L. Neil Smith's

Number 3, December 1995

Light Your Own Fire

(Savior of Fire, Boardman, Robert B., Blue Note Books, 1991, 294 pages, $5.95)

Book Review by Jim. Davidson

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         It's not often that an important work of philosophy takes the form of an author's first science fiction novel. Savior of Fire is an enjoyable romp as a work of fiction. Its science isn't terribly hard and the characters are brilliantly conceived, so it might be classed as New Wave. But it is much more.
         You've just got to like a story that opens with a line like, "At noon the sun exploded." To come upon an author with the intestinal fortitude to start with a supernova and move on from there is a rare thing -- I'm convinced that the first line alone is worth the price of admission.
         Savior of Fire is clearly meant to be read for enjoyment. Yet underlying this good read is a carefully crafted, well-developed economic philosophy.
         Entrepreneurs and liberty-minded individualists will love this story as much for its high regard for capitalistic values as for its readability.
         Not since Atlas Shrugged has the novel been used to evoke a philosophical point so delightfully. Savior of Fire's characters are fully dimensioned, excellent studies of humanity who grow and evolve through the story. By paying attention to his characters and creating strong ones, Boardman succeeds in making Savior of Fire even more poignant.
         The planet Fire is inhabited by human beings. In the 22nd Century, visitors from Earth arrive, study the fairly advanced civilization of Fire and decide to send help. Fire is already quite successful economically and technologically, but lacks what the antagonist Gordon Boston calls an advanced spiritual outlook. Boston sets out to help the Firelings help each other. In this way, Boardman sets up an intriguing commentary on life in America.
         The point Boardman is making is best served if the people of Fire are human beings just like those of Earth. Rather than belabor the point with some sort of unskillful prehistoric tale that gives gas pains to any paleoanthropologist reader, Boardman plays with early historical myths for his explanation, which is at once lighthearted and acceptable. He makes his point that Earth and Fire are populated with the same species without resorting to complexity. Rather, he openly invites the reader to play along and see what results. He clearly wants to challenge anyone who says that the economic system under which the people of Fire have flourished wouldn't work for Earthlings.
         One of the central characters is an economist named John Maynard. That name seems appropriate when you realize that Boardman is criticizing some of the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, the British economist whose work was the basis for the governmental intervention typified by the New Deal. If economics is a science, then this book represents economic science fiction at its best. It becomes only natural that the economist should play a central and eventually heroic role.
         I realized how very much I liked not only the book but also the people of Fire when John Maynard explains to the antagonist, "On the planet Fire, Gordon, the people do not have, never have had, and don't even understand the concept of -- taxes." Naturally, the social balance of Fire is considerably upset when the Earthlings arrive. Adding to the irony, it is a cabinet-level, United States Department of Space Exploration mission which finds Fire in the 22nd Century. The space program is clearly an extension of the current, government-oriented, jet-jockey-dominated, space-for-the-elite program of today.
         It was the ability of the people of Fire, led by their heroine, to overcome the challenges of the bizarre economics of Earth that was the best part of this book for me. It suggests that there is some hope for changing the system we live under.

(c 1991 Jim Davidson * All Rights Reserved by Author)

Jim Davidson has always been a liberty minded individualist, but got very serious about it after the state shut down his space tourism company, Space Travel Services, in 1991. Jim has a bachelor's in history from Columbia (1985), an MBA in marketing from Rice (1987), has worked in aerospace, software, banking, real estate, and is currently Chief Operating Officer of a $3 million revenues medical company. Among his other interests, Jim has been president of the Houston Space Society and scubas whenever he can.


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