Friday, November 26, 2010

Can maple syrup really save the world?

Live Free or Die is a really strange take on the First Contact subgenre of science fiction. Of course, when we’re first approached by an alien race, we’re vastly outclassed. We’d have to be, since we don’t have anything near the technology necessary to initiate contact with another world ourselves.

The first race to contact us is a friendly race of traders called the Glatun. But the Horvath…not so much. They put in an orbital, a space portal to quickly traverse long distances, and declare Earth their property, to be mined by the Humans for basic materials.

Since Earth is so very outgunned, and the more peaceful alien races have no interest in fighting our battles for us, the leaders of Earth have no real option but to capitulate to the Horvath’s demands.

Enter Tyler Vernon. He’s yet another lone wolf, science fiction author who knows something needs to be done and will take it upon himself to make sure it does. He gets himself into a position to interact directly with a Glatun trader, and finds something that only Earth can provide that the interstellar community wants. So, simply following the laws of supply and demand, he’s able to amass quite the fortune with which to defend the Earth.

There are a lot of parts in this book that people could, and do, protest. Ringo is a libertarian through and through. Therefore, most of his heroes are lone wolf, do-for-yourself types. This doesn’t sit all that well with the more socialist, government-does-for-me type.

Also, the Horvath are essentially a slaving race. Being more advanced than current and past slavers on Earth, they can put eugenics on hyperdrive to better their slave population and cull the ‘weak’ and ‘undesirable’ from the group. Who the Horvath determine to be the ‘undesirables’ will, of course, offend even more people.

Folks, this is how science fiction is. There tend to be a lot of libertarian science fiction authors, perhaps because there’s something appealing to the libertarian about the idea of science- and logic-minded people taking responsibility for the world on themselves and working to save it. Heinlein, a ‘great master’ of science fiction was the same way and had similar protagonists. Ayn Rand’s speculative fiction Is held up as suggested reading for the libertarian movement. And in Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells shows a parallel Earth thousands of years more advanced with us, where the libertarian creed rules.

The point is, the tenants of libertarianism and the ideas that populate science fiction go hand in hand. The problem is that it’s so unpopular to be anything other than firmly liberal that any other viewpoint will be distasteful to a significant portion of the reading audience.

If the reader can get past some politics that may or may not be in line with his, though, he’ll be in for an intelligent, inventive, and simply fun read.

Highs: Lots of humor and interesting tech ideas

Lows: Starts out a little bit familiar for people who have read Ringo’s other First Contact book, A Hymn Before Battle

Verdict: Fun storytelling that shouldn’t be missed

Further Reading: Schlock Mercenaries (, Citadel