My rejected Amazon review of Travis Corcoran’s “Powers of the Earth.”
A note on my (admittedly subjective) rating system:
1 – not worth the time it to read
2 – flawed, but worth reading
3 – no flaws, but nothing new
4 – notable new ideas / recombinations
5 – Changes the way you view the genre – or even life (makes other things new again)
Reading this story easily gives you the impression that libertarian (and related) ideologies are the political expression of sperginess, autism, anal retentiveness, high consciousness, low agreeability, and extreme introversion. In other words, politics for people who hate dealing with other people. How does a colony of anti-social spergs band together to fight off a threat when the only thing that unifies them is that they are all against banding together?
The main character, Mike Morlock, is basically a libertarian Mary Sue. He gets things done and makes things happen – in all, he’s effective and accountable. His power to tick things off lists, and inspire other people to tick things off lists, is without parallel. He’s also an insufferable asshat. He could be a libertarian’s idealized outward persona.
His best friend, Javier, tries to get Mike to use social tact and has some things to say about the excesses of pure anarcho-capitalism. He seems to be the author’s critical voice, doubting Mike’s decisions, aggressiveness, and some of the anti-social tendencies of libertarian thinking.
A minor character, Hugh, could (in part) represent any socially awkward male’s difficulties with women.
All-in-all, the story develops its ideas well. The basic question is “can this anarcho-libertarian colony survive it’s confrontation with Earth and keep it’s ideals?” So far the author does an excellent job exploring this question through the character and situations. It keeps you turning pages. The story brilliantly includes the counterpoint question “Can socialist Earth engage in effective military action without bending it’s incentive-killing regulations?” The two situations mirror each other. The author does a credible job addressing them.
The story elegantly includes only enough futuristic technology to pose it’s philosophical questions. Anti-grav is real but wonky; just enough for a frontier story but not enough for space opera. AI and genetically modified dogs give the author venues to address tribal / racial divisions, but hard limitations prevent either from being super powered. They raise interesting questions: “how powerful is this AI? what are it’s motivations?” “How do freed slaves interact with their former masters?”
There are some scenes with Earth politicians and “SJW” social striver young adults where the constant, oversocialized reading of body language and subtle cues reads like a socially awkward person’s idea of how socially adroit people operate. This blemish aside, the difference in motivations between the Earth society and the Moon society is excellent. On Earth, the social hierarchy is more important than the mission. On the moon, not so much.
Unlike many books that are about ideas (like Foundation, which admittedly fails to even address it’s own premise) it doesn’t fall into the trap of being a dry, procedural working out of ideas / consequences. Instead, the choice of dogs , AI, and anti-social asshats allow the author to explore all sorts of interesting character situations. A thread of humor glues the whole thing together.
Lastly, the story ends on a glorious cliff hanger, forcing you to buy the second book. What else would you expect from a free-market enthusiast?