Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves. ― William Pitt the Younger
Book Review: Reckoning, W. Michael Gear
by Charles Curley
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
OK, who out there likes hard science fiction? I mean current, up to date science science fiction. I mean caclulate the orbits science fiction. I mean Robert Forward science fiction. I mean Robert Heinlein science fiction.
And, speaking of Robert Heinlein science fiction, who likes their science fiction libertarian science fiction? Scott Bieser science fiction. L. Neil Smith science fiction.
And who likes science fiction where the planet and the local flora and fauna are every bit as much characters as the people? I mean Hal Clement science fiction, Niven and Pournelle science fiction.
Those of you with your hands still up: Welcome to Donovan. You should be reading W. Michael Gear's Donovan series. And the rest of you should look into it, too.
Reckoning is book six in the Donovan series.
Donovan is a planet about thirty light years from Earth. It has two small colonies, Port Authority and Corporate Mine, and people out in the bush raising crops and mining claims. The total human population is several thousand. It is Earth's first colonial planet outside of Solar System. It is a mineral rich planet: an asteroid strike brought vast mineral wealth up to the surface where it can be mined relatively easily. Too easily, perhaps: the water is so heavily mineralized it will kill you if you aren't careful.
Like Earth, it has carbon based life forms. They tend to be faster, meaner and deadlier than Earth life forms. Life forms have colorful names (like H. Beam Piper's damnthing and harpy), names like skewer, treetop terror, nightmare, and more. Bem is not from the old SF acronym Bug Eyed Monster. The local fauna are good at camouflage: in Pariah one character warns another that if you see two identical rocks one is real and the other is ready to kill you. The planet is named for a character who stepped off the first lander to take a leak, and got eaten by a quetzal.
Quetzals are the local apex predator. They are smart in their own way, very fast, and have very fast metabolisms. When they run hard, they turn white so as to radiate the most heat. Quetzals change the color of their skin, which is one of several ways they communicate with each other and humans. There is an on-going war between some quetzals and some humans. Other humans and quetzals have started learning about each other, even bonding to each other.
Earth life is based on DNA, a double helix with great information density. Donovanian life uses TriNA, a triple helix, with much greater information density. TriNA is smart. And it infects humans. Some, like Talina Perez and Kylee, have their own quetzals living in them and communicating with them, courtesy of TriNA. Think Hal Clement's Needle, only more so.
That small a population together with that nasty a local ecology means that people are well armed and know how to use their arms. The result is a very libertarian society. Port Authority is a working anarchy. Corporate Mine is a bit more corporate, but it, too, is learning freedom.
Earth, however, does have one life form that may be more dangerous than anything on Donovan: Corporate bureaucrats. Here's how Falise Taglione, a Family member, explains it:
“The Corporation was founded so that every person knew his position in society and would have his or her needs taken care of. You don’t know the history. At the last moment, when the national governments would have led the world to destruction through their greed and arrogance, the multinational corporations merged for their own survival. They began dictating to the governments, replacing politicians with Directors and Supervisors to ensure that safety and security were enjoyed by all. Global redistribution of resources, population control, focused and efficient agriculture and extraction, processing, manufacturing, and distribution allowed The Corporation to stabilize the planet for the first time in the history of humanity. Those who would foment discord were removed or denied resources until they capitulated. Tranquility and and harmony replaced uncertainty, fear of starvation, or exploitation. The algorithms ensured efficiency of resource distribution on the global level.”
That's positively medieval in its insistence on stability and knowing one's place in society. Unstated is the inevitable deadly competition for control of The Corporation, by the Families that comprise The Board. "The game of Corporate Board politics is not played by those of faint heart and timid spirit," as Supervisor Kalico Aguila — who should know — puts it. And Falise is very good at it.
And then interstellar travel. Interstellar travel controlled by quantum computers. Unreliable interstellar travel. It works. Sometimes. Ships may never arrive at all. Or they may arrive, but much later than planned. So two ships arrive back unexpected at Solar System with Donovanian minerals, representing vast wealth. "Nothing like the wealth they carried has been seen since the treasure fleets in the sixteenth century as they pillaged the New World," as Shig Mosadek, Donovan's resident philosopher, puts it.
So much for background. If you want the gory details, or five top notch reads in the same vein, read the first five books in the series first.
The Board's response is to send a Board Appointed Inspector General to find out what happened, and whether the Corporation's rules and regulations were followed. On the same ship are representives from four of the Families. The Corporation called: it wants its planet back.
Reckoning opens with the arrival of that ship, and the stage is set for a confrontation between the Board and a very libertarian society. And with Donovan. How does a libertarian society defend itself from big government, anyway?
Welcome to Donovan.
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