Probability Broach is Smith's first novel. It is the story of a Denver Police Lieutenant Edward William Bear, called Win, who somehow find himself in a different continuum. This novel is followed by a direct sequel, The American Zone, which has some of the flavor but less of the excitement of this novel.
Win is on lunch break when he is called to the scene of a homicide. The victim, Vaughn L. Meiss, has been shot multiple times by a machine pistol, yet got off four shots with his own weapon, apparently to good effect. Meiss is a professor of Physics at Colorado State University and is also a card-carrying Propertarian. Since Meiss was killed in the vicinity of the Propertarian state headquarters, Win checks with the staff there and learns that Meiss was expected for an executive committee meeting. After interviewing the State Director, Jenny Noble, and other directors at the meeting, he finds that Meiss had been very excited by something and that the weapon that Meiss was carrying had been provided by the government to protect state secrets.
Win also interviews Dr. Otis Bealle, chairman of the CSU Physics department, and gets to see Meiss' office and laboratory. While he is in the lab, several men try to kill him with a machine pistol and other weapons. He accidentally hits the power switch on the gadget in the lab and then dives through an emergency exit, which happens to be an intercontinual portal. Shot, dazed and not very coherent, he stumbles out of the hole on the other side and is then blown through the air by an explosion. Looking for help, he finds a telecom booth containing a screen and a keyboard, where he enters "O" for operator, but the animated drawing that appears cannot find a listing for the Denver Police anywhere in the known solar system. He tries for Bealls' number, but finds no "Otis" listed. However, he sees an adjacent listing for Edward W. Bear, Consulting Detective.
The phone is busy, but the location in nearby, so he decides to walk -- make that stagger -- to the address. On the way, he refreshes himself, and his clothes, at a corner pit stop, later is pursued and shot by unknown persons in a long black hovercraft, and then lands face down in front of the other Bear's garage door. When he awakens, he is being treated by a medico with a beautiful voice and a mean electronarcosis gun. When he wakes up again, he discovers that the voice belongs to a gorgeous blonde named Clarissa Olson. He also meets the other Bear, called Ed, as well as Lucille Gallegos Kropotkin, a 136 year old war veteran, judge, and congressperson. Lucy is Ed's next door neighbor and totes two 50 caliber Gabbet Fairfax pistols when she is going on a raid; otherwise, she only carries one during normal everyday activities.
Win is now a resident of the North American Confederation governed under Propertarian principles as expounded by Albert Gallatin. The novel is full of political philosophy in between shootouts and chase scenes. The politics is interesting and even intriguing, but well integrated into the action.
This is a different kind of novel than most, much like Starship Troopers in its union of thought and action. It makes a good case for universal arming of the population and an even better case against governments of every kind. After 9/11, the idea of arming airline passengers doesn't seem so silly, does it?
Recommended for anyone who has seriously considered the nature of governments and individual freedom, but wants his polemic with some excitement.