Victor Koman's Sci-Fi Thriller, Kings of the High Frontier
by Ari Armstrong, January 1999
Victor Koman's novel of a free market space-race, Kings of the High Frontier, came highly recommended from a local Objectivist friend, so I quickly down-loaded the book from pulpless.com for $3.50 and soon became engrossed in the story. ("Quickly" may be an over-statement, as the down-loading procedure was a bit of a pain, but I got the entire book through the modem nonetheless.)
Koman's book is to my knowledge unique in that it earned accolades, including the Prometheus Award, while in digital-only format. That is, the book until recently had been available for down-load, but it had not been available in ink-and-paper copy.
The novel is about four private organizations that build their own rocket ships after witnessing the slow, politically driven attempts of NASA to conquer space. Koman sharply criticizes the political forces behind NASA and the problems they create. According to the novel, NASA has spent many billions more dollars than necessary to get into space, has put politics before safety, and has made decisions for political expediency, not to further space travel. In other words, NASA has suffered the same problems as every other government agency.
Koman's novel is already somewhat dated, which was perhaps inevitable given its near-future scenario. John Glenn has increased the popularity of the Space Shuttle, and NASA has recently helped build the International Space Station. In the novel, the Shuttle program collapses, along with dreams of a permanent station. The free market comes to the rescue, providing a private station. However, enough of Koman's criticisms of NASA stick so that the libertarian vision of free space seems a viable alternative.
Koman attended the University of Colorado at Boulder during the 1972-3 academic year (a fortuitous event that gives me an excuse to write about his novel for The Colorado Freedom Report, a regional publication). "I attended CU Boulder for one year and majored in Physics," Koman writes. "My goal was to become an astronaut, so I also participated in NROTC. I was not a libertarian at the time, though I was a Heinlein fan (else why would I have been interested in space and picked the navy?). I enjoyed the campus, the town, and my old dorm room at 222 Willard Hall (now an office building)." If the libertarian community of Colorado is lucky, perhaps Koman will stop in to give a talk. "I would love to revisit Colorado," he said.
The story itself was fascinating enough to cause me to miss a night's sleep, but the greater power of the novel for me is its vision of freedom's future. Why create a free society on earth when we can just fly away and start our own voluntaristic societies elsewhere? The State can't control what it can't reach. Space stations flying around earth, or around other planets or the Sun itself, could provide the platforms on which the first truly free society in the history of the world (oops -- the history of humanity) could grow.
Koman's vision is an extension of Robert A. Heinlein's in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which a band of "Lunies" conspires to overthrow the rule of Earthly forces. In Heinlein's novel, the people of the Moon must fight a war with Earth to win their independence. Heinlein remains stuck in the "planetary" mode of existence, while Koman expands the range of potential homesteading to all of space.
If Koman's vision ever comes to fruition, Earth will likely lose many of its best minds to the freedom of space. Free trade will soon make space wealthy, as free trade made the early American colonies wealthy. Unlike the American frontier, which ended at the Pacific, space continues on practically forever. As America became the beacon of freedom to the rest of the world, so might space become the beacon of freedom to the entire planet. Earthly States would have no alternative but to surrender power to the people.
As compelling as the vision of free space can be, it is no replacement for an Earthly effort to create a civil, voluntaristic society. For one thing, with Earthly States confiscating nearly half of the wealth created, innovation is stifled, which slows the move to space. In addition, States would likely come into conflict with private structures in space. Those in free space would either have to mount a defense against the coercive powers of Earth, or do well enough in the ideological battle to keep the States of Earth at bay. In Koman's novel, the move to free space depends on public support to keep the US from launching missiles.
Since reading Koman's story, I can't seem to stop looking at the stars.