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Contact with Chaos

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted October 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Humanity's first contact with alien intelligence

    This is novel is an ingenious sociological thought-experiment, in which the author ponders ways and means of initiating contact between the human race and a newly discovered non-human culture, humanity's long-awaited first contact.

    "Contact with Chaos" takes place in Williamson's Freehold universe, in which the human race, some two or three centuries from now, has colonized twenty or so stellar systems and is actively exploring the galactic neighborhood. The central character is Mark Ballanger, an official of the Freehold of Grainne, a former colony that serves as Williamson's ideal of how human societies should be governed. Mark is appointed by the Freehold's government, such as it is, to be its ambassador to the newly-discovered race, and his job, as he conceives it, is to manage the process of establishing inter-species contact in such a way that the human race might possibly, this time, avoid the mistakes of the past.

    The Freehold, as Williamson conceives it, is a civil-libertarian's opium dream: a society with minimal laws and government, populated with rugged individualists who make Dan'l Boone look like a lady's lap dog. The Freehold's antithesis is the United Nations of Earth, which is bureaucrat-ridden, over-regulated, patronizing, and effete.

    Mark Ballenger's challenge, then, is to exert moral authority in a situation in which his legal authority is almost nil, to keep both the well-intentioned and the nefarious off the native's backs until they stand a fighting chance of holding their own. How Williamson works it all out is fascinating, and wryly humorous throughout. Although he holds up the Freehold as an ideal, Williamson is realistic enough about human nature that Mark finds supporters and adversaries in unlikely places.

    Mark himself is a man of integrity, and much of the interest of the novel comes from how he has to balance the competing ideals of his society with the requirements of simple justice in an increasingly ambiguous situation. Possessed of psychological maturity and high moral principals he goes about his work without posturing or throwing his weight around.

    The result is that "Contact With Chaos" is the most reflective of the series, although I hasten to assure prospective readers that it does contain enough armed conflict to satisfy almost anyone who has enjoyed Williamson's other military fiction. Despite the low explosion-to-page ratio, I found this novel of particular interest, because in it the author deals with some of the objections I had been forming from reading the other novels in the series.

    The Freehold is a fascinating society, and readers of this novel who want more background information about Earth, Grainne, and the conflict between them should take a look at "Freehold" and "The Weapon," in which the author lays out the opposing viewpoints of the two societies and the resulting conflict between them. These two novels combine action and reflection in very satisfying proportions. Readers in the mood for pure action-adventure are sure to enjoy "Better to Beg Forgiveness . . ." which is set in the days before the Freehold gained its independence, and is chock-filled with explosions and gunfire, plus a fascinating cast of characters from various military services.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The latest Freehold science fiction is the best in the series

    The United Nations and Freehold fought war over the latter's sovereignty. In spite of overwhelming superiority and winning the battles, the United Nations left Freehold and the Granne system as an independent nation.--------------

    The Freehold survey ship Hound Dog finds a sentient species the Ithkuil; the first alien encounter by humans. Freehold sends Captain Betang of the armed starship Healy to escort selected envoy Mark Ballenger to negotiate with the aliens. The UN sends Nurin Russ as its representative. Scientists begin probing the planet while big corporations salivate over a new customer especially Damon Egan of Halo Materials Group, who was on the Hound Dog when it made its startling find. The outsiders quickly conclude the aliens have little technology as surface metals are scarce yet in contradiction they have large metropolitan areas. Hiding their metal from the aliens so as not to cause disruption, the humans land to begin negotiations of a sort with a surprisingly advanced civilization that has non-metal based technology.-----------

    The latest Freehold science fiction is the best in the series (see FREEHOLD and THE WEAPON) as the United Nations and Freehold government agents try to control the capitalists who are biting at the bit to buy and sell with a new customer. The story line is profound as Ballanger finds it extremely difficult to keep the frenzied business interests from overwhelming his mission and the Ithkuil; as he learns hiding metal fails when moguls want to sell it as a high end product. Fans of the series or anyone who appreciates a well written first contact thriller will fully relish Michael Z. Williamson's realistic spin on economics 101 in outer space as the buck stops when the customer forks it over.-----------

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 1, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2010

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