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Contact with Chaos

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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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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2014

    A pretty good read

    Not quite up to the speed of Williamson's other Freehold novels, but nevertheless a good read. No surprise that the aliens had figured out more than the humans anticipated, as this human figured out the ending well in advance.

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