OTor, 2001, Hardback, 350pp, $27.95
ISBN 0-312-87369-7

That awful whining shriek you can hear for the whole time you're reading The American Zone is the sound of a very large axe being ground. L.Neil Smith is a prominent American Libertarian. Libertarians (US ones, that is) favour absolute personal freedom (what we here would probably refer to as anarchy). Smith believes (boy, does he believe) in the inherent evil of government - any government.

William 'Win' Bear is a refugee from a world much like our own who, like many others, has found refuge in a parallel universe where the USA never happened and Libertarian values have triumphed instead. The Confederacy, as it is called, is a utopia: technologically advanced, prosperous and peaceful. But when a strange new phenomenon called 'terrorism' arrives in this world Win and his friends have to figure out who's behind it before something even worse called 'a government' takes over the Confederacy.

To begin with I was intrigued by The American Zone: I find a lot of anarchist ideals really quite sensible (on paper, at least), and found myself nodding in agreement at Smith's views on things such as war, state-sponsored capitalism and individual freedom (post 9/11 his theories on government curtailment of liberties for 'security' following terrorist attacks are frighteningly spot-on).

Initially The American Zone reads well, a little like Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books: raucous and observant, with a drinkin', smokin', gun totin', mechanically-minded hetero wit for a hero, but after a while you soon begin to notice a pattern forming. Every single character in this book is there to make the point about how great the Libertarian world of the Confederacy is. Those who think differently are all, without exception, ugly, stupid, evil, prissy, ill-informed or lazy - sometimes all at once.

Our Libertarian rhetoric-spouting heroes (and believe me, they don't do much else but spout) meanwhile, are all beautiful, smart, caring, easy-going, industrious and well-read. Their conversations invariably end up as polemics on either the perils of government, how truly wonderful the Confederacy is thanks to its Libertarian ideals, or who has the biggest and best guns. They're very, very boring after just a few chapters.

The American Zone is simply a pamphlet for Smith's strongly held views, with barely a token plot to disguise it as anything else.

'Give me Libertarians or give me death'? I'll take death, please.

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