Sunday, December 14, 2014
If you haven't read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, you're unfamiliar with the pattern of political manipulators fighting against hard working businessmen who are just trying to create wealth. On the other hand, if you're breathing the typical cultursmog, you are quite familiar with the recurring trope of greedy corporations plotting to poison/kill/cheat their customers.
On the other hand, Quarter Share does none of the above. There's math in this space opera. And that makes it far more subversively libertarian than anything Ayn Rand ever preached.
The story starts with the hero, Ishmael Horatio Wang. Yes, the hero has a name that's evocative of both Melville and C. S. Forester. I was almost put off by this, but I'm glad I didn't. The author lampshades this. Every time he introduces himself he says, "Call me Ishmael," and whoever he's talking to rolls his or her eyes. But the allusion to familiar sea stories should give you a good idea of the arc of this series of stories.
Quarter Share starts off with an 18 year old Ishmael suffering the accidental death of his mother. Since he lives on a "company planet" and he has no job, he is forced to leave. Instead of preaching about corporate evils, the author Nathan Lowell simply shows the company acting as if all it cares about is the bottom line. And this forces our young protagonist out of his mother's apartment and onto an interstellar freighter.
Since he has no training or connections, he starts out, like Midshipman Mr. Hornblower, at the bottom of pecking order. Things start out well for young Mr. Wang, because he knows how to make coffee and he shows initiative in the ships mess. He proceeds to work hard and shows a willingness to do the dirty jobs others wouldn't like.
He also has a tendency to think non-linearly and sees unexpected opportunities for trade. As a crewman, he can use his limited wages and limited mass allotment to make a few bucks on the side. His buddy, another quarter-share crewman happens to have the ability to sense what's abundant on the current planet they're visiting and what's rare on the next planet. Between the two of them they start making money on bigger and bigger deals. Before the book is done, the senior officers on the ship take notice.
One of the things you can see if you ignore Ayn Rand's preaching is that people in business are often pleasant to deal with, they make friends with their customers and vendors, and enjoy doing business with their friends. It is enjoyable to set up a trade where both parties come away better than they were beforehand. The process of dickering and haggling over price often seems like a negative sum game, but only if you're short-sighted. When you look at the larger picture, both parties are enriched when a trade can be negotiated.
Free trade creates wealth.
Quarter Share can be a little bit math heavy as Ish and Pip work out, say, the relative merits of shipping gemstones versus mushrooms. And that's not a problem. If you're going to succeed in life, you've got to be sharp enough to recognize a profitable opportunity when it presents itself. Or ways to make something valuable out of something nobody wants.
I highly recommend Quarter Share. Five stars.