My first encounter with L. Neil Smith was about 1980. I don’t remember exactly, but I was in downtown Lawrence, Kansas at Adventure: a Bookstore which always had a good selection of paperback science fiction novels. There was a book I had not read, by an author of whom I had no knowledge. It looked really good, so I bought it. It was, of course, The Probability Broach. It changed my life.
It is hard to convey to someone in high school today, as I was in that year now 40 years past, how different things were back then. Or how many of us, including Neil, worked to hold back the flood of badness that has come in the decades since then. At that time, there were successful mainstream publishers that still carried titles by authors who were not communist sympathisers nor eugenicists. Back then, I may have paid about $2.50 for a new paperback, rather than on the order of $11 or so today. The same people who destroyed the value of the dollar were hard at work destroying the publishing industry.
My enjoyment of Neil’s novel was a big part of how it changed my life. Suddenly there was another author for whom to look. But the core lesson of the story, “it did not have to be this way,” was vital to my future happiness. The worlds of the North American Confederacy which Neil would share with his readers in the following years, were places of sanity, good humour, joy, possibility, and wonder. People knew to resist the first encroachments of tyranny and were better off because they did. Nor were they super beings, but good sensible people.
Neil filled his books with good people. Some were smarter than others. The ones who wanted to stay free were well armed. There were also really interesting alien races that came from careful examination of terrestrial species like mollusks, arachnids, mammals, and slime mould, to name only a few. And, of course, there were perfidious villains of the Hamilton, Buckley, and Hillary sorts, endangering freedom, destroying lives, and being careless of privacy and private property for all the usual excuses.
It was in the context of never being disappointed in any of his books that I learned from my friend Bob Boardman about this web site in 1995. Here were good people writing great essays, articles, and commentaries. Wendy McElroy, Claire Wolfe, Paul Bonneau, J. Neil Schulman, and many others could be found in the letters or in the articles. It was a singular honour for me to have my first submitted essay published here in, as I recall, November 1995. Many things I have sent in have been published here since then.
About 7 years later came the capstone of my encounters with Neil. In October 2002, I took my last series of commercial airline flights to reach Phoenix from Houston. Neil was there, speaking at Freedom Summit. I met this hero of freedom and free enterprise at an impromptu pizza party put together one evening early in the summit by Ernie Hancock, one of the Freedom Summit founders. We talked about propertarian philosophy and recent world events and had a great time.
The years since have included innumerable emails, a few phone calls, and many essays and editorials in these pages. At one point, Neil and I discussed the possibilities of a new scouting manual he would write with illustrations by Scott Bieser and others that I wanted to commission. That would have been around 2004 or 2005, iirc, when the “notional” value of my digital gold stocks, had it been possible to liquidate them without collapsing their value, was on the very close order of US$3 million. Of course, the digital gold stock exchange my associates and I were operating out of Vanuatu was very thinly traded.
And of course by April 2007, as the acceptance of e-gold was going exponential, the feral gummint destroyed it. It was the third fortune I’d lost to government so not exactly a surprise to me. And it did lead to others creating bitcoin and 11,000+ cryptocurrencies that fulfil the Denationalisation of Money ideas of FA Hayek that now have over US$2 trillion in value. But among my regrets is not having the funds to commission that scouting manual. In recent months, friend in the Ozarks have been working on a related project, a Freedom Guards Academy, to teach young people about ways and means to stay free.
Neil predicted many things in his books. He showed generations of Americans that we can be free and that being free we are always more prosperous. Most of all, taking the work of Wheeler’s inflationary universe and similar thoughts on cross-time alternative worlds, Neil showed us not only that it didn’t have to be this way, but also he showed that choosing freedom would have brought far more glorious results.
I send my condolences to Neil’s family and friends. I miss him very much. Somewhere nearby there is a timeline where Aubrey de Grey provided longevity treatments to Neil and his spirit lives on. In this timeline his ideas and spirit are carried on by the millions of readers of his books and essays and editorials.
One of the great men of our age passed away. We who remain shall carry on and keep armed.
Contact Jim: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Davidson is an author, actor, entrepreneur, dancer, and coder who has worn many hats. The hat he wears now is worn, but versatile. Jim lives in a wilderness 9 miles South from Eureka Springs in the Arkansas Ozarks where he works to build Freedom Land. Find him at freedomlanddao.com and Twitter.com/planetaryjim among other places.