revolution

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 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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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

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.

[Keep reading…]

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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

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.

[Keep reading…]

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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

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.

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Anarchist Bee

“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” is a delightful fable,1 not only on account of the political themes it explores but also some very fine writing. The short story was first published in Clarkesworld Magazine (Issue 55, April 2011) and then republished by Escape Pod (Episode 343, March 2012). If you’re partial to audio fiction, you can spend a pleasant half hour listening to the story being narrated by Kate Baker (Clarkesworld) or Mur Lafferty (Escape Pod).2 Yu’s tale has been nominated for a 2011 Nebula Award and a 2012 Hugo and is a finalist for a Locus Award and the Million Writers Award, and it is deserving of all of these honors. Yu, a student at Princeton, is a new author to watch.

Yu’s tale warns of the transitive and cyclical nature of violence — from thoughtless destruction to calculated imperialism. It begins with a boy attacking a wasp nest and ending the uneasy truce between the wasps and his village. The villagers make an amazing discovery: the wasps had inked beautiful maps of the land (China) into the walls of their nest. Soon the wasps were hunted to near extinction and a group of survivors manages to escape.

The leader of the surviving wasps has learned well the hard lessons of realpolitick. Once the new nest has been established, she orders her wasps to expand aggressively. A nearby bee hive is enslaved and forced to pay tribute. The victim of violence has resolved to avoid being the victim ever again by becoming the oppressor.

But the subjugation of the bees has unintended consequences. Some of the bees are educated and trained in philosophy, science, and cartography. One day a bee with an inclination to anarchism is born and so educated and trained, and she produces a brood of anarchist sons…

[Keep reading…]


  1. Yu believes (see the comments over at Clarkesworld) her story is hard science fiction for some reason to do with studies of bees, but since wasps and bees aren’t capable of cartography, philosophy, science, and the like, the story simply cannot be classified as hard science fiction; it’s fantasy. What do you think? 

  2. If you have to choose, I’d go with Baker. To me at least, she is by far the better narrator. 

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BOOK REVIEW | Little Brother by Cory Doctorow Thumbnail

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a tale about tech-savvy teenagers as they rebel against a Department of Homeland Security crackdown following a terrorist attack on San Fransisco. A piece of YA fiction that even adults can enjoy — it’s YA largely because of its teenage protagonists and its educational aim at young people — Little Brother is the 2009 Prometheus Award winner for best libertarian novel. Little Brother also won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and was a finalist for the Hugo Award.

Little Brother is set entirely in San Fransisco, California, in the very near future. Much of the technology in the story is already available, and what is not can easily be conceived as being on the horizon. The story is told entirely in the first person, from the point of view of the main character, Marcus Yallow. Marcus at first goes by the handle w1n5t0n (Winston in leetspeak, a homage to George Orwell’s 1984, as is the title of the book) but later switches to M1k3y (which could be a reference to the computer Mike in Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

As the story opens, we are introduced to Marcus and three of his friends — Jolu (Jose Luis), Van (Vanessa), and best friend, Darryl — who ditch school to play an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) called Harajuku Fun Madness in and around the city. They happen to have the misfortune of being in the wrong part of town when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge. In the chaos and confusion that follows, they get picked up by the Department of Homeland Security and then subjected to several days of interrogation and psychological torture in a “Gitmo by the Bay” before being released (with the exception of Darryl) with threats to keep quiet about their experience…or else. But once set free, Marcus and his friends are disturbed to see their city being turned into a police state.

Marcus resolves to fight back against the DHS, to restore civil rights and liberties and to free Darryl. He soon becomes the unofficial leader of a growing, decentralized movement of rebellious teenagers. But his covert struggle starts to put a strain on his relationships with his family and friends.

[Keep reading…]

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Prometheus Unbound

My name is Geoffrey Allan Plauché. I’m a philosopher and an academic. I decided to launch a libertarian review of fiction and literature as a sort of online “magazine” because I’m not aware of any other such site and I think there is a need for one.

The closest things I can think of to Prometheus Unbound are the quarterly newsletter of the Libertarian Futurist Society, similarly titled Prometheus, and a new blog called Austrian Economics and Literature. The former is print-bound and focused almost exclusively on science fiction, the latter online but narrowly focused on — you guessed it — Austrian Economics and literature. I’m glad these publications exist but, taken individually and even together, they’re not exactly what I’m looking for.

Prometheus Unbound will be entirely online. I think print-only is a dead and antiquated medium, particularly for a small niche publication with a heavy emphasis on science fiction (the literature of the future and change,1 science and technology) and catering to libertarians. We can publish more frequently online, in more discrete chunks, for less money, and reach far more people in a variety of ways (the website, myriad rss feeds, email, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and the like).

Prometheus Unbound will have a broader scope. Not simply Austrian Economics but libertarianism, albeit a libertarianism informed by Austrian Economics. Not simply literature but also popular fiction that does not (yet) qualify for that high distinction in the eyes of literary critics or the masses. Not simply science fiction but also fantasy and other genres, but still primarily science fiction and fantasy (as they are my primary interest). Not just prose but, probably to a lesser degree, other media as well — such as film, tv, comics and graphic novels, poetry, and games. Our focus will not be on libertarian fiction (though we are on the lookout for it) or fiction by libertarian authors (who are distressingly too few in number) but on reviewing and commenting on fiction from a libertarian perspective.

As I said, I plan to build Prometheus Unbound into something like an online magazine. I hope this will not be a one-man show. We will feature news, reviews, editorials and other commentary, non-fiction articles, eventually interviews (I hope), and, in the undetermined future, possibly some original fiction. I’m looking for fellow libertarians, particularly fans of science fiction and fantasy, who would be interested in contributing on either a regular or an irregular basis. We’re in need of editors, regular writers or columnists, and irregular or part-time contributors. Even if you only contribute a few reviews a year on your own schedule or lack thereof, we’d be happy to consider your submissions.

If you’re interested in becoming a regular or part-time contributor, you can send a submission query or contact me about a position via the Contact form. See the About and Submissions pages for more information.

Finally, a few words about why I chose the title Prometheus Unbound: I took inspiration from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s closet drama, a play not intended for the stage, of the same name. There also happens to be an episode of the science fantasy tv series Stargate SG-1 with the same title as well as a seminal book of economic history titled The Unbound Prometheus. The latter, by David S. Landes, was influential for labeling the Second Industrial Revolution, which was also known as the Technological Revolution for its abundance of innovations and inventions that drove modernization and technological development in Western Europe beginning in the mid-1800s.

While Landes’s book tells the economic-historical story of the results of relatively unchained minds — unprecedented progress and prosperity — Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound dramatizes a related political message in mytho-poetic form. Shelley’s play was inspired by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus’s own telling of the myth of the Titan punished by Zeus for “stealing”2 fire from the gods and giving it to Man. But whereas Aeschylus had oppressor and victim reconcile, Shelley thought such an ending to be unfitting:

But, in truth, I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the Oppressor of mankind. The moral interest of the fable, which is so powerfully sustained by the sufferings and endurance of Prometheus, would be annihilated if we could conceive of him as unsaying his high language and quailing before his successful and perfidious adversary.

Instead of reconciliation, Shelley gives us a revolution “championing free will, goodness, hope and idealism in the face of oppression.” Zeus (Jupiter) is overthrown and Prometheus is thereby freed. But rather than replace one tyrant with another, as so often happens with revolutions, particularly exemplified by the recent (at the time) French Revolution, the play ends with no one in political power at all — an anarchist’s paradise.

On the importance of dramatizing our values (pdf), Shelley ends the preface to his play:

My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the more select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that, until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness.

Fiction plays important roles in our lives and I think it is an important medium for expressing libertarian values. Our Prometheus Unbound will aim to identify libertarian values dramatized in works of fiction and literature and to bring works that contain those values to the attention of our readers. But I also hope that by doing so Prometheus Unbound will help promote the inclusion of libertarian values in more published fiction.


  1. Science fiction author David Brin recently wrote: “Science fiction is one of the most “American” literary genres, because, like America itself, SF has a relentless fascination with change. In fact, I believe that this trait — rather than technology — is what most distinguishes SF from fantasy.” 

  2. More on this in a later post. 

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