- File Size: 2145 KB
- Print Length: 694 pages
- Publisher: Create Space; 1 edition (January 10, 2010)
- Publication Date: January 10, 2010
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B003R0LPEA
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,302,787 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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I'm hoping the author has a sequel in mind, this is definitely a world I will revisit with a reread in some time, and I would definitely shell out some money for a new story in this world.
Where Smith's books focus on the libertarian issue of guns (and more guns, and guns, and ammo, and hey, some more guns), Alexander takes a more cerebral approach, introducing the concepts of anarcho-capitalism - particularly the Rothbardian flavor - through a good but not didactic story. His story is much more "fair" than much libertarian literature: utopia does not result, and not everything works as planned, or necessarily at all. In fact, I almost wish there were more happy results; in his desire to be fair and realistic, he may have undersold the concept a little. But that's nitpicking, because overall Alexander sticks to his central theme: that markets will ultimately determine what 'works' and what doesn't in an AC world.
For example, I find the Rothbardian concept of justice pretty repugnant, but the book clearly illustrates a market with alternatives, with an ebb and flow in the market according to how well the justice firms serve their market. There's a memorable scene in which a bully who has beat up a much weaker person is captured by the agency that the weaker man has hired to protect himself. Having failed to protect him - this point was not made in the book, though in fairness, a protection agency may have many ways to achieve its promises for its customers, and perhaps this one operates only on a deterrent basis - they proceed to catch the offender, try him (themselves: not mentioned is that most likely in an advanced AC society, most of these determinations would be made by independent arbiters, not by the protection company itself), and then proceed to deliver Rothbardian justice: the offender must not only pay the victim damages for his suffering, but they then proceed to beat the offender up in exactly the same parts of the body as he had beaten the original victim. This is not my idea of justice - it's repugnant brutality to me - but the beauty of the AC world that Alexander shows us that it doesn't have to be *everybody's* idea of justice, in the end, people will vote with their wallets and the justice system will emerge. If I'm right and most people find it repugnant, then it simply won't do well in the market. There's a wonderful liberating feeling in imagining one's self in a world where every decision isn't reduced to "one size fits all" through the modern concept of "let the government decided for us all the one best way!"
If anything, I would have liked to see *more* of the dynamics of the economics, rather than the considerable number of pages dedicated to rootin-tootin action. I know that action sells and makes a better story, and in that sense the book works well from an action perspective, but since I have a particular interest in AC, I would have liked to see more of how market dynamics might play out in such a world. But I'm probably in the minority there.
Alexander chooses to illustrate his AC world in a kind of "Lord of the Flies" type primitive setting. It's easy to see why he's done this: it's easier to see these things at work in their basic form, rather than wrapped up in the institutions of modern society. It does, however, risk the possibility that people may say "sure, this can work on a small scale in primitive conditions, but would not work in a giant interconnected modern society." That conclusion isn't true, but it will be a temptation for some readers. I understandt he tradeoff that Alexander had to make, however, and the choice he makes fits more smoothly into his setting and story.
The book follows the exploits of a single, powerful character, Allistair. By doing so, Alexander gets to dive very deep into Allistair's past and personality, and he creates an interesting and largely likable character, but one with believable human failings and flaws. The character works well. The author's choice to make Allistair somewhat of a "superman" - he has been physically altered through various science fiction techniques, and was trained in an elite military capacity - creates another set of tradeoffs. On the one hand, it makes Allistair more of a hero: he can do things that others can't, he can achieve things that others can't, and for those used to feeling like one against the million - as most libertarians feel - the fantasy of actually having the physical ability to get back at those evil statists is enticing (and to be fair: Allistair does not always win; he is not invulnerable). OTOH, it again waters down some of the political message: is it that the only people who can stand up and affect change are superman, or is this really more about a battle of ideas, with ideas being equally powerful no matter who they come from? If, for example, Allistair can only form an AC society because of his physical prowess, then isn't it convenient that the most powerful physical character wasn't a statist (or worst)? IOW, did Allistair change things in an AC direction by sheer physical force, or because his ideas won out?
I guess the issue is one of identification: most readers are not supermen, and so they may have a little trouble putting themselves in Allistair's shoes. Sure, it would be nice to be able to just physically cow people into agreeing with me, but I don't have that option; how could I have achieved the same thing given the average person that I am?
Like I said, it's a set of tradeoffs and Alexander made his choice and ran with it, and the book works within the context of those choices. If I want to see how the book would have come out with a depowered Allistair, well, I suppose I'll have to write that book myself. ;-)
I really enjoyed the cast of supporting characters. They were well realized, clearly differentiated, believable, covering a spectrum of backgrounds and ideologies but never coming across as shallow stereotypes. Alexander wasn't afraid to have them grow - or shrink - over the course of the book, and did not shy away from significant consequences to the characters - including death - either as a function of their own actions or external events out of their control. It felt like a realistic mixture, hitting neither the false extremes of karma on the one hand or fate on the other.
Altogether, this is a book I have been waiting for someone to write: a good but measured story that both shows the advantages of libertarianism/AC without over promising or over preaching. There are no talking dolphins or self-healing windows here, just people interacting with each other either in peace or in force/violence, with the contrast clearly illustrated, and the conclusion accessible but not shoved in your face: that peace is a better a way to interact.
If self-published books are eligible for the Prometheus award (for best libertarian science fiction), this has to be a candidate.
Well done Matt, and I'm looking forward to a return to Allistair's world!
If you're looking for a quick read, Withur We is not for you. Science Fiction is, by its very nature, necessarily lengthy. (Therefore, don't fret the occasional typo). Detailed pictures must be painted, with words, describing places and things that don't (yet) exist. Alexander is a verbal artist with the soul of a poet.
Reading the following examples one has no trouble picturing what he's trying to convey. ..."eyes were shot with blood"; "...like a cloud that recalls a castle"; "...filling in the quiet spaces like mortar between bricks"; and my favorite: "Almost immediately, a line of naked prisoners jogged out of the exit portal and down the ramp. It looked as if the ship were leaking some mottled liquid forming an ever expanding puddle over the ground. Eventually, the drainage stopped, the portal doors closed as the exit ramps were retracted and the ship fell upward." I would deem an imagination hopeless if it failed to respond to such imagery.
Though equally masterful, descriptions of parallaxes, light years, and the physics of black holes (to name just a few), bent my mind in directions it's not accustomed to going, and for good reason. I'm the kind of gal who, when asking for the time, doesn't care to know how the watch was built or when asking for directions cares not about latitude and longitude. But undeterred, with the hope of high adventure ahead, I bravely ventured on through the technical jargon that Sci-Fi devotees will definitely appreciate. I wasn't disappointed.
Through the eyes of protagonist, Alistair Ashley 3nn, I've experienced the deteriorating future of a largely apathetic populace fearing retribution from a corrupt, cronyism government. Seven centuries into the future, progress has been so thwarted that basic needs are perceived as a luxury. The Libertarian philosophy woven throughout the novel was greatly appreciated and most evident as Alistair Ashley, a convicted rebellion upstart on his home planet of Aldra, is sentenced to life on the prison planet, Srillium. His struggles to bring Libertarian-style law and order to the dog-eat-dog prison planet are met with both success and failure. Beyond this you'll get no spoilers from me.
Suffice it to say that at the heart of Withur We is a story of human strengths and weaknesses, hope and despair, loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, anger and grief, and disappointment and joy. Ultimately, it is a story of mankind's inherent instinct to survive as a free man.