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The Probability Broach Paperback – December 12, 2001
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“Contained ideas I wish could be shouted to the world, ideas that come from the American heritage of freedom and which could bring still greater individual liberty, greater technical progress.” ―Vernor Vinge, author of A Deepness in the Sky
“Pick up a new copy of the book and rediscover this exciting world, and reserve me a table at Meep's Texas Barbecue.” ―Prometheus
From the Inside Flap
For police detective Lt. Edward "Win" Bear, the adventure began with the murder of a University physicist. It got more interesting when his best friend was murdered, by parties also intent on killing Win.But it got downright strange when the detective found himself in an altogether different world, one full of technological marvels, almost no poverty, or government to speak of, and everyone carries guns! Win hardly has time to adjust to his new surroundings when he learns that the people who have been trying to kill him are here, too. And they have their own plans for this place. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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However, the criminals wanted to rule the alternative world, so the detective and his friends take on defeating them.
One of his friends and ally is an attractive woman. Our detective fell in love with her, but there were some complications.
Detective Win Bear is propelled into an alternate universe where early US history occurred differently, government was restricted to its proper sphere and innovation was never stifled.
The author is promoting a Libertarian worldview, which will grate with socialists and conservatives alike; be warned.
I don't know why this series hasn't been anthologized yet. <Yes, Amazon, that's a hint.>
The book presents a wild vision of a world where, for example, trying to collect income tax can get you shot - by the little old lady who lives next door. Subtle little things, like happy people who do not live in poverty, self repairing windows, and oh yeah - a realiable cure for cancer make the setting in this novel rather unique. I may not totally agree with all the thoughts in this novel, but you come away from it wishing you could make *our* world more like *theirs*. If the political philosophy does not get you thinking, I do not know what will!
Sure, The Probability Broach is a little heavy handed at times and the characters could have stepped out of a Heinlein novel. And I don't think that anarchy is the perfect solution for any civilization.
But within those boundaries, Smith has crafted a world similar to ours but with a society whose viewpoint is at right angles to ours (well, maybe 45 degrees, since I tend to agree with Smith on a lot of his points about personal rights and personal liberties.)
We all get a mindset from our parents, our friends, our religion, and, of course, our government. In the extreme that has led to atrocities like the Nazi party and the current terrorist threats. But what if these people had been brought up to learn to 1) think 2) respect others by staying out of their lives 3) depend on themselves to support and defend themselves 4) think that what they earn is theirs 5) let competition flourish?
The world might be just a wee bit different.
Not everyone will like this book. I happen to. It made me examine some of my convictions - and where I got them from. They didn't change, but I'm sure that Smith would argue that that's my right.
So, buy the book. Read it. Don't worry too much about my personal bete noire of limited characterization. This is a thinking Science Fiction book. It may make you angry or it may make you giggle with glee, but it WILL make you think.
By that criterion, this is a very good book. And don't forget that some books discussing or praising a different political or social outlook have turned out to be classics. Ever read Utopia, Gulliver's Travels, or Atlas Shrugged? If not, you should.
So, read The Probability Broach with an open mind. Agree with its philosophy or don't agree with it. At least you'll start thinking, and if your mind doesn't immediately lock up at that prospect, you'll open yourself up to looking at a different way of doing things.
Would Smith's society work? Personally, I'm doubtful. But is it nice to think and examine the possibilities in your head. And as I said, any novel that prompts you to that is worth the price of admission.
Detective Win Bear is pulled from a pre-apocolyptic society to a strange new place where the virtue of selfishness is readily apparent. It is so different that Det. Bear resists the idea. However, his philosophical journey is complicated by his investigation, and subsequent hijinks, so the story is less of a lecture and more of an adventure with political undertones.
The point of the book, however, is that there is always another way, especially in science fiction. When you suspend your disbelief that such a society could never form because of a subtle difference in history, then you can objectively examine the system and see if it could work. L. Neil Smith's scenarios make it work.
While I cut my teeth on Smith's The Nagasaki Vector and Tom Paine Maru, the Probability Broach remains one of my favorites