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L. Neil Smith's Forge of the Elders Now Available in Paperback from Baen Books

$7.99 ISBN# 0-671-31982-5

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I've been meaning to get this done for some time, but my work on another novel prevented it until now. My big 2000 novel Forge of the Elders is out in paperback from Baen Books, and I thought you might appreciate knowing about it.

Rather than blowing my own horn, allow me to present three reviews Forge of the Elders received when it appeared in hardcover, two by T.L. Knapp when it won the Freedom Book of the Month Award for May, 2000 (excellent birthday present, Tom!) and the Freedom Book of the Year Award for the same year. I'm also including William E. Howell's generous review for Prometheus, recently reprinted when Forge of the Elders became a finalist for the Prometheus Award.

We'll find out more about that in September.


T.L. Knapp for

Capitalist monsters from outer space!

Well ... not exactly. Turns out they're not monsters, but sapient individualists. And they come from all of the various alternate universes where evolution took a different fork in the road and the crustaceans or the dinosaurs ended up as the dominant and intelligent species.

L. Neil Smith is known for his brand of no-holds-barred space opera centered around a libertarian theme. Forge of the Elders "seriously discusses life-and-death ethics, epistemology, metaphysics (the Aristotelian kind), physics, evolution, the authoritarian personality, and politics of unanimous consent," the author said in a recent letter. "In many ways, it's my most ambitious literary undertaking so far."

I think it may be his downright best in terms of grabbing a reader and yanking him down into the suspension of disbelief that fiction requires, too.

Smith predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, but in this saga, communism made a big worldwide comeback. The protagonists are the captain and crew of three mothballed space shuttles approaching an asteroid dubbed 5023 Eris on a mission of exploration and exploitation on behalf of the United World Soviet. But someone has beat them to it ... a culture composed of sapient nautiloids, obsequious reptiles, and inscrutable arachnids -- and rescued humans from a civilization predating our known history.

They're individualists, they're capitalists, and they're already there; what's more, their technology is of such superiority that it wouldn't be difficult for them to wipe out three space shuttles, their misfit crews, and perhaps the home planet before lunch. Naturally, the Soviet apparatchiki aren't hearing it though, which leaves Captain Guttierez, Major Reille y Sanchez, and company in a delicate situation. Hilarity and philosophy ensue. Only L. Neil Smith would have the temerity to have a character ask, with a straight face, "Who is John Galt?" And he has the talent to carry it off.

The characters -- from Mister Thoggosh (nautiloid "Proprietor" of 5023 Eris) to Rosalind Nguyen, chief medic of the lamented expedition -- face a series of murders, delicate diplomatic situations, and the ultimate mystery: the origin and fate of "the Eldest," a sapient race that came and went before all others. They may be Smith's most well-rounded cast.

Don't let the good humor, the tension of mystery and the empathy Smith generates for his characters obscure the depth of Smith's exposition of ideas.

This book is a winner from every angle.


Bill Howell, in Prometheus

One is tempted just to say, "L. Neil Smith wrote it", and let it go as that. After all, that pretty much guarantees it will be a rollicking good adventure, openly espousing liberty and damning all the "usual suspects" who work against our freedoms. In this case, the novel is particularly satisfying, as it is the unified completion of a trilogy L. Neil began years ago, which was unceremoniously cancelled by its publisher after the second book, for being "too extreme".

Forge of the Elders tells the tale of a mid-21st century shoestring expedition from an impoverished and socialism-dominated Earth to a strange asteroid. Upon arrival, they discover that it is inhabited by numerous intelligent species from alternate historical realities on Earth, all of whom are devout anarcho-capitalists. Smith gives free rein to his imaginative faculties in dreaming up what sentient beings would look and act like, had they emerged via evolutionary branches as different as birds, mollusks, trilobites, sea scorpions, and more.

The immense (534 pages) tale progresses through a multiple murder mystery and the solving of several fascinating scientific enigmas to the expected happy ending. Oh yeah, there's a space battle in this book, too! There's even a tie-in to the North American Confederacy storyline. Many unique characters are presented, especially Eichra Oren, the p'Nan moral debt assessor, and his talking dog, Sam. Eichra Oren experiences love and tragic loss, not to mention the conflict between his personal desire and his moral responsibility. I don't want to go into anymore plot details, lest I spoil some of the wonderful surprises in this book.

All in all, Forge of the Elders is fine, fun story, chock full of good philosophical points and interesting characters. If you like any of L. Neil Smith's previous novels, you will love this one, particularly as it packs even more of a personal and philosophical wallop than usual.



T.L. Knapp for

Choosing a Freedom Book of the Year has been difficult for me. In 2000, I've been privileged to review twelve volumes that all stand head and shoulders above the norm. I've seen astounding first novels (David Calderwood's Revolutionary Language), moving histories (Jim Powell's Triumph of Liberty"), groundbreaking theoretical works (J.C. Lester's Escape from Leviathan), and more. What the decision finally came down to, for me, was a simple question: Which of these twelve books will stick with me? Which one of them would I think about on a desert island, even if I couldn't take it with me?

And thus I bring you, as Freedom Book of the Year, L. Neil Smith's Forge of the Elders".

I confess to a certain amount of prejudice in the matter. I grew up, after all, as a science fiction fan, and not just any kind of science fiction fan. I thrilled to Robert Heinlein's juveniles, and later to the grandiose space opera of E.E. "Doc" Smith. To this day, while I can read and enjoy the cold, matte-black maunderings of cyberpunk or of science fiction novels so "hard" that you need a physics degree to really understand them, what I really like is a larger-than-life hero or heroine, villains so irredeemably evil that their presence on the page chills one's blood, and lots of action.

And spaceships. We mustn't forget: lots of spaceships.

Forge of the Elders is all this and more: the tale of the asteroid 5023 Eris and those who love -- or at least want to control -- her. Smith starts off with three (three!) spaceships, or space shuttles at any rate, and it only gets better from there. More spaceships, more captains (one whose personality and elan in combat with ethical dilemmas makes James Tiberius Kirk look like the tight-ass, tin-horn authoritarian he is, another who happens to be a mollusk the size of a Volkswagen), more conundrums and more good humor than you can shake a tightly collimated ionizing laser beam at.

Smith writes space opera like ... well, analogies fail me here. Like a rodeo cowboy rides bulls, strapping himself to the story and letting it go hell for leather, only the trip is longer than eight seconds and you actually get somewhere useful. Or maybe like the astronauts of the old Apollo program, who sat atop a pile of explosive fuel big enough to blow a city-size crater in the earth, and managed, despite the bureaucratic meddling and red tape, to make it take them into space -- to the moon, even -- instead.

Wrapped inside the big ball of fascinating yarn that Smith calls Forge of the Elders is a philosophical knitting needle, an audacious reclamation of a philosophy that brings sneers to the lips of academicians and demagogues even today: Social Darwinism. That anyone, in this day and age, would attempt to redeem the philosophy made famous in the 19th century by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner is remarkable in itself. That Smith succeeds not only in redeeming it, but in extending it and making it relevant, is key to my selection of Forge of the Elders as Freedom Book of the Year.

Smith has spoken to these issues in the past, most notably in his speech, "A New Approach to Social Darwinism." In Forge of the Elders" he fleshes out his notion of the twin roles of adversity and diversity in the survival and improvement of species, and links these factors with both the emergence of sapience and the desirability of human liberty.

My bookshelves are full of well-plotted, entertaining novels, and they overflow with well-argued, logical treatises on economics, philosophy and politics. Only a very few books, by a select few authors, manage to be both successfully. A number of those books are by Smith, and Forge of the Elders holds pride of place among them. This trilogy -- in one omnibus volume -- is a must for anyone who cherishes both a great story and an intellectual challenge.


If I were to add one thing, it's that, whatever else Forge of the Elders may be, it can serve as the same sort of introduction to a philosophy of individual liberty as my earlier books, The Probability Broach and Pallas. The difference is that Forge of the Elders addresses more deeply fundamental moral issues.

Forge of the Elders is available right now in bookstores, grocery stores, and drugstores everywhere. If your local emporium doesn't have it, ask them to order it. Tell them the bizarre and wonderful cover by Bob Eggleton -- featuring a longhaired, bearded astronaut drinking a beer with a giant squid -- should sell the book all by itself. It's also available at and, most happily, at If you like it, you might drop my publisher a note at and tell him you want to see more books by yours truly.

Thanks a lot,

L. Neil Smith

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