(Austrian) Economics

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

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.

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Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

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.

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Emphyrio by Jack Vance

Emphyrio by Jack Vance

For the month of September we are reading and discussing Emphyrio by Jack Vance:

“The plot revolves around a young man, Ghyl Tarvoke, who hails from from the city of Ambroy located on the planet Halma. Halma’s ruled by unseen, mysterious Lords who run the planet as a giant welfare state. Workers are paid a stipend for their labor and all forms of mass production or duplication (including printing) are strictly, and I mean strictly, prohibited.” When Ghyl’s father, a wood-carver, is executed for processing old documents with a camera, Ghyl rebels and decides to bring down the system.

A recent edition of the book can be purchased for Kindle at Amazon.com. Your purchase via our affiliate links will help support our work here at Prometheus Unbound. If you prefer, Barnes & Noble has the book as an epub. There don’t appear to be any dead-tree editions in print, but new and used copies of old editions can be found.

Join us as we read and discuss Emphyrio. I’ve already started a thread on Vance’s idiosyncratic prose style.

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.

August Recap

Everyone enjoyed Matthew Alexander’s libertarian science fiction novel Wĭthûr Wē, both for its writing quality and for its uncompromising Austro-Libertarian content. The general consensus seems to be that Matthew did a very good job at the difficult task of incorporating the philosophical, political, and economic elements into the plot without coming across as too preachy. The novel rivals some epic fantasies in length, however, so it does take some courage to begin reading and perseverance to get through.

A couple of forum participants compared Wĭthûr Wē favorably to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. One observed that Matthew presented the other side’s arguments more fairly. Another liked that, unlike Rand, Matthew illustrated how our ideals could be realized and that the main protagonist in Wĭthûr Wē is a more fully realized human being than Rand’s concretized ideals, such as John Galt.

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David Brin

Can I look any more smug. Can I.

David Brin
David Brin

Oops, he did it again.

David Brin, whom some think of as a libertarian science fiction author, and who styles himself as such, but who really isn’t even close to being libertarian, and who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time these days attacking real libertarians like a jilted lover, was recently interviewed on Wired.com via the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.

Brin has a controversial take on Star Wars. For example, he calls Yoda one of the most evil characters ever. Well, okay, Brin does have something of a point when it comes to Yoda. The Jedi as a whole are pretty much useless, meddling busybodies who are directly or indirectly responsible for the fundamental political problems in the Star Wars universe.

But Brin’s main criticism of Star Wars and George Lucas is premised largely on his fetish for state-democracy (my term for democratic institutions and processes ossified as formal mechanisms in the state apparatus). Lucas comes under fire for always protraying the republic as corrupt and nonfunctioning, which he does because he despises democracy and favors benign dictatorship.

But, of course, Brin has staked his entire nonfiction career on his Platonic ideal of radical transparency allowing perfect knowledge in a state-democracy. Only when this ideal is realized will freedom be protected and capitalism work properly, says Brin.

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Higher Cause by John Hunt

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 latest installment consists of three chapters. The story continues to introduce some new characters, but now, separated characters are slowly being brought together.

In the first chapter, we revisit Jeff, one of the characters introduced earlier, as he meets someone whose patronymic suggests a familial connection with another character. There is also an important bit of information at the end of the chapter, something that a reader will probably be expecting. It gives a little jolt of electricity to the story and hints at suspense to come.

The next chapter is the first one that I would offer serious criticism to. It begins by introducing a new character, and I would say that there are too many unimportant details, or details that can come out in another way. This in itself is not a big issue, but midway through the chapter this new character, a recently laid-off or perhaps fired professor comes home to find someone waiting for him there. Suddenly, the narrative jumps out of the head of the professor and into the head of the newcomer, and then we are treated to a few paragraphs explaining who this person is and what he is like. The chapter is near to 2,500 words, and most of it is exposition with a jolting point-of-view change in the middle. It does serve a plot point, but I would have preferred to see it achieve this with more economy.

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Wĭthûr Wē by Matthew Bruce Alexander

Wĭthûr Wē by Matthew Bruce Alexander

For the month of August we are reading and discussing Wĭthûr Wē, a science fiction novel influenced by anarcho-capitalism and Austrian School economics, written by our own Matthew Alexander.

Centuries hence, Man, seemingly alone in the universe, slowly spreads his civilizations across his corner of the galaxy. Tyrants vie for power, and in their fierce grip the colonies of the Milky Way are suffocating. In this society of many billions, a young marine, a highly trained war hero, returns home from his tour of duty. Physically powerful yet shy, awkward and unable to sway the masses with pretty speeches, Alistair Ashley 3nn makes a decision to strike at the hierarchy the only way he can. His decision starts him on a grand adventure, and as he is carried along by forces beyond his control, he comes to confront an ancient secret, one which may reveal humanity’s future.

You can get a free PDF copy at the author’s website. The book can be purchased for Kindle or in trade paperback at Amazon.com. Your purchase via our affiliate links will help support both Matthew’s writing and our work here at Prometheus Unbound.

Join us as we read and discuss Wĭthûr Wē.

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.

Book Giveaway / Newsletter Signup Results

Last month we gave away free Kindle (mobi) copies of Wĭthûr Wē in exchange for signing up for our email newsletter. We think the campaign was a big success. We attracted more than 80 new subscribers, more than quintupling our mailing list, and gave away at least that many copies of Matthew’s novel.

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EDITORIAL | Why Space Is So Important Thumbnail

Robert Zubrin

The answer: freedom and opportunity.

Dr. Robert Zubrin has long been a strong proponent of Mars colonization and he has put forth a strategy for doing so with existing technology on the (relative) cheap. Hint: We don’t need to build big spaceships in orbit or colonize the moon first. If you’re interested in this subject, I recommend you check out his books Entering Space, The Case for Mars, and How to Live on Mars. These books are understandable to the layman but also include enough nitty-gritty details and formulas to satisfy the more mathematically inclined enthusiast, and they make excellent resources for science fiction authors.

In the brief video below, Zubrin is answering a question about his book, How to Live on Mars, at the 28th Annual International Space Development Conference, held March 28-31, 2009. Watch it and then continue on after the break for my thoughts on what he had to say.

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