Saving the World by Changing the Past: ‘Wayward World’ Book Review
Book Review: Wayward World by Jon Roland (Kindle Cloud Reader Version)
Full disclosure: This book was chosen for review because it is science fiction, it is libertarian, it is “libertarian science fiction,” both the author and reviewer are about the same age, live in the same state, have participated in various doings with the same state Libertarian Party and have interacted via email a time or two in the past although never in person.
Book reviewing requires that the reviewer actually read the book. It’s a rule. But after actually reading a book it takes a special kind of approach with special kinds of skills to successfully write a review. After the reviewer admitted to not having such skills the book’s author recommended this to the reviewer: “Just read a book, note your reactions, read further and see if your reactions change.”
Another approach is to pose certain questions at the beginning and see if they bear out. Here are some questions:
- Is this really “a new type of hero?” as the cover blurb asserts?
- Is this really science fiction or fantasy or both? Or more?
- Just how “libertarian” is it?
- Can the author convey libertarian concepts without getting all annoyingly preachy about it?
A third approach is just to admit that this is more of an appetite-whetter than an actual review.
YOUR LIBERTARIAN OPINIONIZER’S PICK: Wayward World is a timetwisting, telepathing, wormholing romp through alternative history. By applying nascent libertarian concepts to one crucial key point in history Roland wrenches absolute rule from the grasp of psychopathic monarchs and drags proto-civilization into a New World of human freedom centuries before its time and saves Planet Earth in the process.
It’s Retrofuturism and parallel universe and modern science fiction and alternative history and libertarianism all rolled up into one great entertaining adventure.
It all begins with young intelligent inquisitive minds telepathing with one another through the multiverse of time and space using crystals at the nether ends of a wormhole, one on the book title’s Wayward World in the distant future and the others in Kenilworth Castle in England in the year 1264.
Luckily we 21st Century readers have monitoring devices that are either technologically advanced or antiquated – depending on which end of the wormhole is considered – called smartphones and tablets and Kindles and Cloud Readers, and from these we quickly learn that (1) Wayward will soon collide with Earth, (2) the Master of Kenilworth Castle lost a battle that year that, had he won, could have dramatically changed human history, and (3) the two events are intimately intertwined.
So, sounds like the book’s cover blurb “A new kind of hero” actually smacks of more than just cover blurbery. And while the first chapter had all the feel and fidelity of swords & sorcery fantasy fluff Chapter 2 quickly established its science fiction creds.
So Questions 1 and 2 answered.
And speaking of chapters, there’s a bonus for sci fi fans who are also history hounds: Each chapter ends in a flurry of links to the actual historical peoples, places and proceedings that appear in the timeline plotlines. A brilliant touch.
The premise is spilled right up front so no spoiler alert is needed: The impending collision of worlds had already been detected and the means of preventing it worked out. However, due to centuries of absolutist monarchial and theocratical rule and the paucity of free scientific inquiry throughout human history human inquisitiveness, imagination, inspiration and inventiveness had been severely retarded. Thus the technological advancement needed to actually implement the solution had been retarded as well and never designed.
Conspiring in both Modern and Middle English – thankfully there’s no FutureSpeak to navigate – young 24th century Wayward World woman Andra and the three Kenilworth Castle connivers of yore, lead by the Lady Ariel, youthful but brainy and bold beyond her years, simply plot to save the world by changing history.
The plan is to reverse the defeat by the anti-royal rebels at the Battle of Evesham which in the currently known timeline restored power once and for all to the hereditary monarchs of England.
So, reformist rebels defeating the statist-royalists makes this a libertariany tale, satisfying Question 3. At least for the “minarchist” arm of the libertarian world, since the trio’s plan is to use all the futuristic technology learned from Andra of Wayward to create not a sustainable voluntaryist post-statist free society but a world-dominating English republican form of government. Still, replacing monarchism with minarchism is at least a step in a libertariany direction.
Where’s the libertarianism in this book?
Still, what do those libertarians get who don’t consider replacing a state ruled by one-person with a state ruled by many as being particularly libertarian? Voluntaryists, agorists, mutualists, anarcho-capitalists, post-statists, even the Amish for that matter, want no state at all unless it can be defined by the non-aggression principle against physical coercion, intimidation and fraud that replaces “coercive governments” with “voluntary governance.”
So where’s the overt libertarianism? A quick word search doesn’t turn “libertarian” up in the book, but we’re expecting some subtlety here aren’t we? Beyond turning 13th Century monarchical England into an early 16th century republic with 14th century cannons and 19th century clipper ships some smattering of libertarianism can be found on Wayward itself.
Humans live on the planet in many city-states, each with populations of 10,000 or so. They’re mostly at peace but are armed to keep it that way. City-states are still states, of course, but little more is offered for libertarians to wrap their Adam Smithy invisible hands around.
Ah, but wait. In his masterful intertwining of factual diction and actual fiction Roland channels the real Monk Joachim of Fiore and his theory of The Three Ages. His Third Age is described as “a new epoch of peace and concord” to be “ushered in by an Angel with a sword,” marking the beginning of “a reign of freedom” that would make The Church “almost unnecessary” – and hopefully by extension The State unnecessary as well since the two were incestuously joined at the head in his times (head of church, head of state).
Ariel of course is the “angel with a sword” and all participants in the defeat of the king’s army know they were entering a New Age. “The age of English kings is done. England must become a republic” they are told. From this point forward she takes command and sets out to lay the groundwork for all the future generations who must continue to build the “Reign of Freedom” that will loose the shackles from the minds of humanity.
New Age of Freedom
Their baseline for this New Age is the (real) Provisions of Oxford, written to rein in the reign of kings and to extend the rights and freedoms won under the Magna Carta. They were lost in our timeline at the Battle of Evesham but Ariel, armed with her future knowledge, rescued them by creating a new timeline. The Provisions, as Ariel puts it, “are a boon to us all. But the rights and protections of law must extend equally to all. Jews and gentiles, heathens, heretics, and women.”
Sounding a bit more libertarianish now in a theologically-speakery kind of way?
Yet what lies ahead for these world reformers? Don’t they yet face the might and madness of kings and conquerors and Khans of every kind? Virtually all of the earth is still authoritarian, ruled by the iron fists of murderous tyrants loath to surrender a shred of territory, of power, of wealth and privilege. Must they drive the Moors from Southern Spain, the Muslims from the Holy Lands, the Mongols from Eastern Europe and the Papacy from its stranglehold on the minds and hearts and souls of all over whom they rule?
What Roland gives us first is a rousing tale, definitely with a new kind of hero: An enchanting female knight, young, beautiful, intelligent, resourceful, Jewish, a proto-libertarian and natural fighter and leader who creates her own historical timeline with prophesies of the future learned from an off-worlder’s knowledge of humanity’s history.
But Roland also demands that thinkers think. Perhaps there is no such thing as shifting historical timelines but there are some seven billion souls on today’s earth and all have their own unique timelines. Few know anything of Evesham or Kenilworth Castle or The Provisions or Joachim of Fiore but they all have their own histories, and those histories, those timelines, shift and shake and shudder as one comes into contact with another and all of those personal timelines are influenced and changed.
Knowing your own history, your own timeline, is what makes you you; not knowing leaves you ignorant of yourself. Imagine, with more knowledge, that we are all living in the Wayward World timeline of Ariel today and every major conspiracy theory we’ve been told about – The Freemasons, the Bilderbergers, the Rothschilds, the Illuminati, the Templars – are not plotters in a New World Order to subjugate all of humanity but Ariel’s secret plan to create her New Age of individual freedom?
Fun to think about, huh? No, that’s not part of the book but the point is it should be a part of everyone’s thought process. It’s called being open-minded to all possibilities. Why should every conspiracy theory be negative?
Roland’s writing style is knowing that he has a long trip ahead and he wants to drive it all the way in one mad dash, speeding through sentences and paragraphs and pages, barely separating narrative travelogue from dialogue, while rarely stopping for gas and pee breaks. But it’s the right style for the right story: a rollicking road trip from Wayward to … where?
In the end readers should be forewarned, or at least informed: Wayward World is a genre-busting mashup sendup sci fi fantasy retrofuturist speculative time-tweaking interplanetary revisionist romantic historic exotic quixotic grand counterfactual adventure with comic book swords-and-hordes Wonder Woman warrior superpowered superheroes offering something for everyone which, unless approached with open exuberant intellects unbound by genre-branding, will please no one.
But what of Question 4: Does the author convey libertarian concepts without getting all annoyingly preachy? If “libertarian” is simply the antithesis of “authoritarian” then certainly the story itself is the answer.
Then too there’s more to the book than the story; the final 20 percent or so is Jon Roland himself, presenting his own cogitations, comments and concepts. Here we learn that the entire storyline, including the supposed fantasy elements, is plausible as good science fiction is supposed to be, even as it may not be particularly probable or even possible.
In an email Roland told the reviewer, “You may need to read my book more than once to find all the layers of meaning it contains. I am still finding more myself.”
Another world-saving road trip anyone…?