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.

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.

4 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

Matthew Bruce Alexander Staff Writer

Matthew is a libertarian living in central Ohio. A graduate of Ohio State University, he majored in Spanish and has published a work of libertarian science-fiction called Wĭthûr Wē.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Pete McAlpine December 2, 2012 @ 4:52 pm | Link

    “This quest takes him into the world of the agorists, free-market rebels and masters of counter-economics.” — the grossly unrealistic, but an entertaining part of the book.

  • J. Neil Schulman October 29, 2014 @ 10:27 pm | Link

    Since this kind review of my novel was published in 2012 a new edition of the book — Alongside Night — The Movie Edition — has been released, along with a new unabridged audiobook and J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night — The Graphic Novel. All of this accompanying the release of Alongside Night — The Movie.


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