A question for David Weber: Does survival outweigh personal freedom?
Tor publicist Kyle Avery recently sat down with David Weber, author of By Schism Rent Asunder, to talk about politics, religion, and character in Weber’s Safehold series. This is an excerpt from that conversation.
KA: The leaders of Safehold believe that the survival of the human race—at any cost—is far more important than any abridgement of basic human rights. In your mind, does survival outweigh personal freedom? If so, to what degree?
DW: The leaders of “present day” Safehold don’t believe that the survival of the human race is far more important than any abridgment of basic human rights. But the founders of Safehold and the creators of the Church of God Awaiting believed that, after a conflict in which the human race really did face extinction.
Their actions were an example of “the ends justify the means” on a cosmic scale, and I personally have always rejected the notion that “the ends justify the means.” It’s true that people and nations often have to choose between two evils, and sometimes someone has to violate deeply held principles or fundamental rules of law to accomplish something which seems to be—and may well be—of overriding importance. When that happens, however, I think we have a responsibility to go back later and admit the violation. And to explore whether or not the violation truly was necessary, both for our own sakes and for the sake of posterity.
In large part, that’s what the Charisians are doing in the Safehold novels. They are looking at the decisions made by the “Archangels” and judging them from the perspective of the people who have had to deal with the consequences of those decisions. Frankly, the “Archangels” aren’t making out very well in the Charisians’ opinion.
Still, it’s just a bit too easy to fault Langhorne and the other Archangels. They were confronted with an extraordinarily stark decision, and they knew that whatever they decided was going to determine whether or not the human race survived at all. That’s an awful hefty “end” when it comes to justifying “means.”
I like to think that if I’d been there, I would have been on the side of Pei Shan-wei and the other dissidents who died for their principles. I think my love for and study of history would probably have convinced me that Langhorne and Bédard were wrong because the system they were setting up was ultimately unsustainable, but if I’d spent my entire life watching the human race being hammered closer and closer to extinction, that might not have seemed quite so clear to me.
In the end, I think, what it comes down to is that for personal freedom to exist, it is first necessary to survive. If we do not survive, then nothing of our philosophical legacy, our belief in the value of the individual, will survive either. But if we do survive, then even if that entire philosophical legacy is lost in the process, there is always the possibility that those beliefs, or something very like them, will someday emerge once more.
People tend to misremember the story of King Canute. The story that is usually repeated is of the vain king standing on the beach forbidding the tide to come in as a proof of his power. The actual legend holds that King Canute went to the beach because he was exasperated with the flattery of his courtiers, who kept insisting that he could do anything he wanted to. So he stood just below the tide line and commanded the tide not to come in. Then, when it was sloshing around his ankles, he walked up to his courtiers and advisers and said, more or less, “Well, it would appear that there are in fact some things I can’t do, wouldn’t it?”
Langhorne and Bédard were a reflection of the more widely cited, flawed version of the story, guilty of the vanity of believing they could control the tides of history and human development. Shan-wei and her adherents were the recipients of the wisdom of the actual legend and realized that ultimately, humans who survive will still be humans, and that personal freedom cannot be permanently destroyed so long as that is true.
By Schism Rent Asunder (0-7653-1501-7; $25.95) by David Weber was released by Tor in July.
Mars Life: Mankind’s Future in Space
By Ben Bova
Mars hangs in our night sky like a red jewel, gleaming, beckoning. It is the most Earthlike of all the worlds in our solar system. We have sent robotic spacecraft to Mars, orbiters and landers; roving vehicles that trundle across its bitterly cold rust-red sands, automated laboratories to search for signs of life.
Someday we will send human explorers to Mars.
Mars Life is the story of those explorers; in particular it is the story of Jamie Waterman and his lifelong quest to discover the long-hidden secrets of Mars.
Jamie Waterman is a geologist. His father was a Navaho, his mother a descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims. For Jamie, Mars and Earth—the red world and the blue—represent the conflict between the Navaho and Anglo worlds, a conflict that has raged within his soul all his life.
Jamie’s tale began in my 1992 novel, Mars, and continued in Return to Mars (1999). Mars Life completes this trilogy of completely realistic novels about the first humans to explore the red planet. In a sense, these novels are not science fiction so much as a credible, lifelike saga that presents a totally accurate picture of Mars—and of the men and women who will one day explore this frozen dry desert world.
Think of them as historical novels that haven’t happened yet.
Although Mars is a barren, frigid world today, we know that the planet was once much warmer and wetter. Water flowed through the rocks, leaving telltale traces that robotic instruments have detected. There might once have been a sizeable sea on Mars, a sea in which life might have arisen.
In Mars Life, Jamie Waterman and his fellow explorers have uncovered the buried remains of a Martian village. Intelligent creatures once inhabited Mars, but they were wiped out in a cataclysmic meteor strike similar to the one that killed off the dinosaurs on Earth some 65 million years ago.
On Mars, the small band of scientists struggle to survive—and to learn about the long-extinct Martians. On Earth, powerful ultraconservative political forces and fanatic terrorists are willing to commit murder to end the exploration of Mars.
Mourning the death of their teenaged son, Jamie and his wife return to Mars, determined to stay on the red planet, dedicated to bringing life back to Mars.
Mars Life (A Tor hardcover; 0-765-31787-7, $24.95) by Ben Bova became available on August 5th. Visit benbova.com to learn more about the author and his books.
Ohio Authors Coming To Kick Your Butt with Science Fiction: An Irreverent Q&A with John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell
Did you miss the announcement? Ohio denizens and authors John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell are coming to kick your butts with Science Fiction this August 19th with their respective new novels, Zoe’s Tale and Sly Mongoose.
Check out there dynamic duo events in both Ohio and, ahem, “greater Ohio,” here: http://us.macmillan.com/torforge/toursandevents/1.
Q: So, you’re both from Ohio! What’s so great about Ohio?
Tobias Buckell: The fact that, of late, it's become a literary hotbed of science fiction novelists... err, well, at least a handful of science fiction novelists. Certainly more than Montana. Technically I guess I'd have to admit under oath that I'm not from Ohio, but the Caribbean, which is why Caribbean themes and people are featured so much more heavily in my books than, say, things from Ohio.
John Scalzi: Toby notes he's an implant to Ohio, as am I: I actually grew up in Southern California, and moved to Ohio in 2001, so my wife could be closer to her family. That said, I actually do like it here; It's pleasant, it's relatively inexpensive to live here, and I live in rustic splendor in a little town with Amish folk. What's not to like? And certainly when I go back to LA and get stuck on the 405 I am reminded that I don't really miss that part of the California lifestyle. If only Ohio had In-N-Out burger, everything would be perfect.
Q: Okay, so tell me about your books.
TB: Sly Mongoose: the surface of Chilo is hot enough to melt you, the pressure to crush you, there's no breathable oxygen, and it has sulphuric acid rain. But above the clouds it's cool, there's no rain, and the pressure is normal. And if you were to fill a large sphere up with normal air, in this kind of atmosphere, it would float. Which means you a real-world justification for a sort of cloud city. It's one of these cities that the main character lives on, and his whole world is turned upside down when someone crash lands into the side of his city from orbit.
JS: Zoe’s Tale: Oh, you know, just your average "teenage girl has to save humanity through sheer pluck" sort of book. The book takes place in the same timeframe as The Last Colony, my previous book in the "Old Man's War" series, but since it's told from the point of view of a 16-year-old girl, it's actually quite a different story, with different priorities, and previously unexplored adventures.
Q: Is there a lot of butt-kicking in your book? Is there a lot of butt-kicking in Ohio?
TB: The reason I like to create intricate worlds is that, much like a kid building a carefully sculpted castle on the beach who then jumps up and down on it, I get to take my characters through this landscape I created and blow a lot of big things up. About my previous novel, Ragamuffin, Rick Kleffel said "...we’ve got ample evidence here that science fiction is alive, well and kicking..." well, butt, so I guess I did get tagged with it.
JS: The book indeed has its fair share of butt-kickery... but I'm happy to say it's not how I think people will expect it to happen. No, I won't reveal more; you'll just have to read the book to find out. As for Ohio, at the very least the Buckeyes have been kicking the Wolverine's butts in football, which as I understand it (not originally from Ohio, remember) is all that really matters.
Q: OK, so I personally think SF author—well, authors in general—kick butt in general. So about those SF conventions ... I've heard it's not a true party until the police show up—is that true?*
TB: Well, I think at least hotel security should show up.
JS: That's right, because the police usually bring the second keg.
* The last question was inspired by a bookseller who said: “Please tell said authors that if there isn’t at least one arrest, we aren’t interested in an event.”
Zoe’s Tale (0-7653-1698-6; $24.95) by John Scalzi and Sly Mongoose (0-7653-1920-9; $25.95) by Tobias Buckell release from Tor this August 2008.