Beyond This Horizon by Robert A. Heinlein is an intriguing look at a futuristic Utopia, or more like a semi-Utopia. This is one of Heinlein’s early novels, first published in two parts in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942.
The novel feels, and reads, more like two stories woven together to make a whole, with the characters and the social structure binding it together. That social structure is a future where people don’t have to work unless they want to, receiving a government dividend from the annual productive output of all means of production. Some people choose to work for their own reasons.
A second component of this future society is the genetic engineering that goes on to improve the race of mankind, sifting through the very genes of a couple who want to have a child in order to get the best combination of traits. Mixed in with the genetically superior are those who are “control naturals” people who have not had any genetic tinkering and are encouraged to reproduce (as all members of the society are) in order to keep a set of unmodified genomes around, including negative traits like allergies, etc. In between these two groups are those identified as experimental, they have new traits that need to be identified has either a positive improvement or a negative trait.
A third component is that men are generally armed, dueling is an accepted practice, and those men who choose not to be armed are generally considered to be inferior to those who are armed. This is where one of the best known quotes in support of the Second Amendment originates: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” A darn good quote, and a sentiment that I agree with. There is another Heinlein quote regarding an armed society that appears in this novel: “The police of a state should never be stronger or better armed than the citizenry. An armed citizenry, willing to fight, is the foundation of civil freedom.” This is a very precise evaluation of why the Founding Fathers incorporated a Second Amendment ensuring that “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Heinlein is right on the money there.
Beyond This Horizon is the story of Hamilton Felix (surnames are given first, then the personal name, just as in some Asian cultures, or, if you prefer, as with the Bajorans of ST:DS9), a star line genetic example of mankind, who designs games (mostly gambling types of games) for a living, and is quite wealthy. He is good with a gun, as all men are expected to be, and is good in apologizing eloquently when his friend accidently drops a crab leg in another diner’s soup early on in the story. He is also reluctant about having children, an odd trait in his society.
Soon he finds himself involved with a conspiracy to overthrow the government, not wanting to get involved, but finding himself in too deep before he could get out of the way, and becomes a government spy. This particular story element provides some of the major conflict in the story.
There are other elements that come into play, such as the Adirondack Stasis Field, which turns out to contain a man from the year 1926. This man, J. Darlington Smith, finds himself in a culture far removed from his own.
On the down side, there is one technical error in the story, and that is when Heinlein writes that human DNA contains 48 chromosomes, rather than the 46 chromosomes. This is not so much an error on his part as it is a scientific error at the time. It turns out that up until sometime in the 1950s when geneticists went back and recounted the number of chromosomes there are in the human DNA, it was accepted that we had 48 chromosomes. Heinlein, upon learning this, chose not to re-edit the story to fix this technical error.
All in all, Beyond This Horizon is a darn good read, with one of Heinlein’s most interesting future societies, with some darn good thoughts on why we Americans have a Second Amendment (and it wasn’t put in the Constitution for hunting, folks).
Patriots is the first David Drake novel I have read. Considering the length of time he has been in the business, which is almost as long as I have been reading SF, this is a bit of a surprise. Not that I wasn't aware of Drake and his books. I just never got around to reading them before now. And have I missed out!
Patriots is not exactly hard SF, nor is it really military SF, Drake's specialty. It is a Young Adult science fiction novel. It is the story of a young man, Mark Maxwell, who is touring the frontier worlds, meets up with Yerby Bannock and his sister, Amy, and the adventure begins.
They travel together to Greenwood, a sparsely populated frontier world, where Bannock calls home. Greenwood is having problems with a more established Earth populated planet pushing people there as colonists. Eventually we learn that even the more established colony worlds, such as Zenith and Quelhagen, are having issues with the main government on Earth, leading to armed conflict and revolution. All of it somewhat (and only somewhat) reminiscent to the American Revolution. Earth was stifling industry on the outlying worlds, causing a great deal of unrest on those planets, then attempted to squash resistance with its overwhelming military forces (frontier worlds had lightly armed militias).
One of the interesting technical points of Patriots is the use of hydrogen lift dirigibles, a departure from the more Heinleinesque use of horses and Conestoga wagons for colonizing a new world on the fringe of civilization. It is a technical aspect that I liked.
Over on David Drake's website, he discusses how writing Patriots came about: Tom Doherty of Tor books, Drake's publisher at the time, suggested he "use Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys as the subject" for the Young Adult novel Drake contracted to do for Tor. This did not mean a book about Ethan Allen, but using him and his exploits as the inspiration for the novel.
Patriots, as a novel is, good fun to read; a rollicking adventure with a smattering of politics, law, and American Ideals. It is clean (no sex, not much profanity, but hey, it is a Young Adult novel) and the underdog triumphs over the bully. The kind of stories Jimmy Stewart liked for his films. And speaking of which, I can't think of higher praise to give a book than if John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were alive today and in their acting prime, they would be the ideal actors to portray the two-fisted, hard drinking Yerby Bannock (Wayne) and the big city-bred lawyer Mark Maxwell (Stewart) in a film version of Patriots. No, I am not aware of any plans to make a movie of Drake's novel, but I'd rather see it in the theaters than Avatar.
The Weapon Makers by A. E. van Vogt is the second half of the "Empire of Isher" sequence and a must read for the Libertarian, small government advocate. In The Weapon Makers we learn more about the Weapon Shops, the Isher Empire, and a man named Hedrock and the role he plays in both the Weapon Shops and the history of the Empire.
The story opens with Hedrock, currently a captain in Isher's service and a member of the Imperial Court. He is also associated with the Weapon Shops, but his full role in both is not revealed until the end of the story when other members of the cast begin to figure out how Hedrock knows so much about both of these entities.
Even though this novel is currently out of print, it is still fairly available through used book dealers, so I don't want to give away too many details. Well, not anything important.
Princess Innelda is now 32, and being pressured to marry, something she is reluctant to do. Innelda still wishes to dispose of the Weapon Shops, and the Weapon Shops continues to be vigilant against Imperial assaults, thus maintaining a balance between Liberty and Tyranny.
Van Vogt continues with a tight writing style that has the novel moving at a fast pace from start to finish, with Hedrock getting in and, subsequently, out of tight jams, each time revealing to certain observers a bit more about who he is, especially to the Weapon Shops "No-man", Gonish.
A lot of far-fetched technology is envisioned by Van Vogt that aids Hedrock in his quest to save his life, the Empire, and the Weapon Shops.
Both of the novels that comprise the Isher stories are excellent reads by one of SFs early masters and innovators. If you haven't read 'em, you can find them together in an edition called The Empire of Isher, also out of print, but fairly readily available.
There is only one problem with writing a review of an out of print book, and that's for anyone interested in reading the book. These days, however, it is a bit easier thanks to the Internet.
The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. Van Vogt is a fine read. It is in this novel that Van Vogt immortalized the phrase "the right to buy guns is the right to be free" and it is hard to think of truer words. It plays well with what James Burgh wrote in Political Disquisitions, that "the possession of arms is the distinction between a free man and a slave."
The story is, in many ways, a political novel. On one side we have the weapon shops are an organization that provides high quality defensive weapons to the people so that they can resist a tyrannical government. On the other side is the Princess Innelda Isher, who rules the Empire and wishes to be rid of the weapon shops.
The events of the story revolve around the current attack by Isher against the weapon shops using a time-energy weapon that accidently brings a man from 1951 7,000 years into the future, and he is then used as a means to counter Isher's attack on the shops.
The story focuses mainly on Cayle Clark, a young ne'er do-good citizen of Isher, as the empire is referred to, who has one last falling out with his father and leaves the small town for the big city. He has many trials along the path to joining Imperial service, and the fact that the weapon shops are interested in his succeeding in joining the army is something that is concealed from him.
Cayle's father, Fara, learns more about the weapon shops as a result of Cayle's failures along the path. Fara is swindled out of his business and life savings; dejected and depressed, he turns to the weapon shops to buy a weapon with which to kill himself, and learns more of the inner workings of the shops than he suspected. The weapon shops, as it turns out, also runs an alternative court system where good people can go when the Imperial courts fail to met out justice.
The Weapon Shops of Isher is a fine example of Libertarian Science Fiction, which is why it is a recipient of the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 2005. An excellent novel well worth looking for on the used book shelves. Maybe it will be back in print soon, along with its sequel, The Weapon Makers.