L. Neil Smith's
Number 359, March 19, 2006


Which Future Do You Want?
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I am a novelist, by trade.

As someone once defined it, I am one the nation's four hundred professional liars. I make up long, complex, internally consistent lies, set them down on paper or disk, and people pay me money for them.

Like H.G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, and Ayn Rand before me, I write science fiction (Rand never knew she wrote science fiction, but she did, and I mean no denigration by saying so) with the purpose in mind of conveying a relatively simple set of ideas to as many readers as I can before I croak or it's too late for all of us, whichever comes first.

In the end, those ideas boil down to only three points, really:

First, that each and every individual human being is the sole and absolute owner of his or her own life and (for better or for worse; would-be polluters take extra-careful note) all the products of that life;

Second, that the best, and possibly the only way to establish, advance, and defend that principle is to utterly renounce the use, and, I must insist, the advocacy and delegation of initiated force (the adjective is crucial, I do not preach pacifism which, at best, makes you a parastic free-rider, and, at worst, somebody's breakfast); and

Third, that humanity and civilization as a whole benefit beyond measure as long as these principles are earnestly and assidously observed (although social benefit isn't vital to the equation—it's still far better to starve in freedom than to become a sleek, well-fed slave).

Unlike Bellamy, at least, and following the example of Robert A. Heinlein who was my teacher in many things, I recognize an absolute obligation to generate the most entertaining stories I can, in advance payment for the serious consideration I want my readers to give my ideas. As I've grown older and the titles have piled up (I believe I'm working on books 25 and 26 right now—or is it 26 and 27?), it has become easier for me to do just that, as the emphasis in my literary undertakings has shifted, almost of its own accord, from direct focus on the ideas to the individual characters living by them or resisting them.

Along the way, driven by that purpose, those principles, and a fairly undampable confidence in human progress, I've made a number of predictions about the future which have come true. My first novel, The Probability Broach, predicted the universal popularity of (and necessity for) home computers, wall-sized monitors, the Internet, and laptop computers. I also envisioned and wrote about a number of the investigative innovations I'm only seeing now on TV programs like CSI.

My fourth, The Nagasaki Vector predicted an end to the Soviet empire.

Readers—and other writers, for that matter—often praise me for the "positive sense of life" that colors almost everything I write.

In the futures (or alternate histories) I write about, everything is bright and colorful. People usually live in what closely resembles American suburbia—except that the lots they live on, and the houses they build there are several times larger, better designed and kept up.

The tech is always as high as I can credibly make it. People get sick less often, their injuries heal faster, and they live far longer (although I've observed that in societies where people are virtually immortal, there's a 100 percent likelihood that they'll eventually die by accidental violence) all because half of what they earn isn't systematically stolen from them by some government somewhere and then turned against them to control their lives and generally retard progress.

For reasons requiring an essay unto itself—or possibly 27 or 28 books—crime is an extremely rare phenomenon (which tends to make it a bit hard on the action-adventure writer in me). With few exceptions, people are prosperous, happy, forward-thinking, and mutually tolerant—and manage to stumble on plenty of wrongs to right despite all of that.

War—along with the low, crawling political and corporate scum-sucking bastards who benefit by it—are pretty much relics of the past.

Although I haven't persuaded a single one of my colleagues to join me in it, I could never write any other way, myself. I want to give my readers "something wonderful" to look forward to—I want "something wonderful" to look forward to, myself—and even now I can't imagine adding to the mountain of tired, threadbare, gloomy prognostications that have been written and published. George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Mordecai Roshwald all created much better dystopias than I ever could.

And they didn't slow the march of the killer-state by a single nanosecond.

On the other hand, it would appear, neither have I.

But am I really naive enough (I pretend to hear the cynical among you asking) to believe in this kind of future? Absolutely—or there wouldn't be any point to writing about it. Although I certainly don't believe it will come to us free or easy or inevitably, especially now, five years after George Bush's version of the Reichstag Fire. But this brings me ("finally", I pretend to hear the rest of you saying) to the point.

As a writer of alternative histories (what would the world be like today if, say, the Pennsylvania farmers had won the Whiskey Rebellion; Texas had remained an independent nation; Hitler had immigrated to the New World following World War I; etc.) I also believe in alternative futures.

I've written a good many of them, myself.

Although details vary from universe to universe, pictures I paint of whatever universe it happens to be are as rosy and attractive as I can realistically make them, given certain truths of history and human nature, first, because I want to live in a future like that myself, and second, because I believe the best way to get there is to make it attractive.

And third, because contemplating doing anything else is so damned depressing. Quite frankly, if you prefer a future of dark, gritty streets, torn, faded work clothes, bad smells, garbage cans, and squawling alley cats, you're out of luck here. Write your own damned future. I want my future in brilliant Technicolor, 3D, and Surround Sound.

Yet there are, as I'm sure you'll anticipate, likely futures that aren't all that rosy and attractive. The mental picture that haunts my nightmares most consisently is finding myself squatting in bombed-out ruins with a half-brick in my hand, trying to decide if I can brain the four-year-old I've been stalking, for the can of beans she's just discovered.

That's exactly what we're coming to if we go on letting the Bushes and Clintons of the world manage events and control our lives. Western civilization will collapse from the weight of all the government that it's forced to carry around on its back, and worse, of its own bloated stupidity in looking to that government, no matter how discredited it becomes, for any answer other than simply leaving all of us the hell alone.

Do I have any better plan? Damned right I have, lots of them, 28 or 29 books full of them. Start by reading my books, yourself. I wrote them for you to use in the struggle for individual liberty. Recommend the ones you like to family and friends. Recommend the ones you don't like to enemies and unwanted relatives. If you're a writer yourself, stop the Orwellian whining and try writing of a future worth fighting for. It was a hell of an ordeal to learn how, but I did it, and so can you.

A fully-realized fictional world with its own unique characters, settings, and history is a potent weapon in the struggle. The idea is to condition readers' expectations so that they'll demand a decent future.

It's the only strategy I trust. Certainly we can get nothing that we want—absolutely nothing—by ever voting for any Republican or Democrat ever again. Or for anyone currently occupying any political office (with the possible exception of Congressman Ron Paul). These are the lowlives who passed the Patriot Act twice. They're the same lowlives who pushed the War on Drugs until it became a vast War on Everything. They're the lowlives who, at the local level, find excuses to steal your property and your pets, and who casually decide for restaurant owners whether to allow smoking in their establishments or not.

All of them put their nasty hands in your pockets and then use what they find there—your own money—to oppress you. Do you want the future that that's creating, or one of the futures I believe are possible?

The question is not rhetorical.

Which future do you want?

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at lneilsmith.org.

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: http://payloadz.com/go/sip?id=137991. Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press www.bigheadpress.com has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at www.Amazon.com, or at BillOfRightsPress.com.


Great deals on great computer hardware—Tiger Direct!
Now accepting PayPal

Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.
We cheerfully accept donations!

to advance to the next article
to return to the previous article
Table of Contents
to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 359, March 19, 2006