L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 896, October 30, 2016
So This Is The Future, Hunh?
by L. Neil Smith
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
On Friday, October 28th, the Libertarian Futurist Society kindly conferred upon me their Award for Lifetime Achievement. This is the speech I gave them in response …
Thank you Mike, thank you Steve.
Ladies and gentlemen, Libertarian Futurists, the MileHiCon Committee, honored guests, if I were to list all those individuals who, whether they knew it or not, helped me establish myself (to the extent I’m established) as a science fiction writer, we’d be here all night. Allow me, instead, to name just a few.
First, my late mother, Marie Louise Coveleskie Smith, who insisted that my grammar be proper and words spelled correctly. She probably started me on this path by reading Robinson Crusoe aloud to me when I was five years old.
Then it was Robert Heinlein, unwittingly a second father to me, whose books seized my imagination in that school library when I was in 6th Grade and gave me much of what I call my character today.
Philip B. Sullivan was more than just a Latin teacher to me in 7th and 8th Grades; he toughened my intellect, teaching me the importance of language and to think critically.
Ayn Rand’s famous works—the best of which are science fiction—gave me a Cause and weapons with which to fight for it. Many a collectivist and statist has found me impossibly obnoxious ever since.
Aaron Zelman, founder of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership broke my writer’s block in 1997, by giving me two nifty books to write, and—something I treasure as much as my Boy Scout Eagle award—making me an Honorary Life Member of his organization.
There is also the “Ken Club”, to whom my debt is enormous and unpayable: Dr. Ken Flurchick, Ken Valentine—whom we miss terribly— Ken Holder, Editor of The Libertarian Enterprise—Mrs. Ken, Pat Lawson, and our Honorary Kens, Editor Emeritus, John Taylor and Roger L. Owen. Never to forget Andrew Boardman, without whom I would be analog, today, not digital.
Finally, my beloved wife of 33 years (so far), Cathy Lynn Zike Smith, my life’s companion, intellectually and otherwise, and the mother of our darling daughter (to whom I am also very grateful). Cathy makes absolutely everything possible. I had her in mind when I wrote “It is a mother’s job to warn you not to play with fire. Marry the girl who tells you ‘go ahead’”.
When I began writing, I followed the examples of early socialist writers—Edward Bellamy and H.G. Wells—employing science fiction to advance my own convictions, rather than theirs. I have always believed it easier and more effective to convey the truth with a good story than with boring think-tank lectures. Initially, mine were all about the Great Idea (did you hear the capital letters, there?) but with every passing year, they became more and more about people living the Great Idea, and character began to replace plot as my primary interest.
For example, the “second American Revolution” I wrote about in The Probability Broach gave way—although never altogether—to the man-made worlds of the novels Pallas and Ceres, of Llyra and Wilson’s Ngu’s mother, Ardith Zacharenko Ngu, struggling against genetic drift, and the four resulting stillbirths that nearly drove her, and the family who loved her, mad.
In this, and so many other instances, I confess I was standing on the shoulders of the Master, Heinlein, who believed that times and technology may change, but human nature does not. If you consider the interplanetary tragedy of Wilson Ngu with the the first love of his life, seductive Amorie Sampson, you will have a good example of that principle.
Thus my career has largely been a matter of contemplating the future, as my understanding of history and human nature leads me to expect it will develop, and imagining how folks living in it will behave. Young Wilson Ngu, once again, born and raised on the asteroid Pallas, has a personal computer the size of a pocket watch with a holographic screen and keyboard. He uses it over the “Solarnet” to exchange love letters with his girlfriend aboard her family’s rock-hunting vessel tens of millions of miles closer to the Sun, in the orbit of Mercury. But what he tells her with this superior technology, and his hopes with regard to her, would have been exactly the same in 4004 B.C.
Are there changes that could alter human nature? Do you see differences between bold and vigorous western Americans and their self-subdued Old World counterparts? Or consider the Ammonites, in Forge of the Elders who learned to defeat a kind of involuntary telepathy that ruled their mental world and drove them to invent individualism.
In this sense, my books have been experimental laboratories, testing new ideas and reconsidering old ones. For example, the one great, disastrous tragedy of human existence is that qualities like intelligence and decency are not additive in nature—two individuals are not smarter or more decent than one—whereas brute force is all too additive. 20th century history provides more than sufficient proof of that.
I’m working on a novel now, Beautiful Dreamer in which two people are not stronger than one. I think that could change everything. But the story is told through the eyes and in the heart of a man whose life has been an utter failure until now, as he encounters the most beautiful, intelligent, and winning female he’s ever known. The novel is about a shared, “consensus reality”—but no more so than the laissez-faire continuum that we have all been working for years, for decades, to bring into existence.
After half a century of struggle, how would I rate my success? At this moment in history nearly everybody despises the United States Congress, the U.S. Senate, the Supreme Court, and the President. I’d like to think I had at least a microscopic something to do with that. The only people who still see government as some kind of savior are mind-numbed robots, the products of public education. I am especially proud of the fact that violent crime is currently diminishing because Americans are arming themselves in vast numbers, as I urged them to do in my first book, The Probability Broach. They write to me practically every day. Almost any media pundit will weep and whine and scream in your ear that the political system, as we once knew it, has been well and truly monkey-wrenched.
I hope Ron Paul, whom socialists and fascists alike now openly admit to preferring over what we are left with—understands and appreciates the revenge we have given him. And I wish it was in me to believe that somewhere up above, Barry Goldwater is sitting on a cloud, grinning down on us.
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