Humans were alarmed when the first aliens that arrived to introduce themselves to Earth set up a hypergate that immediately connected Earth with all the outside universe. We were no longer alone. At least the Glatun were friendly aliens.
Tyler Vernon, a smart hard-working guy who chops wood for a living, decides to take this opportunity to improve his fortune. He finds a product that our new alien friends love and begins a business empire. Soon he’s the richest man on Earth, and that means he’s got a lot of influence on how things get done. When another alien race, the Horvath, come through the gate, declare themselves Earth’s “protectors” and start demanding tribute, Tyler is the only human who seems ready to take them on.
Live Free or Die, the first in John Ringo’s TROY RISING series, starts strong. Tyler is, at first, a likeable entrepreneur whose clever business plans are fun to read about. I enjoyed watching him begin to trade with the aliens (although I thought they weren’t alien enough) and build his empire. Some of this was amusing and some was just silly, but it was clever and fun.
But once Tyler gets rich and powerful and starts throwing his weight around, he becomes egotistical, dogmatic and obnoxious. Suddenly (or maybe I just didn’t notice it earlier) he begins espousing John Ringo’s political and economic philosophies. It’s clear that Ringo is a libertarian (or possibly a right-wing conservative) and he definitely wants us to know it. His politics is not my problem — I lean toward the conservative/libertarian side of the spectrum myself. The problem is two-fold.
First, I never want to read someone’s political or religious treatise in my fiction. That’s not what I read fiction for. It completely throws me out of the story when I can see the author back there behind the words waving his arms around and telling me what I ought to think. I don’t mind so much if the author is talking about something beautiful — transcendent religious experience, redemption, freedom, etc, but not when the point is simply to promote one’s own views while belittling people with different views. It’s like those obnoxious Facebook friends who never post anything but links to posts about how right their political views are and how wrong and stupid everyone with the opposite view is. This is ugly no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on. There is a lot of this in Live Free or Die.
Second (and most bothersome), Tyler Vernon’s claptrap isn’t just the typical small-government /family values philosophy that are at the core of American conservatism today. It’s even beyond the distasteful pretentiousness spouted by Rush Limbaugh. For example (and these are just a few examples of many) Vernon (Ringo?) suggests that people of low socioeconomic status are lazy and stupid and don’t care about their kids, liberals are socialists, the French are weak and whiny, the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression,” and the American president (clearly Obama, this was published in 2010) is an idiot. He even seems to say that our world would be better off if all the old folks, sick or disabled folks, Muslims, and those who don’t have genes for blue-eyes and blonde hair somewhere in their DNA got wiped off the planet. Um… what??? Are you serious??? Tyler Vernon may do the right thing, but in his heart he’s a Nazi, and it’s clear that John Ringo wants us to admire him. Vernon’s deeds are praise-worthy (he’s saving the world, after all, even those people who he secretly thinks we’d be better without) but his thoughts are very ugly. I want to emphasize again that this is not how the great majority of politically conservative people think and I am embarrassed when I think that some readers will assume Vernon’s politics are representative of conservatism. They are not.
It’s ironic that Tyler complains that liberals see him as rich and powerful and assume he’s greedy and domineering because… they’re right, he is. He expects the government to kowtow to him. When he decides to go messing around with mirrors in space and starts melting asteroids, it’s hard to believe that the world’s leaders would let him get away with that just because he’s rich. All of this disgusted me, but when the aliens send a virus that makes blonde women go into heat, I dismissed the whole thing as John Ringo’s ugly wish fulfillment fantasy. (And all women are appraised by whether or not they’re “stacked.”)
I listened to Mark Boyett narrate Live Free or Die. He was a terrific reader. Too bad he couldn’t fix this story by leaving out some of Tyler Vernon’s thoughts. If I could have just read about his actions, I would have enjoyed Live Free or Die. I’m fascinated by the space station (Troy) that he was constructing at the end of the book and I want to know what it looks like when it’s done. I will try the next book, Citadel, only because I want to see Troy and because Brilliance Audio sent me a copy for free. I wouldn’t pay for this.