Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 571, May 23, 2010

"The old order is clearly dying and a bright,
raucous, energetic new disorder
being born as we watch."

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Pallases in the Air
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

From Ayn Rand's Anthem and Atlas Shrugged to Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, science fiction is the literature of libertarianism. That's because science fiction is this civilization's only remaining literature of ideas. Everything else—including the murder mystery genre Rand recommended, but which now seems to be the exclusive property of feminists, or at least of females—is rightly, tightly, rooted in the obsolete views and values of a collectivist establishment.

Something like twenty years ago, I started writing a novel that was intended, among other things, to help my readers—and me, too—to imagine what it must have been like to have a part in the taming and settlement a new frontier and (perhaps even more importantly) to help us correct what a popular magazine article by science writer Jared Diamond had called "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race".

In writing the book and creating its characters, I drew heavily on what I knew of my own family's pioneering history in northern Arizona and in North Park, Colorado. It wasn't always pretty. The first time my grandmother Mabel and her brothers slammed to door to the brand new shiny log cabin they'd just built, the whole thing collapsed. Mabel sought employment at the nearby Walden Hotel (where she would end up marrying the boss's son) and her brothers went to work for the railroad.

I also found myself leaning heavily on Edna Ferber's wonderful story of Alaska settlement, Ice Palace, both the 1958 bestselling novel and the commercially unsuccessful 1960 Hollywood movie which was attacked by critics as viciously as if Sarah Palin had starred in it. That's okay; some of my favorite movies are those the critics called bombs.

The mistake that Diamond wrote about was the rapid abandonment of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, about ten thousand years ago, and the development, in its place, of agriculture. It is an odd but compelling hypothesis, one I'm sure that Diamond—no particular friend, as far as I can tell of individual liberty—never dreamed would inspire a notorious libertarian propagandist to construct yet another "utopia of greed".

For a time, I even considered a disclaimer to that effect for the front of the book. In time, though, I decided that ideas are like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (and Bullwinkle J. Moose's) arrow, shot into the air, which "fell to earth I knew not where". I've learned from personal experience that you can never predict which people will do what, and to whom, with the ideas that you toss out into the universe.

But Diamond's idea is not what this column is about.

Just like my anticipation of the Internet in The Probability Broach, or iPad-like devices in The Venus Belt, or the collapse of the Soviet Empire in The Nagasaki Vector, I am always driven by the necessities of the story, rather than by any desire to predict the future. No Ouija boards, bird entrails, crystal balls, or psychic powers.

Generating a backstory for Pallas consistent with my knowledge of history and human nature, I created an America that was different from the country I had been born and grew up in. Government—mostly located east of a line described by historian Walter Prescott Webb as dividing the forests of the old frontier from the Grand Prairie of the new—was growing more Marxist, centralized, and oppressive, and the more independent minded people of the west were resisting in various ways.

Sound at all familiar?

Little did I know I was writing the first novel of the Tea Party movement.

It was the same way in Canada, where westerners were growing weary of being pushed around by a gaggle of effete easterners in Ottowa and their jackbooted thugs. When American states finally refused to send any more representatives to Washington, provinces of western Canada followed suit and the border, in effect, rotated 90 degrees, creating, de facto, if not de jure, two new political entities, East America and West America, a process that the official governments weren't free to "correct" because a cataclysmic natural event, "The Big One" in California, had killed 20 million people, destroying the economy, and rendering a counter-revolution impossible, even if the will had still existed.

Which it did not.

I didn't know it at the time, but Pallas would turn out to be a prequel to Ceres, another novel of the new frontier that gave my readers glimpses of events in East and West America. I'm extremely happy that Pallas is about to be republished. For now, you can read Ceres at [this link]. It will be followed, as soon as I can manage, by Ares, which concerns the settlement and terraformation of Mars, amidst a bitter struggle by interplanetary pioneers to wrest control of their own lives from a dictatorial, rapacious and ultimately murderous East American government.

A lot of my predictions seem to manifest themselves prematurely. I sincerely hope that this doesn't make me a conservative at heart. For example, most of the electronic wonders in The Probability Broach, in a society supposedly 100 years ahead of ours, can now be had here, only 33 years later. The Soviet meltdown that I wrote about in The Nagasaki Vector, didn't politely wait for 2017 to take place. In Pallas, California's "Big One" and its nationwide political and financial aftershocks arrived in 2023. And I confess that I didn't expect the real-world economy-destroying cataclysm to assume the form of a vile Marxist gangster from Chicago and his horde of criminal accomplices.

Nevertheless, my vision of a balkanized America in the not too distant future remains unavoidably likely. More and more, California no longer seems like a part of this country. Texas politicians speak openly—and optimistically—of secession. Montana, Wyoming, and other states have ordered the federal gun bureaucracy off their turf. Arizona has, too—and with Alaska and the slightly geographically misplaced western state of Vermont, will no longer bother you whether you choose to carry a self-defense weapon openly, concealed, or not at all.

In many respects, I was inspired to write Pallas by what was being called the "Sagebrush Rebellion" in the 1970s, a movement by westerners, or so it was presented, to determine what would be done with the land in their states. A third of American land is owned and controlled by the federal government, openly violating Constitutional provisions to the contrary. In the West, the percentage is much higher; 95% of Nevada is in the hands of the feds, as is 99.75% of Alaska.

Initially, many observers believed that the Sagebrush Rebellion would be something like today's Tea Parties, a leaderless, centerless effort to return the country to limited government and the rule of law. Unfortunately, from its inception, the Sagebrush Rebellion was no more than a power struggle between state politicians and bureaucrats against those at the federal level. "The people", as such, were not invited.

All it accomplished in the end was to enhance the respectability of ecofascists like the Sierra Club, and glorify specimens like Dick Lamm, the left-wing equivalent of Newt Gingrich, a "futurist" out to create a fascistic regime in which the worth of an individual was to be measured only by his usefulness to society—and the social duty of old people was to stop consuming resources, die, and get out of the way.

For all of its widely-advertised faults (many of which I believe will eventually be recognized as virtues), what's happening today—the Tea Parties and everything associated with them—is infinitely more promising than the phony Sagebrush Rebellion ever was. The old order is clearly dying—witness the depths of their despair in the increasingly hysterical ravings of Barack Obama or Janet Napolitano—and a bright, raucous, energetic new disorder is being born as we watch.

Or better yet, take part.

Whether it will result in the balkanized America I predicted, or a wider set of changes that will sweep the globe, remains to be seen. What either will require is a grim determination I had believed was gone from our culture, and which I am delighted to have been wrong about.

Watch for the new edition of Pallas, coming soon.

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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 more than 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

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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