by Timothy Lane
This 1958 masterpiece by the late H. Beam Piper (a writer of strongly conservative-to-libertarian bent, who committed suicide in 1964 when faced with problems he didn’t think he could solve on his own) presents an interesting government notion that has sounded increasingly desirable in recent months.
It starts with Stephen Silk, a Solar League diplomatic official who (after writing an article by-lined Machiavelli, Jr. that he doesn’t expect to please his superiors) finds himself sent as Ambassador to New Texas. Accompanying him is an aide (originally from New Texas) named Hoddy Ringo, who he suspects was sent to get rid of him to provide an excuse for the Solar League to take over to protect them from the alien z’Srauff (who are indeed a threat). Reading the final statements of the previous ambassadors, he finds that the first (Andrew Jackson Hickock) was so favorably impressed with the planet that he went native and retired there. The next was recalled, hopelessly insane, after 7 years; his replacement committed suicide after 6 months. The most recent had decided to start speaking out, only to be murdered – at Hickock’s ranch.
Once on planet (and arranging a mission elsewhere for Ringo to allow himself some extra time), he sees their replica of the Alamo (only to learn that it’s the original, transported brick by brick) and then encounters Gail Hickock (daughter of the earlier ambassador, whom he had met on board the spaceship carrying him to New Texas) at a presidential barbecue. They drop in on a local tribe, where one Wilbur Whateley is being tried in the Court of Political Justice for assassinating one Austin Maverick. Silk is amazed to find that the defense is perfectly willing to stipulate that Whateley hacked Maverick to death with a machete, and also offers to stipulate the various testimonials the prosecution plans to offer for Maverick. But they also bring up the bill Maverick was pushing when he was killed: a bill to establish an income tax paid by means of withholding, and proceed to rest their case. This proves a wise decision, because Whateley is promptly acquitted (though one judge is miffed that Maverick got off so lightly, being hacked to death instead of being skinned inch by inch). Silk is disconcerted to realize that this very court will be handling the assassination of his predecessor.
It seems that New Texas has an interesting wrinkle in its laws; They take the right to criticize a politician to an extreme that most politicians would hate. So when Whateley killed Maverick, the purpose of the trial was to determine if his criticism was excessive – which, under the circumstances, it wasn’t. Silk is displeased to realize that their use of this particular court means that they consider the Solar League ambassador is considered a local politician.
In the end, Silk makes sure the court presents the evidence to show that the ambassador (Silas Cumshaw) was indeed murdered by one William Bonney, and also that the assassination was clearly arranged by the z’Srauff. He then points out that this was not the appropriate court to deal with the case, and ends up dealing with Bonney more directly himself. At this point, the z’Srauff launch their attack, which Silk fortunately has anticipated. In the end, New Texas joins the Solar League, with Silk (who has himself gone native and married Gail Hickock) becoming an important local politician (not always supporting Solar League policies), even though the planet evidently retains its peculiar political system.
It’s an interesting and entertaining novel, and the events of the past few weeks make its odd system sound increasingly reasonable. Just imagine if anyone ridding America of the head of the NPS could defend himself by arguing that the miscreant deserved it (as he undoubtedly does). Sigh. Unfortunately, that isn’t the law, and never will be as long as the politicians have anything to say about it. • (888 views)