True to his namesake, Emerson Ngu follows the way of individualism, making him the hero of Pallas, a libertarian paradise atop an asteroid, and the enemy of former senator Gibson Altman, the jealous leader of a communist dystopia. Reprint.
So...was the invention of agriculture really a positive turning point in human history? I must admit the question had never occurred to me.
The characterizations are stronger in this novel than in some of his earlier work. I get the impression that he's more confident, finding his own voice rather than trying to be Heinlein.
You can find things to quibble with. The Pallas society is a bit self-consciously old-west. In an environment where all guns have to be imported from Earth I couldn't get past how casually Emerson acquired an extraordinary speciman. The ending left me a bit unsatisfied.
But all in all it's a very fine novel; engrossing and thought-provoking as almost all Smith books are, and highly entertaining. There are very few contemporary authors that I follow around to see when the next book is due; Smith has become one of them.
_Pallas_, fortunately, is mostly free of irrelevant libertarian proselytizing (Smith's politics are still evident, but they are worked into the story skillfully and in a way that makes sense), and it becomes wonderfully clear that when Smith just sets out to tell a story, he really does a pretty damn good job. This book does contain flaws, however, which keep it at 4 stars instead of 5 -- Smith, for one thing, is remarkably poor at painting his characters in shades of gray. He seems to make some gamely attempts to do so throughout the book, but for all that, his characters either fall solidly in the "good" or "evil" camps.
Related to this is another serious problem with this book (and Smith's writing in general, actually): his characters are simply not fleshed out very well, and it makes it hard to empathize with them. Smith's style of characterization is essentially to take some odd trait, attach the trait to a name, then pass it off for a character. This is why, in my opinion, his supporting characters especially come across as caricatures, which detracts somewhat from the story.
However, in spite of these problems (and others), I found myself liking _Pallas_ a great deal. Whatever his flaws in characerization, Smith is a remarkable wordsmith, and some of the concepts introduced in this book, regardless of their real-life feasibility, are fascinating. _Pallas_ is an enjoyable read with flaws that are easily overlooked while being carried along by Smith's skilled, and at times captivating, prose.
If you're one of those people, don't bother with 'Pallas' or anything else by L. Neil Smith. Read more