Book Review: Alongside Night (1979)

30th Anniversary Edition: The prophetic novel of America’s return
by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside_NightCommemorating Independence Day, 2016. — ed.

“J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night may be even more relevant today than it was in 1979. Hopefully, the special thirtieth edition of this landmark work of libertarian science fiction will inspire a new generation of readers to learn more about the ideas of liberty and become active in the freedom movement.” — Dr. Ron Paul

The 1979 publication of this Prometheus Award-winning novel of agorist-libertarian[1] resistance was, along with L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broachin the same year, a bellwether event in the American liberty movement. As a contemporary of both authors, and having a structured prejudice for Randian heroic individualist romantic fiction, I remember being nonetheless gratified that writers of my generation were emerging in the blossoming freedom context of that time.

Note: One cannot overemphasize the effect that Ayn Rand and her novels—particularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged—had on, well, everything, in those halcyon days of high hopes. Why? Well, not only did her fiction extol the creative independent mind, the fulfillment of the self as one’s highest value, and romantic love as a godlike opportunity (the sexier the better), no other thinker before, then, or since even came close. Her philosophy of Objectivism was literally peerless… at least for the average ‘young, dumb, and full of kumquats’ intellectual Baby Boomer male trying to deal with the considerable challenges of growing into adulthood in the 1960s and 1970s.

Further, Rand energized the nonaggression principle as no one had ever done… though she preferred the terminology ‘the inviolate supremacy of individual rights.’ It was, without a doubt, her rational-individualist worldview embracing the political ideal of liberty—or its host of pseudonyms: nonaggression principle, individual rights, laissez faire capitalism (Rand’s preferred phrase for liberty in an economic context), nonviolation principle, live and let live—that created the modern libertarian movement. She supplied the broad brush of artistic landscape in which Smith, Schulman, myself, and other individual freedom-minded fiction writers would come to ply their wares.

Largely.

Though, of course, other popular writers were aligned with that pathway. Speaking to the Smith and Schulman works, key science fiction authors, esp. Robert A. Heinlein, were inspiration. [If I had to name a watershed book that best expressed the soul of us idealistic liberty minions back in the day, it was Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966). Heinlein and Rand worked different corners of the block, his being more, well, martial. Plus, qua sci fi guy, Mr. Heinlein would throw in more surprises: computers that come alive, women in combat, tossing moon rocks at earth… playing with language and roles.]

Sorry, getting off track. I read both Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Schulman’s major first works at about the same time, near when they were written. Guns, gold, and sex figure prominently in both—hey, we were all young, then—along with novel plots illustrating inspiring political principles.

Alongside Night…

… takes you into New York City environs, with friends and family of a notable free market economist, Martin Vreeland, whose ideas resemble those of Nobel Prize-winning Milton Friedman. [Though the actor, Kevin Sorbo, playing Vreeland in the movie—from the Alongside_Nightpopular Hercules TV series, bears zero likeness to Dr. Friedman. Did I say movie? Yes. Thanks largely to Liberty Coins owner Patrick Heller, who stepped up with financing and complementary vision, Alongside Night (2015) is now also a major motion picture. I’ll be reviewing the film in another column shortly.]

It’s difficult for me to separate myself from the political context in which the book arose. Back in the time when Reagan was in the process of becoming president, the issues we faced were superficially different: the government and the central bank were messing with the economy as they do now, but they didn’t run nearly so sophisticated or pervasive a racket. The mind control was less obvious. Most people who wanted to work could find real jobs. It was post-Vietnam, pre-Internet, and real-time peak wealth-and-resource extraction by and for the banksters via American military-industrial auspices as economic hit men around the world.

Wars? Nothing of the Vietnam level, but the Red Scare was still in full tilt boogie and the Soviets were 10 Feet Tall. Reagan initiated—or shall I say “was used to accelerate several fold,” the war machine—, brought us (at least publicly) Star Wars, and generally adopted a bellicose Pax Americana foreign policy, aided by dubious foreign interests and allies.[2] [He was also used to supercharge the Nixon-Rockefeller era federal War on Drugs, turning America into Prison Nation.]

Alongside Night was published on the eve of this grotesque slide of America into world empire. What dominated most of our minds in 1979 was domestic economics: chiefly inflation, interest rates, effect of abandoning the gold standard—and, yes, what that boded for massive civil liberties infringements by the rapidly growing federal Leviathan. The book projects an American society perhaps a decade down the road, where the American national security state tracks (and attacks one way or another) those who disagree with state policies… yes, like what our 2016 federal government does now for whom it defines as domestic terrorists: “Constitutionalists, libertarians, Free Staters, truthers, 2d Amendment advocates,” Nullificationists, and so on.

And it’s a fine romp with a freedom message of the agorist flavor. ‘Son of Martin,’ Elliot Vreeland, gets a special message from his sister by way of his prep school authorities that leads to complications. Elliot returns to the family’s posh NYC apartment, where he learns that Dad has immediate plans for the family to fly the coop—rather than stick around and be scarfed up by the authorities (for Dr. Vreeland’s politically incorrect economic policy suggestions). Ell goes out on a brief errand, returning to find that his father, mother, and sister have gone. Were they kidnapped?

This launches the excitement, as young Elliot runs into characters savory and unsavory, the former including one hot-and-not-shy babe named Lorimer. They have both found themselves in a sophisticated underground enclave run by the Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, which has taken the ‘Laissez Faire’ greeting they all use to a higher level: instead of merely hanging on to survive freely in the interstices of coercive-government-dominated society, these RACkers practice focused nonviolent resistance against the establishment —to speed its demise.

That presents conflict—states do not like to be explicitly ‘demised’—, hence dramatic potential for confrontation, especially as the plot moves along with Elliot and his new entourage seeking to locate and/or rescue Dad, Mom, and Sis. It’s a highly satisfying action story combined with plenty of food for thought, the culminating issue being “can an established coercive state be modified as Jefferson wrote, not ‘to be destructive to the rights of life, liberty, or property’ or is it time for humanity to move on and leave states as such in the dustbin of history?”.  Fade to audience. What do you think?

In light of the monster globalist-state ravenously devouring our substances, today, how can the question Alongside Night poses be anymore timely? It’s a good humanitarian read that will open your mind, as well as, less so, your heart… which nonetheless will beat rapidly for the good guys in their hours o’ need and, ultimately, resolution. Good summer fun. Take it to the beach, share it with someone you love or, better yet, your liberal and conservative stick-in-the-muds.

Some personal notes:

Schulman has a knack for phrasings and names: Keynesian Kops, the now dated TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch), First Anarchist Bank and Trust Company (AnarchoBank for short), NoState Insurance, Contraband Exchange, several others will bring a smile of remembrance or recognition. As with Smith’s The Probability Broach, let’s just say AN‘s love and sex passages won’t send you to the poet’s dictionary. [You had to be there; many of us suffered a heady surplus of Randian idealism when it came to relationships and the rites surrounding the horizontal mambo. A more down-to-earth view of such matters, even approaching crudeness, balanced things out.]

[1] Agorism comes from the Greek word agora, meaning open market. Its incarnation as a libertarian political movement has connotations of ‘countereconomics’ (in the sense of alternative: people defying the existing coercive mainstream economy by creating their own economy free from coercion or aggression—the black market as THE market). Also, accomplishing political ends via peaceful revolution—noncompliance or denial of consent to the coercive establishment.

[2] In the early libertarian movement, which largely came from Goldwater conservatism and Randian individualism, the ‘State of Israel’ (strangely, in retrospect) held a sort of sacred cow status—a microcosm of the feeling in the general American culture. AN has a few references that are clearly ‘pro-Israel,’ such as the parents of one of Elliot’s friends being gunned down by ‘Palestinian guerillas,’ and one of the helping characters having ‘fought for the Irgun in the founding of Israel.’ Many libertarians, myself included (and perhaps even Mr. Schulman, himself), have done some serious revisionist thinking on the virtue/legitimacy of the Israeli state and political Zionism, so may wince at such references. But artistically they’re trifles… understood in the context of the times.

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