Linc Marani is a vicious, fifteen-year- old street thug who is written
off as a hopeless case but discovers a different side to himself and a new view
of life and values when he's taken away from Earth to join a new, enterprising
culture that is taking shape out in space.
Not exactly new as themes go (close, in fact, to Charles Sheffield's Higher
Education--but, then, it was he who sent me the idea). But then, how many themes
can truly be said to be? However, I did see an opportunity to do something at
least a little different in depicting the kind of culture and its values that
Linc was to become part of. The setting of rugged individualist escaping from
a restrictive Earth to live out libertarian-style ideals by mining asteroids
and free-trading in materials and energy had become such a repetitive formula
as to border on cliche. I didn't want to add yet another of the same by recycling
all the things that had been repeated along those lines. And besides, I was
no longer so convinced by the litany of free markets unhampered by state interference
as the panacea to cure everything, in the way I had been when I wrote Mirror
Maze and Infinity Gambit.
So I showed the Earth that produced Linc Marani as not so much tyrannical
and oppressive, but tired and stagnating as the forces that once lifted its
cities and empires to greatness fall into decline. Everything that lives has
its life cycle. The old dies and gives way to new life. What we seen is the
logic of getting as much as you can for as little as you can get away with brought
to its ultimate conclusion in an alienated society of each at war with all,
everyone perceived as a threat or a rival, one person's gain inevitably someone
else's loss--all trapped in a zero-sum game.
Hence, Linc finds himself flummoxed when a mysterious Dr. Grober, interviews
him at the facility where Linc is awaiting transport to a juvenile labor camp
to put an alternative, as yet undisclosed, proposition.
"You possess some interesting qualities, Mr. Marani," Grober
tells him. "It's true that you don't seem to have put them to any especially
useful ends, as of yet. But we're hoping that might be corrected. Would such
a prospect be of interest to you, do you imagine: being useful? Needed by people?"
Quoting from the book:
Linc didn't know what to make of it. He had never before encountered the
suggestion that he might be considered capable of being useful for anything.
Being needed was an even stranger thought. He had always been told that
he was no good--even if in some cases, supposedly, it wasn't his fault.
When Linc tries to get a clearer statement of exactly what it is he's
talking about, Grober replies:
"I'm not sure you'd understand if I tried to tell you--not right
now, anyway. I said I wanted to put to you a few matters concerning principle.
And you do have principles, Mr. Marani. Strong principles . . . They are important
things, you know. It's upon them that everything else is built."
At a later point, Linc sums up his view of life:
". . . Eat or get eaten. You go for whatever you can get, and hang
on to what you've got. The corporations take you for what they can, and the
government takes from everybody."
His main question, of course, is what he stands to get out of whatever
this deal is that Grober has in mind. Grober's answer makes no sense to him.
". . . nothing. Nothing, that is, for you to take. In fact, quite
the converse. . . . What I'm offering is a rare opportunity--to learn how to
give instead of take. A chance to discover service and obligation, and break
free from the tyranny of expecting rights."
The words were so strangely different from what Linc was used to hearing
every day that for a moment he had to stare hard to be sure that he'd heard
correctly. "The big deal is that I give up rights? That's what I'm
supposed to go for in this?"
"Yes. Instead, to fulfill duty, know honor, and meet obligations.
All of it priceless."
"Priceless? To be given obligations when I don't have any now? Is
that what you're telling me?"
"Not to be given them. To accept them," Grober said.
Linc leaned back, shaking his head disbelievingly. "You really are
As I said, a bit different from the line we've gotten so used to expecting
these days. The Tor editors liked it. I hope you do too.