Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson

FreeholdThis was Williamson's first book, and was also the first book I read by Williamson. If it had been the first book I read on my Nook, I'd have hit the trifecta. All that set aside, the first half of this book seemed like a serious homage to Heinlein, mixed with libertarian philosophy, set nicely in the story of a woman's adaptation to a totally new culture.

Freehold begins when Kendra Pacelli, an NCO in the UN Peace Force, is falsely implicated in an embezzlement scheme, and forced to flee Earth. She seeks asylum on Freehold, and finds a society vastly different from the one she's left behind.

The Freeholders are definitely free market capitalists, with a touch of that old frontier spirit. The government on the planet is minimal, limiting itself to providing a military defense force, and some essential police and court services. Everything else is taken care of by contract between individuals, the courts resolve disputes about the contracts. The citizens of Freehold are also what we'd consider to be strongly in favor of 2nd Amendment rights, and nearly all of them go about their day carrying a firearm.

There are no social services to speak of, if one doesn't work, one doesn't eat. This is where the "frontier" mentality kicks in, though. When there is an accident or disaster, or when someone really needs help, friends, neighbors and strangers will jump right in to help. Social mores seem to be libertarian, in that whatever people want to do in the privacy of their own homes is basically ignored, and no intoxicants seem to be outlawed; Kendra runs afoul of a hallucenogenic cocktail when she's out on the town one night.

Kendra doesn't have enough money to pay for passage to Freehold from Earth, so she enters an indentured servitude contract. The contract is not particularly onerous, and even at semi-skilled wages, she should be able to buy herself out of it in just a few years. She takes a job right away doing landscaping work in one of the "public" parks on Freehold, which is actually more of a cooperative venture - the park is maintained and sustained by fees charged to vendors and groups renting space in it, and is a very popular gathering place for locals on days off and holidays.

Kendra is befriended by her neighbor, Rob, and he shows her the ropes on this new world. She also becomes friends with Marta, who has her own escort service. The three of them eventually become a menage a trois, but none of the sex is highly graphic, by today's literary standards.

Kendra's job ends when economic changes force the park to lay off some of its workers, and she decides to join the Freehold military. There's a pretty long segment in the middle of the book detailing her basic and advanced training that will seem all too familiar to anyone who's been in the military or even watched movies about basic training. Kendra makes the transition from a peacekeeper to a soldier.

So, there's a lot of not-so-subtle political commentary in this book, with its comparisons between Earth and Freehold, which I found interesting.

In the second half of the book, the UN trumps up some excuses to invade Freehold, to impose the Earth style of government on the poor, beknighted savages. Things get serious and bloody in a big hurry. Kendra, Marta and Rob, who is a pilot, end up in different areas fighting the UN forces, and don't know anything about the others' fates until very near the end of the book.

This was a great first novel by Mr. Williamson, and I believe I've got a bit of catching up to do on the rest of his stuff.

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