Re: 2001 Prometheus Award finalists, Best [Libertarian Science Fiction] Novel

Date: Sat Apr 14 2001 - 12:46:41 MDT

Anders writes, regarding Ken MacLeod,
> Having finished his tetralogy in the Star Fraction universe, I think the
> prizes are well deserved: not just literary but also because he does
> have a rather fresh perspective on libertarian themes. Each novel
> presents a different perspective on events, and while only _The Stone
> Canal_ has a politically libertarian protagonist I think the general
> outcome of his analysis of events seems to be very libertarian in
> outlook. It is not a simplistic libertarianism, but rather something
> along Virginia Postrel's dynamism - the point is not whether you are an
> anarchocapitalist, anarchosocialist or just practically minding your own
> business, but whether you are open to change, freedom and responsibility
> for your actions.

I've been trying to read The Stone Canal, and it's heavy going. Granted,
when reading SF I expect to be faced with strange cultures, alien viewpoints,
unfamiliar references.

I just don't expect to find that in the flashbacks to present-day Earth.

New Mars, with its human-equivalent machines, its violent anarchy, and
all its futuristic technology, is far more comfortable and understandable
to me than 1970s England.

Here they are at the bookstore, regarding the owners;

    "Probably on old ILP'er or something," Reid muttered, pouncing on a
    blue Charles H. Kerr & Co. voume of Dietzgen. he blew dust off it
    and sneezed.

What's an ILP'er? Who's Dietzgen? Later, they find some interesting

    This was almost certainly unique, a living fossil: a wartime Russia
    Today Society pamphlet called Soviet Millionaires. It hadn't
    stayed in circulation long, not after the SPGB had seized on it as
    irrefutable proof that behind the socialist facade the USSR concealed
    a class of wealthy property-owners.

What's the SPGB? Why would their conclusion about this magazine take
it out of circulation?

    "Ah, now, what about this?" He opened a book and studied the
    fly-leaf. "Stirner, The Ego and His own, property of the Glasgow
    Anarchist Workers' Circle, 1043. Five pounds."

This is supposedly quite a find! Wow! Stirner! Who's Stirner?
Later they go to the "Union smoking room":

    We both sat back at the same moment. Reid toyed with the bamboo
    holder of the previous day's Guardian. The MPLA had taken Huambo,
    not for the last time.

Who's the MPLA? What is Huambo? (I have two theories: one is that
Huambo is some kind of newspaper, an underground competitor to the more
established Guardian, and the MPLA is a leftist group which steals it
to read it at home. The other is that Huambo is some kind of military
target and the MPLA an insurgent group, and it has changed hands many
times as the tides of battle have shifted.)

Later they're at McDonalds with the family:

      My father spotted a young woman carrying a bundle of papers...
    and asked her in a tone of polite curiosity: "Why don't you fight
    capitalism, for a change?"
      But after the young woman had said only a few sentences, he
    stopped her with a smile and an uplifeted finger. He looked at his
    watch and brought the finger down to tap it triumphantly.
      "One minute, twenty-five seconds," he said to the puzzled cadre.
    "Congratulations. That's the shortest time yet for a member of
    -- let me see --" he made a pretence of counting on his fingers
    "-- a split, from a split, from a split, from the Fourth International
    to call *me* a sectarian!"

Wow, what a put-down. He sure got her, eh? But what's the Fourth
International? And why would she have called him a sectarian? Is that
something nasty?

All the early flashbacks are full of this stuff. It's utterly
incomprehensible, some kind of alien world where everything I know is
turned upside down.

I was in college in the 1970s. I'm the same age as these characters.
Maybe I didn't hang out with the right people, but I don't think
the culture described here existed in anything like this form in the
U.S. The pervasive leftism, the labelling of positions, the careful
hair-splitting to find out exactly which leftist category you fit into,
it's all utterly bizarre.

If he were making up this kind of stuff for his alien culture, an author
would feel obligated to explain a little more about what is going on.
But since he's apparently describing a real place and time, he doesn't
feel the need. As someone who grew up in a very different milieu,
I find it awfully hard to understand the emotional currents and the
unstated meanings which are flying hot and heavy in these passages.

I think I see why The Cassini Division was released first in the U.S.
It doesn't suffer from this problem. Without being motivated by wanting
to see what came before, I suspect that American readers would give up
on The Stone Canal in the first hundred pages.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:46 MDT