The vision of a better future worth fighting for
From The Rust Belt to the Asteroid Belt—
L. Neil Smith: A Belated Obituary
by Jeff Fullerton
Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Dateline Saturday 9/11/2021
Last Sunday was the start of a sad day at Black Rock.
Awaking that day around 5ish; somewhere near the ending of an audiobook: Heinlein’s Door onto Summer started on the drive home Saturday night and fell asleep on somewhere shortly after the protagonist awakes from cold sleep—I decided to check the Libertarian Enterprise as I often do on an early Sunday morning—even though I had put nothing out that week—to see who published what. And sadly I learned that L. Neil Smith was gone from this world. Passed about a week before. Given his not so good health history and age I knew this day was coming sooner or later but I always hoped it would be later.
I wish someone would have told me sooner because I really owe this man a good obituary for the way he’s touched my life above and beyond his role as an award winning Science Fiction author. As a champion of Liberty, mentor and friend who will be sorely missed in the coming days of these uncertain times. I’m hoping this is not the end of the Enterprise because I’d at least like to write a belated tribute to him.
I first knew of L. Neil Smith from seeing some of his early novels on the shelves of bookstores in the mid 1980s. Most memorable were Brightsuit MacBear, Tom Paine Maru and The Nagasaki Vector. I was in college and my favorite authors at the time were Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke & Robert A. Heinlein. And I must also make mention of Ben Bova, Gregory Benford, Jerry Pournelle and of course H. Beam Piper. Unfortunately it took me a long time to finally read any of Neil’s works and I didn’t even notice the one that started the whole ball rolling; The Probability Broach that came out several years back while I was between my sophomore and junior year in high school.
Nearing the end of my second enlistment in the Air Force I took notice of some of his later accomplishments: Pallas and Forge of the Elders. And the Lando Calrissian trilogy he wrote for the Star Wars franchise had been on the shelves for some time. Still I did not get around to reading any of these until the turn of the millennium in the cusp between the fear and loathing of a Y2K disaster that didn’t happen and the 9/11 attacks that hit from out of the blue. On the heels of voting “Freedom First” in the year 2000. I was in a period of transition then from a state of political homelessness to discovering libertarian philosophy and I joined the Libertarian Party becoming a contributing member. $30 a month—“A Dollar a Day for Liberty”. I later learned I might have spent my money more wisely and eventually a financial squeeze in the late 2000s led me to leaving my membership expire. Along with the native fishes organization that was becoming progressively more unfriendly to the freedoms of the fish hobbyist members who were in the beginning its founders. In many ways that situation was very similar to what happened to the LP that was founded around the same time in the 1970s. And it was El Neil who enlightened me to this factoid.
He was among the founders of the Party—along with one of his intellectual forebears; Robert LeFerve who I just began studying in-depth this summer. It is amazing how an organization or nation can get off track and go to hell so fast. But I digress!
It was in those wonderful days at the beginning of the Roaring 2000’s I got a subscription to the catalog of Laissez Faire Books and started buying some of Neil’s works. Not sure in what order—think I started out with the Probability Broach which I had to read because I’d heard so much about it through the years and my interest in alternate history SF had been stimulated by a few Harry Turtledove novels and S.M. Stirling’s Draka series.
Seeing that cover of Pallas with Emerson Ngu and his shapely female companion flying their hula hoop contraptions under the canopy of an encapsulated, terraformed asteroid burned a lasting impression in my mind. And I was hooked by Forge of the Elders after reading about a future communist world order coming into contact with a technologically and morally superior society of “capitalist alien squids” from a parallel Earth! I ended up loving Mr Thoggosh the sapient giant nautiloid who was full of whit and wisdom that I will be able to quote as long as I have a functioning mind left in my head. “Beware the collectivist, the altruist and the mystic.” (I see a little bit of Ayn Rand here!) “One life is not enough for him. He wants to live his own life and yours too”. There was also another dialogue about about archeologists and the disdain of professionals for (deplorable) amateurs “not sanctioned by the priesthood”. And that theme repeated with the discovery of alien artifacts near the end of Pallas. which hits close to home with my experiences in the reptile and fish hobbies as I’ve crossed paths with professionals who are of fervent conviction that anyone without a PHD (Piled Higher & Deeper—I recall from a recent reading of Heinlein’s Number of the Beast) has no business handing a live fish or reptile.
Neil had won my heart to the cause of Liberty right then and there. In addition to sharing with me an interest in strange critters—especially the aquatic and scaled type—reflected in his portrayal of sapient versions of such as great characters in his novels—he painted a picture of a space faring future and alternate worlds in which freedom abounds and ultimately wins out over tyranny—which sadly is not reflected often enough in science fiction. A future really worth having that was appealing at a time when I was also being told by the people who more or less hijacked the organizational forums of the hobby groups that it was necessary to set aside personal interests and passions in life for the sake of the greater good.
In other words: “Shut up. Sit down. You have detention”! As my friend Ray from Wisconsin—another former Phish Head who also shrugged—mocks the power hungry control freaks of the world.
Neil’s philosophy is even better.
“Respect authority”? “Hell with that! Hang it by its thumbs, cut off its toes and let it drip dry”!
We've allowed so many encroachments against personal Liberty that it’s going to be an uphill battle to undo the damage. Still I want to live in a world like the one on the other side of The Probability Broach where I’d be free to run a turtle ranch raising native species that are in need of conservation without all the nitpicking regulations, permits and prohibitions. And make a living selling the offspring for (gasp!)—a profit! Neil was with me there too; before he even knew of me when he wrote “Animals are Property”. In the context of a society like the North American Confederacy of the Gallatin Divergence Timeline there would be no need for an Endangered Species Act because freedom is always the solution to the human condition—and virtually every other problem being allowed to fester and profited from by the powers that be here on our line of probability.
Neil used the term “Deplorably Solved Problem” that I picked up on in Lever Action; a collection of some of his best essays published in the 1990s in the fledgling Libertarian Enterprise and a few other freedom oriented web based publications. I carried this one with me to work with me last Sunday for sheer sentimental value and placed it in my locker for the duration. I was too busy to even look at it on dinner break—if I even got one that day the way things have been going lately.
Lever Action became my favorite among all Neil’s works as it offers the best collection of his opinions on the events of leading up to the time of its publication and it was harsh criticism of politicians, celebrities and other public figures and institutions well deserved. Many people will find it extreme and I probably would have too had it not been for the influence of the talk radio host Jim Quinn of Quinn in the Morning and America’s Morning Show that were popular here in Western Pennsylvania in the 1990s and early 2000s.
I credit Quinn (after Jerry Pournelle) with starting the process of opening my eyes to the evils of socialism and authoritarian government. Namely corruption of the Clinton Administration and the dreadful possibility of a power grab; had the Y2K scam turned out to be for real. So when I read “Rumplestiltsclinton”—which was good for a few laughs—and “Clinton’s Crimes are Hitler’s Crimes” that treated the tragic bungling of the siege (as an atrocity) against the Branch Davidians in Waco in the same fashion as Quinn—the hard core Libertarian philosophy of L. Neil Smith didn’t look so far out alien or extreme to me by then.
Lever Action is worthy of a full review itself as it makes for an awesome introduction to the mind and philosophy of L. Neil Smith. It was how I really got to know him and it’s the next best thing to physically meeting and enjoying a mentorship of someone on a regular basis as I have my friend and neighbor “Bruce the Historian”. This book was very enjoyable and of great educational value me. Among the best taking points was about the value of everyone being different and divergent from one another as a human species survival strategy citing how in the evolutionary history of life on Earth some creatures were always able to survive mass extinction events and ensure that the continuation and betterment of life could go on. Anathema to those embracing a collectivist mentality that holds; everyone must be the same and if the system fails we ought to all go down together and die with it in the fashion of Jonestown. I guess for the sake of fairness and social justice.
I really loved: ‘An Ant For All Seasons’. This essay ridicules the counterproductive bureaucratic systems that are the bane of our existence by comparing them to the way ants lay down trails of pheromones that eventually become overlapping and confusing and need a good rain to wash it all away so men who’d rather live as men instead of ants can establish a 100 year moratorium on any new laws and regulations while repealing most existing ones. And in this century of sanity—Neil says we might clean up the mess that has been made of American civilization and be free to reach “our true destiny; the stars”.
The philosophy most dear to El Neil of course is that embodied in the Second Amendment: the right to keep and bear arms. “Why Did it Have to be Guns”—I first read that in Lever Action and has been republished multiple times in the Enterprise and elsewhere. I do not share his passion for guns as a hobby but do understand and treasure the utilitarian necessity of self defense and basic human right to own and maintain personal weapons. Or as Neil put it in “Ban a Gun, Go to Jail”: a basic constitutional, civil, human right”! On the lighter side Neil has a good answer for those who obsess about the motivates of mass shooters. “Who cares why crazed mass killers do what they do. Just as you don’t get cleaner by wading through a sewer you don’t get saner studying the minds of the insane”. A similar philosophical point is explained to Winn Bear when he is introduced to the way the criminal justice system works on the other side of the Broach. “There’s no insanity plea They’re only interested in what you did. Not why”.
Neil’s philosophy sounds harsh to the ears of dying breed of the bleeding heart liberal and surely “racist” to it’s modern day replacement; the social justice warrior. And surely anathema to generic statist “Law & Order” or Drug War zealot types itching for an excuse to break down someone’s door and seize their property in a forfeiture. Yet it is the most humane alternative to the mess we have going on now many times worst than it was when I was initially exposed to his opinions. Neil offers a modern day refresher on how Samuel Colt made all men (and women) equal. In his novels as well as non-fictional opinion pieces is the enlightening reality how guns remove the unfair advantage that strong men who are skilled at fighting with primitive sweat point weapons have over weaker, less skilled men and women. Or an unfair advantage for governments and their minions who must never be allowed to disarm the private individual. Many people are sadly mistaken that allowing only government sanctioned professionals—policemen or soldiers to have a monopoly on the possession and use of weapons will make them safer. As the history of humanity on Earth has demonstrated time and time again since antiquity; the opposite is always true.
It definitely has to be about guns.
Neil poses the necessity of demanding every politician state where he or she stands on this issue. He refers to it as the ultimate X-ray / Vulcan Mind Meld for determining whether said public figures are friend or foe to you and your freedom and safety. He said in no uncertain terms that the people we know as the political class have little regard for our wellbeing and mostly want us dead. And that was well before the days of Obama which in retrospect look better than things are now.
The morning I learned that Neil was now among the departed left me feeling empty through the day whenever I had a rare moment to think about it. It was so sudden though not unexpected like learning about the passing of Jerry Doyle or Jerry Pournelle. And Ben Bova. Or the passing of other favorite SF writers and actors through the years. Mainly because when someone you know is finally gone it is final and there will be no more opportunities to share observations and opinions. There were still a few questions I wanted to ask Neil that will probably go unanswered.
Sadly I never got to meet L. Neil Smith in person but at least I got to know him through his writings and a few personal emails as the mentor, role model and social benefactor who gave us a lot of great stories and ideas that will do a world of good if more people read and came to understand the core values within. Namely individual rights, voluntarily exchange and the Zero Aggression Principle. That’s something this—(to paraphrase his words)—“battered, blood soaked planet” needs right now more than ever.
Goodbye El Neil and thank you for all you have done to enrich our lives with your vision of a future filled with freedom and prosperity instead of the usual dark, dystopian version—or America / Western Civilization immolating political correctness hallmark of too much science fiction. You leave us with the vision of a better future worth fighting for.
Was that worth reading?
Then why not:
This site may receive compensation if a product is purchased
through one of our partner or affiliate referral links. You
already know that, of course, but this is part of the FTC Disclosure
Policy found here. (Warning: this is a 2,359,896-byte 53-page PDF file!)
L. Neil Smith‘s The Libertarian Enterprise does not collect, use, or process any personal data. Our affiliate partners, have their own policies which you can find out from their websites.