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5.0 out of 5 stars Gave me an "Aha!" moment - well worth my time
L. Neil Smith was the author who first got me introduced to libertarianism, and it started a friendship with the ideas and ideals of that philosophy that never wore off. This book was a delight, not only because it finally completes the cycle "Questar" never finished, but because, about halfway through the book, I had one of those wonderful "Aha!"...
Published on May 3 2000 by Geoffrey Kidd

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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas and story, but the writing...
The story is an interesting concept, and the libertarian themes are well-presented. I can't argue with the philosophy that Smith is putting forward. However, I found myself having to re-read sentences and paragraphs because either my mind would wander or else I didn't quite catch the meaning the first time round.
The very first sentence of the of the book is a...
Published on Jan. 16 2002 by Einzige


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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas and story, but the writing..., Jan. 16 2002
This review is from: Forge Of The Elders (Hardcover)
The story is an interesting concept, and the libertarian themes are well-presented. I can't argue with the philosophy that Smith is putting forward. However, I found myself having to re-read sentences and paragraphs because either my mind would wander or else I didn't quite catch the meaning the first time round.
The very first sentence of the of the book is a perfect example: "A fountain sparkled in the broad, tiled courtyard of the hillside villa, cooling the afternoon breeze and sprinkling the sandaled feet of a lean-muscled young man seated before it."
I mean, does every noun have to have a modifier? By the time I get to the word "it" I've already forgotten what it refers to. Unfortunately there's page after page of twisted and tortured sentences following this one. I found myself scanning ahead at times trying to find their periods.
To be fair, it does settle down after a while, when there is more dialog between characters. Still, I was never quite able to just "flow" with the words, until I forgot I was reading, like I am able to do with, for example, Jules Verne, or Frank Herbert.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, Dec 25 2001
By 
Jim Hammond (Bristow, VA USA) - See all my reviews
In this and other novels, the author portrays societies in conflict - where the people of one society live under some flavor of socialism and those of the other society live in freedom.
This book is less entertaining and is more preachy than his other books, which is fine with me because it is thought provoking, but most readers should be forewarned. For example, he has tried throughout to push the envelope on libertarian philosophy.
Even libertarians may be turned off by his attempt to preach an extremely moralistic brand of libertarianism. He seems to have been tripped up by the incompleteness of the central tenet of libertarian philosophy, which basically says to not initiate force, but which doesn't say anything about how to respond to an initiation of force.
In this book for example, you pretty much have to die if you incur "moral debt". If you accidentally kill someone, you must die. If you grab a person and shake him, then you are obligated to grant him any wish. A man can use pretty much any amount of physical force to have sex with a woman, but if she wispers "no", then he must die.
The author did make many good points (as he usually does). One example, "If voting could change anything, it would be illegal." He also included this excellent historical point on page 226, "In the 19th century, infamous Democratic party boss William Marcy Tweed said he didn't give a damn who did the voting as long as he did the nominating."
If you are looking for a good novel with a libertarian bent, then read this one eventually, but first read books like "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert Heinlein (or pretty much anything else by Heinlein for that matter). I also highly recommend "Across Realtime" by Vernor Vinge. In fact, L. Neil Smith wrote a book almost as good as these two, called "Pallas".
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1.0 out of 5 stars L. Neil is slipping, Sept. 5 2001
By 
Notary Tim "Cahbet" (Memphis, TN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Forge Of The Elders (Hardcover)
I have been reading L. Neil Smith since his first novel _Probability Broach_ came out many years ago.
I LIKE pro-freedom SF&F and I used to be very active with the Libertarian Party -- so, I am no leftist or statist critic. While I agree with the politics being advanced by this novel, the story just does not hold up. There are just too many odd beings doing too many unexplained things and it is extremely difficult to care what happens to any of them.
In fact, I gave up on it and moved on to other books -- which is rare for me, as I usually slog through everything but the worst drivel and Smith does not write drivel.
Of course, Smith has tried the alien-viewpoint novel before. His series with intelligent crabs (_Her Majestys Bucketeers_ etc) was at least well-written, and, despite the wierdness of having the main characters being a species we normally think of as food, it was easy to identify with the protagonists. Alas, FORGE is full of the same sort of weird acquatic lifeforms -- but Smith has not given us enough to make the leap from their alien-ness to our shared sentience, from their other-ness to our joint people-hood.
This one suffers from "Victor Koman disease" -- making the assumption that the reader will find a Soviet-style dictatorship interesting enough to keep reading even when nothing much is happening and the characters are unlikeable. I wanted to like this one, as Smith's previous Prometheus winners and nominees were all worthwhile.
Speaking of the Prometheus Awards, the WORST book I ever read (all the way through) was _CLD_ by Victor Koman, who wasted everyone's time by spending hundreds of pages building up to a climax and then throwing it away with an ending of "Maybe." I literally threw the book across the room when I got to that and I will never buy another book by him. Unless Smith gets back to the cleanly-plotted, humans-who-love-freedom stories that he used to write, I may have to put him on that same "Don't Buy" list.
If this one shows up in paperback at a used book store and if you are an L. Neil Smith collector or fan, get it. Otherwise, I recommend you let it pass.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Must-read if you're a laissez faireist., Aug. 18 2001
By A Customer
Welcome to the whacky subgenre ... of hard-core laissez-faire sci-fi!
There's a good anthology of short stories _Free Space_, edited by Brad Linaweaver, but FORGE OF THE ELDERS is apparently the prime example of "hard-core laissez-faire sci-fi."
"Capitalist monsters from outer space!" says it all.
Smith's novel is simplistic and didactic like any other humorous political fictional tract, say _Gulliver's Travels_.
It's naive to see the novel any other way.
In the actual world around you (circa 2001) laissez faireism is rarely seen or heard, and the slightest, vaguest laissez faireist ideas are highly negativized by the mass media.
For that reason, it's really refreshing, rejuvenating!, empowering!, to read _Forge of the Elders_ for a few days...
As a laissez faireist it's good to be immersed in an "extremist" (as our socialist friends would put it) civilized environment for awhile.
Truly, the world inside Mr. Smith's head is a wondrous (laissez faire) place, and you'll pick up lots of interesting L.F.-related thoughts and ideas you may not have considered before.
(For instance, there's the nifty observation that all sapient beings, ie laissez faireist individuals, probably evolved from predator species...make a lot of sense.)
Needless to say, all environmentalists, socialists, vegetarians and the like will loathe and despise this book.
Mr. Smith, and all laissez-faireists, wouldn't have it any other way.
Since the "hard-core laissez-faire sci-fi" subgenre is so small (only a handful of books), it is probably well worth buying a copy of _Forge of the Elders_...everyone should have a copy on their bookshelf.
Again, a very "empowering" read, since, as a laissez-faireist, you are just SO bombarded with pathetic child-mind statist ideas 24 hours a day, 7 days a week...Forge of the Elders has that good clean smell of capitalism, you'll leave feeling lighter
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4.0 out of 5 stars satitical and whimsical in one neat package, June 5 2001
By 
Marxism was considered as dead as its originator, a failed economic system that also took away basic freedoms. However, when the global economy collapses into the worst depression ever, inalienable rights become unimportant, as food on the table seems more critical. Capitalism becomes dust as a desperate world returns Marxism to an even more glorious control than it had in its twentieth century hey day. Even Americans join the collective bandwagon, as earth is now the real "red planet".
However, changing economic systems fails to change the downward spiral. New hope finally glimmers when the People's Astronomers discover an asteroid with valuable minerals that might revitalize the failing planet. A desperate NASA sends ancient shuttles manned by lunatics and throw-aways to explore the seemingly rich find. However, humanity is not the first to land on the asteroid as the Elders, a "nautiloid" race of capitalist squids from a parallel Earth beats Homo sapiens there. Now the competition begins
Weird and insane - yes. Perhaps that is why science fiction fans will take great pleasure from the wild FORGE OF THE ELDERS. The plot satirizes our current society leaving it carved up as only L. Neil Smith can entertainingly do so. The story line is amusing yet provides a serious political undertone inside a strong space race novel. Characters are developed just enough to either skewer western morality or to propel the delightful story line forward at warp speed. Besides SF fans, anyone bushed from the DC gore of chained politics will find this jocular tale takes no prisoners.

Harriet Klausner
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1.0 out of 5 stars waste of money and time, May 18 2001
By A Customer
i bought this book thinking it would be funny or amusing - sci-fi comedy or whatever.
how disappointing to find that it's not at all funny. it's just bad - and, alas, not the kind of bad that ends up being funny despite itself.
unfortunately, the book is nothing but page after interminable page of excruciatingly naive libertarian sophistry, of a kind that even a junior high-school student would be embarrassed to own up to.
what little story-line there is is nothing but a flimsy excuse for wooden characters to smugly agree with each other's simplistic and ill-informed opinions. every event that "happens" in the book is just an excuse for the characters to lecture each other - and as soon as the lecture is over, the situation or problem is immediately resolved and they move on to the next event.
i've kept on reading it, waiting for the punch line...but two thirds of the way into the book (in the middle of some mind-bogglingly stupid ideological "discussion" about archaeologists causing the downfall of American freedom and civilisation) i've finally given up all hope that there is going to be one. this guy actually means what he writes - he believes in the simplistic black & white tripe that his characters utter.
i wasted my money on this book. oh well, i can learn from my mistakes and will know not to buy anything by this author in future.
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3.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) recommended, but not top-tier Smith work, Aug. 23 2000
By 
mike b. (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Forge Of The Elders (Hardcover)
_Forge of the Elders_ has a lot going for it, but I can't say that it's really the best I've seen from Smith. He expands on a concept earlier explored in _Probability Broach_ and he pokes unsubtle fun at various statist ideas and people but he leaves the book on an unsatisfying note and misses a couple of interesting opportunities.
First, I should say that I am a recent fan of LNS and, politically, I enjoy the preaching as much as any member of the choir. In addition, while this may come across as a negative review, I generally enjoyed _Forge_. That said, I was a little disappointed in a few ways.
With regard to the political message of the book, I think Smith takes the easy way out by contriving such an obviously corrupt and stagnant socialist regime. Even the names were over the top: no state is ever going to be dumb enough to call itself "CountryX Soviet Socialist Republic". Even Ayn Rand, who wasn't exactly known for her subtlety, wasn't that heavy-handed. Where's the challenge in showing that a (literally named) KGB agent and his thuggish enforcers represent a corrupt system?
In my view, the real challenge in libertarian fiction lays in taking a state that's similar to what the average person sees every day, maybe advance things to a somewhat uglier but still recognizable level of statism, and then tear it apart on the basis of what it claims to do well. For example, show that liberty and its requisite free market economy are actually better and more compassionate for people, *particularly* the poor or variously disadvantaged. Perhaps, take a character who is socialist because she worries that innocent children will fall through the cracks in a truly free society and convince her that Libertaria is a better world.
In another area, there was plenty of evolutionary postulation in this book, both political and biological and I enjoyed it. However, Smith spends a lot of time exploring the notion that the older a species is (in terms of how long ago it achieved intelligence), the more it will tend toward a society of libertarian freedom. While there may be something to that idea, it would also interesting to explore how the increased *lifespan* of a species affects its libertarian tendency. This is something very applicable to the relatively near future on (our) Earth. I don't mean this a criticism of _Forge_ so much as just something I'd like to see in a future book and I was reminded of it since several of the species in _Forge_ were very long-lived.
Finally, I agree with a few others that the final section had a certain tacked-on feel to it. Without going into spoiling detail, I'll just say that it read as though Smith decided to rehash the concept in the middle section, but more so.
Overall, I liked _Forge_ and I recommend it. But those new to Smith will probably enjoy _Probability Broach_ and _Pallas_ more.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Smith should show not tell, July 10 2000
This review is from: Forge Of The Elders (Hardcover)
Instead of showing us the virtues of Libertarianism, Smith decides to tell us. And tell us. Roughly half this book is a thinly disguised lecture on the virtues of Libertarianism and the utter worthlessness of everything else. That would be acceptable if the lectures had been interesting or convincing, but for the most part Smith skipped over interesting issues and contented himself with blasting away at strawmen.
The sad thing is that there is what is probably an interesting and amusing story buried in this book. If most of the heavy handed lecturing were removed and Smith could content himself with showing us the virtues of his philosophy through the plot, what was left would be an interesting and entertaining story of roughly half its current length.
If your interested in a good space opera, or in reading an insighful, convincing argument on the virtues of Libertarianism, you won't find it here. However, if you're already a believer and you want to see other ideologies getting a good thrashing, you may find this book entertaining.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gave me an "Aha!" moment - well worth my time, May 3 2000
By 
Geoffrey Kidd (Berkeley, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Forge Of The Elders (Hardcover)
L. Neil Smith was the author who first got me introduced to libertarianism, and it started a friendship with the ideas and ideals of that philosophy that never wore off. This book was a delight, not only because it finally completes the cycle "Questar" never finished, but because, about halfway through the book, I had one of those wonderful "Aha!" moments. I'll describe it at the end of the review, but that moment made my year!
The story is very well told. Smith *can* be a tad preachy, but it doesn't interrupt the flow of the story, while making sure you understand not only WHAT happens, but WHY. Smith has taken the concept of alternate realities farther than anyone else, and made it a truly living thing. In these days, when our government waves automatic weapons at terrified children, it's a comfort to think that *somewhere* in the multiverse there are people, (and sea-scorpions, and nautiloids, and ...) who HAVEN'T screwed up. This is a book I plan to re-read, and, with the limits on my time these days, I don't do that often.
As to the "Aha!" moment. One of the main characters is "Eichra Oren", a "Moral Debt Assessor" who is a combination of detective, arbitrator, judge, jury, and, if need be, executioner. It hit me about halfway through the book that *ALL* debts are MORAL debts. Money, or any other form of restitution, is simply a tangible expression of that morality. Mr. Smith, if you read this, thank you. A book which hits me like this is a rare and valuable gem.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Smith does it again, April 24 2000
By 
Scott Bieser (Cheyenne, WY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Forge Of The Elders (Hardcover)
In a sense _Forge_ is a fuller and robust re-telling of the basic story underneath _The Probability Broach_. _Broach's_ Win Bear becomes _Forge's_ Soviet American Expedition, as the hapless functionary(ies) from a corrupt and decaying government who stuble onto an incredibly advanced and absolutely individualist civilization.
Much of _Forge_ involves the various American characters learning about how this civilization functions, and this is the vehicle by which Smith delivers one of the best argments yet for a completely stateless society. I particularly enjoyed the way he resolves the tiresome "flagpole emergency" objection to the non-agression principle.
As before, Smith ably conveys the confusion and wonderment of both the visitors and the hosts as they discover one new aspect after another of their very different cultures. And each such discovery conveys an important idea about the nature of love, trade, justice, freedom, and slavery.
And of course there's a real story here with a three-part main plot, several sub-plots, and more than a dozen really strong characters along with "a cast of thousands." All sprinkled liberally with humor, pathos, and just the right amount of sex.
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