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Sunday, June 20, 2021

L. Neil Smith's 'Probability Broach'


I recently read L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach. L. Neil Smith is a libertarian science fiction writer and The Probability Broach, his first novel, probably is still his best known.  It is fast moving and enjoyable, and I liked it better than any other Smith novel I have read.

It's an alternate worlds novel and the plot concerns a Native American police detective in Denver who uses the device in the book's title to accidentally move to a different universe and a North America run on libertarian principles. There is a torrent of ideas and vivid descriptions, written in energetic prose.

The world that our hero finds himself in is known as the North American Confederacy -- not as in the Confederacy in the American South in our world, but as in the Articles of Confederation that initially governed the 13 states that revolted from England. In the alternate world, the Articles of Confederation are not superseded by the U.S. Constitution, the Whiskey Rebellion fails, and the North American government becomes less powerful as time passes.  A sample of a graphic novel version is available online. 

The books shows the obvious influence of Robert Heinlein but there are also clear references to Illuminatus!, another of Smith's influences. The bad guys in the novel, the "Hamiltonians," who want to take over the world and restore big government, use the eye in the pyramid as their symbol. And there are sentient talking dolphins in the book (along with sentience talking chimps and gorillas.)

The Wikipedia article on the book says, "The Probability Broach won the 1982 Prometheus Award, which L. Neil Smith himself had created, and which is awarded by the Libertarian Futurist Society." All of that is true, but it could be misunderstood; Smith gave the first award as a one-shot event. The LFS was founded to keep the award going. Smith has not been active in the LFS; he has won awards from the group but played no part in the deliberations. 

See also my 2019 interview with ElNeil. 

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