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on December 25, 2001
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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on August 18, 2001
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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on June 5, 2001
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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on April 15, 2002
The political and moral message of this book overcomes its less-than-excellent writing style and oversimplification of some characters. As a Libertarian, I saw this as much more than a science fiction adventure. Somewhat annoying was that LNS tells you what to think of his characters, instead of presenting them and their behavior, and letting YOU decide what to think of them.
Still, a fine read for those interested in liberty, statism, the role of government, and evolution as it applies to behavior. Others have said it better (like Ayn Rand) but not with as much fun and whimsy!
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on April 5, 2000
It's obvious the Kirkus reviewer did not take the time to actually READ the book prior to 'reviewing' it. Maybe the folks at Kirkus should suggest that their reviewers keep THEIR personal politics out of their reviews in the future.
As it stands, I know now to treat any negative Kirkus review as a politically motivated denunciation of content instead of a review of form, plot, and storyline.... IOW, not as a professional review.
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