Pile #9 “Freehold” by Michael Z Williamson

23 Jan

Freehold / Michael Z Williamson.   Riverdale, NY: Baen Books. 2004. 667 p.

The original review can be found here:  “Freehold” http://www.amazon.com/review/R19N5R1ILNPKAD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

“Holding Free”

“Freehold” is yet another in the spate of fast-paced hard military sci-fi to come out of Baen Books in the last two decades, and is itself part of a series of inter-related books written in the Freehold universe by Williamson (though each novel is self-contained, and the series as a whole can be read non-sequentially (chronologically or published order) with the same enjoyment as reading it. as published.

Kendra Pacelli, a sergeant in the UNPF seeks asylum in the Freehold of Granine after being framed in an investigation of embezzled military equipment. She arrives as a refugee, and after a shaky period of cultural acclimatization, begins to find her place in this new society and build a life for herself, just as a cold war with Earth heats up into open conflict, and she finds herself fighting against her own former homeworld.

In this case, the Freehold of Granine is not attempting to hold itself up as a paragon of virtue, or the ultimate Utopia, they just want to be left alone to pursue their own destiny as “a nation of co-operative loners” (p. 228), which is a very apt description of life in the Freehold. Politically, economically, and socially, the Freehold is best described as ‘libertarian’, and very successful in all that they do, as contrasted to Earth under the totalitarian/socialistic rule of the United Nations. And that success is the one thing that Earth cannot stand in the face of its own propaganda.

So what’s the catch?

The Freehold contains a minimalist government (political leadership is predicated on building wealth only to give it away), unregulated capitalism (in every sense of the word) and a live-and-let-live social structure (it is even expected that everyone and anyone will carry personal weapons about their person). The majority religious influence seems to be Goddess based, though the presence of other religions is noted from time to time. With very few laws or regulations, crime, graft and corruption is virtually nonexistent. The one partial exception to this free-wheeling existence is the military, which still maintains a hierarchical, regimented life -though even here Kendra will find major differences in the spirit of discipline and responsibility between her birth planet and her adopted home, usually with the latter coming out the worse for the comparison.

More than half of the book is devoted to Kendra’s life in the military (similar to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and John Scalzi’s An Old Man’s War). Of a 54 chapter (plus epilogue) book, all but 14 directly connects Kendra to the military. Additionally, the major military campaign against the Freehold and it’s Occupation is from chapter 29 to the end.

Everything in Williamson’s book (as in most offerings from the Baen pantheon) is highly realistic -almost hyper-realistic- from its description of combat, military life and training, to passages of sexual liaisons and relationships, which is the one aspect of the book which sits ill with me (the same can be said for John Ringo’s “Kildar” series), and makes this an adult reading experience. The realism serves to push the story forward, and to act as an anchor for contemporary readers, but it can also push the unwary reader away

Another positive aspect for me of reading this type of  hard (military) sci-fi is o want to learn more about things it takes for granted (such as technology and science, economics and economic theory, even philosophy and military science). At the same time, if you don’t leave the Freehold without a few criticisms of social, political or economic policy (both your own and the Freehold’s), then I think you’re not actively reading.

Survey Said..!

Other (Amazon) reviewers either hate him or love him for the implicit message about “libertarian” political economy, and social policy (or lack thereof) and like to compare Williamson’s work (favorably or not) to Robert Heinlein’s work (1). If Williamson is trying to ‘shove’ his political economy and social views down our throat, as one reviewer asserted, he is at least not the first, nor shall he be the last to do so in a a work of fiction (Upton Sinclair’s Jungle comes to mind here), and  at least he goes about it in an entertaining way.   Also, as at least one other  reviewer noted at least implicitly, and hitting upon a truth of science fiction:  it is Ideas, more so than character or plot that take center stage. And quite often, in order to air out the idea properly, you need to take it out of current context and place, thus the future setting (it assists the contemporary reader to achieve the emotional detachment necessary to analyze a concept). Of course, the world wide UN government and the Freehold for all the realistic description, comes off as either “too good to be true” or “too bad to be believable”, but I choose to believe that this was intentional, so that we could see the outcome of the competing ideas in action in as pure form as possible.

All Squeamishness Aside…

As I wrote above, parts of Williamson’s writing are very explicit and sexually graphic, this is something that may or may not change with future works. This may turn some readers off, (I certainly found it off-putting), and yet that too is part of the Freehold mentality: liberty and license as long as it does not hurt anyone else. It’s not a particularly Christian ethical standard, but then the book was not written with a necessarily Christian audience in mind. I can accept that, and still enjoy the story, even if i don’t agree with it’s worldview.

My final thought on the matter: this will not be the last book by Williamson I will read, even if parts of it leave me a little squeamish.

Sources:

  1. Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Freehold http://www.amazon.com/Freehold-Michael-Z-Williamson/product-reviews/0743471792/ref=cm_rdp_hist_hdr_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1  accessed on 21 January 2013

My next Pile is On Basilisk Station by David Weber (you may have heard of him), so until then, keep calm and read on. *why yes this IS a new tagline, why do you ask?*

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