Geek Beach Reading

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…is watching

The Libertarian Futurist Society gives an annual award to the year's best pro-freedom novel. This year's Prometheus finalists for Best Novel are:

  • Matter, by Iain Banks (Orbit Books)—Part of Banks' series of far-future space operas about the Culture, a utopia which reflects Banks' interest in anarchism through its avoidance of the use of force except when necessary for protection and defense. The novel focuses on an agent in Special Circumstances, the Culture's special forces unit, who returns to her home planet, a "shellworld" with multiple layers of habitation, after her father has been killed in a coup.
  • Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (TOR Books)—A cautionary tale about a high-school student and his friends who are rounded up in the hysteria following a terrorist attack, the novel focuses on how people find the courage to respond to oppression.
  • The January Dancer, by Michael Flynn (TOR Books)—The classic space opera, set in an interstellar civilization created by a wide-ranging human diaspora, revolves around how discovery of a an alien relic sends agents of a multisystem federation on a quest that exposes them to political and economic institutions of many different cultures and requires them to deal with threats to freedom, from piracy to political corruption.
  • Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross (Ace Books)—A robot's adventures after all the humans in a society have died raises complex issues of ethics, duty, family and struggle in this Heinlenesque novel.
  • Opening Atlantis, by Harry Turtledove (Penguin/Roc Books)—Set in a world where medieval Europeans discover an island continent in the Atlantic Ocean, this first novel in a new atternate-history series explores the politics of colonization and the struggle for self-determination while offering parallels and contrasts with development of the Americas.
  • Half a Crown, by Jo Walton (TOR Books) -The sequel to Walton's Prometheus Award-winning Ha'penny concludes her alternative-history trilogy, set two decades after Britain reached accommodation with Hitler's Germany in the 1940s, with a chilling portrait of people all too willing to trade freedom for security.

We at Reason are especially excited about Cory Doctorow's nomination, since we've been keeping tabs on his young adult novel, Little Brother, for a while now. Ron Bailey reviewed it here. Doctorow listed three political books for young adults in our pages here.

And I interviewed Doctorow for an article on the love affair between libertarians and science fiction here. In fact, four of the six nominees above make appearances in my article. The fifth is Michael Flynn, who just happens to share a name with the Reason Foundation director of government affairs. Mike, is there something you're not telling us?

NEXT: The End of Hysteria and the Last Man

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  1. Iain Bank’s Culture novels are really excellent. The Culture is a well thought out example of a post-scarcity anarchistic society–right up my alley.

  2. the Culture, a utopia which reflects Banks’ interest in anarchism through its avoidance of the use of force except when necessary for protection and defense.

    This a breathtakingly erroneous misreading of Banks’ novels. While The Culture espouses this philosophy, every one of the books center around them nudging, sabotaging, or waging outright war in order to impose their beliefs on more “primitive” cultures. They compulsively fuck with other people due to a profound liberal guilt that is created out of the cognitive dissonance between having the power to do something and a professed unwillingness to do it.

    While anarchistic and individualistic, they retain the impulse to tell other people how to live their lives, and it almost always blows up in their faces.

    The novels are very, very good, but much more ethically complex in their exploration of the moral hazards created by unexamined hypocrisy than that summary suggests.

  3. While anarchistic and individualistic, they retain the impulse to tell other people how to live their lives, and it almost always blows up in their faces.

    Yes, but never via force, but rather trickery and non-violent coercion. While I disagree with such interference, they still adhere to a non-aggression principle.

    If you force your alcoholic uncle into a rehab center, that’s wrong. But if you trick him into checking himself in–is that wrong? That’s the grey zone Banks has Special Circumstances working in.

  4. SF nails it. The Culture is basically at the point where they could Sublime to a higher state of existence, basically becoming gods. They choose instead to hang around and meddle in the affairs of other civilizations to try and guide their development.

    The Culture may read like an anarcho-libber paradise, but ironically Banks himself has said he created it around Marxist ideas of a classless society that has achieved absolute economic & social equality through technology.

  5. Epi – Can you really call SC starting wars through trickery non-aggressive? Is our CIA non-aggressive?

  6. Ravac, I said it is technically non-aggressive (they do not initiate any force themselves), and that I disagree with what they do. However, barring what the Minds and Special Circumstances cook up, the rest of the Culture overwhelmingly adheres to anarchistic and libertarian principles, and also aren’t even aware of what SC is doing.

  7. But what SC does is still done in their name, and under the behest or acquiescence of The Minds, which are benevolent AI rulers (but rulers just the same.) And it’s a lot more than just trickery.

    They assassinate heads of state (Inversions), they decimate opposing armies of allies in order to sway the odds in proxy wars (Use of Weapons), they provide weapons and other materiel to insurgents (“A Gun From The Culture”), they provoke armed conflicts they know they will overwhelmingly win (Consider Phelbas), and they decide the victors in wars they have no stake in other than as bystanders (Look To Windward). The earliest published longer work, the novella The State of the Art, involves a Contact ship that encounters 1970’s Earth and are so shocked by us they debate exterminating the entire human race.

    The bulk of the population of The Culture are libertines, not libertarians. While they enjoy maximal freedom, they will not extend it to others.

  8. Well… an argument could be made that the Minds are The Culture. After all, they essentially run everything. While SC is a tiny segment of the entire population, I’d bet that all the Minds are aware of what it does.

  9. By the way, when you consider what they do and the stated philosophy of who they do it for, I vote “Special Circumstance” best literary euphemism ever.

  10. But what SC does is still done in their name

    If that is so, then why are SC operations kept utterly secret from the population? Is what the CIA does done in your name? Collectivizing blame is still collectivism.

    they decimate opposing armies of allies in order to sway the odds in proxy wars (Use of Weapons)

    Zakalwe was a free agent and a loose cannon who always exacerbated every problem they inserted him into. Yeah, it’s their fault for using him, but it wasn’t their original intention.

    Again: I AM NOT defending their interference. I’m just saying that their interference still generally adheres (technically) to a non-aggression principle. Meddling with people without using direct force sucks, but isn’t as bad as violent interference.

    While SC is a tiny segment of the entire population, I’d bet that all the Minds are aware of what it does.

    Absolutely. That’s been plainly stated. The Minds are aware of everything going on.

  11. they decimate opposing armies of allies in order to sway the odds in proxy wars (Use of Weapons)

    Sma does that in her first scene in the book. The knife missile wants to kill the entire opposing army, but she only lets it take out a percentage. And they couldn’t have been too upset with Zakalwe considering they chase him all over the galaxy and repeatedly traumatize an innocent in order to re-recruit him.

  12. You misdirect worse than joe, NutraSweet. I have repeatedly stated that I disagree with the interference and you keep bringing up examples of the interference, as if pointing out that SC are assholes proves something. Why don’t you address my actual point of their interference generally being coercive and manipulative rather than violent, you huge pussy?

  13. Because I just won’t let you lie to these good people any longer!

  14. Lie? You’re the goddamn liar!

    I wish I had a knife missile.

  15. You’d just sell for hooker money.

  16. Little Brother has also just been nominated for a Hugo: http://www.thehugoawards.org/?p=260

  17. Why would I sell it when I could use it to threaten pimps? I’d need never pay again!

  18. Good point.

  19. See? I’m always thinking. I could rob banks, too. I’d be a dog chasing cars…with a killer machine at my disposal.

  20. this first novel in a new atternate-history series

    No no no no no. You arent tricking my again Mr Turtledove.

    Fool me once…etc etc

  21. You aren’t tricking me again Mr Turtledove.

    Bingo. In a genre filled with excellent alt-history novels, the fact that Turtledove’s are the most popular is a grave insult indeed.

  22. I was a big fan of Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. And, point of interest: For all you anti-Copyright folks, Doctorow makes all of his writing available online for free at his website.

    (Can’t provide the link cuz I be at teh works)

  23. I have absolutely zero interest in alt-history for some reason. “What could have been” just seems so…boring. It didn’t, so why not just make up a complete novel on your own, with your own world?

  24. SugarFree,

    Oh, I like some of Turtledove’s stuff. Like Guns of the South. I just got sucked into the World War series and it just … didnt … go … any … where.

    I thought it was a trilogy when I started and it ended being 4 books. And a second series (which I havent read).

    Anyway, my post was anti-series not anti-Turtledove.

  25. robc,

    If you haven’t already, track down a copy of Bring The Jubilee by Ward Moore. CSA wins alt-history that focuses on a historian struggling to get a “what-if The Union had won Gettysburg” paper published.

  26. You guys know a lot about these books.

  27. SugarFree,

    I havent read it, but have heard good things about it.

    Alt-history isnt normally my thing, I agree with epi somewhat on this. I do appreciate good example of it.

  28. You guys know a lot about these books.

    You should see us in a Dune thread. 🙂

  29. Solana,

    Science fiction is one of the three main sources of infection for libertarianism/anarchism. The others are Rand and the withholding statement on your first pay check.

  30. I agree with Epi above.

    A knife missile would be sweet.

  31. It is curious that at least three of the novels were written by men who are either socialists or social democrats.

    Or at least curious that their novels have massive appeal to libertarians.

  32. Also agree with Epi – alt history = meh.

  33. “Science fiction is one of the three main sources of infection for libertarianism/anarchism. The others are Rand and the withholding statement on your first pay check.”

    Is this as true as it might have been one or two decades ago?

    And is there any political trend that could be foreshadowed by the secular decline in serious science fiction and the rise of fantasy (at least on the remaining bookshelves).

    Other than Tolkien and Pratchett, I positively loathe fantasy.

  34. Regarding libertarian sci-fi, I came across this the other day. Could be interesting.

    Side note – it’s somewhat distressing that at a site like io9, most of the posters seem to be statists. The comments about that book are frightening.

  35. Is this as true as it might have been one or two decades ago?

    Without igniting the tiresome and often mendacious “true” libertarian debate, I think it holds up when you sift out the people who call themselves libertarians but still mostly believe, vote, etc. as apostate Republicans. In other words, libertarians out of principal rather than as an off-brand opposition to leftism are still flowing from those three avenues. Although I think a lot of it is actually innate revulsion of authority. No book by Heinlein made me hate authority, it just outlined the politics created by carrying that hatred into adulthood.

    And is there any political trend that could be foreshadowed by the secular decline in serious science fiction and the rise of fantasy (at least on the remaining bookshelves).

    That may be one of the most interesting questions I’ve heard in years.

    I’ve heard it argued that Harry Potter fosters a healthy anti-authoritarianism, but that remains to be seen. Most children’s literature is anti-authoritarian in tone yet we still end with generation after generation of control freaks and their meek followers.

  36. Ravac,

    It’s not so much that they are statists, as just straight up dumbasses.

    io9 got on my shit-list today (completely different issue) and it’s going to take a lot on their part to get back off.

  37. io9 got on my shit-list today (completely different issue) and it’s going to take a lot on their part to get back off.

    Do tell SugarFree, I read and post on that blog a bit too.

  38. “Side note – it’s somewhat distressing that at a site like io9, most of the posters seem to be statists. The comments about that book are frightening.”

    The vast majority of all Gawker Media commentators are statist and I should know as I am one myself (commentator that is not a statist…well perhaps from _your_ vantage point I am but I dont want to quibble)

    I’ve wondered if this is just self selection.

    The lead editor of io9, Dr. Annalee Newitz is not liberal herself but a leftist.

  39. dbcooper,

    They took three scans I made from a blog I run and used them without any acknowledgment. I understand the blog culture in dealing with images and I don’t expect them to ask my permission or anything, but the blog is actually about what they were posting about (hence the on-point images.) They could have at least mentioned my blog.

    Dick move, io9.

  40. By the way, when you consider what they do and the stated philosophy of who they do it for, I vote “Special Circumstances” best literary euphemism ever.

    Oh, yeah. Once I retire from 9-5 and am just doing some consulting/counselling when I feel like it, that’s going to be my business card. Just “R. C. Dean, Special Circumstances”.

    No contact information. You don’t call me, I call you.

  41. Other than Tolkien and Pratchett, I positively loathe fantasy.

    Try Glenn Cook and/or Steven Erikson’s Malazan books.

  42. Yeah, total dick move from them. Was that from the Blade Runner script post, or the plagiarized stories post?

  43. Ironically, the plagiarized stories one.

  44. As an aside, I followed up with a clarification to your post in the Plan B thread. Just crossed wires.

  45. Has anyone here read Freehold, by Michael Z. Williamson? Great depiction of “libertarian utopia” by a libertarian.

  46. As an aside, I followed up with a clarification to your post in the Plan B thread. Just crossed wires.

    Ah right, thanks for that.

  47. The lead editor of io9, Dr. Annalee Newitz is not liberal herself but a leftist.

    Unsurprisingly, she never seems to have understood anything she reviews, either.

  48. Yes, but never via force, but rather trickery and non-violent coercion. While I disagree with such interference, they still adhere to a non-aggression principle.

    In Look to Windward, a “Culture terror weapon” attacks another society and, if I’m recalling correctly, assassinates one of its politicians. Matter begins with an agent of Special Circumstances personally murdering a huge number of low-tech soldiers.

    I don’t know how you could get the idea that the Culture uses only non-violent coercion.

  49. Supposedly, Doctorow is a ‘pro-freedom’ writer, but he and his admins run his site BoingBoing like a bunch of little fascist dictators.

    Comment with anything that goes against orthodoxy and they remove your comments. I couldn’t even post a link questioning some of Al Gore’s more dubious assertions in his ‘truth’ movie:
    http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/environment/gore.html

    Cory may think he is pro-freedom, but he is a close-minded liberal like so many I know.

  50. JB:

    An approximation to a comment stolen from some usenet post long ago:

    USA: My press, my choices. Your press, your choices.

    USSR: My press, my choices. Your press… What do you mean “your press”, comrade?

    Not that you have to like Cory Doctorow, or anything, but you don’t get to tell him what to put on his site, ‘ya know?

  51. I didn’t say anything about telling him what he can put on his site. I’m calling him a close-minded fool for only putting ideas he agrees with.

    He is bigoted against a diversity of ideas.

  52. Michael Sullivan writes, “In Look to Windward, a “Culture terror weapon” attacks another society and, if I’m recalling correctly, assassinates one of its politicians. Matter begins with an agent of Special Circumstances personally murdering a huge number of low-tech soldiers.”

    This is a misreading of what actually happens. In “Look to Windward,” there is an attempt to wipe out a huge number of people using a bomb. The Culture retaliates by killing the politician who is actually responsible. It spares the dupe who actually carried the bomb. At the beginning of “Matter,” the agent disarms a large group of soldiers. The tension between the Culture’s non-intervenionist instincts and the cases when it feels compelled to intervene — to prevent the wiping out of an entire planet, for example — is what informs the book.

  53. You scifi/fantasy people have issues. This blog needs more furry representation.

  54. I didn’t say anything about telling him what he can put on his site. I’m calling him a close-minded fool for only putting ideas he agrees with.

    Well. That’s OK then.

    It is strange to me how legitimacy seems to clog up the access ports of people minds.

    I suppose he thinks he’s filtering the noise, and that must be a tough job at BoingBoing, but I’m still not sure that I get it…

  55. I saw Cory Doctorow speak at EclipseCon2008. Not sure why Reason would like him so much. He spouted plenty of anti-property-rights notions.

  56. Yes, but never via force, but rather trickery and non-violent coercion. While I disagree with such interference, they still adhere to a non-aggression principle.

    So marxist AI determined the genes of their “people” and imposed an invented language upon their created creatures….

    I guess you could technically call that non-violent….but in now way is hiring training and giving material and technical support to a man like Elethiomel even remotely non-violent.

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