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America in
Chains

CASTLES IN THE AIR April 10, 2009

I’ve just finished rereading Chapter Four of my novel _Ceres_,
which will be posted with its predecessors on this website next
Monday. I’m enjoying the process of serializaton and I hope you are,
too.

Doing so, I surprised myself. Earlier chapters have introduced the
reader to young Llyra Ngu — albeit somewhat at arm’s length — the
great grandaughter of Emerson Ngu, who was the viewpoint character of
my earlier novel, _Pallas_, and then to Wilson Ngu, her older brother,
and Adam, her civil engineer father. We met Hortense Blumenfeld, who
manages a factory ship involved in the terraformation of the asteroid
Ceres, Ingrid Andersson, Adam’s Japanese (yes) assistant, Arleigh and
Lindsay Ngu, Adam’s brothers, and Honey Graham, a 3DTV reporter from
Earth.

Most of the action so far has been on Ceres, largest of the bodies
in the Asteroid Belt, presently in the early phase of conversion to an
Earth-like environment. Chapter Four is set on Pallas, second-largest
of the asteroids, where most of these folks so far were born and grew
up.

Here we see people and things through the eyes of 19-year-old
Jasmeen Khalidov, Llyra’s Martian-born skating coach, private tutor,
and companion. We meet Llyra herself, again, along with friends she
grew up with in her home town Curringer, on the shores of Lake Selous.
These are places we first saw in _Pallas_, but it’s now 75 years
later.

Read the chapter for yourself. What surprised me is the degree to
which I’ve missed these characters. More than any others I’ve created,
they are real to me, and although I control their fates, I’m very fond
of them (we haven’t seen any villains yet) and I care what happens to
them.

Isn’t that a remarkable and silly thing?

One reason, I guess, is that they live in a world I’d dearly love
to live in, myself. Over 30 years, I’ve created at least five places
like that — call them “libertarian utopias” if you must — places I’d
like to live, in preference to the festering septic tank in which we
now find ourselves, places my readers tell me they’d like to live in,
too.

The first of them was the North American Confederacy, where I set
_The Probabiity Broach_. It’s located “somewhere over the rainbow” in
an alternative version of history in which the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion
succeeded, and the federal government was never again able to impose
taxation. The idea was to demonstrate that a civilized and truly free
society can function perfectly well, thank you, without the coercive
state.

The reason I wrote _TPB_ was to generate, in the minds of folks
who were already libertarians, a concrete picture of the world they
were struggling to create. I wanted them to build the world they want
to live in. It was not my intention to create a population of would-be
refugees who complained to me that that most people don’t have access
to the arcane machinery that’s necessary to get to the North American
Confederacy.

Nevertheless, I wrote _Pallas_, a few years later, about a place
that is entirely reachable with easily foreseeable technologies, and
that could be rendered homelike with much less difficulty than any
other place I know of in the Solar System. Exactly like the North
American Confederacy, Pallas is not heaven. It is not without its
problems, but they are problems that people are free to tackle and
solve, self-reliantly, without statist interference, using reason and
experience.

This isn’t empty theory. Much of what I wrote was based on my own
family’s experience homesteading in North Park, Colorado. It is
exactly what made America great and it is exactly what American has
lost. Instead, we have the Obamananny state to take care of us to
death.

I don’t recall who said it, maybe it was Robert Shea or Robert
Anton Wilson or Timothy Leary, but sometimes it’s useful, when you’re
trying to solve a problem, or simply understand what’s going on around
you, to pretend that you’re talking it over with a wise alien observer
from a civilization far in advance of our own who can see things more
objectively.

That’s what _Forge of the Elders_ is all about. I conceived it at
a moment when the Soviet Empire was in the process of collapsing and
the Berlin Wall was coming down, but understanding history and human
nature, I was regrettably certain (I do not make these predictions for
fun, and I seldom enjoy it when they come true) that what seemed like
the universal rejection of Marxism would be very short-lived. America
would embrace collectivism and drag the rest of the world back down
into the black hole with it. _Forge_ is set in that initially dismal
future.

The novel’s Volkswagen-sized “nautiloids” (actually ammonites) of
which the Falstaffian character Mr. Thoggosh is a fine example, are
from an alternative pre-history in which molluscs like him evolved
sapience. They take ethics very seriously and have had a libertarian
culture for half a billion years, They practice pure _laissez-faire_
capitalism. Against that background, I set the crew of three little
spaceships from a impoverished totalitarian Earth who must learn or
die.

My hope is that the reader will learn along with them.

In _Roswell, Texas_, my original co-author, Rex May and I, set out
to create a society that _evolved_ into libertarianism, rather than
achieving it through some kind of revolution. The Federated States of
Texas aren’t perfect. There are no taxes (not since the 19th century
levy that made slavery uneconomical), but the Texas government has a
monopoly on garbage collection and recycling. Texicans are required by
their mostly vestigial government to carry a gun with them at all
times in public although they can apply for a license _not_ to carry
one.

In short, it’s the kind of Texas we all wish the real Texas was.
I’d move there in an Abeline picosecond if it was, and never look
back.

_TimePeeper_ is my latest effort to generate a solid, believable,
achievable libertarian society, and I hope my readers won’t overlook
it. Intentionally lighthearted and silly, it’s one of a small handful
of stories I’m planning to write about what happens in America after a
Constitutional amendment — the “Great Moratorium” — outlaws the
passage of any legislation, at any level of government, for the next
century.

Except, of course, for repeals.

Your mileage may vary — I hope it does; usually each of my novels
seems to have its own cadre of partisans; it’s a good thing — of all
these worlds, the one I’d most like to live in is that of _Pallas_ and
_Ceres_. The characters I know best and like most are from those two
books.

But that’s just me.

There’s an old psychology-major joke that distinguishes between a
neurotic and a psychotic. Neurotics, it goes, build castles in the
air. Psychotics move in and take up residence. To paraphrase Patrick
Henry’s famous speech, if this be psychosis, let us make the most of
it!

Comments

1. Tatiana Covington - April 10, 2009

Beyond that, extremely advanced Übermenschen develop gravity control (a la Leonhardt and Philbin’s quantum levitation), and actually build said castles.

http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~ulf/levitation.html
arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/0608115

Rainbow bridge and all with much pompous music in the background while they move in….

TC

2. Kent McManigal - April 11, 2009

I really can’t say which is my favorite, since I would gladly move to any of them tomorrow.

3. Administrator - April 11, 2009

I would move into any one of my “libertarian utopias”, too, of course, especially having worked hard realizing each of them, often for years at a time. There’s plenty left to do. I have many whole novels left to write, in the North American Confederacy series alone.

Just as an example, I have been thinking for some time — with no particular political motivation in mind, believe it or not — that I’d like very much to do a novel — probably a murder mystery investigated by our old friend Win Bear — seen entirely from inside Confederate baseball.

What I’m talking about here doesn’t have anything to do with Dixie cups or the Old South. Those who don’t know about Confederate baseball will just have to get a copy of _The American Zone_, in which they can see just a bit of it being played when Lucy takes Win to a ballgame in LaPorte. The primary difference is that, in each of nine innings, in strict rotation, each of the nine players must play each of the nine positions.

There are plenty of dramatic possibilities in a science fiction
sports/murder mystery novel, of course (I don’t know about the sales potential) but mostly it would be a wonderful chance for me to play out two or three pure, plain, joyful games, according to a set of rules I believe are more in line with what the sport was supposed to have been, than the way it has turned out. Imagine: not only no more Astroturf and designated hitters, but no more primadonna pitchers, either.

4. Victor Milán - April 11, 2009

Sounds good. I’d certainly love to live in the NAC. Even if only briefly through fiction, through the eyes of “our old friend Win Bear.”

5. Administrator - April 11, 2009

Thank you, Victor, you are very kind.

I started out today to write about some of the real people on whom my characters are based, but I got off onto the baseball tangent, instead. If there’s any interest, I will do the intended essay.

As I said, I feel closer to my _Ceres_ characters than any others so far, and I’d be as interested as anyone to learn why. In one case — Llyra’s mother, Ardith Zacharenko Ngu — I know why. She was never meant to be a particularly sympathetic character, but I based her on Natalie Wood, and when I researched _her_ life (her real name was Zacharenko) I sort of fell in love with this lovely, tragic, essentially innocent creature.

So Ardith turned out somewhat differently than I’d planned, and a considerably more spontaneous, better-rounded character, I think. That sort of thing is one of the reasons I love this job.

6. Eric Oppen - April 11, 2009

I’d love to live in the NAC myself. Ceres would be nice, but I’m not as into the rural stuff.

ISTR you were going to Tuckerize me in a NAC novel—will that ever happen?

7. Ken Holder - April 11, 2009

“…I’d move there in an Abeline picosecond if it was…”

Did you mean “Abilene”? Ya know, my home town when I’m from and stuff.

8. Ken Holder - April 11, 2009

“Where I’m from” I mean. Sheesh, it’s catching….

9. al perez - April 12, 2009

see Tom paine maru about how australian aborigines measure distance.

10. Warren - April 12, 2009

That shopping mall asteroid in the Venus Belt that Metal Lucy and Win visit or that Orca run resort asteroid. Also Koko’s ship o’ ships The T. P. M. I’d love to be marunned.

11. LindaC - April 12, 2009

As I told you when I first met you, I’d really really really love to live in the American Zone…… I’ve moved all over the country looking for a “better” place to live, but, wouldn’t you know, it’s off in an alternate universe. Maybe in my next life ;-)

12. Administrator - April 13, 2009

Well, I have more worlds to create, if I get the chance: a place where people start all over again in the Stone Age when their children are born, and move ahead to each successive age, bronze, iron, electronic, and so on, aftert they’ve mastered the one they’re in; a world where there’s land, and sea, and beneath the sea, another sea of a different, denser liquid; a planet stripped to its iron core that has become a giant hard drive.

As always, it depends on finding the time, energy, and money to write. And now the issue might be freedom, as well. Unless Americans reach down inside themselves and find the moxie to oppose what’s going on, we’re in for a long, bleak haul. At this point, I think it’s possible to tip things over, but how much time we have beyond that, nobody can say. I can only make suggestions that others are free to follow or not. So far, despite 30 years of fairly accurate predictions of social, technological, and political developments, it’s mostly been not.

13. Eli - April 13, 2009

It was reading the dialogue in TPB about the confederate ‘fixation’ on guns that finally cured me of my antigun upbringing, which had kept me from libertarianism for years. Even given that, I think I would prefer to live in the universe of Ceres, and visit the culturally different but interesting university of _Forge_.

14. Eli - April 13, 2009

Jeez Ken, you infected me. Universe.

15. al perez - April 13, 2009

Strangely enough (or not) the stories I would love to see, or at least see more of, are those in which an unfree society is turned into a free society. We see utopia and dystopia, the equivalents of the Paradisio and the Inferno. How about a Purgatorio?
Before anyone tells me to write it myself I’mtossing the idea out there for others to play with also, just in case my muse doesn’t take me there or abandons me.

16. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit - April 13, 2009

Whereas I think it’d be fun to explore the Japan of the Confederacy, which was described as … unusual, as I recall.

17. Administrator - April 13, 2009

Tell you what, ol’ furryfoot, if I do the baseball novel, I’ll set it at least partially in a libertarian Nippon.

18. Warren - April 14, 2009

Al,

There is at least one book that i know of that goes from full socialism to freedom. I just cannot remember the full title.

It was written (or set) in the 1930s and was called “The League of (something) Men”

Laissez Faire Books kept it in stock for a long time but don’t seem to have it now.

I searched the web for a bit but came up empty.

Also there is a palimpsest of Orwell’s stuff that shows the beginning of a change from 1984 type conditions to freedom.

Orwell’s revenge by Peter Huber.

19. Warren - April 14, 2009

Actually, the first book I mentioned is called “A Lodging of Wayfaring Men” by Anon.

A link to a review and the order page is below.

http://www.sunnimaravillosa.com/books/lodging.html

20. Ward Griffiths - April 14, 2009

Which world do i prefer? Piece of cake. I want a Brightsuit. And a timeship as bright as Georgie.

21. Administrator - April 14, 2009

Sunni is a good friend, and I will take her recommendation as soon as I get through the dozen books sitting on my nightstand. Just got a great one on Pompeii and I’m awaiting the new Kathy Reichs novel with bated breath.

22. Administrator - April 14, 2009

I should have provided some external servos for _Georgie_. Or some sort of virtual reality setup. Oh, well, there’ll be other chances.

23. Administrator - April 17, 2009

Okay, I’ve got one for you …

Whenever I write a novel, I usually have someone specific in mind as a model for whatever character I’m dealing with at the time. I’m often tempted to share these models with my readers, to help them see the characters the way I’ve seen them.

But sometimes, when I’ve done this, people have seemed somewhat surprised, or even dismayed, when they learned what picture was in my mind. Or they’ve generated their own image — often it’s very different from mine — of what the character looks like, and they resent my reshuffling of that image, You get this whenever a character is portrayed in a movie, too, or even drawn in a comic book.

These images in my mind serve my purpose as a writer. They help me to keep a character, well, in character, consistent with what I wanted them to be, throughout the story. Sometimes my own vision is inaccurate, inconsistent with the way I’ve physically described the character. Scott Bieser has drawn our friend Win Bear accurately, after much thought and many hours discussing it with me. Win ends up looking quite a bit like Graham Greene (the actor, not the novelist).

But when I was writing _The Probability Broach_, in the late 70s, the picture I had in mind was Ed Asner, who was playing Lou Grant, Mary Tyler Moore’s irascible boss. I didn’t know that Asner was leftist scum back then, and it wouldn’t have mattered if I had. He projected a personality that I wanted Win to have aspects of, that of a tired, prematurely aging, unhealthy man of strong opinions.

Later on, when Bob Hoskins gave us Eddie Valiant, I thought that was even better: the wrinkled suit, the loosened tie, the beat-up hat, the basically pathetic life that ends up being salvaged by love.

Now it’s all fused together in my mind, Greene, Asner, Hoskins. And the whole thing has been worth it, if only to see Scott’s drawing of Win, naked except for his hat, shoulder holster, and shoes, waiting for his clothes to get cleaned in the laundromat.

The love of Win’s life, Clarissa MacDougall Olson, is based, in part, on my wife at the time, and in part on actress Jill Clayburgh as she appeared in _Silver Streak_. Deejay Thorens is modeled after Loni Anderson, from WKRP in _Cincinnati_. Lucy Gallegos Kropotkin is mostly based on a favorite character actress of mine, Thelma Ritter. Instead of Brooklyn, I gave her a west Texas accent. There’s a bit of a favorite aunt in there, as well, and my own paternal great grandmother from North Park, who is something of a Smith family legend.

So the question arises, while not all of my characters are based on celebritoids you can look up online, quite a few of them are. When you meet Ardith Zacharenko Ngu in _Ceres_, you’ll know that she’s based on Natalie Wood, because I told you she is in an earlier blog entry. Other characters simply come from photos of more or less anonymous individuals I’ve found here and there online.

Do you want to know, or not?

24. Warren - April 17, 2009

In the Crystal Empire who was the evil gay druid (Oln Woeck?) modeled after?

Sorry about the spelling but my copy got away from me years ago.

25. Administrator - April 17, 2009

Your spelling is correct, Warren, and _TCE_ will be coming back soon, from Phoenix Pick. “Oln Woeck” is an anagram for Owen Lock, my previous editor at Del Rey Books, with whom I’d had a serious falling out. _TCE_ was originally a Bluejay book, but when that company folded, it (and my editor Jim Frenkel) moved over to Tor.

26. Warren - April 17, 2009

Owen!?!?!

All this time I thought it was someone named Leon.

I tried multiple spellings of the remaining letters in a German to English translator but got nothing.

I was figuring on it being some minor political figure from the 70s, and probably a Republican.

27. Administrator - April 17, 2009

Owen is/was what passes as a Republican in the Greater New Jerky Corridor — kind of like a California conservative. That’s one reason I was so surprised when he cut _Tom Paine Maru_ the way he did.

However it was an important, highly valuable lesson. Owen taught me (although I’m sure he didn’t intend to) that conservative Republicans aren’t any more interested in individual liberty than liberal Democrats are. The fact is, they’re both varieties of socialism, and form the twin bitter ends of the Boot On Your neck party.

28. al perez - April 17, 2009

Until recently the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional, i.e. Institutional Revolutionary Party and enjoy the contradiction) dominated Mexican politics. other parties were allowed even subsidized by the PRI. However the PRI candidate always won the presidency and a majority in Mexico’s congress. The Left wing and the Right Wing took turns holding the presidency in alternate terms, but the PRI always won until two elections ago. Now the PAN is apparently becoming the rights party.
At least the old way was more honest, too bad our Demicans have never been so honest!

29. Warren - April 18, 2009

Yes I would like to know who your models were.

There was some stun-gun toting freak in Nagasaki Vector, and the pock-marked Homeland Security dude in PB for villains.

Phobus Crumm in HM and and all the Martyns. There was a guy with a long slide Witness in AZ and a few others but my memory has faded.

So yeah, I am interested.

30. L. Neil Smith - April 20, 2009

Okay, Warren …

I don’t recall the stun-gunner you mention. After 28 books, it starts to blur a little. But I’ll check it out. The pockmarked SecPol agent is based on an actor we used to see all the time on programs like _Mission Impossible_. I’ll find his name, as well.

Phoebus is based on two of my closest friends, Roger Owen (whom you see as “Owen Rogers” in _Forge of the Elders_) and Ken Flurchick, whom you see as “Birdflower” in _The Nagasaki Vector_. Both are huge, heavyset men who exhibit two very different forms of genius. Phoebus existed as a character long before Rubius Hagrid, but there are some similarities.

The only character based on somebody else in _Henry Martin_ is Loreanna Daimler-Wilkinson, whom I took from Sarah Miles as she appeared in _Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines_ — impossibly cute and indomitably courageous.

In _The American Zone_, the guy you’re asking about is “Buckley F. Williams”, who also appeared in _The Probability Broach_. He’s based (look at his name) on William F. Buckley! His brother in _TAZ_, Bennett Williams is — tada! — William Bennett.

Did I mention that Voltaire Malaise in _The Venus Belt_ is … well, “malaise” in French is sickness. The same word in German is “krankheit”. Figure it our for yourself. I worried for ten years that I was gonna get sued.

It’s fun.

31. L. Neil Smith - April 20, 2009

ALERT! L. Neil Smith books on Kindle! __Tom Paine Maru, _Hope_ (with Aaron Zelman), _The American Zone_. More very soon.http://tinyurl.com/cc37yq

32. Warren - April 22, 2009

Thank you sir,

Though the guy I’m thinking about with the longslide Witness in AZ was a good guy involved in an assault on some evil doers.

And speaking of guns…..

This link will take you to an “interview” with one Gustave Trouve who invented an electrically fired rifle.

http://www.make-digital.com/make/vol17/?pg=34

I see by the diagram how the powder would be ignited but what I don’t see is how it could fire 18-20 times a minute.

There is a knob (bolt handle?) that could be used to open the chamber which would speed up the process of loading but it looks like it uses loose powder which would slow things down.

Also would not the ignition of the powder destroy the wire?

I know of your interest in guns and history and inventions.

So I present this link in the hopes you get some enjoyment out of the material.

33. al perez - April 24, 2009

Can’t resist asking, who is (are) the model(s) fr the Kendall sisters. My vote is Mrs. Cathy Smith as your anniversary gift article in TLE indicates she is as awesome as any two lesser women.

34. L. Neil Smith - April 24, 2009

The origin of the Kendall sisters is a little bit complicated and a little bit personal. You’ll find a similar pair of characters, the Bear sisters, in _Tom Paine Maru_, a mature, dignified (but somewhat uninspiring), older sister and a highly energetic, passionate, and irresistably sexy younger sister (only to make it more complicated, their apparent ages have been reversed due to one of them having spent considerable time in medical stasis).

These are _very_ rough character sketches of the lady who became my ex-wife, and the lady who maintains that she is my _last_ wife (and I believe her), at the time that that situation was in flux. Cathy is also a character in my unfinished horror novel, _Brain Death_. Maybe after I write my vampire novel, _Sweeter Than Wine_ (next November for sure, as part of NaNoWriMo) I’ll tackle the horror novel again if there’s any interest.

I’ve also been encouraged by Mike Baron to write _The Black Ship_, what amounts to a political critique of _Star Trek_, couched in the form of a novel. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for decades.

35. al perez - April 24, 2009

for all its virtues Trek (the original and the first three spinoffs)has a critique coming, It was too tied into the Kennedy Johnson Cold warrior world view, both the virtues and vices.

Did love Gene Roddenberry’s idea of women’s wear.

currently the political moral dilemna we face is how to resist tyranny without embracing the countertyranny of terrorism, to resist terrrorism without becoming counterterrorist tyrants.

that probably isn’t where you’re going, but I can’t wait to meet your version of Kirk (or Picard).6-2

36. Warren - April 24, 2009

Oh, c’mon…no interest in a battery powered rifle from 1867?!?!

37. L. Neil Smith - April 25, 2009

Sorry, Warren, but I’ve been presented with many of these ideas in the past (there was going to be some H&K electrically-ignited rifle in the 70s, but it never went anywhere). I was also never much interested in caseless, either. Both for a large variety of reasons.

The kind of electric I like uses magnetism to hurl projectiles.

Al, _The Black Ship_ probably won’t have Picard, although there will be familiar faces. The commander is the man we know as Flint (DaVinci, Brahms, etc.). He was also Captain Nemo. First Officer _Tom_ Riker. Second Officer Ro Laren. I’m going to use characters that _Trek_ threw away.

38. al perez - April 25, 2009

Good! Picard is too much of a statist, even if he is from the “light side of the force” (And a thousand pardons for scrambling franchises). Definitely need to see the more freewheeling characters w/out daddy around to keep them out of trouble/

39. Warren - April 25, 2009

Neil,

You have said enough over the years about firearms and their designs and uses that you could probably put together a non-fiction book on the subject. “Ruminations on the Boomstick”.

A friend of mine once wrote a short story where one of the characters used a man-portable rail-gun to fire hockey pucks. A total bitch to be on the wrong end of that even if you had goalie pads.

There is a lot to the ST universe but the writers always focus on the Uniforms. Commerce was usually shown to be bad. They made the Ferengi ugly little villains! I guess to show that being interested in trade leaves one shrunken and grasping.

The first series the crew were kind of freebooters. Doing what they wanted, mostly out of the reach of Starfleet. The later series’ really ramped up the politics and bureaucracy and got to be nigh-unwatchable. Just by random chance I’ve seen maybe 80-90% of TNG and about 50% of DS9 but I’ve seen maybe three eps of Voyager and one of Enterprise.

So I hope you will shine a light and make that universe more interesting. At the very least you’ll arm your characters with better (more interesting) guns.

40. Georgina23Roman - April 5, 2010

I strictly recommend not to hold off until you earn enough money to buy all you need! You should take the business loans or just student loan and feel yourself comfortable