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now it can be told

At the very end of 2016, I got an inquiry about copy editing for a science fiction novel—it came through one of my lj friends, actually, and I'm very grateful. I'm always glad to have work come in, and editing fiction makes a good change from editing scholarly books and journals, which the majority of what I do. In this case, though, it turned out to be not only professionally but personally rewarding. I got the manuscript as an e-file before the author was quite done revising it, and needed to stop editing when I got partway into the second volume, and wait for the revisions of the later parts to reach me—but by that time I wanted to know how things turned out, so after a couple of days I gave in and read to the end.

The Aristillus Series, by Travis Corcoran, is a pair of novels about a libertarian venture in lunar colonization in the middle of the current century: Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation; like Ian MacDonald's Luna: New Moon and Luna: Wolf Moon, it's in dialogue with Heinlein's classic The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. The "one impossible assumption" in this case is the invention of new physics that leads to an antigravity drive, one that a private entrepreneur can build and mount in a large cargo ship. When the story starts, there's an established city in the crater Aristillus, one that trades covertly with Earth—and that has become a target for an American politician, not only for ideological reasons but because the United States government is in financial trouble. This leads to a war, but also to an ideological struggle. Secondary storylines involve created intelligent beings—a hundred-odd sapient dogs and an AI—that were rescued and brought to Aristillus after regulatory agencies on Earth decided that their creation was irresponsible and they should be terminated; those are less radical "impossible assumptions," though certainly a good novel could be written about either of them in its own right.

This novel very definitely has a libertarian viewpoint, though a somewhat unusual one: It's informed on one side by David Friedman's version of anarchocapitalism, but on the other by Catholic doctrine on matters such as "just war." But at the same time, it avoids the tendentiousness that's a danger for ideological fiction of any stripe. Corcoran has decent, honorable people on the side of the United States (along with some seriously nasty ones, though even among them some are also highly competent); and he has substantial disagreements on the side of Aristillus, and some characters who are clearly in the wrong. Aristillus itself is a pleasure to read about, with a lot of complexity and messiness of the sort that Jane Jacobs taught us to value in urban life. Beyond that, the novel's central character, Mike Martin, is a believably flawed man, but he also emerges through the course of the story as what I can only call a True King (despite his belief in anarchocapitalism!): A man who, in a crisis, thinks of the good of his people and will pay the price he has to to protect them. And he's only one of a large cast of people I got involved with as I read about them. I used to review self-published fiction for the Libertarian Futurist Society, and a lot of it was dismal, written by people who had no idea how fiction worked; I felt when I was working on this that Corcoran had figured that out—these two volumes are, in effect, his first novel, but it reads to me like entirely professional work.

Anyway, he's now started a Kickstarter to fund release of hard copies of the two volumes, in addition to their being published electronically. You can see more about it there, if you're curious. I enjoyed this book as much as anything I've read in the past few years; I hope it finds a bigger audience and acquires sequels.

Addendum: At this point, the Kickstarter has reached three times its (modest) goal amount, and Corcoran has put three sample chapters up. Having edited the book, I can say both that they introduce the main things the story is about (though other significant things will show up later) and that the style is typical of the whole series; if you like or dislike this, you'll have a good idea if Aristillus is a book for you or not.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 21st, 2017 02:17 am (UTC)
I liked his short story ("Firefly Season Two") and the novels sound like my kind of stuff so I went in on the KS. You've reassured me on the decision.
Mar. 21st, 2017 08:58 pm (UTC)
Of course part of this is personal taste; Corcoran's story did things that I particularly like. But at least I'm willing to say that the style is literate and the narrative is skillfully handled. About three-quarters of the way through I joked with Corcoran that I had found the Obligatory Libertarian Speech—but it was actually a conversation, it doubled as a revelation of character, and it was less than two pages; the exposition isn't heavy-handed, especially for what is in part a novel of ideas.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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