Statism

Analog January/February 2005

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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One Nation Under Blood by Tarrin P. Lupo

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.

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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.

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Space Taxi
Space Taxi
NASA-Certified Space Taxi

It sure seems like that’s what NASA is doing. NASA has to do something in order to maintain its relevance as the space age dawns in the era of commercial space flight. NASA is still running scientific-exploratory missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, but even this role will be soon be overtaken by private enterprises like Planetary Resources.

From Space.com comes news that NASA has launched a private space taxi certification program. The program will consist of a two-stage “process aimed at ensuring commercial passenger spaceships currently under development will meet the agency’s safety standards, schedule and mission requirements.” Yay, NASA’s record of safety, timeliness, and priorities with minimal bureaucratic waste leaves me reassured.

Budget cuts no doubt have something to do with the certification program as well. “NASA expects to award multiple firms a Certification Products Contract (CPC), each of which will run for 15 months and be worth up to $10 million.” Restrict competition, rake in the dough, ensure the continuation of your own jobs, and retain control of the space industry — all in the name of safety, science, human progress, and protecting taxpayer “investments.”

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