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Help me find a book …

I think it was a book. Might have been a novella. Definitely not a short story.

In any case, it was delightful, but I read it so many years ago that I can’t remember the author or the title. Can you help me find it?

Joel blogging about the mysterious causes of World War I — ultimately tracing back to the personal quirks and insecurities of the so-called leaders — got me started & you’ll see why.

The plot: Aliens crash-land on earth near the beginning of the twentieth century, A crucial part on their ship is damaged (I’ll call it an anti-gravity device, though I don’t recall exactly what it was — definitely something you and I would still consider futuretech).

No way can the part be recreated with the earth technology of that time — not even with the aliens’ greater knowledge. Without the part, they can’t go home. So the aliens, seeing that the planet is already on the cusp of political chaos, come up with a scheme. Everybody knows that wars advance technology, right? So they’ll travel around the world, visiting heads of state, and doing everything they can to provoke the war.

Agitating their way across the globe, they meet with Kaiser Wilhelm — and just by the way cure his withered arm. They meet with Czar Nicholas — and just by the way cure his son’s hemophilia. And so on.

I’d put the rest behind a spoiler tag, but the simple tag I know doesn’t work here and the HTML spoiler codes I’ve found online are more complicated than Obamacare and the rest of the federal tax regulations, combined. But you can probably guess the rest, and I’ll come back later and put it at the bottom of the comments section after others have had their say. (And I do hope somebody will have a say about the title and author of that book.)



  1. It's Me
    It's Me January 26, 2011 5:29 am

    I’ve wondered just how many libertarians are into Sci-Fi. Seems like it’s a good percentage. I’m certainly one; although only just recently I discovered it’s my favorite genre, I’ve liked it quite a bit but just discovered I love Sci-Fi.

    Then again, seems to be a lot of libertarians who are anti-liberty on some things (“national” borders, “illegal” immigation, etc) so maybe the Sci-Fi thing isn’t representative.

  2. Claire
    Claire January 26, 2011 6:58 am

    Pat — that’s it! Thank you. How did you find it so quickly?

    It’s Me — Yep, I think the SF thing is definitely representative, though of course not universal. We’re notorious for tending to be computer geeks and SF fans or readers. I can think of thousands of reasons …

    And now to the book spoilers. The Wikipedia entry Pat found reveals the ending of the book, but without quite the sharpness of the real thing: Because the aliens solve so many of the “leaders'” problems, WWI never happens. So — as they see it — they never get the technology boost they wanted from the war — and have to wait all the way to the 1930s for earthtech to produce their anti-gravity device (or whatever the thing was).

  3. Pat
    Pat January 26, 2011 7:48 am

    “How did you find it so quickly?”

    Startpage — “Sci-Fi book: aliens meet Czar Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm.”

    It sounds interesting, and somewhat complex.

  4. 0Point
    0Point January 26, 2011 8:35 am

    LOVE!! SciFi.

    Doug Casey borrows a line from Heinlein and refers to the genre as ‘speculative fiction’, and lists a bunch of his favorites here:

    My favorite? The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

  5. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal January 26, 2011 8:58 am

    It’s Me- Those libertarians who hold anti-liberty notions about “national” borders, “illegal” immigration and such are simply being inconsistent. As humans seem prone to be. Those are statist beliefs no matter who holds them.

  6. Grenadier1
    Grenadier1 January 26, 2011 12:01 pm

    I dont think its inconsistant to hold a libertarian view about a National border.
    I consider my property to be mine and if you want to enter then you must ask my permision. Scale that up. The US is “Ours” and if you want to enter just ask permission. If you want to get down in the weeds about common property being somehow anti libertarian thats fine we can have that discussion but we then have to include the fact that many of the illegal border crossers are trespassing on private property to enter into our National borders.
    National borders are not a statist belief. Your notion of them may be so but they are no different than the fenced border of a neighborhood. Its a collection of private property owners who have decided that they will assign a common boundry between them and the rest of a territory. Think of how things function or should function in your little neighborhood and scale it up. There is nothing anti libertarian about a group of individual property owners collectively doing something. FORCED collectivisation is anti-libertarian but thats not what we are talking about.

  7. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear January 26, 2011 1:33 pm


    That makes as much sense as any other explanation I’ve heard.

    Now, at b/e/s/t/ least worst, war doesn’t make much sense to me. So I figured it was just me, back in school never quite understanding what the teachers were getting at, explaining WW1.

    But years later, with a hell of a lot more experience, and able to — intellectually, at least understand the rationales for some wars, I’ve gotta say, “WW1? Sure. I’ll buy aliens.”

  8. Pat
    Pat January 26, 2011 1:51 pm

    Grenadier1 – While a neighborhood may be a “collection of private property owners”, those properties are not collectively owned. And while a group of individual property owners may decide to collectively do something [together], they do not OWN the neighborhood, with denial rights to anyone else — the only exceptions being a commune, or a gated community. In any case, just don’t include my house when you try “scaling up” the neighborhood to collective ownership.

    “FORCED collectivisation is anti-libertarian but thats not what we are talking about.”

    Well, yes, that *IS* what you’re talking about. The fedgov (and States) would have us believe that, as “citizens” living within a “National[/State] border”, we are their property, and they own the right to determine who comes and goes, which member is legitimate, and how each member in treated in that particular “collective.” More and more, we are not allowed to act on our own best interest, deal with whomever we choose, and be free to come and go over that arbitrarily-defined border.

    Long ago, tribes saw “enemies” as anyone different than they, and drew lines to delineate their real estate. Today, we have no need for “nations”, no need for borders. And no need for “enemies.” It’s only governments that propagandize against each other — to keep their respective “citizens” paying taxes for war against those “enemies.”

  9. Mimbreno Chiricahua
    Mimbreno Chiricahua January 26, 2011 2:37 pm

    Open borders are working really well in California. I’m sure the Amerindians appreciated all those European immigrants too. Now Europe is enjoying the fruits of large scale immigration from Islamic countries.

    The lessons of history are not on the side of unrestricted immigration. It’s a utopian fantasy.

  10. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal January 26, 2011 3:37 pm

    Grenadier1- So if I live right on the US “border” and allow access to those trying to escape one brutal regime for another (perhaps less brutal) regime, you have no problem with me asserting my property rights in allowing them to cross my property, right? Then, my neighbor can either allow them to cross or forbid their crossing, but that is also his right. No government has the “right” or authority to meddle in these voluntary exchanges.

  11. Pat
    Pat January 26, 2011 3:40 pm

    The lessons of history were never learned. People just repeat themselves – over, and over, and over, and…

  12. Claire
    Claire January 26, 2011 4:00 pm

    Carl-Bear — I wish I could tell you that the aliens theory was a keeper. Indeed, it makes as much sense as any other cause ever proposed for WWI.

    But in this case, the aliens failed to produce a war. In fact, they ended up accidentally preventing a war that was otherwise sure to have happened.

    Lordy, don’t tell me we have to go back to that assassinated archduke and start trying to figure it out all over again!

  13. Ellendra
    Ellendra January 26, 2011 9:42 pm

    To It’s Me: Maybe it’s the other way around, maybe reading sci-fi helps open your mind to other possibilities, including socio-political?

    To Claire: Tangentially related weird bragging point: One of my ancestors actually slapped Kaiser Wilhelm upside the head!

    (They were kids. He sat behind her in school. He dipped her braid in the inkwell, so she turned around and smacked him. My mom usually says “That story tells you all you need to know about the women in our family.”)

  14. Grenadier1
    Grenadier1 January 27, 2011 11:09 am

    Well Pat actually the people living in a neighborhood actually DO own that neighborhood. As it is a collection of private properties and if you dont get their permission to cross into it then you are trespassing. We are seeing things from different perspectives here. I am speaking of a group of individuals who ALL agree to do something and you are speaking of a group undertaking an action that is not agreed upon by all members. I understand your point but I am just speaking hypothetically here as in theory its not anti liberty provided everyone agrees. I am not talking about collective ownership.
    Lets carry on and include Kents point.

    Suppose that your neighborhood has a homeowners meeting. A lack of security is brought up as there have been a number of break-ins and robberies. EVERYONE agrees that if the entire outside perimiter was fenced and access granted to only those who have a pass or permission from a homeowner to enter then security would be vastly improved. So the project is completed. Things go well but then it is noticed that one homeowner who lives on the fence is letting in people from outside of the fence through a hole. Most of the time they just go back through the hole and no harm is done but occasionally they roam to other peoples property and leave trash, waste and constantly knock on doors looking for odd jobs.
    What is the solution here?
    The homeowner on the fence is not utilizing the “permission” system that is in place in that all visitors must access the community through a single entrance and that visitors must leave some form of record of their visit. While the homeowner on the fence is only letting visitors on to his property there is no harm however once the visitors venture to the streets that provide them access to all other properties then he is violating the rights of all the other homeowners.

    Again we are speaking in theory here. I actually am “on the fence” about the border since I dont want the government turning it into an armed barrier I might one day have to escape over it but nor do I want hordes of refugees flooding across it either.

  15. Pat
    Pat January 27, 2011 3:20 pm

    Grenadier1: Well, yes, I am speaking of an ordinary neighborhood, NOT gated, and not contracted out. A homeowners meeting where everyone agrees to rules including a fence and passes, IS a gated community — and I would be hard-pressed to agree to live in one. Further, if I were already living there, I would not accept the consensus of the neighborhood if this situation came up — which means it wouldn’t be a unanimous decision. So then, what would that neighborhood do about me?

    1. How would _any_ visitors get to any member’s house if they didn’t use the streets?
    2. Why would a member need a hole in the fence for his friend(s) if his permission is all that’s needed to reach his house?
    3. Is this neighborhood physically responsible for it — repairing streets, signs, and fences, collecting trash for them, etc? Otherwise the streets are not “collectively owned.”

    If any person trashed, trespassed, or violated rules of the individual properties, they could (and probably would) be sued for that offense by the individual homeowner — if not the first time, then the second, after the rules had been explained. (Incidentally, it’s up to each member to explain the rules to his family, friends, and other visitors, and see that he adheres to them. If that neighbor has signed such an agreement, then the other neighbors could sue HIM if/when his visitors did not adhere to the rules. And the rules should be listed around the fenced area.) If the visitor persisted in violating rules of a specific individual’s home, that owner is morally and legally within his rights to physically remove the intruder by whatever means he deems suitable/effective.

    Besides, the neighborhood could simply hire a private security firm to patrol the neighborhood; the neighbors themselves could patrol it on a voluntary rotating basis; and/or each homeowner could put up a fence around his own property, and keep his shotgun clean — which is what I would do.

  16. Roberta X
    Roberta X January 27, 2011 5:46 pm

    Just ordered the book.

  17. Claire
    Claire January 27, 2011 6:05 pm

    Roberta X — Me, too. 🙂 Hope for both our sakes it’s as interesting as I recall.

  18. Grenadier1
    Grenadier1 January 28, 2011 8:41 am

    Pat you make very good points about potential solutions.
    Let me address your questions in order.

    What does the neighborhood do if you do not agree to becoming a gated community? Well that depends on where your property is. If you live on the outside of the boundries then you can refuse to fence your portion of the border. At that point the neighborhood could place fences around your property effectivly cutting you off from the rest of the properties. If you live in the center of the neighborhood then there is little that you can do about it because you do not have control over the properties that comprise the ring of the boundry. Is that against your liberty? Well its not your property is it? That really depends on if you have open access to the streets.
    Now answering your three questions. .
    1) They WOULD use the streets thus the need to maintain common ownership of the paths to travel otherwise your property in the center of the community is isolated and at the whims of those on the border. Even if those on the border decide to fence it as long as you still have access to the streets then you are able to move at will.
    2) There is no need for an alternative means of access if the rules are followed. No one is telling you that you cant have people come to your property only that they pass through specific points and agree to follow the rules once they are here. If someone enters your neighborhood but does not walk in the main entrance you begin to question why they would not do that and what are their intentions.
    3)This addresses the access to “public” services. In our example the neighborhood does indeed maintain collective ownership of its streets. Since they collectively are paying for the streets then anyone who uses them without permission or against the posted rules is in fact stealing.

    Our national borders are the fence that define where our rules begin and end. Outside of that you are subject to the whims of foreign governments and tyrants. Inside you are subject to our rules (and tyrants for that matter). Inside you have access to our “public” services that are funded by our taxes. At its most basic that means that you are accessing our roads in order to travel.
    If you enter without permission then you are in effect stealing from our tax payers who paid for those roads. Now we can have all kinds of discussions on taxes and what they SHOULD be used for if they exist at all but that does not change the fact that to this point they have been used to pay for “public” services. If someone comes into this country and takes those services without paying for them they are stealing. If they refuse to enter using the main entrance and agree to follow the rules then you have to question there motives and intentions.

  19. Pat
    Pat January 28, 2011 9:14 am

    Grenadier1: We are so far apart in how we see this subject, what should be done about each question raised, and the inconsistencies that I see in your answers — that we should just agree to disagree.

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