Bit of a unique thing here, a review from me! I don’t usually take the time to do these, but I thought I would this time around.
Live Free or Die. The title certainly suggests a grand struggle, and picking up this book I was certainly anticipating a story full of life and death situations, choices between almost certain death or slavery, fierce determination to grasp liberty or die trying.
Unfortunately, John Ringo did not deliver. It is not that this book was unenjoyable – I enjoyed reading it just fine – but it has its shortcomings.
If we were to define a “story” as “a protagonist struggling to overcome the obstacles before him in pursuit of a goal”, this book almost fits. I say almost because the obstacles Tyler Vernon – the protagonist – faces are seldom a struggle for him. The growth you would expect such a struggle to force upon the protagonist is also conspicuous in its absence. It struck me that he was the same person at the end of the book that he was at the beginning, thirteen years earlier.
All that aside, to say that I didn’t enjoy the book would be untrue. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it certainly has some merits.
The story begins with mankind’s first contact with an alien race, which sets up an interstellar gate in our solar system so that other races may come and initiate trade or conquest, as they deem fit. The first race to come through, the Glatun, engage in the former. The second race, the Horvath, carry out the latter.
As it shifts to the main character, Tyler Vernon, we find him a few years after Earth has become subservient to the Horvath, who leave a warship in orbit to enforce the tribute status Earth has with them. Tyler, like many, rankles under the situation but feels impotent to do anything about it. That is, until he discovers that Earth has a unique commodity – aside from metals, the main trade/tribute material – for which the Glatun will pay him handsomely. Moreover, the commodity is common enough and accessible enough that Tyler has no problem obtaining copious amounts and quickly becomes the richest man on Earth. (The Glatun pay in the form of technological components that companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Microsoft will pay big bucks to get their hands on).
Soon after, Tyler begins the work of developing an asteroid mining operation in the solar system with the intent that eventually he will have the ability to somehow fight off the Horvath. His operation leads to a number of major leaps forward for Earth, including the developing of space travel, a focused solar heat ray capable of melting asteroids and destroying an alien warship, and Troy, a massive battle station reminiscent of the Death Star.
A large portion of the book is devoted to the technical details of these various advances. It almost seemed to me that Ringo had a clever science fiction idea for how mankind might go about harnessing the power of the sun and accomplishing things in space, and rather than including it as an element of a larger and grander story, instead constructed just enough story to support his long-winded explanation of his concept. For those who love the technical explanations of science fiction concepts – and I’ll admit, I’m definitely one who does – this book provides a lot of stimulation.
As he goes about accomplishing these things, the obstacles Tyler Vernon encounters are minuscule. In fact, the few times the obstacles are large and seem insurmountable, the situation suddenly reveals itself to be far less dire than originally thought and Tyler comes out even better than before. This fact is what really made the story limp, in my estimation, as we never get a sense that he is a freedom fighter facing and overcoming insurmountable obstacles, but rather that he’s a man blessed with incredible good fortune and we’re seeing how it plays out.
True to its name, the concept of liberty, both personal and corporate, is a very important to the story. Ringo comes across as very politically conservative, as he expresses multiple times free market values, anti-Main Stream Media sentiments, and a real antipathy toward anyone that would be classified as “liberal”. However, he does these things in a rational way, and as I consider myself a conservative I found myself agreeing with his philosophy. In fact, at times it was nothing short of insightful how he portrayed the reaction of the media and political leaders to Tyler’s exploits. I have a feeling that we would find his predictions true to form; he is accused of being horribly greedy, power-mongering, and a parasite on the environment, all while he’s in the process of building a means to give mankind freedom, protection, and a better way of life. Sadly, this is reflective of what we see often in our country even today.
The writing is clean and easy to read, the dialogue witty and clever, and the characters, at least in their reactions to each other and their way of communicating, are very believable. I had no trouble zipping through all 548 pages of the paperback edition in a couple of weeks of casual reading. There are plenty of entertaining episodes and overall the book is fun. It is the first part of a three part series, and I have yet to read the rest.
If you like technicalities of science fiction concepts, or if you want a treatise in conservative philosophy with little emotional investment, Live Free or Die is definitely worth picking up. Just don’t expect to be wowed by the story or moved to tears by its depth.