Well then. I did an all-day push on Sunday and finished a new draft of The Lightning Giver, my New Adult novel about a young couple whose lives are turned upside down, literally and figuratively, when they are hit by lightning. While smooching in a millet field. It is a story of love, devotion, gender relations, perseverance, and guns.
Lots of guns.
I had a literary agent give me some stellar advice on the manuscript. While I won’t actually submit it because I’ve sine left the manuscript submission cha-cha, the novel sat around waiting for me to get my A-game on.
I gave this book everything and beta reader feedback on the prior draft was stellar. And now the book is better.
The next steps are to go through the manuscript and tighten up the prose and then hand it off to my new editor for an evaluation. I think she is going to love this book. It’s right up her alley.
Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson is his groundbreaking debut while at the same time, the definitive libertarian science fiction genre reboot. That it came from the publisher Baen is just icing on the cake.
As most of my 32.5 readers know, I’m huge fan of eBooks. I do, however, buy hardcovers on occasion both as collector items and to share with other people. I bought the the Limited Edition Hardcover edition of Freehold the moment it went on sale. You can get it from Amazon here.
I consider the two great libertarian sci-fi works to be The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Freehold. Check it out. You can also get the Kindle version on Amazon for the nice price of free.
I read Freehold once a year. It is my go-to book for a libertarian sci-fi fix. It’s that good. It’s way less preaching and way more action than many books before it examining the same topic.
I outlined a kick-ass near-future urban fantasy over the weekend. It was a lot of effort but I believe you will be pleased with the story: a cross between Supernatural and Dexter featuring a man who likes lots of guns, sharp pointy things, explosions and wizard spells. Wizards spells, you know, that would give him an edge against the devil, demons, urban wizards, witches and other malcontents. He works for Death as a trouble-shooter. For those times when a normal death won’t do. Lots of series potential.
Let me know what you think!
Oh fuck yes.
Deep Mountain Studios
The hero and the anti-hero.
Back in 2007 a literary agent I was following on Twitter (or was it 2008?) recommended a guest blog post about epic fantasy by some upcoming fantasy author I’ve never heard of and thankfully have since forgotten. He went on and on how Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings did not stand up to the test of time because the works did not hold true to a “grey reality” (or some such words to that effect) and how a happy ending was a false reflection on human nature. Then he plugged his own book with promises of gritty realism and an appropriate ending drowning in a powerful literary message of how fucked in the head we all are.
And I finished the article thinking: this is what happens when emos can wordsmith.
The absurdity of the author’s claim was beyond comment worthy. I laughed. I laughed out loud. A happy ending? To The Lord of the Rings? Really? The ending where Frodo basically realizes he is spent, dead inside, done, finished and basically dies and goes to heaven? Did he think the ending was a simple boat ride into the sunset? How obvious does subtext need to be for this dude? Didn’t the Shire burn not-so-metaphorically in the last book? Yes. The Lord of the Rings. Puppies and Rainbow’s folks! Kittens and Sunshine!
What a dork.
That literary agent, like many who represented science fiction and fantasy, crashed and burned. On one hand, she had a fine appreciation for storytelling which I shared. On the other, her quest for pretentious message fiction, in the end, bit her on the ass. It was like watching a train wreck.
Back to The Lord of the Rings and poor Frodo. I always had a soft spot for his plight and I loved Tolkien’s message where even the smallest of us can persevere against evil and strife, even when the cost of such goes beyond one’s life. Frodo’s quest chewed him up and spit him out. What was left was a certain apathy, a certain grey, he could no longer cope with, hence the so-very-not happy ending to his story.
Frodo was a hero and an amazing character in a trilogy filled with amazing characters.
Let’s take the delicious anti-hero Dexter Morgan from the Showtime series and the wonderful books by Jeff Lindsay. Dexter is a bad man, but we wind up rooting for him anyway. He is, almost beyond reason, a sympathetic character.
Dexter is an amazing character and practically defines antihero.
If we step away from the grim and morbid, another favorite antihero is Han Solo from the first three Star Wars movies. Shooting Greedo first, his freelancer attitude, his disdain for authority figures, trying to plug Darth Vader during dinner–all of those actions were endearing. Han was a scoundrel, but the movie made it clear he was our scoundrel. Quite the antihero indeed.
The false literary promise of grey is an author’s attempt to show us a negative slice of the human condition. Only, this provocation derives from the (thoroughly) elitist and false assumption readers need to be taught “grey.” In order to show the world is (gasp!) complex and (gasp!) interconnected, a sympathetic antihero is born. The author weaves in a pessimistic theme. Heroic and righteous behavior results in a futile death, or worse. Blend your viewpoint, dear reader because the real world is grey, don’t ya know.
Only, those authors’ worlds are not grey at all because the author fails to understand the ambiguous nature of morality. Those characters are not grey. Most of them are simply douche-bags of the highest order. And readers already understand this world. This is the world we live in. The world is filled with kind people, but a reader also encounters douche-baggery from an early age. Grey is everywhere. We get it.
Mandy Pietruszewski in her outstanding article “Moral Ambiguity in Percy Jackson and the Olympians” highlights complex characterization. Luke from the wonderful Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, is a true grey character. His motivations are not that he’s a d-bag. He is a tragic character with a heightened sense of right and wrong and he is less of a villain and more of an antagonist. Indeed, the only thing making Luke a bad guy is his behavior. He does some bad things to people who did not deserve it, and thus in his quest for justice and acceptance he becomes a tragic figure because in his campaign for choice, he removes the very thing he holds dear from people who deserved better from him.
That is a worthy “grey” character! He is both the hero and the antihero. The takeaway from Luke is legion and truly is a study in the human condition rather tan a descent in asshole or bitch.
Time and culture will not be kind to the false literary promise of grey. Some of these works are wildly popular, but I believe their popularity will fade. A reader wants the true hero and the antihero, not because he or she has a simplistic outlook in life and doesn’t understand moral ambiguity, but because the world we live in as readers is grey, and the escape and identification with the hero or antihero can be more real than the grey clouds spitting rain.
There is no cure for the human condition. But the human condition can be a wonderful thing, warts and all.
The false literary promise of grey is elitist self-justification.
I wrote a book and it was fan-fiction. I wanted to see if I could plot without worrying about characterization.
And I could! I promptly shoved the book under the bed after having one of the kids draw a cover for it. Literally, it’s under the bed.
My second book I completely threw caution to the wind. I wrote a near-future science fiction book about a hot blonde teen girl named Bunny who was a polymath with an eidetic memory, living in a Washington coastal town during an economic downturn. The town had a nasty past, an “interesting” relationship with the local Indian tribe and… a vampiric alien.
It was a weird-ass book, but man, after a revision, I nailed the character voicing and the action scenes. I was fearless and it was way off the rails.
And I realized I could not sell it. This was not a book to launch a writing career as a novelist.
This book was important in that it was the first book I sent to beta readers. It broke through that wall most writers put around themselves when they are in that “this is a bit of crap but its good enough to get feedback.” zone. On one hand, you have to set your fears of your writing chops and worry that you’re using your friends aside and get feedback.
On the other, you need a dose of reality.
After the revisions I realized that I loved that book. I loved it very much. But I didn’t love it enough to sell it. In a sense, I picked the wrong book to write or the right book at the wrong time. This was a failure, in a way. I spent almost a year on it.
Ah, well. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning anything.
But someday I will come back to Bunny. Cause Bunny rules.
In a way he’s absolutely right. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is perfect of itself, vying with The Puppet Masters for my most favorite Heinlein ever, which is to say, vying with Puppet Masters for my favorite book of all time.
Which happened to be to our purpose, nothing. Meaning what Heinlein wrote was perfect for Heinlein and for his Universe, but when I finished Darkship Thieves, both my publisher and I decided it was time to open a can of whoop… er… behind on the Self-Satisfied Good Men of Earth.
Partly this was born of logic. After all, well, once you have that complete control, you are certainly going to be hurting the society that hosts you. Any parasite that grows to large is going to do that and government is always a parasite, in the sense that it creates nothing, and can’t live without its host. (Whether it benefits the host on the other hand, is something we might discuss. I mean, I hear these days that intestinal worms are good for you, they decrease auto-immune disorders. Maybe a small, controlled government decreases incidences of tyranny. I don’t know. Maybe we should have a small government and try it.)
Partly this was born of the fact that my publisher and I are both blood-thirsty broads with a nasty disposition. The Good Men annoyed us, and therefore, the Good Men must come down.
So… I was left to plot revolution. When in this type of situation, I go to Heinlein whose writing can be defined as “teaching young people how to plot revolution.”
Well, I can’t say I’m young, but yes. So I did read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. And I thought “Okay, then, now let’s try it without a supercomputer.” “Let’s try it without a closed system like the moon” and “Let’s try it without the people we’re fighting against being at the bottom of the gravity well.”
The result was, of course, an unholy mess. In fact, it was such a messy mess, I couldn’t contain it under the Darkship Thieves series except very loosely.
The revolution starts with the escape from Never-Never at the end of Darkship Thieves of the disowned son of a Good Man. It starts not because he has high ideals, but because he would like to stay alive. (The high ideals come later.) It will end – because it’s across the whole Earth – twenty some years later, in a battle royale. In between there are many revolutions. The one in A Few Good Men is in the seacity of Olympus and its land-dependencies. The one in Liberte seacity – the next book, Through Fire – goes SERIOUSLY wrong.
And meanwhile Eden, the center of Darkship Thieves and Darkship Renegades is finding the limitations of a society with no written law (which is relevant considering we’ve decided to ignore our written law. Er… I mean, it’s complete science fiction, never mind.)
Darkship Renegades came out in December. A Few Good Men comes out in March. I have contracts in my hands for Through Fire and what might turn into Darkship Vengeance.
A friend told me I was writing Heinlein homage, but I don’t think I am. I’m also not writing Heinlein reboot, because when it comes to writing science fiction, compared to him I am but an egg.
It is just that I grew up IN Heinlein’s books, and as such it’s difficult to escape certain assumptions about how the world works, and how the future will go. Not ALL assumptions, of course, because we’re not the same people. But in general, we seem to be in accord about what matters: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I’m no more doing Heinlein homage than your kid does you homage when his walk is a lot like yours. It’s not that he sat out to imitate you. It’s that he learned to walk while holding your hand.
And in a way that’s what I’m doing – writing space opera, holding daddy’s hand.
There are worse things I could do.
(And because I promised Anthony I’d mention it – I’ve corrupted my entire family with Portuguese Kale soup. This is difficult since we are, of course, on a low carb diet, so the potato base to thicken the water is right out. BUT I make broth from spicy sausage. Then I boil and mash some cauliflower. And then I drop in the julienned Kale. Particularly good on a cold, cold night in Colorado.)
[Admin: Thanks Sarah for stopping by! Links to Sarah’s awesome latest and upcoming books are here: The Sporadic, Spasmodic, Self Promo Post]
On one hand, I feel somewhat guilty for having a high-traffic blog post that was, at the core, fluff.
On the other, I now have a good idea what some want to read about. So let’s first talk about libertarian speculative DNA.
Libertarian Science Fiction DNA, Anthony Style
Then there was David Weber and the libertarian themes in the Honor Harrington books, an impressive feat where the main system of government was a monarchy. But the total send up of The People’s Republic of Haven and the Solarian League was a blatant libertarian f-you to their contemporary counterparts.
Then there was, what, really? Oh sure, Baen carried the speculative libertarian fiction torch and I’m sure there is something on my library selves I’ve forgotten, but what followed was a wasteland. The trail blazed went cold. What we were left with was… message-y. A lot.
Enter Michael Z. Williamson in 2003 with Freehold. Freehold is unapologetic anarcho-capitalism libertarian science fiction at its finest, and the related novel, The Weapon, was an orgy of the destruction of statism and all of its evils. For a time. We’ll come back to Williamson.
And finally we come to the supremely 80’s deliciousness of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Libertarian Science Fiction v2.0
My assertion is Williamson rebooted libertarian science fiction. He drove home the obvious evils of statism in absurd detail, provided a large backdrop centered around anarcho-capitalism and projected the triumph of the individual directly into the reader’s brain. A reader following his science fiction books from Freehold to present receives this delicious Libertarian Science Fiction v2.0 meal.
It’s a delicious meal, but it seems to me that Sarah Hoyt is the most serious about pulling up a chair to this rich and wonderful feast. And many of the chairs around the table are sadly empty.
Let me explain what I mean by v2.0: After embarking on the Williamson Trail of Statist Tears, I don’t even need to define what Libertarian Science Fiction is. Readers get it. Libertarians get it. Science Fiction fans get it, and let’s not be coy: any recent book about an anarcho-capitalist society is pure libertarian culture brilliance and when I say brilliance I mean fucking brilliance.
There is no need to reboot The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
But there is a very clear need to offer a current cultural heartbeat to what the core of libertarian science fiction is. And Williamson meets that need with a sledgehammer . He’s still swinging it today.
Failure to Feed
And here we are. I classified a previous novel I wrote as libertarian gun-nut speculative fiction: a blend of urban fantasy and contemporary thriller. It lives under my bed.
I shoved it under my bed for the simple reason that what I want to write is books that I want to read. And I want to read libertarian science fiction. I really, really do. And I think many other people out there want to do so too.
There’s a lot of science fiction out there that, as a libertarian, drives me up the wall. Most of the science fiction I’ve been reading lately is message fiction with a side of progressive love affair of replacing one socialistic society with a (supposedly) better socialistic society, usually in a dystopian orgy of carnage and destruction.
I don’t want to read that. I want to read speculative fiction that triumphs the trail of liberty sitting before us.
I am convinced there is a want to read this genre in both books for adults and books for young adults. And when was the last time any of us read a young adult libertarian science fiction book?
This is a failure to feed. When a low-detailed blog post about “Red Pill Science Fiction” gathers over ten times my daily traffic, there’s a need going untapped. I decided several years ago to jump into this pool of speculative freedom-loving goodness with both feet and eyes wide open. I have plans. Notice in this essay I do not go into detail of what all these “ism’s” are. I know you know. And now you know I know you know.
How refreshing is that?
The Care and Feeding of Libertarian Word-Building
What do I like to read in libertarian science fiction? I like to read a book where the author has done some serious world-building. And when I mean serious, I mean avoiding pitfalls that seem obvious to me in “mainstream” science fiction while pulling on the strings now present from the Libertarian Science Fiction v2.0 reboot.
Gender Culture and Libertarianism
Science fiction has a serious gender problem. Feminism and libertarianism are diametrically opposed and thus a large swath of science fiction steeped in this feminism is distasteful to the libertarian. But more than that, the relationship between genders often have a genesis in poor analysis. For example, every major war the United States participates in shifts gender relations. Every. Single. One. Yet this area remains largely unexplored in science fiction, but not in libertarian science fiction. Notice in libertarian science fiction men are men and women are women. Libertarian femininity is a biological construct and women conform to evolutionary psychological reactions. It ignores what people have told us women are in order to feed us a brand of dogma which, at its core, is the antithesis of libertarianism.
Yes, I went there. In fact, my Lexus Toulouse mysteries go there hard.
Feminism relies on coercion by the use of force. The use of force for coercion is the core evil of any libertarian speculative book. A libertarian society has a completely different set of cultural norms for gender relations. Completely. So what does it look like?
And how does technology impact women’s relationships to the men? For example, stick a woman in powered armor and you can speculate that she has a significant impact not only on the battlefield, but also into the gathering of resources. And the “so what?” of that is that has a tremendous impact on how men relate to her. Yet this technology also has tremendous (negative) impact to a woman’s psychological ability to cope with a sustained war.
Raise your hand if you’ve read a science fiction book where women deal with the aftermath of war just like men.
Wow. I thought so.
How do men function in a libertarian society? Really. Like, what does it look like when a man isn’t forced to do anything because of, well, anything, really. How does the lack of coercion shape cultural norms? One answer to that is men behave differently when not constantly told they are evil and bad so they better be (nice, submissive, feminine, etc.)
Because, you know, most men aren’t evil and bad. In the lack of a war on boys, what kind of men do boys become?
Now, I did come up with a scenario of a matriarchal libertarian society, and that’s in my Lexus Toulouse mysteries. Think about it.
Kids and Teens
Completely related to gender norms is the largely unexplored realm of what children and teen culture looks like in the future. The teen of today is not the teen of two hundred years from now, but that’s a major assumption present in most science fiction books. In fact, this is a largely unexplored contemporary area, too. Despite all the come-of-age books and movies, what was the real shift from the teen before WWI and the teen after WWII? I know it was significant, but how significant was it?
Libertarianism is the triumph of society through the advancement of the individual without coercion. That impacts children. Deeply and completely.
Corporations and Centralism
Holy freaking glow-in-the-dark cow on a pogo stick. The evil mega-corporation troupe must die. Die, die, die, die, die. Not because it’s a leftist circle-jerk (messy and sad) but because it makes no logical sense. It makes no logical sense because corporatism is a big failure because centralization is a big failure. And the more technology we throw at centralization, the bigger the failure is going to be. And somehow, technology, which, time and time again in the last 100 years, have proven to empower, not reduce, the individual. So we have tech making big things fall hard, and tech making little things jump out of the way.
That’s libertarianism, Baby. It’s almost as if the history of technology in these science fictions books undergoes redefinition and re-purposed to suit some not-so-subtle war on capitalism.
Hmmmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The De-Centralization of the Military
Not a libertarian concept per se, but a libertarian society, when faced with an obvious threat, will absolutely re-tool itself to deal with that threat.
There are other considerations. For example, logistics. Why do you need a central logistical supply chain when the logistics guy can make his own stuff for his platoon? What does a command structure look like when a decentralized and distributed society goes to war?
I bet it’s different. I bet it’s way different.
And like the mega-corporation, there are thematics here that need to die, and die hard. The allegory for the Vietnam War is done. We’ve all read the Forever War. Forever War–that’s it. We’re done, okay?
But I digress.
The Author-Reader Bargain
In my series, I do not cram my libertarian genetic code down a reader’s throat and as an aside, neither did anyone else I’ve mentioned thus far. Even Williamson didn’t so much tell, through the wonderfully voiced Kendra, what libertarianism is despite that Freehold is Librarian Science Fiction 101. No, he showed what it is through her child-like eyes. It was a message book devoid of a message, a pretty neat trick and a clear sign of storytelling talent.
In Armageddon’s Princess, I do not preach at you through the Princess. Lexus, as the Princess Concubine spends a considerable amount of time seeking sex and getting laid. And when she isn’t chasing or offering tail, she’s hell-bent on catching bad guys. And when she’s not doing any of those she is trying to simply live with the aftermath of a terrible, terrible war.
That, in a sense, is the apex of my world-building for this series. I believe that if a future libertarian people went to war, that war would be an awful thing. It would be total and it would be complete and when it was over the horror of it would be unfathomable and unbearable.
I may be a rehabilitated hack writer, but, if you’ve come here looking for science fiction swimming around libertarian philosophy, I promise to at least deliver some type of speculative meal. I believe so strongly that there is a desire to read this type of speculative fiction, I have no hesitation in alienating a potential reader that hates my guts with this post simply because I don’t subscribe to the statist cult.
Hello my 27.6 readers!
Happy New Year. I plan on making a year in review post, but I consider this a special category. What new book in 2012 did I feel was the best?
I read a considerable amount this year, despite my terrible Goodreads updates. Most of this goodness was on my Kindle, and the Kindle Paperwhite has accelerated my book reading with its pure design awesomeness. At $119 + cover and some unobtrusive, actually useful ads, this is a reader’s device and I am a reader.
But, I digress.
Out of all the books I read, one stands out as the winner and yes, you can rank books from the best to the worst.
Ken Kiser’s Fifthwind is the clear winner of 2012. From a storytelling standpoint, it’s a throw-back to the Sword and Sorcery days of yor before everything got pretentious, message-y and emo. As epic fantasy, it is a stunning debut. The novel also has great pacing, obviously edited with loving care and delivers across the board on action, world-building and best of all, a refreshingly masculine but not arrogant protagonist. Check out the reviews on Amazon.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’m not too sure what I was expecting when I picked this up for my Kindle when I saw it won the Hugo, but I was really surprised to find a come-of-age young adult novel. Twenty pages into the book I could envision an editor seeing this book for the first time and rubbing her hands with glee. AMONG OTHERS was extremely delicious as a urban fantasy dipped in the love of science fiction in the voice of a fifteen year-old girl.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close. This book was written for people who love a good story, love science fiction, magic and love come-of-age novels. The heartache of the main character was raw and painful at times. We get glimpses of a terribleness too terrible to describe. But Walton starts the book in the most perfect place–that after tragedy and heartache, there is life.The yearning that comes with reading science fiction can be more than just story, it’s water for the thirsty, color for the blind and a light in the darkness.
Yummers yum yum!
Bonded is out, and I just ordered my hardcover edition because I am a sucker for beautiful prose in a beautiful physical book.
The first story in this novel, Cinders, was unexpectedly flawless, and I’m not surprised to see it snatched up by a publisher and put into a novella collection. I can’t wait to read the other two stories, and it’s all I can do not to order the Kindle edition and read it this weekend.
If you are a lover of prose so good it’s sensual, if you appreciate the bittersweet truth to the human condition and like storytelling that extracts the pure heart of a fairytale, then I also suggest getting Bonded. Cinders was that good, and there is no doubt the others will be right up there in the literary clouds of whipped awesomesauce.
Michelle is an excellent writer but these are the stories that push her into that otherworldly zone of awe.