Travis J. I. Corcoran’s Aristillus novels, The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation, are modern masterpieces of science fiction, with a libertarian/anarcho-capitalist core that surpasses Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in showing how free people can turn a wasteland into prosperity for all who seek liberty and defend itself against the envy and greed of those who would loot what they had created and put them back in chains. The two novels in the series so far won the Prometheus Award for best novel in 2018 and 2019, the first self-published novels to win that award and the first back-to-back best novel winners in the four decades the prize has been awarded. They are certain to make my Books of the Year list for 2019 when it appears in a week.
One of the many delights of the Aristillus saga are the Dogs, “uplifted” canines genetically-modified and capable of speech, intelligence at the human level and beyond, and their own priorities which don’t necessarily always align with those of humans. They don’t have thumbs, but they make up for it with their formidable computer skills and cleverness. But where did these Dogs (the capital “D” denotes the uplift) come from, and how and why did their closest human companion, John Hayes (who we know only as “John” in the novels), meet them and manage to spirit them away to the Moon?
This short story (30 pages in print edition) provides the back-story of the Dogs and John Hayes, a special forces operator recruited purportedly to protect them but in fact to guard them until they were euthanised by the “Bureau of Sustainable Research”, the Luddite arm of the slaver regime running the Earth. John signed up to an outfit with a motto of De Oppresso Liber, only to find himself and his comrades squandered in endless “savage wars of peace” by the illegitimate regime giving him orders.
Well, saving a bunch of sentient beings from execution purely because they offended the sensibilities of some slavemaster’s servant sounded like liberating the oppressed to John and a small team of his brothers in arms, and if saving the Dogs and themselves (who would doubtless be prosecuted for mutiny for their actions) meant turning their backs on the enslaved home planet and seeking liberty on the frontier, so be it.
The adventure is stirring and the conclusion, dare I say, uplifting. We get to meet John and the Dogs (each with their own distinct personality) and understand how the bond among them was forged. There is a tip of the hat to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers in the story—can you find it?
For a short story of this length, the paperback and Kindle edition are expensive, but the latter is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Corcoran, Travis J. I. The Team. New Hampshire: Morlock Publishing, 2019. ISBN 978-1-70995-999-8.