and be virtually wiped out by the Martian invaders. Yes, we primitive humans are explicitly likened to the American Indians and the superior Martians to white European conquerors. Or, we can learn from the Indians’ mistake and pursue a more pragmatic approach, though it be a necessary evil, which is that we should sacrifice a relative few (hundreds of thousands) in order to save the many (billions).

There really is no other way. If the human race is to survive, we must not resist.  Noninterference will result in many fewer lives lost than an unwinnable total war. But wait…that’s not pragmatic enough. We can do better. So the narrator urges the US government to not merely refrain from interfering with the Martians’ mission of revenge for deaths somehow caused by MER but to help them find the people on their list who they think are responsible. Why not trick the Martians into compensating us for each human life? Yes, we should take advantage of their trader mentality in order to extract as much advanced scientific and technological information as possible as payment for our help. We can not only survive as a species but bootstrap our technical know-how, while avoiding the Martians’ atomistic fate and retaining our humanity.

Sorry, but I don’t think aiding and abetting the murder of hundreds of thousands of human beings is conducive to retaining one’s humanity. Apparently, Brin bought Spock’s Vulcan logic in Star Trek II and failed to internalize Kirk’s human rebuttal in Star Trek III: “The needs of the one…outweigh the needs of the many.” A pragmatic utilitarian calculus is not the way to foster empathy and deep, lasting social relationships. Spock, at least, sacrificed only himself.

It is easy to construct hypothetical scenarios that present the reader or interlocutor with only two undesirable courses of action or outcomes, one more undesirable than the other. Academic philosophers do this all the time, “pumping our intuitions” in order to steer us toward their preferred ethical conclusions. Every detail is carefully selected, yet the scenarios are invariably underspecified compared to real-world situations. They also approach ethical theorizing from the wrong direction, attempting to arrive at or justify general principles from highly unusual edge cases rather than attempting to determine general principles for everyday living and then figuring out how they apply to extreme situations.

I don’t think the real world presents us with only two bad options very often, if ever. There is usually another, better way that’s not as obvious. If we are clever enough and wise enough, and do not abandon our principles at the first sign of difficulty, we can find it. In the unfortunate event that we come up short, however, I believe that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it. The central question of ethics is not what rules should I follow (deontology) or what consequences should I promote (consequentialism), but what kind of person should I be (virtue ethics)? Do you want to be the kind of person who helps to murder innocent people in order to gain scientific knowledge?

It is not enough for Brin to smear libertarians with his confused caricature and to promote a utilitarian pragmatism. He also promotes an idealized image of government officials as well-intentioned people who must be pushed to do the pragmatic thing by a self-sacrificial technocratic elite. Here Brin presents another false dichotomy. He wishes to hold up what he sees as a more realistic depiction of government officials against the pitiless, petty-tyrant stereotype that makes for such good villains in stories. In attempting to defend government officials from lazy and subversive writers, Brin goes too far in the other direction and draws an unrealistically noble picture. Yes, not all government officials are evil, power-hungry tyrants. But, as a cursory look at history reveals, while often well-intentioned, they need little outside encouragement to pursue the pragmatic course of action. Pragmatism is required by the job, and many, most, whatever, will readily pursue the pragmatic course, sacrificing some (but rarely themselves) for the benefit of others, with the best of intentions.

Now let us turn our critical eye, finally, on Brin’s self-sacrificial technocratic elite. Were it not for the unidentified narrator carefully explaining everything to dull-witted government officials and manipulating the situation in order to pressure them into accepting his proposed course of action, they would have chosen the path of noble resistance and gotten all of humanity killed. Someone had to make the decision to commit the necessary evil, and taint his soul or mar his character in the process.

Someone had to be the “special, darker kind of hero.” Seriously, Brin thinks this is heroic; those are his actual words. A character much like the Operative in Serenity, who murders whoever his government tells him to in order to “make better worlds,” who knows he is a monster because of it and is therefore unfit to live in said better worlds, is heroic. He may not kill people with his own hands like the Operative, but his reasoning is the same and he is an accomplice.

The narrator knows he is 112th on the Martian’s list and is therefore promoting a course of action that will lead to his own death. I suppose this is part of what makes him a hero for Brin, though Brin made sure he was going to die either way. Like the Operative, he will not get to live in the better human worlds that his evil acts will supposedly help create. It’s awfully convenient too that he won’t have to live with what he has done. The story ends with him hoping government officials get something cool in exchange for his life. How heroic.

So tell me, those of you who managed to listen all the way through “Mars Opposition” (I listened to it twice), is my assessment fair and accurate? What has been your experience reading or interacting with David Brin?

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BOOK REVIEW | Queen & Commander by Janine Southard http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/17/book-review-queen-and-commander-by-janine-southard/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/17/book-review-queen-and-commander-by-janine-southard/#comments Thu, 18 Jul 2013 01:10:37 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11520 Queen & Commander. It is the first book in what is planned to be a series for young adults. A science fiction tale, its focus on relationships brings what some might consider a feminine touch to the only fiction genre with more male than female readers. I found it to be an enjoyable read, even if it was aimed at an audience younger than I.

The story starts on a colony world in "Welsh space." In this world, students are tested and assigned to positions in society based on their results. The highest position is attainable only by women — that of queen. A queen is roughly the equivalent of a naval captain or admiral. She takes command of a space vessel whose all-male crew pledges eternal devotion to her, in return for which she is duty-bound to them.]]>
Queen and Commander by Janine Southard

Debut author Janine Southard has come out with Queen & Commander. It is the first book in what is planned to be a series for young adults. A science fiction tale, its focus on relationships brings what some might consider a feminine touch to the only fiction genre with more male than female readers. I found it to be an enjoyable read, even if it was aimed at an audience younger than I.

The story starts on a colony world in “Welsh space.” In this world, students are tested and assigned to positions in society based on their results. The highest position is attainable only by women — that of queen. A queen is roughly the equivalent of a naval captain or admiral. She takes command of a space vessel whose all-male crew pledges eternal devotion to her, in return for which she is duty-bound to them.

One online reviewer referred to this as a “fantastic feminist angle.” I find this odd, since feminists invariably swear that feminism is about equality, which would make it an antifeminist angle. Perhaps someone has slipped and given the game away?

At any rate, Rhiannon, the main character, is given the task of being queen and commander. Her best friend is distraught over the prospect of being separated from her true love after graduation. They turn to Rhiannon to help keep them together, and Rhiannon, though she feels a foreboding, cannot deny her best friend anything. In order to help them, she takes them both on as part of her crew, despite the fact that no other woman can serve under a queen (the excuse being that the presence of another female could sow discord and distract the men from their devotion).

She eventually assembles, by means not entirely on the straight and narrow, a crew of inexperienced yet talented individuals and is awarded command of the spaceship Ceridwen’s Cauldron. They set out to seek adventure and turn a profit, but when a government official discovers their illicit arrangement, he blackmails them into performing a task for him.

I am well known for breaking out into a rash when I come into contact with feminism. By this I am not referring to the noble rationale given for feminism, but rather feminism as it is actually practiced. I had no such trouble with Queen and Commander. Southard has created several believable, differentiated, and interesting male characters, none of whom she mistreats. Rhiannon’s high intellect has given her a superior position in a society that is at least somewhat sexist, but the author never validates this superior position by portraying women as superior people. Indeed, Rhiannon herself is rivaled intellectually by one or two of the men serving under her. At least one of them brings a foreigner’s perspective and amused disdain for the Welsh matriarchy.

What I would have appreciated, however, was a bit more information on the society and how it came to be as it is. Serving in space are a lot of males and very few females. What portion of society serves in space? Does this create a glut of females back home in civilian society? How is this handled? And how did such a practice come to be? What economic necessity, sexist ideology, or religious belief drove it? The answers to these would not only flesh out the world, they might provide plot points for future stories.

I also found it odd how devoted the males were. A crew that loses its queen slowly goes crazy. In a book that is otherwise purely scientific — even going so far as to use Alcubierre Drives — this smelled a little like fantasy. Not that it does not work in the story, but a little explanation for why this was so would be helpful. Are male crew members subject to some psychological manipulation? Why would they become so zealous about their queen as to be incapable of functioning well without her?

Janine Southard, author of Queen & Commander
Janine Southard

The prose is generally smooth, though there were a handful of metaphors that took me out of the story. They could be omitted to good effect. I appreciated how in tune with her characters the author was, and therefore how in tune we eventually become. Each chapter has its own POV character, and we read their thoughts and learn their feelings and get to know them well.

It is a short book, and I could have hoped for a bit more story. Being the first in a series, one supposes that there is a lot of story to come and that if there is not a fully fleshed out first, second, and third act it is for this reason. Still, right now the story stands alone and I felt like I wanted more when I turned that last page.

Wanting more, however, is probably what the author was going for, and she got it. The story is fun, short but not too fast, and occurs in a unique world. Not too much is explored but there will be time for more. The yearning of the young graduates to go their own way by their own rules is something any libertarian will appreciate too. It is definitely worth a read; and since this was Southard’s first book, I expect the next will be even better.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Warm Bodies http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/15/movie-review-warm-bodies/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/07/15/movie-review-warm-bodies/#comments Mon, 15 Jul 2013 11:00:26 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11642 Warm Bodies, based on a novel by Isaac Marion that I haven't read, is a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, only this time Juliet meets and falls in love with Romeo after he's already dead. It is a tale about the power of love to induce positive change and tear down walls even in trying times — of learning to see others as individuals, looking past their superficial group characteristics, and recognizing, even accepting, differences. But all is not moonlight and roses. Life, if one can call it that, among the living and the dead is hard; and even in the end, one cannot eschew entirely a hardnosed realism, as there are some too far gone even for love to heal.]]> Warm Bodies Movie Poster

Warm Bodies, based on a novel by Isaac Marion that I haven’t read, is a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, only this time Juliet meets and falls in love with Romeo after he’s already dead. It is a tale about the power of love to induce positive change and tear down walls even in trying times — of learning to see others as individuals, looking past their superficial group characteristics, and recognizing, even accepting, differences. But all is not moonlight and roses. Life, if one can call it that, among the living and the dead is hard; and even in the end, one cannot eschew entirely a hardnosed realism, as there are some too far gone even for love to heal.

Julie, played by Aussie Teresa Palmer, is the daughter of the military leader (John Malkovich) of an authoritarian, walled compound that houses perhaps the last remaining settlement of living human beings. R, played by Nicholas Hoult, is a zombie who spends his days wandering aimlessly around an airport and occasionally feasting on the flesh of the living. He’s a little off as far as zombies go, in ways you’ll have to see for yourself.

The two meet one fateful day when Julie is out on a pharma-salvage mission with a group of her peers and R is leading a pack of zombies in a hunt for their next meal. Can these two star-crossed lovers make it work? Will the living give R a chance before putting a bullet in his brain? Will R’s fellow undead refrain from eating Julie’s?

Warm Bodies is a romantic-comedy of sorts, leavened with a dash of action and horror. The humor is dry and sardonic, and there are excellent moments of physical comedy as well. The cast generally put on good performances, Hoult in particular as the story is largely told from his character’s point of view and he narrates a good portion of it with a superb, deadpan internal monologue.

Interview with the Vampire brought us the era of the sparkly vampire, which, hopefully, culminated in the teen angst of Twilight. Let’s hope that Warm Bodies doesn’t spark a similar sparkly zombie trend. Even if it does, however, this movie is worth watching, perhaps especially for those who are dead inside.

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TV SERIES REVIEW | Orphan Black: Season One http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/06/29/tv-series-review-orphan-black-season-one/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/06/29/tv-series-review-orphan-black-season-one/#comments Sat, 29 Jun 2013 13:00:41 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11491 Orphan Black is a new science fiction television show produced by BBC America and Space, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. I recently discovered this series, the first season of which just finished airing in the beginning of June 2013, and I plowed through all 10 episodes in two days.  It's a smart, complex, often dark yet at times quite funny, and well-paced show with a continuous narrative arc that explores the issues of identity and intellectual property. There is fine acting all around but the two standouts are Tatiana Maslany, who plays many roles on the show for which she deservedly won a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and Jordan Gavaris, who plays the foster brother of one of Maslany's characters.]]> Orphan Black, the many roles of Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany as Alison, Helena, Sarah, Beth, Cosima, and Katja.

Orphan Black is a new science fiction television show produced by BBC America and Space, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. I recently discovered this series, the first season of which just finished airing in the beginning of June 2013, and I plowed through all 10 episodes in two days.  It’s a smart, complex, often dark yet at times quite funny, and well-paced show with a continuous narrative arc that explores the issues of identity and intellectual property. There is fine acting all around but the two standouts are Tatiana Maslany, who plays many roles on the show for which she deservedly won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and Jordan Gavaris, who plays the foster brother of one of Maslany’s characters.

Minor spoilers follow, but everything I mention is revealed in the first episode or featured prominently in the official publicity for the show.

The science fiction element of the show is pretty low key. You won’t see much in the way of futuristic technology in this series. Instead, the plot revolves around the controversial subject of human cloning and the early stages of body modification and genetic engineering. Who are we if we are not biologically unique, if there are others out there who are genetically identical to us? How much would our experiences and personal choices shape who we become despite this? What would you do if you encountered to your surprise not one but two or three or more other people who look exactly like you? What is it that makes us human? These are some of the questions explored in Orphan Black.

The series begins by introducing us to the main character of the show, Sarah Manning, played by Maslany. Sarah is an orphan, born in Great Britain, raised by a foster mother, and moved to Canada at an early age. Now a young woman, we meet her trying to escape a wild life of crime, drugs, and an abusive boyfriend. Sarah aims to get her life back together, reclaim custody of her daughter Kira from her foster mother Mrs. S, and scrounge up enough money to make a new life somewhere for herself, her daughter, and her foster brother Felix (played by Gavaris).

Things go south quickly, however. Mrs. S is skeptical that Sarah has really changed. And, while at a train station on her way home, Sarah witnesses a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. A survivor and hustler, Sarah wastes little time recovering from the shock, spots an opportunity, and swiftly makes off with the dead woman’s purse. The plan at first is to sell the coke she stole from her boyfriend Vic and steal whatever else of value the dead woman owned. When she finds out Vic has come looking for her, pissed that she blindsided him and left him in the lurch with his dealer, Sarah decides to get rid of him by faking her own death, passing the dead body of her doppelganger off as her own and adopting the woman’s identity in order clean out her bank account. Then things get really complicated, and dangerous, as she meets more mirror images of herself and gets pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery surrounding their origins.

Tatiana Maslany gives us some phenomenal acting performances as she portrays as many as a half dozen distinct characters in the show, each with their own voices, accents, and mannerisms. She even pulls off roles within roles, convincingly portraying one clone impersonating another. Check out the behind-the-scenes video below to see how Maslany pulls off playing Sarah, soccer mom Alison, and evolutionary biology PhD student Cosima in a single scene:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

As you might have guessed from my opening paragraphs, Orphan Black also explores some issues of interest to libertarians. What should the legal status of clones be? Are they the property of their creators? Or do they have the same rights as natural-born rational beings? What if their genetic makeup is patented?

The nature of the organization that created Sarah and the other clones is not entirely clear. They appear to be a group of transhumanist fanatics devoted to the biological improvement of the species through genetic engineering. A private organization of some sort, not a government. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a nefarious corporation. I’ve had enough of that tired, lazy, ideological straw man of a trope.

I do have one potentially significant criticism of the show. Human cloning is presented as illegal, yet this secretive organization has apparently patented the genes of the clones. The clones become convinced that the organization can claim to own them, including Sarah’s daughter (as a derivative product), not just their genetic pattern. They are further convinced that somehow signing some kind of mutually beneficial contract with the organization, one that affirms their independence and privacy in exchange for medical research testing (and in one case even employment), somehow solidifies that claim of ownership over their persons. This makes no sense to me unless the point is that the characters are simply mistaken, being ignorant of the law, or the show’s setting is meant to be more dystopian than our present-day reality.

I’m not sure what the legal status of human cloning and gene patents are in Canada, but in the United States it is illegal to clone human beings and the Supreme Court recently barred patenting human genes. Even if patents on human genes were legitimate, however, and they are not, whatever positive law says, it would not follow from this that human beings bearing patented genes are therefore the property of the patent owner.

END SPOILERS

Orphan Black, the many roles of Tatiana Maslany
Tatiana Maslany as Alison, Helena, Sarah, Beth, Cosima, and Katja.

I look forward to seeing how events play out in the second season. And there will be a second season. Unlike many an ill-fated scifi television show, Orphan Black has already been renewed.

Do check this show out. I highly recommend it.

Fair warning: there is some non-gratuitous nudity and sex; nothing near the level of Game of Thrones.

If you already watched the first season, please tell us what you think of it in the comments.

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NEWS | Survey: The Best Novels and Plays About Business http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/05/18/news-survey-the-best-novels-and-plays-about-business/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/05/18/news-survey-the-best-novels-and-plays-about-business/#comments Sat, 18 May 2013 20:40:43 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11355
Now, these works are not necessarily libertarian. The professors who took the survey are probably for the most part not libertarian. And there is not much in the way of speculative fiction on these lists.

So what would you include or not include in the category of "best novels and plays about business"? Was anything overlooked? or given more recognition than it deserves?]]>
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, edited by Ed Younkins

Koch Research Fellows Ed Younkins, Jomana Krupinski, and Kaitlyn Pytlak have shared with me the results of a survey they conducted of 250 Business and Economics professors and 250 English and Literature professors. They asked these two groups of professors to rank the best novels and plays about business. The top 25 from each group are listed separately in the table below. What makes the results particularly interesting is that 15 titles appear on both lists, indicating a surprising level of agreement between the two groups of professors. But the two groups did not rank the 15 the same and each selected 10 other books the other group did not,  so there was significant disagreement as well.

Survey Method

Colleges and universities were randomly selected and then professors from the relevant departments were also randomly selected to receive an email survey. They were asked to list and rank from 1 to 10 what they considered to be the best novels and plays about business. The researchers did not attempt to define the word “best,” leaving that decision to each respondent. They obtained 69 usable responses from Business and Economics professors and 51 from English and Literature professors. A list of 50 choices was given to each respondent and an opportunity was presented to vote for works not on the list. When tabulating the results, 10 points were given to a novel or play in a respondent’s first position, 9 points were assigned to a work in the second position, and so on, down to the tenth listed work which was allotted 1 point.

Ed Younkins is a fellow Aristotelian libertarian. He’s done a great deal of excellent work on synthesizing Aristotelianism, Objectivism, and Austrian Economics. His books include Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: A Philosophical and Literary Companion (edited), Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise, and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society. His next book, Exploring Capitalist Fiction: Business Through Literature and Film, is being published by Lexington Books in late 2013 or early 2014. You can find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ed.younkins.

The Best Novels and Plays About Business

Top 25 survey results from two groups of professors. Fifteen works are present in both lists, indicated by bold titles. Point totals are listed in the column to the right of each title.

Business and Economics Professors

English and Literature Professors

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand4571. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller282
2. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand2972. Bartleby: The Scrivener by Herman Melville259
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald2163. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald231
4. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller1644. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair143
5. Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt1455. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis126
6. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair1366. Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet121
7. The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner957. The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells98
8. Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet898. American Pastoral by Philip Roth85
9. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.579. The Confidence Man by Herman Melville75
10. Other People'’s Money by Jerry Sterner5710. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand75
11. Bartleby: The Scrivener by Herman Melville5511. A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells66
12. A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe4812. The Octopus by Frank Norris65
13. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis4713. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand62
14. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson4314. Nice Work by David Lodge62
15. Rabbit is Rich by John Updike4115. The Big Money by John Dos Passos59
16. Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw3916. The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner58
17. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens3317. Rabbit is Rich by John Updike55
18. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt3318. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow55
19. The Driver by Garet Garrett3219. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain54
20. Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley3220. The Financier by Theodore Dreiser53
21. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope3221. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens51
22. American Pastoral by Philip Roth2922. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey45
23. The Octopus by Frank Norris2923. The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald44
24. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey2824. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy43
25. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell2725. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.39

Now, these works are not necessarily libertarian. The professors who took the survey are probably for the most part not libertarian. And there is not much in the way of speculative fiction on these lists.

So what would you include or not include in the category of “best novels and plays about business”? Was anything overlooked? or given more recognition than it deserves? Given the overlap, what do you think accounts for the differences in the two lists?

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MOVIE REVIEW | Oblivion http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/04/28/movie-review-oblivion/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/04/28/movie-review-oblivion/#comments Sun, 28 Apr 2013 23:37:58 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11332 Oblivion is the second opus of director Joseph Kosinski, who also gave us Tron. It is a perfectly average movie on net, with some attributes rising a little above and others sinking a bit below. Of all the changes one might suggest to improve the film, the single most important one would be to populate it with characters we care about. The same thing that turned an hour and fifteen minutes of abject boredom into an engaging experience on a small soccer field in central Ohio would have dramatically improved every single scene of Kosinski’s work.]]> Oblivion Movie Poster

The other day I found myself watching a soccer game. The players were not very good: defenders were constantly out of position, midfielders of the same team were bunching together and stealing the ball from each other, few passes were completed, and those that were often gave the impression of being accidental. Once, the goalie was even caught standing inside the goal when one team took a shot. Fortunately for them, the shot went well wide of the mark, despite the fact that it was taken a mere ten feet from the mouth of the goal.

Notwithstanding the poor level of play, I was enraptured. I cheered, I groaned, I shouted encouragement. I never missed a second of the action. What is more, I had just as eagerly watched the 30-minute practice that had preceded the game. The reason for my enthusiasm was that one of the players was my four-year-old son. There is a lesson there for storytellers of all stripes.

Oblivion is the second opus of director Joseph Kosinski, who also gave us Tron. It is a perfectly average movie on net, with some attributes rising a little above and others sinking a bit below. Of all the changes one might suggest to improve the film, the single most important one would be to populate it with characters we care about. The same thing that turned an hour and fifteen minutes of abject boredom into an engaging experience on a small soccer field in central Ohio would have dramatically improved every single scene of Kosinski’s work.

Tom Cruise plays Jack, a repairman, pilot, warrior, guardian, and whatever else the situation requires. One of the very last humans left on Earth, he is tasked with repairing the drones that guard the power plants providing energy for the human race, which has moved to Titan after a long war with an alien species called The Scavs. The Scavs, we are told, attacked us, trying to take the planet. Humans eventually won the war, but Earth was devastated.

Jack goes out every day to repair drones and occasionally fight aliens, while Victoria, his coworker and lover, stays at home in the operations room. She relays communications, assists him, and monitors their area, from which they may not stray due to the high levels of radiation outside it. Their memories have been erased to make them, they are told, a more effective team. They are nearing the end of their tour of duty. Victoria is especially keen to go and does not want anything to get in the way of her rejoining the human race on Titan.

The setup is interesting enough, and there are some nice vistas to take in while Jack is flying all over, but there is nothing about this film to put it in an elite category. A number of plot twists have the potential to be interesting, but they raise logical problems that weaken the story. When one starts to find out the truth, the entire enterprise becomes increasingly absurd. The illusion under which Jack and Victoria are operating requires the cooperation of certain actors who should be little disposed to cooperate. It also requires that the Law of Large Numbers be suspended, so that a certain chance encounter, which could have happened at any time in the last few years, does not occur until the story is ready for it. Indeed, unless one were somehow given assurance that two specific characters were not ever going to come within sight of one another, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to create and depend on the illusion in the first place.

All of this would be forgivable, scarcely noticeable even, if there were characters to care about. Replace Jack and Victoria with Han Solo and Princess Leia, and suddenly the story becomes far more interesting. The ones we have, however, don’t excite much.

Part of the problem is that they don’t feel human. Everything about the home in which they live, perched high above the surface of the planet, is clean and sterile, almost like a CGI rendering. Like the people living in it, there are no physical imperfections. It never feels real — nothing ever needs to be cleaned, nothing is worn down from use, nothing scratched. A man can become attached to his faded, worn, torn, stained blue jeans. The brand spanking new pair recently arrived from the store have no history, no character yet. The abode of Jack and Victoria feels less like the home of two lovers who have each other and no one else, and more like the model home at the front of a sub development. Nothing is suggested or implied by its appearance, except perhaps that it is a movie set and no one lives there.

The human dwellers are similarly airbrushed of any mark of humanity. There is no bed head when they first get up in the morning, no bad breath, no blood shot eyes from a night of drinking. There are some bare indications of character, like Victoria’s strict adherence to the rulebook and Jack’s natural curiosity, but the director spends little time developing these points. When Luke Skywalker took a few moments to watch the binary sunset, it was a compelling, touching moment of character-building that did far more than give the audience a chance to breathe between action scenes. Oblivion has nothing like it.

Everyone is attractive here, but in a very distancing sort of way. Jack is Tom Cruise, and Victoria is a pretty redhead. A third character is brought into their home who has even less personality than the owners. After advancing the plot with her initial appearance, her only job after that is to be beautiful. They have no flaws, no bad habits, no irritating behaviors, no infectious laugh or goofy grin, very little in the way of humanizing attributes. Jack has a hidden collection of vinyl records in a shack he has built on the surface (A shack that contrasts nicely with the high-tech, antiseptic atmosphere where Victoria waits for him. It is too bad the director does not take much advantage of it.), but that is about it. These people wind up more like wax sculptures of people than actual people.

Andrea Riseborough in Oblivion (2013)
A wax sculpture on a movie set.

When Jack brings a beautiful woman home with him, does Victoria get jealous, and how does her jealousy affect the way she treats Victoria? Do Victoria and Jack ever get tired of being with each other, with no relief ever? Do they ever get on each other’s nerves? Do they ever get lonely to see someone else? How do they combat this loneliness?

Probing the answers to any one of these questions would bring some needed depth to the film, but I suppose that would require effort in an area that was of little interest to the modern moviemaker. There are no scenes designed to delve into a role, all merely skim over the surface. To the extent that a person will shape his environment after his character, and can in turn be shaped by that same environment, we miss out on other opportunities. The sets are, though out of the ordinary, ultimately bland and featureless, and the director is little disposed to exploring them anyway.

When the big reveal finally happens, there is a lot left unexplained. I cannot claim I truly had a handle on what was really happening on anything more than a basic level. Some of the gaps we can fill in ourselves, but some of them are perplexing and needed some kind of explanation. Much of what I did deduce made the entire undertaking seem implausible.

Oblivion is nothing more than a way to pass a few hours, not a movie worth owning and watching again and again. The story is competently structured, with a rehash of old science fiction tropes to keep it running. The performances are perfunctory but acceptable. The soundtrack is loud and a bit hard on the ears, but the scenery is easy on the eyes. And there is some action, shooting, and explosions. Like most movies, it falls right in the middle of the Bell Curve, far from either extreme.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/04/15/book-review-the-androids-dream-by-john-scalzi/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/04/15/book-review-the-androids-dream-by-john-scalzi/#comments Mon, 15 Apr 2013 23:23:53 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11305 The Android’s Dream, a novel by John Scalzi, is a science fiction tale that takes place in the not too proximate future. This was my first experience with Mr. Scalzi, and I came away impressed enough to want to read other titles by him that have garnered more acclaim. There are a variety of different tones and elements in the present novel, in use of which Scalzi demonstrates talent. He can be funny, clever, action-oriented, and even, on occasion and to a small degree, poignant. I was not always convinced by the way he mixed these different tones together, but overall the novel was a fun read. Scalzi exhibits the flair of a true storyteller with his well-refined and polished plot and cast of diverse characters.]]> Android's Dream by John Scalzi

Amazon / Audible

The Android’s Dream, a novel by John Scalzi, is a science fiction tale that takes place in the not too proximate future. This was my first experience with Mr. Scalzi, and I came away impressed enough to want to read other titles by him that have garnered more acclaim. There are a variety of different tones and elements in the present novel, in use of which Scalzi demonstrates talent. He can be funny, clever, action-oriented, and even, on occasion and to a small degree, poignant. I was not always convinced by the way he mixed these different tones together, but overall the novel was a fun read. Scalzi exhibits the flair of a true storyteller with his well-refined and polished plot and cast of diverse characters.

The title refers to a line of specially bred sheep, named in honor of Philip K. Dick one supposes, which become the object of a hunt to prevent an intergalactic war. When a group of men of varying interests conspire to insult an alien diplomat during trade negotiations, the blowback leaves Earth on the brink of war. As things get increasingly out of hand — to the point where even the original conspirators begin to doubt the course they have plotted — an agent of the American government must find an Android’s Dream sheep to offer to the aliens, as appeasement, so they can sacrifice it in an important ceremony.

I do not know whether or not Scalzi has written sequels or other novels in this world, or if he plans to, but he has a knack for world creation that would seem to leave a lot of room for future work in this universe. There are different alien species with odd customs and cultures, eccentric politics, a variety of characters, and a number of odd social developments (including a religion devoted to Evolved Sheep whose adherents belong to one of two categories: true believers, and those with a sense of humor who want to make the Church’s prophesies come true for the fun of it). The message is not profound and the characters are not explored in the kind of depth that makes them stick with you long after you have closed the book for the last time, but the story is coherent, moves well, and provides a few interesting twists that give it a little kick at the right time.

The opening chapter is reminiscent of Douglas Adams in its silliness, though here it is more subdued than the concentrated absurdity characteristic of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. A meeting of delegates of Earth and an alien species, the Nidu, is sabotaged by flatulence. The Nidu possess an olfactory acuity beyond anything that has evolved on our planet. It is so strong, and so sensitive to nuance, that the Nidu can actually communicate through smells.

One of the saboteurs has a device surgically implanted into his colon that allows him to alter the aroma of his intestinal gasses to send any message he wants to any Nidu nose within reach. He prepares with a meal sure to get the gas flowing, and during the meeting spends an hour or so insulting the mother and questioning the sexual prowess of a particularly excitable diplomat who holds his post not from having earned it, but from having been born into the right family.

The Nidu diplomat dies after being worked into a rage. The Earthling saboteur also dies, as his laughter at the sight of the fallen Nidu diplomat is too much for his clogged arteries to handle (the arteries are clogged because he, the son of a butcher, has spent his entire life eating meat almost exclusively. This departure from reality is, of course, the current orthodox viewpoint and can be forgiven on those grounds).

It is funny stuff, but the tone it establishes promises future sketches like one might expect from Monty Python. Instead, the story becomes more about the thrill of the chase and a race against time. All of it is competently handled, but, notwithstanding certain moments of levity, the rest of the book feels different from the first chapter. It is almost as if Scalzi had an idea of a humorous way to open a story, but ran short of funny and had to turn to something else to finish the book.

Author John Scalzi
Author John Scalzi

On the plus side, there is a fullness to the story and interactions that leaves one feeling satisfied, like one has read a complete tale and not just a teaser. There are some stories, on paper as well as celluloid, that feel unfinished. A viewing or reading of these leaves the spectator feeling shorted a confrontation or two between personalities, or as if there should have been one more obstacle to overcome. However good The Android’s Dream is, it achieved, I believe, its pinnacle.

The above tonal shift and a number of typographical errors are the only sins of commission, and these are minor. The only real sin of omission is a lack of engagement with the characters, who all have idiosyncrasies and are distinct, but who largely do not become real, profound people in our minds and hearts. It is for this reason, then, that after the book is done we feel the downslope of a mild exhilaration, but no great yearning or nostalgia for people we must say goodbye to and never again meet for the first time.

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PUP003 | Interview with Jeffrey Tucker http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/27/pup003-interview-with-jeffrey-tucker/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/27/pup003-interview-with-jeffrey-tucker/#comments Wed, 27 Mar 2013 12:05:47 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11281
We started off by asking Jeffrey Tucker what it's been like working for a commercial publisher and bookseller after having worked for a nonprofit educational institution, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where he was editorial vice president, for so long.

Then we went on to talk about the business model of Laissez Faire Books and the role of the publisher in the digital age as a curator and service provider (curation as a service); the compatibility of open source and business; intellectual property; the nature of competition; how many entrepreneurs and businesses misidentify the source of their profitability and don't understand why people buy their goods or services; how copyright has held back the publishing industry; markets as institutions of teaching and learning; his favorite works of fiction; his plans for Laissez Faire Books; and more.]]>
Prometheus Unbound Podcast

In episode three of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and I have a fantastic interview with the wonderful Jeffrey Tucker, editor of Laissez Faire Books. It’s a long one, about an hour and fifteen minutes, and we knew you’d be eager to listen to Jeffrey, so we wasted no time with chit-chat and got right down to business. We covered a number of topics ranging from LFB, intellectual property, and Jeffrey’s favorite fiction.

We started off by asking Jeffrey Tucker what it’s been like working for a commercial publisher and bookseller after having worked for a nonprofit educational institution, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where he was editorial vice president, for so long.

Then we went on to talk about the business model of Laissez Faire Books and the role of the publisher in the digital age as a curator and service provider (curation as a service); the compatibility of open source and business; intellectual property; the nature of competition; how many entrepreneurs and businesses misidentify the source of their profitability and don’t understand why people buy their goods or services; how copyright has held back the publishing industry; and markets as institutions of teaching and learning.

“Don’t work for my happiness, my brothers — show me yours — show me that it is possible — show me your achievement — and the knowledge will give me courage for mine.”
— Ayn Rand

We talked about a new book Jeffrey wrote with Doug French (as yet unpublished) titled Who’s Going to Stop You, which was inspired by the important role played by Ayn Rand and her fiction in the libertarian movement. It’s about what many still need to learn from her — an alternative to the typical libertarian activities of electioneering and bitter diatribes against the state on the one hand and academic-style educational efforts to promote liberty on the other — which is to set a positive example in expanding freedom and personal fulfillment in our own lives and the lives of others. We can’t wait to see it.

For the last 20-30 minutes, we discussed the power of fiction in presenting abstract ideas, how it grounds and concretizes them in human action. Jeffrey Tucker told us about his favorite works of fiction, four novels by Garet Garrett (listed below), and some of his future plans for Laissez Faire Books. To our great pleasure, those plans include publishing more out-of-print and original libertarian fiction like Rose Wilder Lane’s Young Pioneers and John Hunt’s Higher Cause.

Jeffrey Tucker Meme

Follow Jeffrey Tucker

Books Mentioned

]]>
http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/27/pup003-interview-with-jeffrey-tucker/feed/ 0 copyright,curation,Higher Cause,intellectual property,interviews,Jeffrey Tucker,John Hunt,Laissez Faire Books,Laissez Faire Club,libertarian fiction,monopoly,patents In episode three of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and I have a fantastic interview with the wonderful Jeffrey Tucker, editor of Laissez Faire Books. It's a long one, about an hour and fifteen minutes, In episode three of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and I have a fantastic interview with the wonderful Jeffrey Tucker, editor of Laissez Faire Books. It's a long one, about an hour and fifteen minutes, and we knew you'd be eager to listen to Jeffrey, so we wasted no time with chit-chat and got right down to business. We covered a number of topics ranging from LFB, intellectual property, and Jeffrey's favorite fiction. We started off by asking Jeffrey Tucker what it's been like working for a commercial publisher and bookseller after having worked for a nonprofit educational institution, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where he was editorial vice president, for so long. Then we went on to talk about the business model of Laissez Faire Books and the role of the publisher in the digital age as a curator and service provider (curation as a service); the compatibility of open source and business; intellectual property; the nature of competition; how many entrepreneurs and businesses misidentify the source of their profitability and don't understand why people buy their goods or services; how copyright has held back the publishing industry; markets as institutions of teaching and learning; his favorite works of fiction; his plans for Laissez Faire Books; and more. Geoffrey Allan Plauché clean 1:20:46 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=11281-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
PUP002 | Libertarian Speculative Fiction http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/24/pup002-libertarian-speculative-fiction/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/24/pup002-libertarian-speculative-fiction/#comments Sun, 24 Mar 2013 18:01:33 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11236
We break the ice with some brief chit-chat about what we've been reading before seguing into our discussion of libertarian spec fic. The Book of the Month is Coyote by Allen Steele. In Today's Tomorrows Writing Prompt, we turn a speculative eye on the very real possibility of an intellectual-property dystopia. And in Fiction Forecasts, we talk about upcoming (at the time of recording) television shows, movies, and books.]]>
Prometheus Unbound Podcast

In episode two of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and I (Geoffrey) discuss libertarian speculative fiction and introduce the Book of the Month, Today’s Tomorrows Writing Prompt, and Fiction Forecasts segments of the show.

We break the ice with some brief chit-chat about what we’ve been reading before seguing into our discussion of libertarian spec fic. The Book of the Month is Coyote by Allen Steele. In Today’s Tomorrows Writing Prompt, we turn a speculative eye on the very real possibility of an intellectual-property dystopia. And in Fiction Forecasts, we talk about upcoming (at the time of recording) television shows, movies, and books.

What We’ve Been Reading

Libertarian Speculative Fiction

We covered a lot of ground in our discussion of libertarian spec fic, but we really only scratched the surface of this broad, deep, and no doubt controversial topic. I’m sure we’ll be revisiting many of the stories and issues we covered, and many more besides, in future episodes. So subscribe and stay tuned!

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the things we covered: what qualifies a work of fiction as libertarian; libertarian themes in science fiction and fantasy; why they seem to be more common in science fiction and why libertarians seem to favor this genre; our favorite works of libertarian spec fic; the Prometheus Awards; and probably more that I’m forgetting as I write this.

Authors & Books Mentioned

Book of the Month

Coyote by Allen Steele

Coyote by Allen Steele
Audible / Amazon

Coyote marks a dramatic turn in the career of Allen Steele, Hugo Award–winning author of Chronospace. Epic in scope, passionate in its conviction, and set against a backdrop of plausible events, it tells the brilliant story of Earth’s first interstellar colonists — and the mysterious planet that becomes their home.

The crime of the century begins without a hitch. On July 5th, 2070, as it’s about to be launched, the starship Alabama is hijacked — by her captain and crew. In defiance of the repressive government of The United Republic of Earth, they replace her handpicked passengers with political dissidents and their families. These become Earth’s first pioneers in the exploration of space.

After almost two-and-a-half centuries in cold sleep, they will awaken above their destination: a habitable world named Coyote. A planet that will test their strength, their beliefs, and their very humanity.

In Coyote, Allen Steele delivers a grand novel of galactic adventure — a tale of life on the newest of frontiers.

Get Coyote, or an audiobook of your choice, for free by signing up for a free 30-day trial membership at Audible.com. You can cancel at any time. Not only will you get a free audiobook, but you’ll be helping to support the podcast as we will earn a generous commission.

To start your free 30-day trial membership, go to http://audibletrial.com/prometheusunbound.

Today’s Tomorrows Writing Prompt

Matthew and I believe that intellectual “property” is a government grant of monopoly privilege — a form of economic protectionism — that can only be enforced by violating the property rights that people have in physical objects. Copyright and patents are the most prominent types of intellectual property (IP). They attempt to impose artificial scarcity in the realm of ideas, which are naturally not scarce.

We see two countervailing trends with regard to IP in society, provoking each other in a kind of arms race. One is top-down, driven by certain protected classes,  the politically connected, politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations who fear competition and change. And it is tending toward ever more invasive, restrictive, draconian, and ridiculous laws and regulations. We expect this trend to continue and even accelerate at least over the near-term. DRM, crippled products, ridiculous patents, patent trolls, and jail time and huge fines for piracy are only the beginning. This trend brings increasing centralization of power and wealth, corporatism and intellectual feudalism, no-knock raids for piracy overtaking no-knock raids for drugs.

The other trend is bottom-up, driven by a spirit of resistance and sharing and a love of openness and experimentation. This is the trend of rampant copying and remixing, of unbounded learning and innovation. It has spawned open source software, Creative Commons licenses, maker culture, torrenting, YouTube remixes, the digital self-publishing revolution, new models in online education like the Kahn Academy.  In reaction to the evils of government, it has led to advances in encryption (for privacy against government snooping), Bitcoin (for an encrypted, decentralized, independent currency), and 3D-printed weapons (which will eventually make gun control completely ineffective unless governments can lock down 3D printers).

We focused on the top-down trend of tyranny, monopolistic control, and stasis in this episode and will focus on the bottom-up trend of resistance, openness, and experimentation in episode four.

Writing Prompt

As happened with the drug war, because there is no victim to denounce the crime, civil liberties must be infringed to control behavior. As a worst-case scenario, you could see resources coming under scrutiny and control to prevent breaking IP law. Paper, for instance, might require an ID to purchase. Even the disposal of paper might be controlled. As people tried to work around these controls, more and more resources might require more and more controls.

Things probably won’t get this bad in real life, but it makes an interesting background for a sci-fi story, whether short story or novel. Citizens might be encouraged to spy on each other. If you see something, say something.

Picture a young boy or girl who has just heard a poem that he or she likes. With so many resources having come under the control of the government, he takes the only way out left to him: he writes the poem in the sand. It’s an act of defiance and a way to have the poem handy when he wants to read it.

What happens to him from there? Does he get in trouble for that? Are controls placed on sand?

That’s your writing prompt. Now go write.

We’d love to see what you come up with, so we hope you will share your stories  with us and the rest of the Prometheus Unbound community. You can post your stories in our dedicated writing group forum (must be registered and logged in to view and post). And we’ll be happy to give you our feedback.

IP-Related Stories Mentioned

  • “Melancholy Elephants” by Spider Robinson — See Matthew’s review
  • Emphyrio by Jack Vance (Amazon)
  • The Golden Age by John C. Wright (Amazon) — imagine IP in the hands of immortals

Recommended Reading on IP

Fiction Forecasts

My apologies for the two-month gap between episodes one and two. I don’t really have a good excuse for it, but I will offer a brief explanation. They say every podcaster, at least when they start out, hates the sound of his or her own voice. Well, I don’t think my voice sounds bad but I definitely am not the best public speaker. I’m working on it. That’s actually one of the reasons why I launched this podcast.

Anyway, I’m something of a perfectionist who doesn’t like to do something if he can’t do it right, so when it came to editing this episode I procrastinated. I’ve also been rather busy with family and paying work, but mostly it comes down to procrastination driven by the knowledge that this episode would not be as good as I want it to be. It’s one thing to know on an intellectual level that it is more important to get something out there than that it be perfect, but it’s another thing to internalize that piece of wisdom and get over the hurdle. Many a podcaster has looked back on his early episodes and cringed. I’m sure I’ll be no different. With practice comes improvement.

This segment of the episode is a bit dated, since it is now late March and Matthew and I are mainly discussing the tv shows, movies, and books that are coming up or returning in February. But the content really is timeless. These works of fiction are not going anywhere. I think you’ll find our comments on them both interesting and amusing. And you still may discover some stories you hadn’t heard of before.

Television

Returning shows:

  • The Walking Dead
  • Person of Interest
  • Elementary

Ongoing shows:

  • Arrow
  • Person of Interest
  • Lost Girl
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Once Upon A Time
  • Elementary
  • Castle

Movies

January:

  • All Superheroes Must Die
  • Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
  • John Dies at the End
  • Gangster Squad

February:

  • Warm Bodies — Looks entertaining, but… is it the vanguard of a new sparkly zombies trend?
  • The Sorcerer and the White Snake
  • Side Effects — See Matthew’s review
  • Beautiful Creatures
  • Escape From Planet Earth
  • Dark Skies
  • A Good Day to Die Hard

Books (January/February)

  • The Departure (The Owner #1) by Neal Asher (AudibleAmazon)
  • Farside by Ben Bova (AudibleAmazon)
  • The Daylight War (The Demon Cycle #3) by Peter V. Brett (AudibleAmazon)
  • American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett (Amazon)
  • A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Amazon)
  • Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (AudibleAmazon; Book 2 of a military fantasy series)
  • Trinity Rising (Wild Hunt #2) by Elspeth Cooper (Amazon)
  • Necessity’s Child (Liaden Universe #16) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (AudibleAmazon; An sf adventure series about a clan of interstellar traders)
  • The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (AudibleAmazon)
  • Blood’s Pride (The Shattered Kingdoms #1) by Evie Manieri (AudibleAmazon; Medieval-Mediterranean epic fantasy with mercenaries and revolution)
  • Elsewhens (Glass Thorns #2) by Melanie Rawn (Amazon)
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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/24/pup002-libertarian-speculative-fiction/feed/ 2 Allen Steele,Book of the Month,copyright,Coyote,fantasy fiction,Fiction Forecasts,intellectual property,libertarian fiction,libertarian sf,monopoly,patents,podcasts In episode two of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and Geoffrey discuss libertarian speculative fiction and introduce the Book of the Month, Today's Tomorrows Writing Prompt, and Fiction Forecasts segments of the show. In episode two of the Prometheus Unbound Podcast, Matthew and Geoffrey discuss libertarian speculative fiction and introduce the Book of the Month, Today's Tomorrows Writing Prompt, and Fiction Forecasts segments of the show. We break the ice with some brief chit-chat about what we've been reading before seguing into our discussion of libertarian spec fic. The Book of the Month is Coyote by Allen Steele. In Today's Tomorrows Writing Prompt, we turn a speculative eye on the very real possibility of an intellectual-property dystopia. And in Fiction Forecasts, we talk about upcoming (at the time of recording) television shows, movies, and books. Geoffrey Allan Plauché clean 1:22:56 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=11236-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
MOVIE REVIEW | Oz the Great and Powerful http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/21/movie-review-oz-the-great-and-powerful/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/03/21/movie-review-oz-the-great-and-powerful/#comments Thu, 21 Mar 2013 23:34:47 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11212 Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.]]>

It seems that every classic is to have an entourage. The loneliness of such films as Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.

Oz the Great and Powerful

It seems that every classic is to have an entourage. The loneliness of such films as Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.

Set some years before the events of Victor Fleming’s work, it tells the tale of the wizard himself, a travelling magician from Kansas making a meager, day-to-day living. A magician is a trickster, of sorts, and Oscar Diggs (James Franco) has a character well suited to it. Though one gets the sense that at his core he is not entirely amoral, he lies to friend and stranger alike. He lusts after money and women, whom he tricks for his own benefit.

It is this very duplicity in his nature that gets him running from trouble and sets him on course for Oz. After flirting with the wife of a circus strongman, he escapes the enraged husband in a hot air balloon just as a tornado begins to ravage the landscape. As happened in the original film to Dorothy, the tornado transports him to the magical Land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora, a witch played by Mila Kunis.

It is not long before he is mistaken for a wizard of whom a prophecy spoke, a mistake which he declines to correct because of the potential remuneration. Being a wizard of prophecy is not easy for one whose magic consists entirely of sleight of hand, but tempted by a treasure room full of gold, Oscar agrees to do what the prophecy says he must: rid the Land of Oz of the evil witch.

The movie boasts two strong points to keep it afloat: The design of the world and complexity of character. The latter of the two comes as something of a surprise because the script is hardly a masterwork. Indeed, I figured the deftness of character creation was due to the original source material, only to find out that this is not based on any of the other Oz books, merely the world itself. What it is doing there is an enigma, then, but whatever causal agent is responsible, it elevates the movie above the muck of worthlessness into which its other attributes, had they been left on their own, would have stuck it.

Oscar Diggs is a man with good and bad traits, with the flaws predominating. Yet he must reach within himself to accomplish a task that becomes more and more altruistic as the movie progresses, and all of this without a sudden, drastic conversion. Oscar Diggs never loses or changes who he is, but he does find good in himself that was always there, hinted at before but never shining clearly through. All of this, it should be added, is accomplished without making a caricature of any particular attribute.

The scenery, as I mentioned, is often a pleasure. Though it is CGI and CGI cannot, as of yet, equal the reality and immediacy of a movie set — even if that movie set has matte paintings — there is much in Oz that attracts, that is fun to look at.

The scenery in Oz the Great and Powerful is nice.
The scenery is nice.

The rest of the movie is ordinary, even poorly wrought. The worst part is James Franco, who simply cannot act. Go to a local theater performance of A Christmas Carol and you’ll find a handful of actors who do as well as or better than Mr. Franco. What he is doing in a movie originally budgeted around $200 million dollars is yet another mystery. I am sad to report that Mila Kunis, who in some indescribable way forgot to look beautiful, does only a little better than her costar. Those scenes where Oscar and Theodora are stuck throwing lines back and forth at each other, pleading for another actor to come on set and save them, are nearly lifeless.

Lazy screenwriting also holds the movie down. From watching Oz, one gets the sense that the filmmakers were in a rush to reveal things to us, to get those moments out of the way so they could get on with something else that truly interested them. The problem here is that a storyteller can exploit the gap between what he knows and what the audience knows, or the gap between a character’s greater knowledge and the audience’s lesser knowledge, or the audience’s greater knowledge and the comparative ignorance of a character. A screenwriter must tease, bring things along bit by bit, not merely dump them out so he can put a check next to that item of the list.

When it came time to reveal that there was a prophecy of a wizard, Theodora simply blurts it out, having deduced very quickly and from very little evidence and yet with absolute certainty that Oscar was the one. Could she not have started out with nothing more than a suspicion that grew into certainty over time? Did she have to give full vent to her hypothesis with a total stranger a handful of seconds after meeting him? Could she not have made hints, instead of absolutes? In short, could the theme of the prophecy not have been developed over the scene, or even multiple scenes, instead of being brought up and dispatched with tension-killing efficiency?

Imagine the soul-numbing awfulness of it: James Franco with a Mila Kunis lowering her game to the level of her colleague in a scene already reverberating with lackluster acting that is then amplified by a script bent on skipping over dramatic tension as rapidly as possible.

But for all that, I cannot report that the film was terrible. Mediocre on net, but not terrible. There are enough good aspects mingling with the bad ones. The aforementioned complexity of Franco’s character, even if the poor fellow cannot portray it properly. Theodora goes through a conversion that elicits our pity, even if the depth of her emotional pain seems greater than warranted by the brevity of her acquaintance with Oscar. The scene where we meet the mystery witch manages to conjure some suspense, even if it is a touch implausible and the witch apparently had no motivation to be where she was other than to show up in the movie.

Mila Kunis in Oz the Great and Powerful
I just feel like Mila has looked better.

There is one part of the film that runs the risk of being mistaken for libertarianism, and this error ought to be corrected before it festers. After twists and turns to the plot, which I decline to give away, Oscar finds himself at the head of an army about to be attacked by another, evil army. The problem for him is that his army will not fight, will not commit acts of violence, and yet must defend themselves against the bad guys. This is an interesting predicament and is good for the movie, but I have read whispers on the Internet about this being a libertarian theme. ‘Tis no such matter.

Pacifism is fine for anyone who wants to practice it, and it does not conflict with libertarianism, but the unwillingness to be violent on the part of Oscar’s army does not make a libertarian theme. It delineates in no uncertain terms whom the storytellers consider to be the good guys and whom the bad, nothing more. A libertarian, when under attack, is permitted to respond with violence. A people under attack may, with absolute justice, load, lock and pull the trigger. My concern here is that their pacifism could be seen as the quality that makes them libertarian, when in reality they satisfied that condition by not initiating the coercion. By eschewing violence entirely, they do not become more libertarian, they simply cross a line into pacifism.

It is no surprise that a movie prequel fell short of the original, though this one did better than some others whose names I shall not utter here. I expect that, like the other handful of Oz-related movies, it will be forgotten soon enough. In the meantime, while it is having its run, it is no better or worse than most of the other stuff out there.

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BOOK REVIEW | Marsbound by Joe Haldeman http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/02/27/book-review-marsbound-by-joe-haldeman/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/02/27/book-review-marsbound-by-joe-haldeman/#comments Wed, 27 Feb 2013 05:17:25 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11142 Marsbound. Like his other books that I have read, it starts quickly, wastes little time with descriptions, treats people mechanistically, with little emotion or soul, but tells an interesting tale. Marsbound is less entertaining than The Forever War and Forever Peace, but it is still a decent read.

The story begins on Earth, where a university student named Carmen Dula and her family are waiting for a taxi. They are on their way to Earth’s space elevator, which over the course of several days will take them up to a spaceship, which in turn will take them to Mars where they will be staying for the next five years. That is, unless something unexpected pops up.]]>

Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman began a series with the book Marsbound. Like his other books that I have read, it starts quickly, wastes little time with descriptions, treats people mechanistically, with little emotion or soul, but tells an interesting tale. Marsbound is less entertaining than The Forever War and Forever Peace, but it is still a decent read.

The story begins on Earth, where a university student named Carmen Dula and her family are waiting for a taxi. They are on their way to Earth’s space elevator, which over the course of several days will take them up to a spaceship, which in turn will take them to Mars where they will be staying for the next five years. That is, unless something unexpected pops up.

Carmen gets on the wrong side of the bureaucratic leader of the Mars colony before she even arrives. One night, stinging from a punishment meted out to her and feeling rebellious, she goes for an unapproved walk in her Mars suit. While out, she injures herself and cannot get back. On the verge of death, she is visited by a strange creature who saves her…

What is revealed after, over the second half of the book, is a unique take on the first contact scenario. There have been so many, and yet interesting versions keep springing from the fingertips of authors the world over. I have yet to read a science fiction book whose future, once we overtake it in real life, proved to be a completely accurate depiction of how things actually turned out. I have to believe that first contact novels will prove just as inaccurate. Many of them will get broad aspects right while missing on narrower details. Marsbound is one that is almost certainly well wide of the mark, but one does not get the sense that prediction was the target Haldeman was aiming at.

As with Forever Peace, not enough care goes into the inner life of a character. There are times when someone will unleash an abrupt, emotional eruption that I never saw coming. This is because instead of describing the pounding heart, the flushed face, or the clenched jaw of a person overcome by a powerful passion, we get only those movements associated with gross motor skills. Early on, Carmen gets up and races from her dinner table, crying over a conversation that I did not even realize had perturbed her until her outburst. This seems to be a hallmark of Haldeman’s writing. It would have been more engaging to be kept abreast of her emotional development over the course of the conversation, which would have made me feel closer to the character.

Joe Haldeman
A dirty old man, perhaps,
but a good author.

Another hallmark of Haldeman is the horny, promiscuous female. I do not deny the existence of such wonderful beings, but every time I open a Haldeman novel there await inside a host of women hungry for man-flesh and with no qualms about going out and getting some. This would seem to be wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. A single such character is absolutely permissible; when every main female character has this trait it starts to feel unrealistic. Haldeman’s novels do not take place in Heaven, after all.

If Marsbound suffers from the typical Haldeman infirmities, it also benefits from his usual strong points. The writing is lean and smooth with believable dialogue. There are no throwaway scenes, no padding. In this respect, Haldeman ranks up there with Heinlein.

I thought the novel’s story was a little on the simple side. There is not a whole lot of drama nor obstacles nor upping the ante. It is a short book that might have benefited from a little more length and extension of the plot. A book so brief should, in my opinion, tackle a smaller story and delve into it. For a first contact piece, I would like to see a lot more setup and payoff, a lot more character interaction and development, before we reach the end.

Marsbound is nearly the equal of Forever Peace, but falls short on the overall course of the plot. I did not leave Forever Peace wishing it had been more, but that was exactly the feeling I got from Marsbound. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, although each new Haldeman opus I read is a lesser work than the previous one, a trend I hope comes to a definitive end with Starbound, the sequel.

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BOOK REVIEW | Live Free or Die by John Ringo http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/02/19/book-review-live-free-or-die-by-john-ringo/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/02/19/book-review-live-free-or-die-by-john-ringo/#comments Tue, 19 Feb 2013 22:36:51 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11140 Troy Rising trilogy. Titled Live Free or Die, it is a story on a grand scale, a great symphony of a book but by an author who probably should stick to bagatelles. Though it started well and had my interest, it was a chore to get through most of it. There was enough creativity and verve for a short story, but by the end these had faded and I was glad to be finished.

It is the kind of story I imagine Ted Nugent would enjoy reading. Filled with gun-toting, rugged individuals who thrive on infuriating the Thought Police and composing odes to capitalism, the book might almost seem libertarian until one realizes just how besotted with militarism and American exceptionalism the author is. I have no problem with a man a bit rough around the edges, a touch short on couth and decorum, but Ringo at times goes beyond that into deliberate callousness, especially as regards sex and race.]]>

Live Free or Die by John Ringo

In 2010, John Ringo published the first book of the Troy Rising trilogy. Titled Live Free or Die, it is a story on a grand scale, a great symphony of a book but by an author who probably should stick to bagatelles. Though it started well and had my interest, it was a chore to get through most of it. There was enough creativity and verve for a short story, but by the end these had faded and I was glad to be finished.

It is the kind of story I imagine Ted Nugent would enjoy reading. Filled with gun-toting, rugged individuals who thrive on infuriating the Thought Police and composing odes to capitalism, the book might almost seem libertarian until one realizes just how besotted with militarism and American exceptionalism the author is. I have no problem with a man a bit rough around the edges, a touch short on couth and decorum, but Ringo at times goes beyond that into deliberate callousness, especially as regards sex and race.

There are many sensitive liberals who both need and deserve a little rattling from time to time, if only for our amusement, but there are just as many conservatives who could use a dose of circumspection, introspection, and nuance. I am tempted to suggest we lock Ringo in a room with his diametric opposites, to see if there might be a mutually beneficial rubbing off, but I am afraid someone would end up dying.

Live Free or Die begins with an alien race that establishes a portal in our solar system. They have no goals except to neutrally manage the portal, but the next race that appears is bent on imperial control of Earth. They begin by destroying some major cities and then demanding tribute. Though this species, the Horvath, is technologically backwards in comparison to other civilizations in the galaxy, they are yet far ahead of humans.

Enter Tyler Vernon, whose appellation had me thinking of Fight Club throughout. Tyler discovers that maple syrup is, for certain aliens, highly pleasurable and perhaps even more addictive. He wheels and he deals and, before word gets out, has nearly cornered the market on the sweet stuff. He goes on to make what is probably the greatest fortune ever to be compiled in a single human’s coffers. Then he turns to vengeance.

The idea is full of potential. I feel like I have typed that sentence on many occasions. The execution leaves something to be desired. I feel like I have typed that sentence just as many times.

John Ringo
John Ringo

The first act is far and away the best part of the book. It is the part where we are introduced to Tyler, and the part where he most feels like a person. We see him in negotiations with aliens, an enterprise that he carries out with flair and wit. The different parties are so adept at bullshitting and playacting while maintaining such an impeccable demeanor of politeness that one cannot help but be amused by the whole affair.

When Tyler discovers the effect of maple syrup on the extraterrestrials, we feel that tingle of anticipation for what is to come. However, what is to come of the maple syrup industry is dispatched in the first act of the book. Though he never relinquishes his interests in that market, Tyler moves on to other things, and this is where the book becomes dull.

Reading Live Free or Die is almost like reading a series of newspaper clippings about big events of the day. By this I mean that we run through a lot without getting into the details of a participant’s perspective. Ringo has little interest in appealing to our senses; instead, we see meeting after meeting full of one-dimensional characters who bring the reader up to date with their conversations. Dialogue is principally how the plot advances in the second and third acts of the book.

Live Free or Die needed more of this.
Live Free or Die needed more of this.

In Ridley Scott’s Alien, we are treated to one of the greatest shots in movie history. It is an extreme close up of Ellen Ripley’s grimy, mud-caked fingernails as her hand reaches up to grab the top of a ladder she is climbing. Her head pops up behind the hand a moment later. That shot encapsulates a lot of what the director was trying to do with the film. It brought all the gritty realism of the sets and stuck it right in the viewer’s face. There is virtually nothing of this in Live Free or Die.

While some interesting things happen, we jump from big event to big event with the ease of turning the pages of a newspaper. And in between these big events are meetings where plans are hatched and scientific details hammered out. The author gives the impression of someone who did a fair amount of research for his book, because there is a lot of science in it but nothing particularly interesting.

Though the idea is big enough to spawn a 5,000 page series of books, this one did not hook me. I do not plan on completing the trilogy. With so many other books to read, the opportunity cost is too high. The reader may enjoy how it begins, but that only heightens the disappointment later on.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Side Effects http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/02/12/movie-review-side-effects/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/02/12/movie-review-side-effects/#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 20:49:30 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=11120 Side Effects, uses the modern themes of high finance and psychiatry to fashion a plot that grows increasingly riveting as the story unfolds. The script features some very classic elements of tale-spinning executed with adroitness, while the director’s realistic, subtle style makes a great compliment. What is more, there are all kinds of themes and subtext of interest to the libertarian, who will nod knowingly throughout the film, even if the filmmakers take a neutral position and give no indication whether they are too.

There are a number of plot points that pull the rug out from underneath the viewer, turning points that completely alter what the movie appears to be about. By the time we find out the true nature of the story, a few of these twists have already occurred. This makes it difficult to know how to summarize the film.]]>

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Side Effects, uses the modern themes of high finance and psychiatry to fashion a plot that grows increasingly riveting as the story unfolds. The script features some very classic elements of tale-spinning executed with adroitness, while the director’s realistic, subtle style makes a great complement. What is more, there are all kinds of themes and subtext of interest to the libertarian, who will nod knowingly throughout the film, even if the filmmakers take a neutral position and give no indication whether they are too.

There are a number of plot points that pull the rug out from underneath the viewer, turning points that completely alter what the movie appears to be about. By the time we find out the true nature of the story, a few of these twists have already occurred. This makes it difficult to know how to summarize the film.

The movie is a suspense thriller of sorts, but distinct from most thrillers in the way it is executed. Soderbergh does not use slow-motion, close-up cuts or insistent music to belabor points and hit the audience over the head. He films and edits in a simple, subtle style. This is not to say that the movie is hard to follow, but Soderbergh does treat us like adults. When a character is dissimulating, for instance, this fact will not be spoonfed to the viewer. There will be no close-up of the actor’s face as he makes the kind of expression that has come to be a clue that he is tricking someone, the kind of expression that, if a person made it in real life, would instantly give him away.

MILD SPOILERS MILD SPOILERS MILD SPOILERS

It begins with a young woman, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), and her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) trying to get their lives going again after Martin’s stint in prison for the “crime” of insider trading. Emily suffers from depression and sees a psychiatrist (Jude Law as Jonathan Banks). When she tries a new drug called Ablixa, her symptoms seem to be cured, but are replaced by episodes of sleep walking. During one of these episodes, she murders her husband. Dr. Banks is called to testify on her behalf during the trial, but there are more surprises in store, and behind it all are indications of a conspiracy.

END OF SPOILERS

The acting, as one would expect, is the cinematic version of realistic. That is to say, you would never mistake it for a recording of real-life, extemporaneous interactions, but it is not overly dramatic and has just enough polish to make it run smoothly, not so much that the life is taken out of it. All the actors feel like real people and either make us care about them, hate them, or alternate between the two.

The best part is the construction of the plot, which melds two different realms together, Wall Street and pharmacology/psychiatry, to make something that will keep you fully invested and guessing throughout. One plot twist is followed by another, but all of them logical, and there is no shortage of twists. There came a point where I was afraid they would try to shake us up one more time even though the constraints in place by that point would not have permitted yet another twist that could be called plausible. Fortunately, there were no more to come. The filmmakers hit the optimal number and left it there. They show excellent restraint all around, from the judicious use of surprises to the way each scene is filmed.

As mentioned above, the story tellers take the neutral position of merely relating the tale. Their position is so neutral, in fact, that the story was well into the second act before I could be sure who the sympathetic protagonist was supposed to be. The portrayal and recording of each character give nothing away, with the possible exception of Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whose depiction on screen might be construed as giving the faintest of hints. At any rate, after seeing her a couple times an embryonic bias grew in my mind.

However neutrally the tale is related, the libertarian is going to have some strong opinions about things that transpire. Above all, he will note that however reprehensible the behavior of certain characters, their actions were triggered by a situation the government created. Other acts are made possible by government force, whose application in this circumstance is not entirely unjust but whose potential for abuse is obvious. It would give away too much to relate all the details, but I will say that the non-crime of insider trading figures prominently, as does the impermissible power of a psychiatrist to lock a person away whether they have committed a crime or not.

Rooney Mara stars as Emily Taylor.
Rooney Mara stars as Emily Taylor.

There are only two things I would point out as flaws in the film, and one of them is not truly a flaw so much as a missed opportunity. The scenes are brief flashes of plot points without much development in themselves. The overarching story is developed nicely, but the scenes do nothing other than serve this purpose. This is in stark contrast to a film like Inglourious Basterds, whose scenes are miniature virtuoso stories in themselves while also contributing to the larger story that makes up the movie. Side Effects has simple scenes without much set up and without much complexity of composition or of interaction. The greatest movies, in my opinion, are works of art at every level, and Side Effects falls short on that count.

There is also a question of believability in one aspect. There is an element of central importance in the plans of some of the characters that is largely out of their hands. They must trust fate to come through for them, or all will be for naught. Fate comes through, although this is not discovered until later, and I suppose this can be forgiven since the movie would not be itself without it. Nevertheless, a little more attention to this aspect might have yielded an improved product, although it is not a glaring problem.

Last year’s winter season gave us The Grey, which turned out to be, for my money, the best movie of the year. Side Effects is this winter season’s early surprise, and a pleasant one like its predecessor. There is nothing about it that demands a large screen viewing, but if a person enjoys the theater experience for itself, Side Effects is a good choice to make for that night out.

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PUP001 | Interview with Stephan Kinsella http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/24/pup001-interview-with-stephan-kinsella/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/24/pup001-interview-with-stephan-kinsella/#comments Thu, 24 Jan 2013 16:57:16 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10884
We invited Stephan on the show to discuss the problems of intellectual property and piracy in the Digital Age. But first we had to ask him about his love of science fiction and fantasy. We got him to mention some of his favorite authors and books (see below for a list), and we even talked about the Hobbit movie for a bit.

Then, at about 23:15 in, we dove into the meat of the interview. Stephan explained the historical origin of copyright (censorship) and patents (government grants of monopoly privilege, which is what copyright is now too really), how intellectual property has shaped and distorted the film and publishing industries, including Hollywood’s move to California to avoid patent disputes, and why reform is not enough. We also discussed how the Digital Age — the age of the internet, smartphone, ereader, and globalization — is making the evils of copyright and patents more obvious and acute while at the same time undermining traditional business models built around intellectual property. And finally, we explore ways artistic creators might earn a living in a world without intellectual property laws.]]>
Prometheus Unbound Podcast

At long last, here is the first episode of our new, original podcast.

First, Matthew and I break the ice by briefly talking about what we’ve been reading recently. I had just finished Kameron Hurley’s debut novel God’s War. Overall, I think it’s a good effort with an interesting story and world-building but is not without its flaws. Matthew had recently finished Live Free or Die by John Ringo. It was a 2011 Prometheus Award finalist, not a winner as I mistakenly thought while recording the podcast and, according to Matthew, didn’t deserve to be.

Our interview with Stephan takes up most of the episode. It’s around 53 minutes long and starts 9:40 minutes in. For those who don’t already know him, Stephan Kinsella is a patent attorney and prominent libertarian legal scholar. He is best known for his opposition to intellectual property.

We invited Stephan on the show to discuss the problems of intellectual property and piracy in the Digital Age. But first we had to ask him about his love of science fiction and fantasy. We got him to mention some of his favorite authors and books (see below for a list), and we even talked about the Hobbit movie for a bit.

Then, at about 23:15 in, we dove into the meat of the interview. Stephan explained the historical origin of copyright (censorship) and patents (government grants of monopoly privilege, which is what copyright is now too really), how intellectual property has shaped and distorted the film and publishing industries, including Hollywood’s move to California to avoid patent disputes, and why reform is not enough. We also discussed how the Digital Age — the age of the internet, smartphone, ereader, and globalization — is making the evils of copyright and patents more obvious and acute while at the same time undermining traditional business models built around intellectual property. And finally, we explore ways artistic creators might earn a living in a world without intellectual property laws.

Stephan Kinsella, IP Man
Stephan Kinsella, IP Man

More about Stephan Kinsella and Intellectual Property

Authors and Books Recommended by Stephan Kinsella

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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/24/pup001-interview-with-stephan-kinsella/feed/ 2 Censorship,copyright,fantasy fiction,God's War,intellectual property,interviews,John Ringo,Kameron Hurley,libertarian fiction,libertarian sf,Live Free or Die,monopoly For those who don’t already know him, Stephan Kinsella is a patent attorney and prominent libertarian legal scholar. He is best known for his opposition to intellectual property. We invited Stephan on the show to discuss the problems of intellectu... For those who don’t already know him, Stephan Kinsella is a patent attorney and prominent libertarian legal scholar. He is best known for his opposition to intellectual property. We invited Stephan on the show to discuss the problems of intellectual property and piracy in the Digital Age. But first we had to ask him about his love of science fiction and fantasy. We got him to mention some of his favorite authors and books (see below for a list), and we even talked about the Hobbit movie for a bit. Then, at about 23:15 in, we dove into the meat of the interview. Stephan explained the historical origin of copyright (censorship) and patents (government grants of monopoly privilege, which is what copyright is now too really), how intellectual property has shaped and distorted the film and publishing industries, including Hollywood’s move to California to avoid patent disputes, and why reform is not enough. We also discussed how the Digital Age — the age of the internet, smartphone, ereader, and globalization — is making the evils of copyright and patents more obvious and acute while at the same time undermining traditional business models built around intellectual property. And finally, we explore ways artistic creators might earn a living in a world without intellectual property laws. Geoffrey Allan Plauché clean 1:05:02 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=10884-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
MOVIE REVIEW | Cloud Atlas http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/18/movie-review-cloud-atlas/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/18/movie-review-cloud-atlas/#comments Fri, 18 Jan 2013 05:16:43 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10864
Each story of the larger tale is engaging by itself. That is, the scenario created is interesting enough and worthy of its own movie. The scenes are shot well, and thoughtfully, and the worlds, ranging from far in the past to far in the future, are imaginative conceptions where many other stories might take place. Given this format, it is difficult to summarize the film, which is just as well because watching it becomes more of an exercise in identifying themes and spotting parallels than in following a plot.]]>

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, a movie based on the novel of the same name, is a bundle of stories with interconnecting threads meant to form a greater pattern, a message to the viewer. We are all in this together, we conclude by the movie’s end. Sometimes we are nice to each other, and sometimes we are not, but either way our actions resonate into the future, even as they were partly shaped by actions from the past that resonated into the present. The filmmakers are successful in creating this pattern, but as a piece of entertainment and a storytelling vehicle, the movie itself achieves only limited success.

Each story of the larger tale is engaging by itself. That is, the scenario created is interesting enough and worthy of its own movie. The scenes are shot well, and thoughtfully, and the worlds, ranging from far in the past to far in the future, are imaginative conceptions where many other stories might take place. Given this format, it is difficult to summarize the film, which is just as well because watching it becomes more of an exercise in identifying themes and spotting parallels than in following a plot.

The cutting between stories is done in such a way as to prevent momentum from accruing. While I have read many good books that switched between multiple characters to good effect, these books had the characters as part of the same story, so that an advance in the plot of one character’s story had immediate and important ramifications for the other characters, wherever they were in their story arcs. Each chapter usually had a beginning, middle, and end, as if it were its own short story, and finished with some sort of hook to make you regret leaving that character.

In Cloud Atlas, a character in one tale might compose music that another character hears decades later, but the connection is only important for the theme; it has no bearing on the obstacles to be overcome in the endeavor to reach a goal. With only a handful of exceptions, the characters in later times are not even aware of the ones who anteceded them. Imagine taking scenes from Amistad, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Miller’s Crossing, and Three Days of the Condor and mixing them together into one film. As far as the plot goes, this is almost exactly how isolated each story is from the others, how little they have to do with one another.

This problem is exacerbated by the differences in tone of the different pieces. One of the strands of story is comical, almost farcical. Another is dark with hints of terror, while a third is a suspenseful mystery. It is jarring enough to cut between them while disregarding plot rhythm, but we must endure radical and abrupt tonal shifts as well.

Thematically, it is a different story, and the themes and parallels are what drive the editing. Two characters are shown to be in a similar position, and the editor cuts back and forth between them as they navigate their circumstances, separated by time but connected by their humanity. The parallel is what they want us to see, and if they leave for a third perspective at a propitious time for the plot, it is merely by happenstance. They are as likely to cut away at an awkward moment pacing-wise, and one senses that this does not concern them.

It is a unique but not altogether satisfactory reversal. A movie is usually about the plot and characters; everything else must be adjusted to accommodate them. Cloud Atlas is about the theme and the story is cut up to accommodate that concern. While I was not unmoved by the skill with which they developed their themes, I was never fully convinced by that approach, for the same reason I might admire a chef’s sauce but wonder why he filled a bowl with it and sprinkled some meat on top.

The theme itself I find partially unconvincing. We are indeed connected in a way, and our actions, good and bad, have repercussions so let’s all be nice to each other. However, from the observable facts that we can exert influence on each other, even across time, and are all part of the same human story, the filmmakers draw the conclusion that we are one. A virtuoso composer, astonished at the musical ideas that his apprentice has turned into a sextet, The Cloud Atlas Sextet, claims that the apprentice must have absorbed the ideas from him, the composer. A sextet like that, he claims, could never be the result of a man, but can be claimed by all of us. The apprentice agrees with him.

This is nothing but nonsense. Cloud Atlas seeks to discredit the idea of a separate identity. It does not follow from the composer’s influence on the apprentice that he can claim partial authorship of a work he was not even aware was in existence as it was being composed. Unless the work is truly copied, it is the work of the apprentice and merely influenced by the composer. It is telling, I think, that writers and directors are able to show our influences on each other without having to state them, but when it comes time to argue that we are not merely influential to each other, but are actually part of the same whole, they must resort to making the argument explicit. They cannot show it, because it simply is not true.

There is nothing wrong with a character explicitly stating something in a work, but only as a sort of summary of the things the work itself has been demonstrating all along. At no point is anything like a great human oneness established, so when the composer makes the claim, or a slave girl makes a plea over the radio to all human kind along the same lines, it seems almost to come out of nowhere.

The many roles of Hugo Weaving.
The many roles of Hugo Weaving.

Though there are many roles in the film, there are comparatively few actors because each actor performs in various roles throughout. This is a wise move in that it supports the notions the filmmakers are trying to get across, even if some of the notions are silly, but it has gotten them into a bit of trouble with the PC crowd. Some characters, you see, are made up to be of a different race, and this simply must be racist.

This is about as absurd as the notion of the great human oneness. Each and every human being, no matter the race, gender, or sexual orientation, is treated with dignity as a member of the species. This is not to say that all the characters are sympathetic, but they are not mistreated by the director, nor made to conform to offensive stereotypes, nor given less attention in their realization because they are of an unimportant class or ethnicity.

There is nothing of racism here, even if white actors made up as other races has been done in a racist way in the past or done for racist reasons. The important thing is how it is handled, and here it is not in denigration of anyone, so it is not racist. Just because I stab a Congressman with a steak knife does not mean you cannot use a steak knife for something innocuous. The mere act is neutral. I found some of the makeup to look ridiculous, and it took me out of the movie, but that was my only complaint with it.

All in all, the movie is a visual feast, full of nuance and careful craftsmanship, but frustrating and ultimately unfulfilling. Its principal problem is that it is a story with themes, and yet it is fashioned as if it were a theme with some stories. That, at any rate, is my opinion, which I alone am responsible for.

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EDITORIAL | What’s New and Different in 2013 http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/17/editorial-whats-new-and-different-in-2013/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/17/editorial-whats-new-and-different-in-2013/#comments Thu, 17 Jan 2013 06:35:45 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10777

The new year has started off slow for us at Prometheus Unbound as we prepare some major new features and changes, but things are about to take off and I think 2013 is going to be an exciting one.

The Prometheus Unbound Podcast

The Prometheus Unbound Podcast

We’ve been republishing some science-fiction-related episodes from the Mises Institute and Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition podcast, but within the next couple of days we’ll be launching our own original podcast. You’ve probably already listened to our promo for the podcast. We hope you like it and will help us promote the podcast by sharing it around to anyone you think might be interested in liberty and speculative fiction.

For our first episode, we have for you an interview with libertarian legal theorist and patent attorney Stephan Kinsella. If you’re not familiar with Stephan and his work, you may be wondering why we interviewed a patent attorney. Well, Stephan is a leading figure in the movement against intellectual property. After talking about his favorite science fiction and fantasy novels, and the new Hobbit movie, we go on to discuss with him the history and origin of intellectual property; how copyright has shaped and distorted the publishing and film industries; how the internet, piracy, and advancing technology are undermining the intellectual property regime and the antiquated business models built on it; the rise of self-publishing; and more.

In our second episode, we’ll be discussing libertarian speculative fiction. What qualifies a work of fiction as libertarian? What are the best, or our favorite, works of libertarian speculative fiction? Do libertarian authors tend to be too heavy-handed and preachy?  Does the Prometheus Award to a good job of finding and promoting libertarian science fiction? Why are so many winners of the award written by authors who are not themselves libertarian? We’ll seek to address these questions and more.

And in episode three, in February, we’ll be interviewing Jeffrey Tucker, the editor of Laissez Faire Books.

Subscribe to our podcast-only rss feed to get episodes directly on your phone, tablet, or mp3 player: http://feeds.feedburner.com/prometheusunbound/podcast.

We hope you enjoy the show and will help us spread the word.

Site Redesign

I’m redesigning the site from the ground up on the new version 2.0 of the Thesis Theme Framework for WordPress. I think it will be much more slick, professional-looking, and powerful than the current design.

Along with the podcast logo, I had a professional create a banner for the website. We’ll finally have a proper custom image to go in the header instead of the generic, out-of-place text of the title and subtitle that we’ve had for the past couple of years.

Expect to see Prometheus Unbound 2.0 make its debut sometime in January.

If you want a sneak peak, hit me up for a link to the development site in our Google+ community.

Google+ Community

While we do have our own forums integrated into the site, Google recently launched communities (or groups) on Google+ and they seem to be really taking off. We’ve had a Google+ community since Day One. If you haven’t checked it out and joined yet, please so do. We’d love to hang out with you there.

In my opinion, Google+ communities have better layout and functionality, conducive toward having conversations, than Facebook groups. I’ve set up a number of categories to facilitate sharing and discussion. Google search within communities also makes finding old posts and conversations very easy.

I’ve been sharing a lot of stuff to it that I used to share to the general public on Google+. While both I and Prometheus Unbound have a presence on Facebook, I’m really not a fan of that social network and I’m only sporadically active on it.  I expect the Google+ community will become our home away from home, so to speak.

I plan to make use of our Google+ community and Google+ Hangouts in a new way in connection with our Lightmonthly Read book club, so read on.

The Lightmonthly Read

The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A. Heinlein

We haven’t had as much participation in the book club as I had expected and hoped, not only in the discussions but also in the book selection process. Reading an extra book every month as well as having to craft several extra posts and emails for the club has also proven time consuming. Over time I allowed my own active participation to slip and both Matthew and I have been busier than usual lately. As a result, the book club has effectively been on hiatus for the past couple of months.

I don’t want to completely shut down the book club, however, with the possibility of reviving it sometime down the road when we have a larger and more actively involved community that wants it. I had hoped that the book club would help build such a community. It still might. But I need to decrease the workload and streamline the book selection process.

So here is how the Lightmonthly Read is going to work going forward in 2013. Instead of a community nomination and voting process, I will simply announce a book that I’m going to read and review anyway. I’ll post my initial reactions in the Lightmonthly Read forum as I read it. And those who are interested can read along and discuss it with me. Sometimes Matthew might take my place. We might even both announce a different book and lead a discussion around it at the same time on occasion.

I tend to read several books at once. I’m still reading Robert Heinlein’s short fiction collection The Man Who Sold the Moon from the last Lightmonthly Read. I’m reading the stories in order according to internal chronology, not their arrangement in the book, so check out my post in the forum if you want to follow along. I’ve already posted my reactions to the first story, “Life-Line,” as well.

The Human Division: The B-Team by John Scalzi

Over the next few months I will be reading John Scalzi’s new serialized novel, The Human Division, in his Old Man’s War setting (a novel I very much enjoyed). The first installment was released this week and a new one will be out every Tuesday for the next 12 weeks. They’re $0.99 each on Amazon and Google Play. If you like Heinleinian military science fiction, I think you’ll like these books.

I hope you’ll join me in reading and discussing The Man Who Sold the Moon and/or The Human Division.

Also, although I won’t be discussing it as part of the book club, I’m currently reading a short nonfiction book by Seth Godin titled Tribes. Although this was not the author’s intent, I’m finding the book to be full of inspiration and positive implications for libertarian anarchism. If you’re curious to know more, you can wait for my review (on my own website) or chat with me on Sunday.

I will begin hosting a weekly Google+ Hangout every Sunday at 4pm EST. It’ll be kind of like office hours in that I’ll open the Hangout and keep it open for about an hour, whether or not anyone shows up. Pop in if you want to chat or just to say hello. Stay the whole time or only for a few minutes. We can talk about the current Lightmonthly Read, libertarianism and speculative fiction, writing and publishing, or just about anything. It’s up to you. These weekly Hangouts will be informal and unrecorded. I hope to see you there.

Main RSS Feed

A while back, when we moved the site from prometheusreview.com to prometheus-unbound.org, we also switched to a new Feedburner rss feed url. I mentioned then that we would be shutting the old feed url down in January 2013. Well, that time is upon us. So if you haven’t already switched to the new feed url, please do so now. I’ve deleted the old feed and set up a permanent redirect to the new one.

Old: http://feeds.feedburner.com/prometheusreview

New/Current: http://feeds.feedburner.com/prometheusunbound/posts

Call for Submissions

Matthew and I can’t do this alone. We need your help. We’re looking to build a thriving community around Prometheus Unbound and we’re hoping that some of you will become not only readers and listeners but also contributors to both the webzine and the podcast.

For the webzine, we’re looking for news; reviews; interviews; and articles on fiction, science, technology, history, writing, publishing, and more. Even if you can only do one post per month, or even just one post period, your contribution(s) will be greatly appreciated.

For the podcast, we’re looking for listener feedback, audio reviews, and the occasional guest for our themed discussion episodes.1 Future discussion topics will include dystopian fiction, military science fiction, and banking in fiction. We’re open to suggestions for later episodes, so please send yours our way and let us know if you’re interested in being a guest on the show.

Here’s to a great 2013. I look forward to talking about libertarianism and speculative fiction with you.


  1. Please don’t use your phone or the microphone built into your computer or webcam for the last two, however; get a good, but not necessarily expensive, dynamic or condenser microphone like the Audio Technica ATR2100 and a pop filter. Headphones of some sort will also be helpful for guests to prevent feedback and echoing. 

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PUP000 | The Prometheus Unbound Podcast Promo http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/15/pup000-the-prometheus-unbound-podcast-promo/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/15/pup000-the-prometheus-unbound-podcast-promo/#comments Tue, 15 Jan 2013 10:17:54 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10835

Matthew and I recorded a brief promotional spot for the Prometheus Unbound Podcast. It includes part of the intro and outro that you will soon become familiar with as well as information about what listeners can expect from the podcast.

Join us as we

  • interview your favorite authors, editors, and libertarian scholars;
  • and discuss science fiction and fantasy in books, movies, and television.

You’ll enjoy segments like

  • Book of the Month, in which we recommend a great book that ties in with that episode’s theme;
  • Today’s Tomorrows Writing Prompt, where we take a current trend in society, explain its causes, and extrapolate how it will play out 10, 50, 100 years into the future;
  • and Fiction Forecasts, in which we talk about upcoming books, movies, and tv shows, and predict our reactions.

As well as

  • audio reviews;
  • tips on writing, marketing. publishing, tools of the trade;
  • and listener feedback that we read or play and respond to on the show.

We put a “video” version of the promo on YouTube for those who prefer to listen and share that way:

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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/15/pup000-the-prometheus-unbound-podcast-promo/feed/ 2 fantasy fiction,libertarian fiction,podcasts,promo,science fiction,The Prometheus Unbound Podcast Matthew and I recorded a brief promotional spot for the Prometheus Unbound Podcast. It includes part of the intro and outro that you will soon become familiar with as well as information about what listeners can expect from the podcast. Matthew and I recorded a brief promotional spot for the Prometheus Unbound Podcast. It includes part of the intro and outro that you will soon become familiar with as well as information about what listeners can expect from the podcast. Geoffrey Allan Plauché clean 2:01 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=10835-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
THE LIBERTARIAN TRADITION PODCAST | Ayn Rand and the Early Libertarian Movement http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/14/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-ayn-rand-and-the-early-libertarian-movement/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/14/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-ayn-rand-and-the-early-libertarian-movement/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 23:56:45 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10807 Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller

In this January 12, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses the important role played by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in the early libertarian movement.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach discusses Rand’s role in the early libertarian movement. Along the way he highlights Heller’s defense of the quality of Rand’s writing against mainstream literary critics. He goes on to argue that Heller’s book is the better of the two and explains what mars Burns’s book. He plays a couple of clips of Rand herself explaining why she and her philosophy of Objectivism are not conservative, and challenges the coherence of Burns’s conception of the American Right.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her importance in the libertarian tradition, this episode offers a good primer on the subject as well as on what differentiates libertarianism and conservatism.

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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/14/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-ayn-rand-and-the-early-libertarian-movement/feed/ 0 Anne C. Heller,Anthem,Atlas Shrugged,Ayn Rand,Ayn Rand and the World She Made,conservatism,Goddess of the Market,Jeff Riggenbach,Jennifer Burns,libertarian fiction,libertarianism,Ludwig von Mises Institute In this January 12, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute's online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses the important role played by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in the early libertarian movement. In this January 12, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute's online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses the important role played by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand in the early libertarian movement. In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns's Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach discusses Rand's role in the early libertarian movement. Along the way he highlights Heller's defense of the quality of Rand's writing against mainstream literary critics. He goes on to argue that Heller's book is the better of the two and explains what mars Burns's book. He plays a couple of clips of Rand herself explaining why she and her philosophy of Objectivism are not conservative, and challenges the coherence of Burns's conception of the American Right. If you're unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her importance in the libertarian tradition, this episode offers a good primer on the subject as well as on what differentiates libertarianism and conservatism. Jeff Riggenbach clean 20:30 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=10807-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
THE LIBERTARIAN TRADITION PODCAST | A History of Ayn Rand http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/14/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-a-history-of-ayn-rand/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/14/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-a-history-of-ayn-rand/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 21:00:17 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10792 Goddess of the Market Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns

In this January 6, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach takes us on a biographical tour of the life of libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article like most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns’s Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller’s Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach goes on to chronicle Rand’s early life in Soviet Russia, how she got out and immigrated to the United States, her work in Hollywood and her Broadway play, Night of January 16th, and her marriage to Frank O’Connor.

Riggenbach then covers the publication of her four major works of fiction: We the Living, Anthem (a novella), The Fountainhead (adapted to film with a screenplay by Rand), and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. He also discusses Rand’s relationship with Nathaniel Branden, the formation of her inner circle, the publication of Rand’s nonfiction works, and the growth of the Objectivist community.

All that in 20 minutes! Phew!

If you’re unfamiliar with Ayn Rand and her work and life, this episode offers a good overview.

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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2013/01/14/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-a-history-of-ayn-rand/feed/ 0 Anne C. Heller,Anthem,Atlas Shrugged,Ayn Rand,Ayn Rand and the World She Made,Goddess of the Market,Jeff Riggenbach,Jennifer Burns,libertarian fiction,libertarianism,Ludwig von Mises Institute,Mises Media In this January 6, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute's online media library, Jeff Riggenbach takes us on a biographical tour of the life of libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. - In this January 6, 2010 episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute's online media library, Jeff Riggenbach takes us on a biographical tour of the life of libertarian novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. In light of then recently released books on Ayn Rand — Jennifer Burns's Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right and Anne C. Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made — Riggenbach goes on to chronicle Rand's early life in Soviet Russia, how she got out and immigrated to the United States, her work in Hollywood and her Broadway play, Night of January 16th, and her marriage to Frank O'Connor. Riggenbach then covers the publication of her four major works of fiction: We the Living, Anthem (a novella), The Fountainhead (adapted to film with a screenplay by Rand), and her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged. He also discusses Rand's relationship with Nathaniel Branden, the formation of her inner circle, the publication of Rand's nonfiction works, and the growth of the Objectivist community. Jeff Riggenbach clean 19:35 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=10792-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
THE LIBERTARIAN TRADITION PODCAST | Yevgeny Zamyatin: Libertarian Novelist http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-yevgeny-zamyatin-libertarian-novelist/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-yevgeny-zamyatin-libertarian-novelist/#comments Fri, 28 Dec 2012 21:25:46 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10671 We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian science fiction novel, We, belongs in the libertarian tradition.

You can also read the transcript below:

When we think of the libertarian tradition, we tend naturally to think of political philosophers and economists of the past. But surely one part of the libertarian tradition belongs to novelists and other fiction writers.

In earlier podcasts in this series, I’ve already discussed two such figures: Ayn Rand, whose 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, is, arguably, one of the half-dozen most important libertarian works of the 20th century, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the professor of philology at Oxford whose giant fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, published just a few years before Atlas Shrugged, is arguably the most culturally influential single novel published in English in the 20th century.

This week, I’d like to talk about a writer whose level of influence has been much more modest, but whose indirect influence has nevertheless been considerable. Regular listeners to this series know what I mean by indirect influence. I gave an example of it just last week, when I discussed the life and career of Isabel Paterson. Paterson’s libertarian classic, The God of the Machine, has never reached a wide readership, but, thanks to the effort of her protégé, Ayn Rand, Paterson herself has influenced millions of readers who have never even seen a copy of The God of the Machine.

The writer I’m talking about today wrote a novel in which a citizen of a totalitarian state of the future meets a woman and becomes obsessed with her. He begins a forbidden sexual affair with this woman, meeting with her illicitly in a very old part of the city where the intrusive gaze of the all-encompassing government doesn’t seem to penetrate. Through his relationship with her, he becomes involved in the organized underground opposition to the all-encompassing government — an opposition he had never previously realized existed at all. Ultimately, he and the woman are caught, imprisoned, and tortured. In the end, he is sincerely repentant of his crimes and is completely devoted to the all-encompassing government that has done him all this harm.

A familiar story, no? Can you tell me what novel I’ve just described? Ah, I see a hand in the back of the room. Yes? “George Orwell’s 1984,” you cry out confidently. And your answer is correct, but only as far as it goes, which is, perhaps, not quite as far as you thought it would.

That is a description of the plot of 1984, which was published, as we all know, in 1949. But Orwell adapted the plot of 1984 from another novel, one originally published 25 years earlier in 1924. That earlier novel was entitled, simply, We. It was the work of a not-very-well-known Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin was not very well known outside Russia when We was first published, and he was still not very well known in the West 25 years later, when Orwell published 1984. He remains not very well known in the West to this day.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by contrast, is extremely well known in the West today, particularly in England and the United States, where words and phrases like “Newspeak,” “doublethink,” “thoughtcrime,” and “Big Brother Is Watching You” are familiar to millions who have never read the novel from which they come.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

And there is no getting around the similarities between 1984 and Zamyatin’s We. The leader of the totalitarian state is called “The Benefactor” instead of “Big Brother,” but the basic events of the story are fundamentally the same. And we know that George Orwell did read We several years before he wrote 1984. As Natasha Randall, the translator of the current Modern Library edition of Zamyatin’s novel, told an interviewer for New York City public radio station WNYC in 2006, Orwell made no secret of his admiration for We. Randall explains,

Orwell certainly read it. Actually, he read it I think in the early ’40s, so about 8 years before he wrote his 1984. He had said that it was a great inspiration to him in writing 1984. Orwell also said that he thinks that Huxley was lying when he said he hadn’t read it, because Huxley did maintain that he’d never read We, though of the two — Brave New World and 1984— Brave New World is very similar in lots of ways.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, first published in 1932, is extremely similar to We in a number of ways. Here’s one: the World State in Brave New World is a technocratic one, dedicated to industrial efficiency and mass production. In the words of one critic,

The World State is built upon the principles of Henry Ford’s assembly line — mass production, homogeneity, predictability, and consumption of disposable consumer goods. At the same time as the World State lacks any supernatural-based religions, Ford himself is revered as a deity, and characters celebrate Ford Day and swear oaths by his name (e.g., “By Ford!”). The World State calendar numbers years in the “AF” era — “After Ford” — with year 1 AF being equivalent to 1908 AD, the year in which Ford’s first Model T rolled off of his assembly line.

In Zamyatin’s We, industrial efficiency and mass production are the bywords of life in the technocratic One State. The narrator and main character of Zamyatin’s story, the engineer D-503, tells us that “unquestionably the greatest genius of the ancients” was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the original factory and office “efficiency expert,” who invented time-and-motion studies and took pride in increasing the output of any workplace through what he called “scientific management.” Taylor’s only fault, according to D-503, was that “his thought did not reach far enough to extend his method to all of life, to every step, to the twenty-four hours of every day.”

Another example: in Huxley’s World State, sex is freely available and is, in fact, encouraged. But it is far from the monogamous sex we still regard as the norm in our own society. A popular slogan in the World State is: “everyone belongs to everyone else.” This is repeated incessantly, the formation of families is discouraged, marriage is regarded as antisocial, and, as one perceptive critic of Brave New World describes it, both “sexual competition and emotional, romantic relationships are obsolete.”

In the One State of Zamyatin’s We, first described in print eight years before Brave New World, things are remarkably similar. “Everyone belongs to everyone else.” If you want to have sex with someone, all you have to do is register for that person with the One State, and that person will show up at your room at a prearranged time with a pink ticket for you to tear in half before you get down to business. You’ll have 30 minutes to take care of business, and you’ll find that any kind of privacy is in pretty short supply.

Here is how translator Natasha Randall described the physical appearance of the One State in that 2006 WNYC interview:

The world he creates in We is very clean and very blue. And it’s an urban state, where essentially all of mankind has been driven inside of one great big green wall. And all of nature is banished to the outside of those walls, so you won’t find a flower or an animal within this green wall. And all the buildings in the One State — which is this urban state — are transparent, so one of the nicest lines in the book describes looking up at these transparent buildings where you’ll see people walking on the 20th floor and it looks as though they’re swimming, because there’s no floor beneath them.

As D-503 puts it, “we live in full view, perpetually awash with light, in among our transparent walls, woven from the sparkling air. We have nothing to hide from one another.” Even the citizens of the One State, however, do feel the need for a little privacy on occasion. As Natasha Randall notes, in Zamyatin’s novel,

There are actually times when individuals are allowed to lower blinds in their rooms. And that’s when someone arrives with a pink ticket.

So we know Orwell read and admired We before he wrote 1984, and we don’t know for sure whether Huxley read it before writing Brave New World, but it seems likely.

Yevgeny Zamyatin

We also don’t know for sure whether Ayn Rand read Zamyatin’s novel before writing her own story of totalitarianism in the far future, Anthem, which was first published in 1938, fourteen years after the first publication of We. (Rand revised Anthem slightly a few years later for the second edition, which appeared in 1946.) Did she read We before 1938?

In an excellent article, “Zamyatin and Rand,” published in 2003 in the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies and now available online, Peter Saint-Andre argues that Zamyatin’s We was “quite likely” a formative influence on Ayn Rand. He points out that We was completed in 1921, the same year Rand entered the University of Petrograd as a student of history, philosophy, and literature. Rand’s college years, 1921–1924, were, as Saint-Andre notes, “the years of Zamyatin’s greatest fame and influence” in Petrograd. “He was at that time,” Saint-Andre writes,

a hero to writers young and old, admired for his fierce independence and literary individualism, for he was virtually the only literary figure in Russia to voice his resistance to collectivism and conformity. Zamyatin was in those years a highly public literary and philosophical presence in Petersburg, and it is quite possible that Rand read some of his stories and essays … [or] attended one of his many public lectures.

“It also seems probable,” Saint-Andre continues, “that Rand read Zamyatin’s We in the English translation by Gregory Zilboorg published in 1924, for in a 1934 letter to her agent regarding the manuscript for We The Living … she said ‘I have watched very carefully all the literature on [the] new Russia, that has appeared in English.’”

If she did read We during the 1920s or ’30s, Rand probably read it in English. It was not published in Russian during that time, you see. It was not published in Russian, in fact, until 1952. It was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988. After finishing the novel in 1921, Zamyatin found that no publisher was willing to risk publishing it. He circulated it in manuscript around Petrograd, but according to translator Natasha Randall, a teenage university student majoring in history was unlikely to have seen it in that format.

It probably was read by the circle of writers in Saint Petersburg at the time, but it won’t have gotten very much further.

By 1924, the situation had not only not improved — it had actually become worse. The Bolshevik government had banned We. Now it wasn’t just a matter of publishers being too cowardly to bring the book out; now it was a certainty that Zamyatin’s book would not be printed and sold in the Soviet Union. Natasha Randall says there is irony in this, because Zamyatin had run afoul of the Czar’s censors early in his career and had become a Bolshevik himself out of a desire to bring down the Czar’s government.

He was a very ardent revolutionary. In fact, what Zamyatin was was a person who believed in permanent revolution. Once people decide that change no longer needs to occur, that’s where the problem begins. So when the revolution started to stagnate was when Zamyatin became very disenchanted with it, and he wrote these brilliant essays, actually, that are really readable and super entertaining about how one should be a permanent heretic.

Silenced in his native land by the Bolsheviks, desperate for readers, Zamyatin consented to an offer to publish his novel in English translation. It was this English-language edition, brought out in London in 1924, that was the first appearance of We in print. Ayn Rand spent a few days in London en route to America from Petrograd in 1926. She might have picked up a copy of We while she was there. Or she might have read that very same British edition of Zamyatin’s novel in the United States later in the ’20s or in the early ’30s.

“If you want to have sex with someone, all you have to do is register for that person with the One State, and that person will show up at your room at a prearranged time with a pink ticket for you to tear in half before you get down to business.”

For even if Rand hadn’t been in a position to read We in manuscript while a student at Petrograd University, she certainly knew Zamyatin by reputation. As Saint-Andre points out, Zamyatin “was … a highly public literary and philosophical presence” in Petrograd in the early ’20s, when Ayn Rand was a college student already dreaming of escaping from the Soviet Union and moving to America.

But whatever we decide about whether Rand read We in the ’20s or ’30s, there’s simply no getting around the obvious similarities between Zamyatin’s novel and Rand’s Anthem. Both are set in the far future in a completely collectivized totalitarian society. Both are told in the first person by their main characters, in We by the mathematician and engineer D-503, in Anthem by the engineer Equality 7-2521. Anthem is the only work of fiction written by Rand to be written in the first person. In We, D-503 meets a woman, I-330, and is led inexorably down a path to rebellion against the government of the society in which he lives. In Anthem, Equality 7-2521 meets a woman, Liberty 5-3000, and is led inexorably down a path to rebellion against the government of the society in which he lives.

In the society in which Equality 7-2521 lives, the first-person singular pronoun — I — has ceased to exist. In D-503′s society, in We, the pronoun is still in use. But the mindset of the two far future societies is very much cut from the same cloth. “Each morning,” Zamyatin’s D-503 writes,

with six-wheeled precision, at the exact same hour, at the exact same minute, we, the millions, rise as one. At the exact same hour, we uni-millionly start work and uni-millionly stop work. And, merged into a single, million-handed body, at the exact same Table-appointed second, we bring spoons to our lips, we go out for our walk and go to the auditorium, to the Taylor Exercise Hall, go off to sleep…. The small, bright, crystal bell in the bed’s headboard rings: 07:00. It’s time to get up. On the right, on the left, through the glass walls, it’s as if I am seeing myself, my room, my nightshirt, my motions, repeating themselves a thousand times. This cheers me up: one sees oneself as part of an enormous, powerful unit.… We walk — one million-headed body — with a humble joy in each of us, similar, I imagine, to what molecules, atoms, and phagocytes experience. The Christians of the ancient world (our only predecessors, as imperfect as they were) also understood this: humility is a virtue and pride is a vice; ‘WE’ is divine, and ‘I’ is satanic.

Yevgeny Zamyatin was born in rural Russia on February 20, 1884. He died just a little more than 53 years later, in exile, in Paris, on March 10, 1937. His only novel was not widely read during his brief life, nor is it widely read today. It’s become one of those classics people would rather acknowledge as classics than actually sit down to read. But it has exercised an immense influence, especially in the English-speaking world, thanks to writers like George Orwell, who did read it, and writers like Aldous Huxley and Ayn Rand, who probably read it. By influencing their more famous dystopian novels — 1984Brave New World, and Anthem — We has made itself an honored place in the libertarian tradition.

[This article was first published online as a Mises Daily article and is transcribed from the Libertarian Tradition podcast episode "Yevgeny Zamyatin: Libertarian Novelist."]

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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-yevgeny-zamyatin-libertarian-novelist/feed/ 0 1984,Aldous Huxley,Anthem,Atlas Shrugged,Ayn Rand,Big Brother,Brave New World,dystopian fiction,George Orwell,Jeff Riggenbach,libertarian fiction,libertarian sf Yevgeny Zamyatin was born in rural Russia on February 20, 1884. He died just a little more than 53 years later, in exile, in Paris, on March 10, 1937. His only novel was not widely read during his brief life, nor is it widely read today. Yevgeny Zamyatin was born in rural Russia on February 20, 1884. He died just a little more than 53 years later, in exile, in Paris, on March 10, 1937. His only novel was not widely read during his brief life, nor is it widely read today. It’s become one of those classics people would rather acknowledge as classics than actually sit down to read. But it has exercised an immense influence, especially in the English-speaking world, thanks to writers like George Orwell, who did read it, and writers like Aldous Huxley and Ayn Rand, who probably read it. By influencing their more famous dystopian novels — 1984, Brave New World, and Anthem — We has made itself an honored place in the libertarian tradition. Jeff Riggenbach clean 19:58 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=10671-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
MOVIE REVIEW | Blade Runner http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/movie-review-blade-runner/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/movie-review-blade-runner/#comments Fri, 28 Dec 2012 08:18:55 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10647

Blade Runner

There are many elements of science fiction that find their way into stories that are not science fiction. Many times, enthusiasts of the genre will try to claim these works as part of the family. Atlas Shrugged and 1984 are examples. The same thing happens, only more frequently, with noir. Sometimes, the mere presence of a morally ambiguous protagonist is enough for a piece to be so labeled.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, however, is a rare work — quite possibly unique — that may fit both bills. While perhaps not classically noir, there is no denying a strong noir presence, and its science fiction credentials are beyond question, what with the flying cars and androids, called replicants, and off-world colonies. As a devotee of both genres, I quite naturally am a fan of the director’s third film, but watching it is an experience both frustrating and pleasant. It is a good movie, but not the great one it could have been.

Alien, Scott’s second feature, is a masterpiece whose best form made it to the silver screen. One simply cannot imagine a better version. Blade Runner, however, is a movie whose perfect version was never realized, whose potential was never reached. That mirage of the ideal Blade Runner intrudes on my thoughts every so often, and I find myself reaching for the DVD, thinking that perhaps this will be the viewing where I get it, where I notice that missing part or make that important connection.

It never works out that way. As usually happens in life, experience trumps hope. The movie simply is not as good as it ought to have been, and the reason is the plot. This is all the more tragic given that Philip K. Dick, in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, had already provided a first-rate plot that was later diluted over multiple drafts of the screeenplay.

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a blade runner, a police detective who hunts down and kills replicants. When a group of four replicants go on a killing spree and escape to Earth, he is tasked with finding and killing them. Along the way, he meets a woman who turns out to be a replicant, and develops feelings for her.

The premise is simple, and the plot adds only a little complexity on top of it. Not that a plot needs complexity to be good, but it does need peaks and valleys, obstacles and more obstacles, twists and turns, dramatic interactions. It would be unfair to say that the movie has none, but when it is over one has that feeling of an itch not fully scratched. Blade Runner is like a one-course meal whose lone dish is superb, but lacks the variety and quantity needed to fully satiate one’s palate.

As with the book, there is never any attempt to explain why the replicants must be taken out. While the particular replicants involved in the movie have committed capital crimes, there is no question of rights, habeas corpus, and a trial by jury; for them there is only assassination. This is the fate that awaited them as soon as they escaped; the murders were committed essentially penalty-free. Other replicants are treated the same, whether or not they have committed crimes.

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner
Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner

It is accepted as a fact of life, questioned neither by human nor replicant. The pseudo-humans are none too happy about it, but they do not bother to write a declaration of the rights of replicants, nor mount a simple verbal defense of themselves, nor even complain much about their lot in life. Their main gripe seems to be their short programmed lifespans, not the fact that the police are bent on making them even shorter. I do not find it strange that such a society should evolve, but that it never occurs to any storyteller involved with the world to question this feature or entertain the possibility of rights for sentient life other than homo sapiens I find curious, a missed opportunity.

Where Scott misses no opportunities is with the craftsmanship of the work. The shots are exquisite and pieced together at a deliberate pace. The music adds a noir feel to go with the mood lighting. Many of the prominent features of the book’s world remain in the movie, though less conspicuously, creating a rich tapestry of details for the story’s background. The sets are evocative. Though the acting is not as uniformly spot-on as in Alien, Harrison can pull it off all by himself, and he gets help from a few strong supporting roles.

In most categories, Blade Runner meets or exceeds what one expects from a classic, an elite work. The only thing holding it back is that there is not enough in the plot to give that full sense of satisfaction one gets from a good, well-rounded story. Perhaps Ridley thought the book was too much, that it needed to be trimmed down for cinema.

Considering what the movie could have been is an exercise in frustration, but even so it is as good as or better than any science fiction film of the last 12 years. It rewards multiple viewings; I just wish the reward were even greater.

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BOOK REVIEW | Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/book-review-do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep-by-philip-k-dick/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/28/book-review-do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep-by-philip-k-dick/#comments Fri, 28 Dec 2012 07:37:41 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10639 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is probably Philip K. Dick’s most famous work, given that it was turned into one of the most respected science fiction films of all time. I do not hold to the absolutist opinion that the book is always better than the movie, but after one read of the book and many viewings of the movie, I am inclined to say that, in this instance, the book is at least as good and in some respects is better.

Rick Deckard, along with numerous other unfortunate souls, has been left behind on Earth, an unhealthy wasteland from which anyone of means has migrated. He is the number two man assigned to retire rogue androids who try to pass themselves off as human. The androids, however, prefer to remain alive.

Deckard makes a modest living, but when the number one guy is nearly killed by an android, he assumes the responsibility to retire a group of six of them, seeing in the job an opportunity to make some much-needed cash. Insert canned line about things not going as planned. Insert second canned line about the job being more than he bargained for.

As I expected, the clownish dialogue and behavior, unnecessarily detailed descriptions and lengthy back stories injected into scenes immediately after a character’s introduction — the slipshod method by which so many authors introduce and develop their characters — is absent. Instead, we meet people who feel and act real, and we come to know them as we would anyone else: by how they act, what they say, and what is said about them. They move about in an exotic land but act in accordance with their human goals and abilities.

What I found surprising was how good the plot was. There is a satisfying quantity and variety of dramatic interactions, various obstacles to overcome, a sufficiently grand and tense third act… everything an eager reader could hope for. I did not expect a poorly wrought narrative, but given some of the difficulties I found in The Man in the High Castle, I thought that maybe character and setting were Dick’s strengths, not plot. The movie, as good as it is, strikes one as underplotted, and I assumed this was due to a deficiency on the book’s part.

The truth is, Ridley Scott had a perfectly good script already made for him when he set out to make Blade Runner. Why it was so altered — perhaps watered down is more accurate — I cannot fathom, but the movie wound up with an inferior story. There are all sorts of scenes and story-paths in the book that would have been as easy to film as anything else and that would have improved the movie.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Early in the investigation, Deckard is told by his chief that a man is coming to observe his work. This man turns out to be an android who tries to kill Deckard.

Deckard tries to test what he believes to be an android, but the test does not go well. Is she deliberately and cleverly sabotaging his efforts, or are her actions and excuses valid?

Deckard is arrested by a cop. When he tells the cop where he works, at the police precinct, the cop does not believe him, tells him there is no police precinct there. Instead, the cop takes him to an alternate precinct, one that Deckard has never heard of. Deckard begins to believe he is surrounded by androids.

Deckard joins forces with another cop who starts to suspect himself of being an android. He is, however, dedicated to eradicating androids and suffers a crisis.

Deckard has a very compelling rendezvous with an android who tries to inhibit his will to retire androids.

END OF SPOILERS

Each one of these scenes, and a few more besides, is an excellent scenario and might have been used to good effect by Mr. Scott. I can only wonder that he left them out of the story.

Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick

There is a lot for libertarians to ponder, though there is no indication in the novel that this angle ever occurred to Dick. The androids are incapable of sympathy, but they still seem to experience emotion and have a desire for self-preservation as well as cognitive abilities roughly equal to that of humans. What, then, of the rights of androids?

Murray Rothbard talked about rights for nonhuman beings only a little, but what he did say leads me to conclude that he would have advocated for android rights, so long as they respected them in others. And the truth is, throughout the novel the androids do bad things usually in response to something done to them, or because of the desperate situation they are in through, it seems to me, no fault of their own.

It is never clear why androids must be retired if they escape their slavery. Deckard himself never questions it, and neither do the androids. It is a fact of life that both sides must cope with, and cope they do, without introspection. Were Dick a bit more libertarian, this might have been a fruitful avenue of pursuit.

There is one aspect of the book that was, sagely, left out of the movie. There is a new religion that has come to predominate in the society, much of it having to do with obsession with animals, which have become rare in the wasteland that Earth has become. While some aspects of it fit in well with the story — giving us the title, for example — others are more distracting. Why were these distracting elements in the story, doing so little yet being constantly referred to? There is an allusion to it near the end of the book, a connection between Deckard and a religious figure, but I cannot help but feel that I missed something. It has all the hallmarks of an important point, since Dick went out of his way to create a scene to show it to us, but whatever it was eludes me.

Scott omitted these things from the movie, and they might have been left out of the book without harming it. Nevertheless, their presence is only a small puzzle, a mild annoyance, in what is otherwise a fine tale of science fiction. Though the movie has an atmosphere that has rarely been matched, the book has the better plot and I might have to incline towards it for that reason.

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MOVIE REVIEW | The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/18/movie-review-the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/18/movie-review-the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey/#comments Tue, 18 Dec 2012 06:52:01 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10693

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A director returns, after several years and more than one lackluster attempt with other kinds of movies, to a genre he redefined. He had some little known but modestly successful works before his big breakthrough, but since then he just has not been the same man who gave us such an epic, fantastic spectacle full of industry-defining special effects, wonderful music, thrilling action, and, above all, a new world to explore with characters we wanted to accompany. Special effects have come a ways since his magnum opus was crafted, and if used correctly they have the potential to enhance the visual experience even more than before. What could possibly go wrong?

Peter Jackson’s latest project is out in theaters. I wish I could say it was called The Hobbit, but honesty compels me to report that the name is actually The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The reason for the alteration is that The Hobbit will be brought to us not as a short adventure thrill ride, in keeping with the pace and feel of the source material, but rather will be extended into a movie trilogy that, when finished, will outlast a typical BBC miniseries. The motive behind this sort of reverse editing, whereby Tolkien’s notes were raided for things to stuff into the story and plump it up, is Mr. Jackson’s belief that we are stupid enough to triple his box office take if he triples the number of movies to be made from the story. He is probably right. I know I bought my ticket.

Even with his triumphs Jackson had a tendency to let a project get bloated. The best example, I believe, is the sudden barrage of scenes that hit us in The Two Towers right as we should be, could be, would be cruising toward the third act if a drawn-out and apocryphal love story were not fed to us by way of flashbacks, many in a languid, dreamy style that makes one wonder if one has just witnessed something shot wholly in slow motion. When Jackson had over 1,000 pages of material to convert to nine hours of footage this was an annoyance. With The Hobbit, he has fewer than 300 pages to make into nine hours and the filler has now surpassed the beef in the hotdog.

It is blatantly obvious, too, when we are watching scenes newly minted for the movie and when we are watching something adapted from what Tolkien first created. Given that the first movie only gets us to chapter seven of the book, there are precious few scenes from the source material, but the ones that are there work. The angle they take is unique: Bilbo challenges Gollum to a high-stakes game of riddles, or he tries to distract some trolls so the sun will catch them unawares with its morning rays.

For me, these are superior to giants throwing boulders and a scrotum hanging off the chin of a goblin king. Although he debauches the old scenes, a thing he usually managed to avoid in The Lord of the Rings, they yet crackle with the vitality of creativity, not to mention the kinetic energy of plot momentum. The added scenes in An Unexpected Journey usually just add action, special effects, and some bland dialogue. Not a one of them would harm the movie with its absence. Contrast that with the troll scene, without which Sting does not get found. Contrast that with the riddle scene, without which Bilbo never finds The Ring. It is almost as if Tolkien planned out his story pretty well and already included every scene he needed to make it work.

A prequel like An Unexpected Journey presents some dangerous temptations to a director. Lucas fell for them all when he made a prequel trilogy; Jackson’s record is mixed. He does nothing so grotesque as making R2-D2 fly through the air, but he does include a lot of characters from the first trilogy who have no business in this one, and they enervate the proceedings. The story is fine without them, yet they are given screen time anyway and lines of dialogue that we must get through so the story can get going again. Saruman’s role in LOTR was both crucial and engrossing; here it is just a mundane visit from an old friend.

It cheapens Saruman, I think, and even worse it subordinates the newer film to the older ones. The older ones had no characters to borrow from other films, and so had to develop their own and make us care. Of course, An Unexpected Journey has new characters, but it leans for support on a few roles from another tale, and in so doing it becomes a me-too, a tag-along. The moment Jackson decided to stretch the work to over 500 minutes, he was committed to trying to repeat LOTR, trying to equal or even best it. The Hobbit is a fine and entertaining tale, a true delight, but it simply is not suited to take on LOTR in epic territory. Jackson should never have tried, but by borrowing on the credit of that trilogy’s characters, he made a difficult job nearly impossible. He was at once trying to match LOTR with The Hobbit and subordinating The Hobbit to LOTR. It is as if Jackson were stepping on the accelerator and the brake simultaneously.

The One Ring

Another manner in which Jackson makes LOTR the dog and The Hobbit the tail is his reuse of magical moments from the trilogy. The Ring first finds its way onto Bilbo’s finger in exactly the same fashion as it will do to Frodo at the inn in Bree. In The Fellowship of the Ring, this moment, a small but positive deviation from the book, was an indication that The Ring was indeed an acting entity and wanted to return to its master. Now it is unavoidably diminished, like a joke that was funny in the moment the night before. Gandalf the Grey also uses his moth trick again, the one that summons giant eagles to carry him away to safety. It does not matter that it technically, in the world of the story, happened first in The Hobbit. It happened second in the real world, and that is the one I live in. To say nothing of the fact that it was simply done better in Fellowship, it stands out as an obvious homage to the older film.

There are certain directorial touches that mark the film as Jackson’s. He continues his fascination with sloppy eating, for instance. It is not enough to eat a tomato, but its juices must squirt forth and dribble down the chin. It is not enough to tip back a mug and drink ale, but the ale must spill over the sides and wet the drinker’s whiskers. To this day I cannot decide if this helps paint his picture or if it is merely distracting. I think I would appreciate it more if it were a bit less flagrant, but the attention given to characterization, both of person and location, is welcome.

Also present is the juxtaposition in the battles of gritty, gory wounds with cartoonish physics. This was something that always bothered me about LOTR, whether it was Legolas breezily climbing an Oliphaunt to kill it or horses at Helm’s Deep marching through goblins and knocking them aside as if the horses could act on the goblins without the goblins acting on them. No matter how far-fetched the fantasy, Newton should not be cast aside lightly. After one viewing, it seems to me the problem is worse now.

Not all his usual touches are accounted for, however. Gone are the abundant, stylized, close-up, slow-motion reaction shots that permeate the films from a decade ago. Like the sloppy eating shots, they would be more effective if they were toned down. In the present film they have been toned down to the point of disappearing, or so I remember it.

The shortest summary is to say that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an overly long work that should have clung to the cannon, the presence of which in the movie constitutes its best features. However, its best features are good features, and there is much of the new stuff that feels like setup. While I doubt I shall ever be convinced that Jackson has navigated his course wisely, the movie does leave the story in a position to do more in the sequels. If the movie got sidetracked now and then, these diversions have built something of a foundation for the future. It is almost enough to give one hope.

Until one remembers that there are only 12 chapters to go, and it is going to take us six hours to get through them.

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THE LIBERTARIAN TRADITION PODCAST | J.R.R. Tolkien as Libertarian http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/17/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-j-r-r-tolkien-as-libertarian/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/17/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-j-r-r-tolkien-as-libertarian/#comments Mon, 17 Dec 2012 07:41:09 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10670 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that the author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, can be counted as a libertarian.

Editor’s Note: A transcript is unavailable. This early episode was never turned into a Mises Daily article like most of the others.

Here is a brief summary, however:

Riggenbach argues that The Lord of the Rings is “both an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power and an allegory of power exerted for domination.” The story is a dramatization of Lord Acton’s famous dictum that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

After a delving deeper into Lord Acton and his dictum, Riggenbach reads a couple of passages from one of Tolkien’s letters to his son, Christopher, that were also quoted by Alberto Mingardi and Carlo Stagnaro in their Mises Daily article, “Tolkien v. Power” (February 21, 2002). I quote the passages below for your convenience, but the whole article is well worth reading:

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word state (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1995, p. 63; see NYT Review.)

The proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit to it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1995, p. 64)

Another relevant quote from Tolkien’s letters that Riggenbach doesn’t recite is this:

If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and the process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang,’ it would do a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1995, p. 63)

Riggenbach also relates Tolkien’s description of the Shire as having hardly any government. Finally, he points to Aragorn’s reluctance to be king and Tolkien’s belief that such a man, a man who does not want power, would make a good king. This last, I think, must be understood in light of Tolkien’s second-best preference for unconstitutional monarchy and his belief that not one man in a million is fit to rule other men. One can’t very well design a political system around such a rare occurrence.

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http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/17/the-libertarian-tradition-podcast-j-r-r-tolkien-as-libertarian/feed/ 0 Alberto Mingardi,anarchism,Aragorn,Carlo Stagnaro,J.R.R. Tolkien,Jeff Riggenbach,libertarian fiction,libertarianism,Lord Acton,Ludwig von Mises Institute,Mises Media,novels In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute's online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that the author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, can be counted as a libertarian. - In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute's online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that the author of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien, can be counted as a libertarian. Riggenbach argues that The Lord of the Rings is "both an allegory of the inevitable fate that waits for all attempts to defeat evil power by power and an allegory of power exerted for domination." The story is a dramatization of Lord Acton's famous dictum that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Jeff Riggenbach clean 17:04 <iframe width="290" height="30" src="http://prometheus-unbound.org/?powerpress_embed=10670-podcast&amp;powerpress_player=mediaelement-audio" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 22 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/16/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-22-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/16/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-22-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Mon, 17 Dec 2012 04:38:54 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10662

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

It has been a long trip. Twenty-two weeks, sixty chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue. With this week’s installment, John Hunt’s Higher Cause finally comes to an end.

We had a lot of adventure, saw a lot of character and relationship arcs, experienced some mystery and intrigue, and all the while saw a libertarian society in operation. It struggled to survive in the midst of statism, full of dedicated men who not only believed in a libertarian philosophy but were willing to live it and work hard to achieve it. It would be nice to see more works of this sort.

The books virtues, as I have mentioned before, are the imagination that went into the concept and the overall grasp of a story arc. The writing is generally solid and Hunt manages to competently weave together a rather complex tale.

It is my opinion that the dialogue could be improved and that certain sections of the prose could be deleted to good effect. At times, there was a tendency to over-explain things.

In addition to the above, and with the story now behind us, there are other aspects I would like to point out as needing strengthening. For starters, the separate story strands could have been synchronized a little better. For most of the novel, they complimented each other and crisscrossed back and forth quite nicely, but things came loose a touch at the end.

There are four chapters and an epilogue after the main climax. Most of the sundry plots eventually came together in the attempted takeover and defense of The Island, and when this wraps up it must be viewed as the final climax to the story. However, it drags on a little further with a separate story that, as it turns out, never really had much effect on the story as a whole.

There was a lot of time spent developing this side story, and yet we can see now that its removal would change little but the word count. Though its final resolution is unique and definitely interesting, it feels like it should be part of a different book. A stronger ending would have tied it in to the main story a little better, maybe even made it a crucial part of the resolution, which could then be followed by a single chapter to tie up loose ends.

There were story elements that waned in importance, and one wonders if they should have been included at all. If so, they should be seen through to a better finish. There were other elements that strained credulity a bit, such as Petur’s constant runins with Elisa. But despite these flaws, the work was imaginative and entertaining, with some genuinely fun sections.

I would recommend a revision to get the most out of the work; there is definitely a good story there, something worth seeing to. Perhaps, and I shall end on this point, the revision could have more of the libertarian legal system at play. It is not enough to point out a court room and simply say that it rarely gets used. Statists everywhere need to see libertarian law in action, see it work and see it justified.

I hope to see more from Hunt. He has the imagination and competence with writing to be a good author. I think Higher Cause was generally engaging and would like to see another draft to bring it along a little further. There are few enough truly libertarian works of literature; this one is to be encouraged. Don’t forget the ebook is out and Christmas is around the corner. It might make a nice gift for that special statist in your life.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 21 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/08/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-21-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/08/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-21-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 08 Dec 2012 07:22:27 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10651

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

It is my opinion that John Hunt’s greatest strength as a novelist is in his overall design of the story. This is particularly true when it comes to setting things up in one chapter to get a payoff in another. The last dozen or so chapters have been all about payoff, realizing returns on investments made in earlier chapters. In this the penultimate installment, we see as good a display of his careful planning as we have yet seen. A seed planted way back in the beginning of the book finally bears fruit as a twist to end the installment.

To begin the installment, we saw the conclusion of the cliff hanger from last week. I truly had no idea where he was going to go with it, but his resolution was clever and made sense. Things have, in the main plot line, pretty much come to a close, barring some unforeseen surprise in the next chapter.

One supposes that the last segment will be an epilogue that brings to a close the other plot line, the one about The Bounty, which never quite merged with the central story about The Island and its enemies. This is going to be a bit of a problem for the book. There is nothing about The Bounty story that needs connecting to The Island’s libertarian story. This is not necessarily bad, by any means, but it seems that the two are not going to ever truly be connected, except geographically. It is an odd choice, but The Bounty was never as fully developed and intricate as the rest of the plot. Leaving it to the side, as has been done, makes it feel unnecessary, like a story line that did not need to be there. Judgment must be reserved until the end, but right now it feels like The Bounty story could have been a separate book, maybe a sequel. The present one might have been better without it. We shall see.

As I said, the main story seems to have pretty much concluded. There are some final character moments we are going to need, especially involving Elisa and Petur. And something will have to be done to justify the inclusion of The Bounty in the story. And, of course, we must see how the British decide to handle things if they are to be the mafia institution that oversees The Island. Just one more week, and all will be answered.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 20 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/03/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-20-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/03/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-20-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Mon, 03 Dec 2012 21:59:35 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10631

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

Higher Cause is a bit of a mixed bag this week. The final showdown continues, but there is an aspect to it that fails to convince. The action and the tension remain, but some of the maneuvering with respect to international law does not strike this reader as very plausible. However, there are two very good moments, one of them being what is probably the novel’s greatest cliffhanger.

The standoff with Mexico reaches what seems like a climax, only to redouble in suspense just a short while later. All in all, this final showdown has been an up-and-down affair. Just when the reader thinks one faction has an advantage, the tables get turned. I expect they will turn again, though how this is going to happen after the aforementioned cliffhanger is beyond me.

There have been a number of things I have criticized in these reviews, all having to do with how information is conveyed to the reader. There has been tell when there should be show. There have been moments when something already understood is explained at length. Sometimes, things that we do not need to know yet, or even really should not know yet, are told to us. All three kinds of these “information problems” are on display in this installment.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Let us consider the following paragraph.

They had the man on the defensive now. Less than an hour ago, Marcos was informing Petur that he was being indicted — threatening him with prison and death and takeover of the islands. Now he had lost his ship, and along with it his biggest threat. He had learned that his operation had been infiltrated by a spy from the Island — a woman of whom he had been particularly fond. And he had discovered that his effort to expel the islanders might not be supported by the law. Furthermore, he had seen that the Island Project had a new, incredibly powerful weapon. Indeed, the man was on edge.

The very first sentence tells us something when a more compelling choice would have been to show us. This could be done by describing his body language, or facial expression, or simply by giving him dialogue appropriate to his mental state. It is not a mortal sin for a novelist to commit, but it is a lost opportunity.

What follows that sentence, however, is entirely redundant and really ought to be omitted. We have already spent time reading these things; a summary is simply wasting time.

END OF SPOILER

Finally, we are given extra information that often comes from a writer with an itchy trigger finger. For instance, if something happens, say, to a ship in the distance, the present characters will only be able to tell so much about what happened to the ship, what condition it is in now and what exactly was the final result of the occurrence, what it may be. This is a good thing. It leaves the reader in the same sort of doubt in which the characters find themselves, and ignorance, if well chosen, can enhance a reading experience.

Too often in Higher Cause we read, after some momentous act has occurred, sentences that begin, “It would later turn out that…” or something like that. It is my opinion that this information, if it is important, can be learned later, when the characters learn it. Knowing too much can spoil a mood. An author ought to leave a few loose ends that he can tie up later. Giving us that omniscient information seems impatient, like the author wants the readers to know something and wants to get that information conveyed now, so he can cross the item off his agenda.

The penultimate installment comes in a few days. After such a cliffhanger as we just experienced, there will no doubt be some eager readers. I wonder if yet another cliffhanger awaits us before the wrap up.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 19 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/02/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-19-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/02/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-19-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sun, 02 Dec 2012 23:47:08 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10621

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

Higher Cause #19 continues the entwining of separate story lines that began in earnest in the previous installment. There are three more chapters, with all the action being on or around The Island. The situation is at its most dire as we enter, but the good guys get a lucky break and suddenly their opponents’ hand is not as strong as it was. At the very least, they have been given a chance.

One of the key elements Hunt has used throughout the novel is the planting of mystery. Many seeds have been sown along the way, some of which sprouted and were further tended to. Now, as we near the end, we are starting to get a lot of payoff from the harvest. As far as timing goes, I think it was handled well.

One of the reveals, however, may be problematic for other reasons. The entire backstory has not yet come out, so final judgment must be withheld, but one of the enigmas we have encountered in the book is beginning to strain my credulity. At this point, it seems like some license was taken with plausibility in order to set up the mystery, but perhaps a future installment will set me straight on that.

Act Three is well under way and must resolve itself in the next ten chapters or so, unless a cliffhanger and a sequel are in store for us. It has been a pulse-pounding finale so far with more to come. And we know that perhaps the greatest mystery of all, the one that was prepared for us as early as the prologue of the book and has been developed repeatedly since, has yet to play a role. The author has done a good job of masking his intentions with it, because though some possibilities as to how all this will play out occur to me, there is no obvious or unavoidable scenario to make the book too predictable.

We shall have to wait to see.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 18 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/01/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-18-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/12/01/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-18-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 01 Dec 2012 22:15:04 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10609

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

After a long break, we return to the Higher Cause reviews.

In part 18, there are many pieces in play as we near the end of the novel. Different story lines, separate for so long, are now starting to entwine themselves together in the narrative thread. What looked like nothing more than a mid-story action sequence a few weeks ago has turned into a protracted battle that reignites every time we think it might be slowing down. It is becoming apparent that, however it evolves over the next few installments, it is going to be the final showdown.

The terrorists are still playing cat and mouse games with The Island’s defenses. The Island has been evacuated as the Mexican government forces land on The Island. Petur and his team prepare to defend themselves, though in what manner we still do not know.

Chapters 45 through 48 exhibit the attributes we have come to recognize in the novel. There are many perspectives that enhance our experience of the action. Hunt likes to drop bombs to end his chapters — to good effect. There is a bit too much over-explaining. The dialogue could be cleaned up a little to sound more normal.

With only a handful of weeks to go, the end can be made out in the distance, though the features are still a blur. A few mysteries await elucidation, too. This marks several installments in a row that have kept us hooked and ready to read on, despite some areas in want of polishing. It is much to be hoped that the end will satisfy the built-up tension and expectation.

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BOOK REVIEW | Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/30/book-review-alongside-night-by-j-neil-schulman/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/30/book-review-alongside-night-by-j-neil-schulman/#comments Fri, 30 Nov 2012 06:45:37 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10588

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman, so far as I am aware, is still the agorist novel par excellence. More than three decades have passed since its publication — not that you would know it without looking at the copyright date — yet in that time no other novel has so successfully mixed the principles of agorism with such a keen perspective on the future. There are not many novels that can top it for entertainment value either.

The story takes place in what was then the future, but which now seems a very prescient present. Not only is the story filled with theretofore unrealized gadgets and technology that differ from what we actually possess sometimes by no more than an appellation, or occasionally a small feature or manner of use, but the economic conditions described in the tale read like a seer’s forecast.

Schulman’s knowledge of economics allowed him to make a forecast every bit as accurate as the one for which Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, has been lauded of late. In fact, this very knowledge of economics is probably what helped the author predict all those gadgets, for it is well established that science-fiction authors, a group not known for their economic acumen, tend to think on a grand scale when most of the advances, in a consumer-driven society, are modest devices of everyday convenience and entertainment.

It is a dystopian world we are plunged into in Alongside Night, where central control of the economy and erosion of civil liberties proceed, as they must, hand in hand. When the government abducts the protagonist’s father, a noted free-market libertarian economist somewhere between Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises in his radicalness, the high school student Elliot Vreeland embarks on a quest to free him. This quest takes him into the world of the agorists, free-market rebels and masters of counter-economics.

The story idea is a perfectly good one, and there is a strong flavor of Heinlein in the way that it is told: smoothly and economically. Even better, Schulman spends more time with some brief yet poetic descriptions that I find attractive. Particularly good for me was the description, near the beginning of the novel, of Elliott walking down a cold New York sidewalk at night. There is not an abundance of such passages, though, merely some choice bits here and there. The author wastes no time in getting the story started, and does not pause in unrolling it before us.

J. Neil Schulman
J. Neil Schulman

Most satisfying of all was the experience of a truly libertarian book, with no apologies and no compromises. More adept with characters than Rand, Schulman peoples his world with many shades of gray, but never is there any doubt that the story is a vehicle to show people cooperating without monopolies, without coercion being initiated. The novel exceeds The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in its libertarianism; indeed, I cannot recall a well-known work that can rival Schulman’s opera prima in that category.

The much shorter Alongside Night cannot compete, in certain respects, with the massive, intricate, epic wonder that Atlas Shrugged is, but there are many areas in which it surpasses Rand’s magnum opus. The handling of characters and the tone of narration come to mind (Atlas Shrugged could tend toward the overdramatic at times). The dialogue is also a bit more realistic.

I could have wished for an ending with a little more pop perhaps. Something to match the way the beginning got the heart pumping. I might have liked another hundred pages or so as well. Despite this, there is little enough to complain about. I very much enjoyed the novel and recommend it for all libertarians, be they radical or mild. I recommend it even more for statists.

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BOOK GIVEAWAY | The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/17/book-giveaway-the-syndic-by-c-m-kornbluth/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/17/book-giveaway-the-syndic-by-c-m-kornbluth/#comments Sat, 17 Nov 2012 07:29:03 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10540 Get The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth for free!

Get it for free in epub and mobi formats!

Get The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth for free!
Get it for free in epub and mobi formats!

We’ve got another book giveaway for you.

I’m pleased to announce that we’re working with publisher LiberNoctis to give away ebook copies of C.M. Kornbluth’s classic science fiction novel The Syndic.

From my review of the novel,

“What ifs” are the bread and butter of science fiction. What if organized crime overthrew the United States government and took over? What would life be like under the mafia? Would the people of North America be better off? These are the questions C.M. Kornbluth sought to answer in his science-fiction novel The Syndic (1953).

The new edition by LiberNoctis

brings you this classic of science fiction, with foreword and extensive afterword by noted libertarian writer Jeff Riggenbach on the history of the author, the novel, and the politics of mid-20th-century science fiction among Kornbluth’s contemporaries — men such as Isaac Asimov on the Left, Robert Heinlein on the Right, and libertarian science-fiction advocates who sought to redefine the political spectrum through the power of science fiction itself.

We republished Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition Podcast episode on Kornbluth and The Syndic a while back. Be sure to check it out if you missed it, or again if you didn’t. It’s well worth the (re)listen.

We’ll be giving away the ebook in both epub and mobi formats from now until December 15, 2012 at 12:00am EST.

For more information, click on the link below:

BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Please help us promote this book giveaway. The Syndic deserves to be more widely read, particularly among libertarians. Share the book giveaway page (linked above) far and wide.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 17 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/09/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-17-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/09/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-17-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 10 Nov 2012 03:51:35 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10520

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

The action that began in last week’s offering is, for better or worse, brought to a conclusion this week. First, though, we get a scene with Onbacher in his search for the Bounty. It acts as a sort of interlude between the action of last week and the conclusion of that action this week. It is a good way to start off the installment, because we know what must surely be coming, but the gratification is delayed and therefore heightened.

Onbacher goes on a trek over land as the first chapter begins. There is nothing especially arresting about the segment, which is usually when Hunt chooses to hit us with something, and this time is no exception. Onbacher meets a man at the end and, through the clever use of a prop, the author relays to the reader everything they need to know. Another cliff hanger, and a great method of conveying much by showing just a little.

After that, we return to the threat to The Island from a few different perspectives. It is a nice piece, but last week I mentioned that more obstacles, more tease and denial, might have been used. Not doing so reduced the intensity of the conclusion. With more involvement, more perspectives might have been added, and there might have been more cutting back and forth from one to another, giving the whole sequence a more frenetic pace and taking us to a higher summit before finding a resolution. Again, it is still a nice bit of action and thrills, but I think more could have been done.

This week paved the way for a lead up to, one imagines, a final action sequence with everything on the line. Onbacher is going to get into something, and if the story is successful it will tie in to the Mexican threat to The Island as well as the Arab threat. If handled right, it will be a great way to finish off the story. We’ll see over the next few weeks how it goes.

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THE LIGHTMONTHLY READ | Currently Reading The Man Who Sold the Moon, November Recap, Nominations Open for December http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/07/the-lightmonthly-read-currently-reading-the-man-who-sold-the-moon-november-recap-nominations-open-for-december/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/07/the-lightmonthly-read-currently-reading-the-man-who-sold-the-moon-november-recap-nominations-open-for-december/#comments Wed, 07 Nov 2012 06:05:27 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10500

The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A. Heinlein

This month we are reading and discussing The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert Heinlein:

This is not a novel but a collection of shorter fiction by Robert Heinlein that fall within his loose-knit Future History series. The title story, also the longest, is a novella about businessman D.D. Harriman’s dream of being the first to travel to and possess the moon, his schemes to raise capital in legitimate and semi-legitimate ways, and his efforts to avoid government ownership of the moon. The remaining short stories are “Life Line,” “Let There be Light,” “The Roads Must Roll,” “Blowups Happen,” and “Requiem.”

Moon only available on Amazon in mass market paperback, so order your copy soon. If you buy the book through our affiliate links you’ll be supporting our work here at Prometheus Unbound without costing yourself anything extra.

Join us as we read and discuss The Man Who Sold the Moon.

We’re reading the stories by internal chronological order rather than the order in which they appear in the book. I’ve written a post in the forum listing the stories in proper order and explaining why.

You need not have voted on this month’s selection to join in the discussion, but you do need to be registered and logged in on this site to access the book club’s dedicated forums.

October Recap

We’ve been reading J. Neil Schulman’s classic dystopian science fiction novel Alongside Night, winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award and currently being adapted into a movie starring Kevin Sorbo (HerculesAndromeda).

Official discussion is still open if you want to chime in before the live author chat with Schulman on November 10th. For more information on this event, see the Google+ event page. The discussion will be retired to the TLR — Previous Reads forum after the event, where discussion can continue without distracting from discussion of this month’s read.

Nominations Open for December

If you want a say in what we will read next month, head on over to November 2012 Nominations thread in the book selection forum and put in a nomination.

Deadline for nominations is Saturday, November 10th. Then voting will be open on the nominees until Tuesday, November 20th, when the winner will be determined.

IMPORTANT NOTE

Do you want to receive the results of the nomination and voting processes in your inbox every month so that you don’t have to remember to check the forum on a certain date? Are you so busy that you sometimes forget when the voting process starts for our next read? If so, then you’ll want to sign up for our email newsletter.

We used to post these updates and reminders directly on our site, but now we send them via email instead — typically on the 11th and 21st of every month. We’ll continue to post more frequent reminders on the major social networks, but there’s no guarantee you won’t miss those.

For up-to-date information about our book club, you can always visit the Lightmonthly Read page.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 16 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/02/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-16-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/11/02/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-16-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 03 Nov 2012 01:37:57 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10487

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

Spoilers

There are action and thrills in the offing this week. The sequence we follow sees some separate strands of story come together and follows them through four chapters, the largest offering to date. It finishes in what may be termed the eye of the storm. A crisis is averted, but a larger one looms in the near future.

Hunt has developed a number of characters and spent time positioning them and this week takes advantage of this preparatory work. What we read has enough to be the ultimate climax of a book like this, but we know there is much more to come. It is quite a thrill ride, but I do have a couple of criticisms to make.

The first criticism is that I thought there needed to be more obstacles to heighten the suspense. The setup is excellent, but midway through this latest attack on The Island, some of the danger has been resolved too easily. Don’t just have a man crash his bike and break his arm. Have him fall in a mud pit, too. Then have it start raining, threatening to drown him in the mud pit. Give him a ray of hope in the form of a root that he can grab and climb to safety, but then make the root actually be a snake, which bites him.

A sequence like that should be drawn out as far as tolerable by having the hero’s plight worsen and worsen with each new setback. Every hope or near-resolution must be yanked from his grasp at the worst moment, only to be replaced by another difficulty. This sort of thing might well double the length of the four chapters, but it would probably quadruple the entertainment value. As it is, the sequence is good, but it is not the kind of nearly unbearably good that it could be.

The second aspect I would criticize is that there are a number of instances where the wrong emotional note is sounded. There are several instances where characters say, do, and feel things not consonant with their circumstances.

Sophia wistfully notes that she has not walked on the beach with her boyfriend for a long time… right in the middle of being kidnapped. She wonders why letting a little air out of one’s lungs, when one is holding one’s breath, relieves the pain in one’s chest… as she is under water, does not know where the surface is, and is in danger of drowning. Jeff opens a door and gives Sophia the kind of broad, happy smile she loves from him… as she is manacled in a cell and he is trying to rescue her.

Even the part when Jeff explains to Sophia how to escape out of the torpedo tube is done in too cavalier a fashion. Sophia is not a trained agent used to making daring escapes, and yet Jeff sees her off as if he has few worries about ever seeing her again, and does not agonize over her when he must leave her and return to his role as a double agent.

A more careful approach to the characters would improve the selection, as would a rethinking of the plot points to add more drama and tension. There is a lot of potential that has built up over time; the eventual discharge should, and could, awe the reader.

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BOOK REVIEW | One Nation Under Blood by Tarrin P. Lupo http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/30/book-review-one-nation-under-blood-by-tarrin-p-lupo/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/30/book-review-one-nation-under-blood-by-tarrin-p-lupo/#comments Tue, 30 Oct 2012 16:37:55 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10458

One Nation Under Blood by Tarrin P. Lupo

With an official release date of October 30, 2012, just in time for Halloween, author Tarrin Lupo presents us with a new sort of vampire tale that is certain to make any libertarian’s skin crawl. While not intended to be a traditional horror novel, One Nation Under Blood is nonetheless a frightening tale of what can happen when government regulation and patriotism go too far.

In Lupo’s dystopian novel, it is discovered that blood transfusions can offer more than the gift of life to a needy recipient. Performed correctly, they serve as a fountain of youth, transferring rejuvenating properties from the blood of a child into the veins of an adult. Older generations are thrilled at the chance to become healed of their ailments and erase years from their appearance, leading to a huge demand for young blood that creates an unparalleled shift in the balance of wealth from the old to the young.

When blood transfusions become a target for politicians eager to profit from the new technology, the demand overwhelms the willing donor population and a new source of young blood must be found. By the power of legislation and with the help of a successful propaganda campaign, orphans and the children of immigrants are soon forced into concentration camps where they are made to give up their blood as a patriotic service to their country.

By telling the story through the eyes of those being taken advantage of, the author allows us to put ourselves in the place of those who face similar discrimination today. Although the novel is fiction, readers will find many similarities between the story world and our own. Perhaps the scariest notion is that we can easily imagine our society being swayed into nearly identical unspeakable actions under the pretense of protecting the children.

Tarrin P. Lupo
Tarrin P. Lupo

The author does a good job of demonstrating how interference in a market leads to increasing problems in supply and demand. Before the government interferes, the blood market is relatively stable. Children have become independently wealthy, and have developed a social network to coordinate transfusions at price rates that reflect age and purity. When a group of senators decide to regulate the blood market in the name of protecting the children, we are able to see how these changes do more harm than good.

We are also shown several examples of how politicians can manipulate a population by using regulation to create problems that then have to be “solved,” usually by the passage of new legislation that would have otherwise been unpopular. The book describes a slippery slope wherein these methods are used to gain profit at the expense of the young. To meet the public demand of young blood, a number of new laws are passed. One particularly horrific example is that citizens are paid bribes to turn in any neighbor who is neglecting their child; this of course leads to all sorts of false accusations and many innocent families are torn apart in the process. Lupo thus shows how the least popular members of a community can easily become victims of those in power, through the use of nationalist propaganda that leads to the rationalization of that victimization by those who previously would have spoken up on their behalf.

One Nation Under Blood Propaganda Poster
See more faux-propaganda posters on Facebook.

The author’s political beliefs are a major influence in his writing, and while he doesn’t go into great detail about the science involved in the blood transfusion technology developed in the novel, Lupo devotes a lot of time here to the ideas of freedom and self-ownership that libertarian science fiction fans relish. You’ll find many enemies of liberty within the novel, from security checkpoints and immigration raids to crooked politicians and abusive government agents.

While there are a few details I didn’t like about the story, such as the main characters’ father showing overwhelming naiveté throughout the story, and the sometimes lack of a prominent inner dialogue (for which I have a personal preference), I enjoyed reading One Nation Under Blood and was delighted to find that both the writing and the plot seemed to get better as the story progressed.

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ASK THE READERS | How often do you want to receive the newsletter? http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/28/ask-the-readers-how-often-do-you-want-to-receive-the-newsletter/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/28/ask-the-readers-how-often-do-you-want-to-receive-the-newsletter/#comments Sun, 28 Oct 2012 05:55:16 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10431

Prometheus Unbound

As Prometheus Unbound nears two years in publication — I officially launched it on October 29, 2010 — now seems as good a time as any for a little reflection and reevaluation.

We’ve got some big things on the horizon: a site redesign built on Thesis 2.0; the launch of an original podcast in January 2013; professionally designed banner, logo, and favicon. The site is going to look slicker and, hopefully, load faster in the near future. We’re about to look more professional, expand into a new medium, and, hopefully, attract a new audience.

But at the same time, I don’t want to neglect our existing services. I need to personally rededicate myself to participating in the book club. I’ve let my involvement slip over the past couple of months while other things (teaching, kids, research, admin and design work for the site) demanded my attention. I also need to write news and review posts more regularly. We could use your help in this department, however. We’re always looking for more regular and irregular contributors to bring our readers more content, not just reviews but also news, interviews, articles, and more. Stop by the community forums as well. Say hello. Tell us what you’ve been reading or watching and what you think about it. We’d love to know and want to chat with you.

The main reason for this post, however, is that something made me wonder recently whether we’re sending out email updates too frequently. We’ve greatly increased our mailing list over the past couple of months and I want to make sure we continue to bring all of you great content and not make ourselves unwelcome in your inboxes.

Our email newsletter currently consists mostly of updates from our rss feed — the post(s) we publish in a given day — and two Lightmonthly Read updates every month. The email updates for posts are not quite daily, since we do not publish posts every day, but if we did then a digest email would be sent out once per day.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the services we provide here at Prometheus Unbound, so I thought I’d ask our readers what you want.

Would you prefer to continue getting email updates on a quasi-daily basis (usually just 1-3 times per week, whenever a new post is published) or on a weekly digest basis?

Let us know in the comments, or any other way you prefer to contact us.

While you’re at it, if you have any other comments, suggestions, or even criticisms, please do not hesitate to voice them.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 15 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/27/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-15-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/27/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-15-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sun, 28 Oct 2012 03:51:17 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10435

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

There are a lot of plot lines this week. Just about all the major players, in fact, make an appearance.

We visit the Marcos family, where things in Mexico have nearly reached a climax point, and so has the family dynamic.

Elisa, still arousing my suspicions, briefs Petur and paints a picture of dark clouds on the horizon.

Onbacher makes some headway, perhaps, in his search for the Bounty.

The council of oligarchs comes on stage for a short while.

Finally, we see where Jeff Baddori has ended up. There is the potential problem of logic in this part, because it raises some questions that will need some plausible answers. For now, though, it certainly intensifies things.

The three chapters this week bring us perspectives from all the important storylines. Each either establishes something important or moves the plot forward. Most leave the story dangling tantalizingly in the air, waiting for another chapter so we can see what comes next. It is this aspect of the book, the chapter endings, that stand out most. It is what the author has developed the most in his writing technique.

What needs the most work is the continued over-explaining, the telling instead of showing. This week we read lines like, “His father was like that — always taking the opportunity to belittle and berate his son,” and, “Petur used his Hash name,” after a line of dialogue in which we just read what he used. The absence of things like this would improve the work, a simple judicious use of the delete key.

That aside, and the dialogue that could use a little cleaning, it has been a while since I have read something that I thought was out of place, or truly needed work. Once the story is up and running, it moves forward well and usually has something of interest.

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NEWS | Author Chat with J. Neil Schulman & Official Alongside Night Movie Trailer http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/25/news-author-chat-with-j-neil-schulman-official-alongside-night-movie-trailer/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/25/news-author-chat-with-j-neil-schulman-official-alongside-night-movie-trailer/#comments Thu, 25 Oct 2012 16:17:55 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10420

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

The date has been set for our live author chat with J. Neil Schulman, whose Prometheus Hall of Fame Award–winning novel Alongside Night is being adapted into a film starring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda).

The event will take place via Google+ Hangout on Air on Saturday, November 10th at 9PM EST (that’s 6PM PST / 8PM CST). It will be streamed live for those who cannot fit into the Hangout and a recording will be uploaded to our YouTube channel afterward. For more details, and to RSVP, visit the official event page on Google+.

Here are the official movie trailer, music video, and Schulman’s talk at Libertopia about bringing the book to film:

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 14 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/19/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-14-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/19/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-14-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 20 Oct 2012 03:13:41 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10413

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

This week is more about setting things up than reaping payoffs. Onbacher proceeds with his plan to find the Bounty, but that is the only significant plot point in the three chapters. This is not to say that the chapters are skippable, because we catch glimpses of plots and machinations whose culminations will no doubt explode in future chapters, but we do get a little time to catch our breath. There have been some rather kinetic chapters of late, so like a symphony whose music is a contrast of louds and softs, and fasts and slows, and sharps and smooths, we catch our breath and proceed pianissimo, with perhaps one sequence as exception.

There are dark characters lurking on The Island. Hunt once again introduces things slowly, like a tease, as he should. The possibilities are numerous but over the course of the next few chapters we will no doubt start to narrow them down until we find out just what these people are up to.

It bears noting that there has been a lot of reliance on chance partial sightings, conversations improbably overheard, and the like. This technique can quicken the pulse and is often used to get a plot started, or to introduce a twist, but overuse wears out anything. I would hope not to see it used too much more.

We also revisit the Marcos family for another interaction between father and son, one that leaves us more engrossed than it found us. I will say that the removal of one character from the family scenario was a lost opportunity, but there is a hint that she may return. I really want to see more from them.

There are a few examples I would cite of awkward prose, or prose that needs a little verve injection. These are things I have mentioned before, but I think it is worthwhile to bring them up as long as they keep popping up.

Joseph Onbacher had been on the phone all afternoon. It was Saturday, but that would not stop this motivated man.

The combination of overstating the case (a Saturday is no great obstacle to work) with the unnecessary adjective wants improvement. “Onbacher had been on the phone all Saturday afternoon” gets to the point, as well as shows us that he is motivated rather than tells us.

“No, sir. I could not disagree more.” Stouffer’s statement was not the least bit obsequious. It was just a point of fact. The reality was that everyone who worked for Joseph held him in the greatest esteem. He was that kind of man.

More telling when we have been shown much of this already.

That damage was irreparable and gave him an impressive propensity for evil.

The last example of telling refers to Enrico Marcos. Again, rather than be told that Enrico is abused by his father and, in his anger, deals out abuse to those under him, we should be shown. The chapter does two things: it brings us up to date on the revolution in Mexico and shows us a clash between father and son, wherein the son tells his father that he is being used and the father violently beats his son. It is effective, but how much more effective would it be to see Enrico rise after recovering from his beating, find a servant who has committed some petty offense, and deliver the same beating to the servant that his father just gave to him? Better yet, the servant need commit no offense at all. That would be gripping; that would show us Enrico’s character; that would be a great way to end the chapter. And we could omit the awkwardness of the “impressive propensity for evil.”

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GUEST EDITORIAL | Introduction to the New Edition of Ayn Rand’s Anthem http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/17/guest-editorial-introduction-to-the-new-edition-of-ayn-rands-anthem/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/17/guest-editorial-introduction-to-the-new-edition-of-ayn-rands-anthem/#comments Wed, 17 Oct 2012 07:08:11 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10397

I’m pleased to see Laissez Faire Books publishing a new edition of this book. I may be unusual in this, but Anthem happens to be my favorite of Rand’s four major works of fiction. It is pithy, pared down to essentials, and more poetic. This guest editorial was originally published as the editorial preface of the new edition. — GAP

Anthem by Ayn Rand

“The author does not understand socialism,” read the letter from MacMillan in reply to the submission of Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem. They turned it down. Actually, the publisher didn’t understand socialism. Hardly anyone did in 1937, when this book was written. Rand, however, did understand socialism. She understood it so well that she knew it would result in the opposite of what it promised and that its proponents would eventually come to embrace its grim reality, rather than repudiate the system of thought.

In many ways, this book is one of the best dystopian novels ever written because it puts the central focus on the key failing of socialism: its opposition to progress. How is that possible given that progress is a central slogan in socialist thinking? The problem is that by collectivizing private property, socialism removes the machinery of progress itself. It abolishes prices and profits and calculation and the incentive to create. It puts a premium on political control, and politicians resent the revolutionary implications of entrepreneurship. Therefore, a consistently socialist society would not only be poor and backward; it would revel in those features and call them the goal.

Think about it. This was the 1930s, long before the environmental movement and long before the primitivist streak in socialist thinking was to emerge as an outright agenda to be imposed by force. But as a child in the old Soviet Union, Rand had seen it in action. She had seen how entrepreneurship and creativity had to be sacrificed for the collective, and how this drove civilization straight into the ground. A totalitarian society would not be a world with amazing technology and flying cars, but would exist only at a subsistence level. And it would try to stay that way.

This edition appears in print at a strange time in American politics. Every day, regulatory agencies are pouring out mandates that degrade our technology. They are degrading our washing machines, dishwashers, soaps, paint, light bulbs, toilets, water systems, lawn mowers, medicines, microwaves, showers, hot-water heaters, gasoline and gas cans, and probably thousands of other things. These regulations are passed in the name of the environment, security, and safety. Their one result is to drive us back in time, making the future worse than the present and probably even worse than the past.

That’s only the beginning. Through intellectual property laws, the state literally assigned ownership to ideas that are the source of innovation, thereby restricting them and entangling entrepreneurs in endless litigation and confusion. Products are kept off the market. Firms that would come into existence do not. Profits that would be earned never appear. Intellectual property has institutionalized slow growth and landed the economy in a thicket of absurdity.

So we’ve finally come full circle in the land to which Rand emigrated because it was a free country. We’ve adopted features of the system she fled. In that sense, this small book is an amazing critique of precisely the unfreeness of the system under which we increasingly live. In that sense, the dystopian world she presents is a distilled version of where we are headed. Even the author’s theory that the word “I” is the thing that is most feared by the regime has resonance.

What is the way out? We cannot give up our ideals. We must have development, innovation, and progress because they are the sources of life, and we cannot give up life. Despite all her detractors say, Rand was a genius and a visionary. This small book underscores that she saw things that no one else saw, and saw them long before anyone else did.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 13 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/12/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-13-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/12/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-13-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 13 Oct 2012 03:36:06 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10387

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

We cruise into chapters 30 and 31 with the most recent offering from Higher Cause. Both chapters take place on The Island. They deal with a couple of different strands of plot. A growing suspicion comes closer to being confirmed.

Enough time has passed to allow Petur and Jeff to fully recuperate from their injuries during the attack on the OTEC. Jeff makes a brief appearance before leaving for other areas of the globe as part of his investigations. Elisa, meanwhile, returns to The Island and Petur grows more and more smitten with her.

Elisa continues to dress as unattractively as she can manage, though Petur can see through it and is pretty sure she could be a knockout if she tried. On a couple of different occasions she is caught by surprise by Petur and quickly adjusts her appearance to minimize her appeal. The reasons for this are still unclear, but Petur has begun to wonder about it. This, coupled with another occurrence, makes me suspicious about her motives, although she has been nothing but helpful to Petur and The Island to date.

The alluring brunette whose pheromones have sunk hooks into Petur is seen again, and by now the faithful reader will probably have a good idea as to who she is. If my hypothesis is right, it only heightens my suspicions. It is a plot thread with a lot of promise.

All in all, another successful bit of work. There is, however, one thing that I have been waiting for and have seen little of so far. The Island seems to be functioning smoothly, with a freed economy that is beginning to heat up. However, there is little mention of how they handle the services that government keeps for itself. How are disputes resolved? How is punishment meted out? How are claims adjudicated? The question of security is not so pressing, because the world already has more private security than government cops, but the question of arbitration and enforcement is altogether different.

This is also the point where a lot of doubters part ways with libertarianism, many of whom call themselves libertarians. It seems to me that the story would benefit from a look into private law. Is crime and disagreement simply not a problem on The Island? I feel like this could be possible, given the circumstances and the population’s size and makeup, but even so, something needs to be in place to handle possible problems. An exploration of this would fit well with such a libertarian novel, and its absence, at least for this anarchist, is starting to be felt.

The story continues to benefit from the prep work done earlier, and it continues to move, also an important point. I hope to see some sort of dispute-resolution/crime-and-punishment system discussed. After all, what would they have done with/to the saboteurs had they captured them?

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BOOK REVIEW | The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/12/book-review-the-syndic-by-c-m-kornbluth/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/12/book-review-the-syndic-by-c-m-kornbluth/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2012 16:38:52 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10378 Get The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth for free!

Get it for free in epub and mobi formats!

The Syndic by C.M. Kornbluth

“What ifs” are the bread and butter of science fiction. What if organized crime overthrew the United States government and took over? What would life be like under the mafia? Would the people of North America be better off? These are the questions C.M. Kornbluth sought to answer in his science-fiction novel The Syndic (1953).

The Syndic is of interest to libertarians, not least because it was honored with the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1986 by the Libertarian Futurist Society. This edition of the novel includes a forward and an afterward by Jeff Riggenbach that set the historical context for Kornbluth’s work and life and their relevance to libertarians. The Syndic is a fast-paced, entertaining tale replete with insights into the nature of the state and of war. Indeed, it could arguably be deemed an antiwar novel; but the insights do not end there.

As The Syndic opens, the continent of North America has long been divvied up between the Syndic and the Mob. The former United States government continues to exist in exile in Iceland and Ireland as the North American Government (NAG; an apt acronym). After an odd prologue composed of historical documents that set the stage for us, we’re introduced to our main viewpoint character, Charles Orsino, a low-ranking young bagman for the Syndic, who spends his days politely shaking down small businesses in the 101st New York Police Precinct for protection money and playing a brutal version of polo with jeeps and firearms instead of horses and mallets.

Charles happens to be the target of an assassination attempt during one night out on the town, and this lands him the rare opportunity to be invited to a meeting of the leaders of the Syndic. The North American Government is suspected of being behind the attempt as well as others, and Charles volunteers for an undercover mission to infiltrate NAG territory and assess the threat. From here on out an action-packed adventure with a touch of romance ensues that allows Kornbluth to contrast life in the Syndic with that under the NAG and the Mob.

The people of the Syndic territory have it pretty good. They enjoy a great deal more freedom and prosperity than people did under the old United States government or do under the NAG and the Mob. So long as they pay their protection money, they seem to be able to do most anything they please that’s peaceful. They don’t need permits to travel. There’s no bureaucratic welfare state, no war, no militarized police barging into their homes, no close regulation of business. Women enjoy equal legal status. The young are allowed to experiment, and yet society does not degenerate — on the contrary, most seem to settle down into normal lives by middle age.

Charles has frequent occasion to be horrified during his adventure outside of the Syndic — he likens the NAG military to particularly unscrupulous pirates — to the point that he’s ready to push for his leaders to raise an army and navy to wage an aggressive war against the NAG and the Mob to destroy their governments and civilize their people before they have a chance to invade, as they inevitably will. His uncle Frank, a respected member of the Syndic leadership, will have none of it, however. It is through Frank that we, and Charles, receive much of the aforementioned libertarian wisdom.

C.M. Kornbluth

Uncle Frank understands the state and has a keen sense of history. He understands, as few today do, that laissez-faire works — until governments start to tinker with it. Regulations and other government interventions are not the products of wise, benevolent politicians and bureaucrats. Big, established corporations call for regulation of their own industry — under the guise of consumer protection, of course, but with the actual aim, or at least effect, of maintaining the status quo and hindering competition. Government intervention snowballs. A fiat paper currency fuels public debt,  mounting inflation, and inequality. History has taught him it’s best not to meddle.

Frank frequently protests that the Syndic is not a government, but one gets the impression he does not mean this literally — at one point Charles admits that the Syndic is a government too — but rather as a warning to his fellow Syndic leaders not to behave like the Syndic is an abstract, permanent institution through which they have a right to rule for the good of the people. As Charles is wont to echo Frank, the Syndic is nothing more than “some people and their morale and credit.”

Frank understands that war is the health of the state. A standing military and a war will be a drain on their wealth. There will be much death and destruction, curtailed freedom at home, altered sensibilities, erosion of their carefree culture. The Syndic government itself would be forever changed if it embarked on the path of traditional government, centralizing and expanding its power, losing its meritocratic family- and business-like character. War would mean an end to their way of life — in the name of preserving it. The Syndic would become the very thing they meant to defend it against.

As Frank retorts to Charles: “Nothing can be a matter of life or death to the Syndic. When anything becomes a matter of life or death to the Syndic, the Syndic is already dead, its morale is already disintegrated, its credit already gone. What is left is not the Syndic but the Syndic’s dead shell.”

Despite its age, The Syndic is not a dead shell. It is a science-fiction classic that should be on every libertarian fiction-lover’s to-read list. It’s a short and quick, entertaining read — about half as long as the typical science fiction novel today, a quarter the length of the average epic fantasy novel. While characterization receives short shrift by contemporary standards, and events might feel a bit rushed to modern sensibilities, The Syndic’s strengths lie in its plotting and timeless ideas. The modern reader should be forewarned that attitudes toward women expressed within are rather old-fashioned, but the story is not without a strong female protagonist. Kornbluth’s prose is good and occasionally brilliant. I leave you with this little gem that culminates a bless-curse sequence:

“Bless the founding fathers for the exquisitely Newtonian eighteenth-century machinery of the Constitution, and curse them for visiting it in all its unworkable beauty on the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.”

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 12 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/06/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-12-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/06/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-12-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Sat, 06 Oct 2012 21:14:57 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10369

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

We start out the second half of the book with two more chapters. Hunt is starting to benefit from the seeds planted in earlier chapters. There is a lot going on, a lot of side plots and characters to worry about, and as each advances, they give us that mild euphoria that comes from a new development or a new clue revealed. With so much to work with, these developments and clues come tumbling out of the prose at us.

The first chapter begins with some medical care for Jeff Baddori. It catches us up to date with Dr. Thomas Standall, whom we met earlier. The research done into the wounds that Jeff and Petur received adds a lot to the narrative. It also allows for some pro-market explanations. I would have omitted the first three paragraphs and had the information therein come out as dialogue though.

The second part of the first chapter is a bracing search for the bad guys. This time, something is found. It’s a stimulating little stretch of prose and leaves us with the certainty of trouble ahead.

The second chapter deals with Onbacher’s theories about the Bounty. He has made some progress in his own search, which he confesses was, initially, his principle interest in The Island. The novel has a lot of appealing aspects, and this is one of the main ones. It takes a historical fact, fills in a lot of gaps with some real imagination and then connects it all to the present narrative, which does not have to have anything to do with it. It could survive quite well on its own, but the addition of the historical fiction enriches the tale.

Right now, we can see only possibilities, but there are many and they are all exciting. How is the past going to affect the present as the story progresses? Like real life, there is a lot going on; there are many characters on the stage; and things are simply too difficult to predict.

My only criticism of the last chapter is to note that there is one paragraph too many. Erase the last one, and consider how the penultimate paragraph leaves things a little less explained but still well understood. The effect, in my opinion, would be better.

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THE LIGHTMONTHLY READ | Currently Reading Alongside Night, September Recap, Nominations Open for November http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/06/the-lightmonthly-read-currently-reading-alongside-night-september-recap-nominations-open-for-november/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/06/the-lightmonthly-read-currently-reading-alongside-night-september-recap-nominations-open-for-november/#comments Sat, 06 Oct 2012 08:07:09 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10353

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

I’m a little late with this post and I completely failed to send out the voting results email via our newsletter last month. All I can say right now is that I’ve been rather preoccupied with some momentous events for the site. First, I upgraded from shared hosting to a virtual private server (VPS) at DreamHost even though we’re not yet bringing in enough revenue to cover the significantly added cost. We’d simply outgrown shared hosting; the site was loading slowly and often failed to load at all, especially on the backend while trying to save and publish posts. Second, the new version of the theme I designed this site with, Thesis 2.0, was just released on the 1st. It’s a radically redesigned and powerful theme framework and I’ve been obsessed with scaling its steep relearning curve and redesigning Prometheus Unbound on it. Stay tuned for Prometheus Unbound 2.0. It’s gonna be awesome, if I do say so myself.

But enough with excuses… For the month of October, we are reading and discussing J. Neil Schulman’s classic dystopian science fiction novel Alongside Night, winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award and currently being adapted into a movie starring Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, Andromeda):

The American economy is experiencing a systematic meltdown. The country is turning into a totalitarian police-surveillance state, but bold black-market enterprises use the latest technology to thrive. Anyone declared a terrorist by the administration is stripped of their Constitutional rights and sent to a secret federal prison. Caught in the middle of it all are the brilliant 17-year-old son of a missing Nobel Prize–winning economist (Dr. Vreeland), his best friend from prep school whose uncle was once a guerrilla fighter, and the beautiful but mysterious 17-year-old girl he meets in a secret underground… a girl who carries a pistol with a silencer.

The setting could be next week. But this Prometheus Hall of Fame Award–winning novel was written over three decades ago. And now it is being adapted into a film starring Kevin Sorbo as Dr. Martin Vreeland.

Our book giveaway is over, but if you missed out you can purchase a copy in Kindle or paper format at Amazon.com. Your purchase via our affiliate links will help support our work here at Prometheus Unbound.

Join us as we read and discuss Alongside Night. And stay tuned for the official event announcement of the upcoming live author chat with Schulman, hosted by Prometheus Unbound via Google+ Hangouts on Air.

You need not have voted on this month’s selection to join in the discussion, but you do need to be registered and logged in on this site to access the book club’s dedicated forums.

September Recap

I’ll update this post with a more extensive recap later in the month, followed by a full review, but for now I can say we enjoyed Jack Vance’s Emphyrio. The stylized prose and dialogue might not be for everyone, and the story takes a while to really get going (a lot of time is spent on background and setup), but the book is very enjoyable and worth a read. There is much for libertarians to appreciate in Emphyrio as well. The setting is a planet run as an welfare state by mysterious lords, in which the economy is artisan-based and any mass production or duplication is strictly prohibited and harshly punished. Events lead the protagonist, Ghyl, to rebel against this unjust system.

Discussion has been moved to the TLR — Previous Reads forum if you have more to say about it.

Nominations Open for November

If you want a say in what we will read next month, head on over to November 2012 Nominations thread in the book selection forum and put in a nomination.

Deadline for nominations is Wednesday, October 10th. Then voting will be open on the nominees until Saturday, October 20th, when the winner will be determined.

IMPORTANT NOTE

Do you want to receive the results of the nomination and voting processes in your inbox every month so that you don’t have to remember to check the forum on a certain date? Are you so busy that you sometimes forget when the voting process starts for our next read? If so, then you’ll want to sign up for our email newsletter.

We used to post these updates and reminders directly on our site, but now we send them via email instead — typically on the 11th and 21st of every month. We’ll continue to post more frequent reminders on the major social networks, but there’s no guarantee you won’t miss those.

For up-to-date information about our book club, you can always visit the Lightmonthly Read page.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Looper http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/03/movie-review-looper/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/03/movie-review-looper/#comments Wed, 03 Oct 2012 05:09:03 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10334

Looper

Logic is never kind to a story about time travel. It seems that no matter what idea or aspect of so-called fourth dimensional travel a storyteller wishes to pursue, something does not work right — contradictions abound. The biggest plot holes in the history of fiction are to be found therein. For my money, this is the first and best reason to suppose that time travel is not possible. Reality is nothing if not possible and plausible — at least from the perspective of one in possession of the relevant facts — and if a story cannot be made to work right when time travel is involved, reality probably cannot either.

There is, however, a lot of potential in such tales. If a viewer will but suspend his disbelief and allow an author or filmmaker to explore one possibility while forgetting its necessary and contradictory corollaries, then some interesting possibilities may be realized. Rian Johnson has done a first-rate job of spinning a time-traveling yarn with the new movie Looper, if the audience will afford it such consideration.

The year is 2044, and time travel, as we are told by the narrator and protagonist (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is not yet invented. Thirty years in the future, it is/will be (it occurs to me that we need another tense or two in the English language when we discuss these things). It is illegal, though, and only mobsters make use of it, to send back their targets to be eliminated and their bodies disposed of. The men who do the eliminating and disposing are called loopers, and they earn that appellation when they close their own loop by, at the end of their contract, killing their 30-years-older selves.

Our protagonist, called simply Joe, is a drug abusing, well-dressed looper with a manner perhaps a bit too refined, and a face perhaps too smooth and handsome, for someone in his station. Leonardo DiCaprio, in The Departed, managed to overcome his golden beauty and give a convincing portrayal of a hoodlum. I would have preferred something rougher like that in Looper. Gordon-Levitt has all the makings of a leading man, but I thought the role he portrayed in this film was not quite the right one.

Nevertheless, Johnson and Gordon-Levitt manage to fashion a three-dimensional character out of Joe, and he is not the only one. It is impressive how many roles in this movie are handled with enough care to make them feel like real people, even a few with minimal screen time. For that alone the movie rises above the mediocre majority.

One day, inevitably, Joe comes face to face with his future self, sent back in time. There is something different, though. Future Joe is not bound at the wrists with his head in a white sack as all the others are, and in surprise Present Joe hesitates, allowing Future Joe to escape. Failure to dispose of a mark is not looked upon kindly in the underworld of this never-named Midwestern city, so Present Joe tries to hunt down his future self to save his present self. Meanwhile, his future self is on a mission to kill a child before he can turn into a man and do terrible things decades hence, but he does not know which of three children he must kill.

The story comprises a lot more than what is detailed here, but the above suffices to give a basic idea. To tell any more would spoil the surprise. I will just say that it all leads to a very satisfying conclusion, one you can see coming if you are paying attention and thinking about the possibilities, but the foresight does not make it a disappointment. Instead, the suspicion of what is coming and the step-by-step approach to getting there heighten the anticipation.

Along with The Gray, I found Looper to be the best movie I have seen this year, and there are a number of things I could point to. The characterizations and the inspired idea I have already mentioned; there are more noteworthy features.

Looper: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis
…and another one bites the dust!

The world is well-crafted, mixing the old and familiar with the new and improved. The same process of new technology overlapping but not immediately replacing older versions is a constant, and there is no reason to think that 2044 will be any different. The sets capture this perfectly. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of the mundane with the fictional and fantastic. Sometimes we cut from a run-down apartment to a futuristic skyline at night; other times we see an advanced city in the background while corn stalks sway in the breeze in the foreground. A new contraption that dusts crops comes out of a dilapidated old barn that is probably old right now in 2012. While it hovers over the corn, a farmer cuts into a tree stump with her ax and rubs her skin raw.

With characters so well-drawn and a world so well-envisioned, even a middling plot would satisfy, but Looper is a cut above the average, storywise. It is a tale that takes us through many interactions and many phases, covers much territory with a host of emotional highs and lows. While never forgetting its original conceit, it ventures far into new territory, finally becoming a tale about many things, but all in the right balance. The director takes advantage of the unique situation of having different temporal versions of the same man interacting with each other. What happens to the younger version must affect the older version, and a couple inspired scenes play with this idea.

There are a lot of details in the movie that at first seem to serve no purpose, but in the end they all come into play. There is a metaphor about small and large spiders, which gives a clue about events yet to transpire. An offhand comment from a prostitute gives us information that will later be important. A mutant psychic power, for the longest time, seems like a whimsical addition to the world, but proves to be vital to the resolution. Everything is there for a reason, even if it does not come out right away.

Finally, I would note the camerawork. Director Rian Johnson makes use of what is off camera as much as what is on camera, and he always seems to nail it. Some shots are effective because they are simple, like the opening shot, while others achieve a harmonious complexity that delights the eyes.

There is very little to quibble about. The protagonist might not be the most believable in his situation, and Emily Blunt’s Sara is also not quite right for a former street walker turned mother and farmer. Even forgetting the illogic involved with time travel, we have to wonder why targets in the future are not killed in the future and merely disposed of in the past. For a profession like loopers with a demonstrated high time preference, one wonders how Joe, a drug addict, resists the temptation to spend and winds up saving so much money. The imperfections in this gem are few and small.

The trend continues with movies. We must wait for the latter part of a year to get most of our good ones. This makes for a depressing drought for a few months, but the end of the year always holds promise. Looper, let us hope, is just the vanguard.

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MOVIE REVIEW | DREDD 3D http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/01/movie-review-dredd-3d/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/10/01/movie-review-dredd-3d/#comments Mon, 01 Oct 2012 13:15:12 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10313

Dredd 3D

The Hollywood Movie Factory has turned out another flick, helping to satiate the demand for competent but uninspired action vehicles conveniently forgettable enough not to take up valuable cerebral RAM for the long-term. This one is called Dredd 3D and is based on the same source material that spawned the Stallone production some years ago. I hardly remember the previous version, and I fully expect to have difficulties recalling the present one when, in a decade or two, they remake it. More interesting than the movie, however, are all the libertarian points it makes without any indication that it means to.

In the future, the United States has become an irradiated wasteland, save for a megacity that stretches from old Boston to old DC. A place of squalor and, one suspects based on general living conditions, a robust welfare state, 800 million inhabitants huddle together inside its protective walls, trying to eke out an existence while spawning the occasional mutant.

There are gigantic living centers hundreds of stories high where like classes of people are housed. These massive structures have all the hallmarks of government housing, from a disinterested janitorial staff to poorly maintained and infrequently cleaned premises to homeless squatters claiming filthy nooks and crannies. As one would expect, drug lords dominate in these neglected mini-cities.

Judge Dredd, a member of the police/military class, has the legal privilege to apprehend, try, and punish on his own authority. He takes a student out with him for a day, a young woman who cannot manage a passing grade at the academy but whose mutant psychic powers make her highly desirable for the force. In answering a police call, they enter Peach Trees, the name of one of the gigantic living complexes, and arrest a prominent member of a powerful drug gang. The local drug lord, fearing what information her subordinate will give away when he is interrogated, locks down the building and tries to eliminate the judges.

Though the movie evinces no libertarian intentions, it gets a lot of things right about which a libertarian can make a number of points. Consider the Drug War. There is a new drug called Slo-Mo that slows down perception of reality for the user, making seconds seem like minutes. A drop of rain, from the perspective of someone on a Slo-Mo high, appears to hang in the air and hardly move. To society’s detriment, this seemingly innocuous drug is prohibited, and all the attendant black market decay, violence, and corruption are everywhere to be seen.

The movie does not get into it, but it is an interesting exercise to imagine the fictional history of the drug. Like marijuana, it is harmless, making it a prime target for prohibitionists, but harmlessness is never enough. For a drug to be outlawed, it must also be stained by association with a people considered inferior or at least lower class.

A drug with the effects of Slo-Mo would be a positive boon for, say, a particle physicist. How better to catch a glimpse of some exotic and elusive speck of quark than to slow it down by a factor of who knows how many orders of magnitude? In such a case, the drug would be hailed as a modern miracle, and some lucky pharmaceutical company would be taking out patents right and left while collecting money hand over fist. We must suppose, then, for the sake of plausibility, that unemployed welfare recipients got to it first and used it to prolong their orgasms, or something similarly unseemly.

In this world there would, of course, be a corollary to the medical marijuana movement, maybe called the scientific Slo-Mo coalition, who would endlessly argue the benefits of decriminalization to a public that was largely not paying attention, but this is not shown in the movie.

What is shown, however, are the results of government provision of police services. The figure is given that there are 17,000 reported crimes each day in the megacity, and Judge Dredd explains to his rookie that they cannot possibly handle all of them. They must choose which crimes to ignore and which to investigate.

Dredd 3D
The warrant scene was edited out.

Government provision of anything leads to shortages, as we all know. This is why our courts are backed up; this is why we are chastised for using water and are subject to blackouts. It would make more sense to allow each living structure to form its own police force, made up of gun-carrying citizens, but government prefers to have that power to itself. Even the streamlined “due process,” which consists of a Judge deciding your fate on the spot, is analogous to the plea bargaining system we have now, where hardly any case ever goes to trial. Instead, a district attorney uses the possibility of ridiculous sentences and dozens of charges all stemming from what is essentially one crime (which often is not even a real crime) to induce the suspect to plead guilty for a lesser charge.

When government feels the squeeze, it responds by relaxing standards. Can anyone imagine Ford Motor Company not moving Heaven and Earth to keep up with a surge in demand for automobiles while maintaining quality?

The movie does not deal with the problem of mistakes in sentencing, a problem made worse by the frequent use of the death penalty. Nor does it show us the tyrants that policemen given such powers must become. The Judges are depicted as hard but fair, for the most part, bent on cleaning up the city and unconcerned by personal gain. Though a handful of Judges do succumb to the bribery of the wealthy drug lords, at no time do we see a Judge who abuses his power on his own, just for the sheer joy of exercising power or possibly to set up his own little fiefdom within the greater empire.

Nevertheless, this mediocre offering does a good job of showing us the real effects of drug prohibition and police power, even if we must fill in the causes and interrelationship on our own. It is a pity that the movie itself was not more engrossing.

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SERIAL BOOK REVIEW | Higher Cause (Part 11 of 22) by John Hunt http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/09/28/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-11-of-22-by-john-hunt/ http://prometheus-unbound.org/2012/09/28/serial-book-review-higher-cause-part-11-of-22-by-john-hunt/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2012 22:51:00 +0000 http://prometheus-unbound.org/?p=10295

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

We have finished the first half of Higher Cause with this, the 11th installment. We get three chapters this time, each dealing with different places and different characters. The action is well under way, so any break we get from here on out will be, one suspects, something of a cliff hanger.

The first chapter picks up where we left off last time, with Jeff and Petur dealing with the attack on the OTEC. As Jeff feared, there was more to come. Indeed, what transpires is perhaps the most harrowing part of the entire ordeal with the saboteurs and assassins. By the time it is over, it seems like a draw between the two sides, and we know that they will butt heads again, most likely multiple times, after they have licked their respective wounds.

The second chapter is perhaps the best thing John Hunt has yet given us. We return to Mexico, to the former drug family now involved in political revolution. We might discuss its placement in the book, because it is largely an establishing chapter and this is the very middle of the novel, but what it gives us is engrossing.

We have a father and a son. The other son is now deceased, as we saw earlier, and the living son has schemes. The dynamic between the two is good, and then we are treated to a scene of the son pursuing a lust-interest who works in the father’s home but who resists the son’s advances. This also adds flavor to the mix, tells us a little more about the son as we discover his motives and his attitude about the whole thing. As if this were not enough, a final twist is added at the end, and that is the best part of all.

I have to say, I am as excited to read more developments in this thread as I am to read anything else in the book.

Finally, we end with a chapter detailing the patrolling of the OTEC and the pursuit of the saboteurs. Whether or not this needed its own chapter is something that might be better determined later, but it strikes me as something that might be cut down to its essentials, which does not seem to be too much. At the very least, it should follow the first chapter, or possibly just be the end of it.

As before, there are a few things that could be done to enliven the prose. Adverbs abound, many of which could be jettisoned, along with their verb, in favor of a stronger, more colorful bit of vocabulary. Others, like “now,” are not necessary and used too frequently, but there are no egregious problems with the writing. Just what I would term clean-up work.

I shall eagerly await next Wednesday, and especially hope that we get another taste of Mexico, as well as some build up for another clash between Jeff and Petur, and the assassins.

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