Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Freehold by Micheal Z. Williamson is what I would call a Libertarian postulation piece with a wide ranging set of topics covered. The major one is Bureaucratic Totalitarianism vs Minimalist Libertarianism. Others include Military training & warfare, both technical and guerilla; a comparison of sexual moors and morality in a libertarian society (an idealistic one, but I’ll get to that) vs. what is essentially the Judaeo-Christian background of Western society today. These topics and their sub-topics are woven into a tale of an Earth woman, Kendra Pacelli, who is framed for wrongdoing as a logistic officer in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, the controlling power on Earth. Forced to flee her home planet for fear of torture and death at the hands of the Totalitarian state of the U.N., she is thrust into a culture shock situation on the planet Grainne. There she finds the polar opposite of everything she’s ever grown up knowing in her own society.
My impressions of this novel are very mixed. I almost stopped reading it at two different points. The first was due to the kooky take on sex in a liberal society. I managed to make it past all that with a head shake and some skimming. The second point was half-way through when I was almost bored to frustration. I made it through that, thankfully, by reading another review on Goodreads that said it got better after the half-way mark. 55% is where I put that point. I didn’t want to give up on the book simply because of the time I had already invested. There was also the the fact that the world was excellently put together, and I was invested in the outcome of the tale. Williamson is good with world-building and detail. He sometimes leave me bored with it though.
The later half of the book were quite good, detailing the guerilla war between the invading U.N. and the headstrong Grainnians. The main final battle sequences are great (it is not at the end), and the no-nonsense no-holds-barred solution to the problem with Earth are huge cheering point.
The wrap-up slows the pace again though, and the post-war traumas of the main characters did not grab me. I know that there are other books in this series, but I was glad to find out that they are more stand-alone, thus meaning I don’t need to read them (I’m a completionist, so I like to read all of a series, even if it stinks, just to know the end of the story.)
So, the book is OK, but not great. I can give it 3 stars without qualm. I could add another half-star to it for the skillful way the libertarian mindset was merged with a viable story. That took talent. I cannot go beyond that due to the slow pacing.
What follows below is a discussion of the book’s main topics I mentioned before, and will contain mega-spoilers. Skip this if you intend to read the book for yourself.
One of the best things about this book was the focus on individualism… the do it yourself mentality. The entire structure of the Grainne society was built around that. The government was small, intentionally, and individuals did what they could, not what they were permitted, to achieve their Pursuit of Happiness. A completely free market kept competition high so that half-measures and laziness in your chosen field left you without resources, up to and including food and shelter. It forced entrepreneurial spirit and hard work to the top of the influence pyramid. Those who do not work, do not eat, and end up dying, and no one cared because they have the same opportunity as anyone else. Everyone is armed, so crime control is performed by each and every person. The rules are few, everyone knows them, and if you break them you get sued for compensation to whoever was affected by it. That’s judged by Citizens, who have risen to the top to act as judges of disputes because the people have come to trust them. They are not allowed to retain excessive wealth when they become Citizens.
The military was an idealized form that involved constant training. It is hard-core, no reduced standards, and no red tape or hoops to jump through. You have a job, you get it done. The training is so tough, that only the most dedicated with continue with it. Loyalty and dedication are a given if you have passed boot-camp. Passing the training for additional skills got you a bump in pay, thus incentivizing diverse knowledge. All military veterans are shown respect in general society, including moving to the head of the line at a restaurant. Their medical care is fully covered, no cost them, and cost is not a consideration in the treatment used. All this rolls over into the guerilla war that they are forced to fight. The end result is that a large number of highly trained veterans are able to utilize skilled civilians to harass and stymie an enemy with much greater numbers.
All of that I like, and it makes sense.
Some of the things that I don’t think make sense are the differing takes on sexuality in the society. Clothing is optional, and often not worn in the summer months. Prostitution is a legal profession, and is in fact highly paid. It is is safe because no one is allowed to enter Grainne without verifying they have no STDs first. (I find this a convenient ‘out’ taken by the author.) No one is offended by it because religion is not used a basis for social etiquette. Rape is a topic that is horrendously taboo. It is considered the vilest of crimes, and is a very rare occurrence here because… well, reasons…. I don’t buy that one myself. Once a large number of refugees from Earth are forced onto Grainne by the U.N. the problem rears it’s ugly head, only to have it quickly chopped off. The two girl, one guy love triangle of the main characters’ was something I prefer to do without in my reading. The superabundance of sex and sexual encounters in general are a turn off to me. I don’t read romance, and I’m not into porn. Unfortunately, this appears to be a topic near and dear to the author as I’ve observed it in his more recent books as well. Sigh.
The really good parts of the book for me was the anti-pussyfooting style of the characters responsible for taking action to achieve justice. Judges shooting unrepentant rapists in court. Ranking officers shit-canning suck-up deadbeat brown-nosers when the evidence is against them. Ruthless dispatch of the enemy whose evil deeds and lack of mercy are reciprocated in kind. And, of course, the ultimate solution to blow the shit out of Earth to force them to stop being assholes. You got to love that!
Now, if MZW would write one with a smidge less philosophy, a lot more action, and leave out most of the gratuitous sex, I believe it would get a five star from me. Unfortunately, I probably won’t pick one of his up for a long time because of my current impressions of his works. More’s the pity, but life’s too short to read books you don’t love.