|Ad Astra: science fiction: Millennial Reviews XXIV Alongside Night -J. Neil Schulman|
J. Neil Schulman
Synopsis: It's 2001. The inflation of the 1970s never stopped but only go worse, driven by the destructive polices of the self-serving statists running America. This is not a universal problem: EUCOMTO, akin to our EU, is on the Gold Standard [sf/x chorus of angels] and the eurofranc is solid as a rock, so solid the USG has made possession of it in the US illegal. Inflation is over 2000% per year and coffee cost $500.00 a cup.
[That last would have me in the streets waving a gun, albeit very slowly].
Elliot Vreemont is the son of a famous conservative economist, one whose polices if followed would not have led to the current state of affairs [The elder Vreemond is apparently a mege of Hayek, Rothbard, Friedman, Roepke and some others]. Elliot is pulled out of school by sister, who tells him his father is dead. When they get home, it is revealed that this is a cover: the elder Vreemont has made the FBI's Enemy List and must flee America before being rounded up.
Elliot is sent off on an errand to collect some gold his father had cached. When he comes back, he discovers that his entire family is gone, apparently rounded up by the FBI. He is nearly caught twice, once accidentally triggering a riot because he is standing next to a peaceful protest march when the arrest attempt is made.
There are some scenes of local colour, like the hooker who craps in her pants for money. I know, YMMV, but ew, yuck. Also rants against welfare moms and other social leeches.
Elliot makes contact with his school friend Phillip. In turn, Phillip puts Elliot in touch with his uncle Mr. Gross. Gross is a jeweler with intersting connections: he can get Elliot to the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, an extreme libertarian group.
After getting to a secret RAC base, Aurora, Elliot meets his teacher, Mr Harper. He gets the Standard Tour Of the Utopia [Even Mr. Harper jokes about it]. Later, while exploring, he meets Lorimer, who is skinnydipping and pretty. Why is it all the girls in books like this are pretty? They become friends and have lots of hot sex [I thank God this is not a current era Baen book because that means the sex is off screen]. It wouldn't be a revolution without the hot sex. They are forced to pause when the FBI attacks and with some difficulties end up back in NYC, where they have more hot sex.
There's a scene with knockout gas. Cadre knockout gas apparently is really safe. See _Oath of Fealty_ discussion: the Saints needs to talk to Aurora's suppliers.
Elliot discovers his friend Phillip and Mr Gross have been arrested and taken to the FBI special concentration camp. Later, he discovered Mr. Gross killed himself rather than be taken. He also discovers Lorimer is really Lawrence Powers' daughter. Powers is the evil genius who runs the FBI, and is quite upset that his daughter stole some vital information when she ran away from home, information which he needs to survive the coming crisis.
More and more evidence mounts that a coup is in progress. The news is cut off. The phones are out.
Elliot discovers his father is not in custody. The US has been informed that the EUCOMTO will no longer honour the US currency, due in part to the riot Elliot started. EUCOMTO passed through a similar crisis 15 years earlier and they have conditions the US is to meet, one of which is to put Vreeland in as comptroller of the US economy. Vreeland is cutting a deal with the President and Powers in exchange for his wife and daughter's lives and in fact Powers is in the hotel room when Lorimer and Ellot arrive. Lorimer and Elliot refuse to deal with Powers and leave. They steal a device which will let them get around the phone problem.
Elliot gets back in touch with the Cadre. The Cadre proposes to use Elliot and Lorimer as bait to get into the FBI prison where Elliot's mother and sister are, as well as Phillip. The attempt is not successful: two kids are rescued but everyone else, 200 prisoners and gaurds, die as the camp self-destructs. The Cadre can use this: the deaths were filmed and broadcast. Luckily neither of the Vreeland women were in the prison at the time but Phillip dies valliantly saving the kids.
The Great Crisis finally happens. Martial law is declared but since nobody is getting paid, most of the military refuses to work, SAC excepted. The Cadre persuades Vreeland to back them instead of the President, pointing out that the likelihood of getting kidnapees back is the same whether or not the ransom is paid. Vreeland comes clean about the backstage dealmaking. Powers attacks in person, alone, and is killed. The Cadre seizes power and to discourage EUCOMTO, Russia or China from taking advantage of the crisis, demonstrate that they have placed at least three nuclear devices in military bases in the three nations. The three devices are duds, but the demonstration nuke exploded at sea is not.
You know what I like about Libertarians? Their dedication to not using force first. A lot of people might have relied on SAC to keep the peace but the Cadre was brave enough to place nukes in other nations first, because that builds trust.
The book ends with an outline of the glorious anarcho- libertarian regime the Cadre will put into power. I especially like the bureaucrats being extolled to seize the assets of the disbanded ministries [Can't remember the US term] to use as company assets. [Not corporate assets. Corporations are evil with a capital Statist. All ends happily. Praise the chairman. Sorry, wrong revolution.
Schulman is a strong anarcholibertarian and very borderline Randroid who despite that can appear lucid for long periods. The basic story moves fast enough that the frequent lectures don't have time to be boring [Or convincing if one is older than 18], unlike _Looking Backward_ or _Equality: In the Year 2000_ where the lecturing is so tedious one wishes for a debilitating aneurism instead.
The characters are two dimensional, about 1.5 more than a lot of libertarion screed characters [L. Neil Smith's for example], I don't think the President even got a name or a party [Yeah, yeah, I know. Spare me the 'They are the same party lecture'].
Schulman's Cadre cooperate very well, much better than the libertarians I knew in the 1970s. Of course, cats cooperate better than the Canadian Libertarian Party did, which as near as I can tell was founded primarly to form a basis for endless doctrinal disputes within the party. Of course, there were no women I could see in the party so it wasn't like most of the party members had something else to do. God knows nothing gets women hotter than a finely honed economic argument, unless it is the minutia of D&D or _Campaigns of North Africa_.
Why -do- leftists have better sex? Even in the limited venue of US politics, Democratic wives when polled prefer sex to TV while Republican wives are the opposite, or at least that was true twenty years ago.
There's something cute about a political theory which attempts to pretend the most powerful political tool of the last 6000 years, bureacracy, is inherently evil and to be avoided while lavishing praise on businesses which if they want to be bigger than a mom'n'pop will also have to master the art of bureaucracy. The quaint faith in placing the monetary supply outside humans hands is also touching, or perhaps just touched. Apparently the lessons of Spain went unnoticed.
As political screed loosely disguised as a novel go, not bad. This isn't the future we had [Brazil in 1970 had some similarities]. The problems could have happened, although I am inclined to think even the FBI would have a problem with a chief as two dimensional as Powers, if only because he might slip into the gap in an elevator. Governments do abuse their powers but I don't think the simplistic answers in this book are the answer. Even Alan Greenspan, who was once a Plucky Boy Randroid, managed to learn how to use the tools of government.
Ironically, we got to see what organs of government look like when their assets are suddenly grabbed by the bureaucrats in them for commercial purposes when the SU fell apart.
Recommended theme reading: The Pirates of Rosinante, which also has a gold standard or The End of the Empire which has an anarcholibertarian governmentless star system.
Oh, any idea why Elliot uses the name Joseph Rabinowitz? The name pops up in connection with Jews for Jesus on a google search but that seems like an odd group to be referenced in a libertarian book.
Speaking of references, Schulman handles butt-kissing SF and various 'famous' libertarian and SF types far more gracefully than a lot of authors [JEP, LN, Pelligrino] do.
Schulman wrote one more SF book [Rainbow Cadenza, a mileau where certain people are rightless and all women must serve in the sex draft]. Mostly nonfiction since then, most recently, I think, a book on the framing of OJ. Pity, there a niche for books like Alongside Night and most of them are a lot less well written.
1: Why do political movements so often have such impoverished volcabularies? Are the physical preconditions for fanatical devotion to a cause brain damage involving the bits of the brain which handle vocabulary?
2: -Very- borderline, since he actually criticizes the Blessed Rand's literary theories. No praise of Rush lyrics -anywhere-, either. As I understand it, the first would have gotten him excommunicated by The Rand.
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Webpage created 25-09-2000, last updated 25-09-2000.