Liberty in Low-G: Introduction

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An analysis of libertarianism in The Expanse.

Science fiction is perhaps one of the best forms to explore the ideas and concepts of libertarianism. Over the course of human history, as technology has advanced, so too have the concepts of freedom and liberty. However, with new technological advancements also comes new challenges, ethical dilemmas and philosophical questions.

Science, technology and libertarianism are so closely related that it’s nearly impossible to read or watch science fiction without considering the implications of liberty and tyranny in the futuristic stage. The science fiction TV show and novel series The Expanse by James S. A. Corey offers a glimpse into a believable near-future setting where liberty and tyranny are in delicate balance.

For those who have not yet seen the TV show or read the books, The Expanse is a sci-fi series set a few hundred years in the future with humanity having colonized most of the solar system. Unlike many other space-travel sci-fi, in the beginning of The Expanse humans haven’t invented or discovered any faster-than-light travel, so colonization is limited to our home solar system.

The technology described in The Expanse is also familiar, recognizable and believable. For example, spaceships are generally built like skyscrapers, with a huge fusion-powered engine on one end. To travel from point A to point B the ship accelerates somewhere around 1g for the first half of the journey, then does a flip and decelerates at the same rate for the second half. With the exception of the mid-point, the crew experience artificial gravity using thrust acceleration and the whole voyage can take months depending on orbital positions.

A lot of sci-fi also tends to use almost magical technology to drive the story-line, such as teleporters, warp drives, phasers, gravity generators, etc. Although there’s nothing wrong with these tropes, the reader/viewer can often feel disconnected from the story because these magical technologies are just so “out there” that it breaks the immersion.

In The Expanse however, the technology isn’t far-fetched at all. People all walk around with hand terminals (essentially smart phones), communication travels via lasers at lightspeed and is subject to time-delays, guns fire bullets (albeit plastic bullets on space ships so you don’t breach the hull), and habitable stations use centrifugal force to simulate gravity.

This familiarity helps immerse the reader/viewer into the story and helps us to more closely relate to the characters’ struggle for freedom and the desire to overcome oppression. Moreover, The Expanse isn’t strictly a utopian or dystopian story, rather it’s a realistic story full of good, yet flawed characters trying to make do in an imperfect universe.

The primary political groups in The Expanse are a one-world government on Earth called the United Nations (sounds familiar), a militaristic colony on Mars called the Martian Congressional Republic, and the disorganized anarchist tribes of Belters scattered across the asteroids, moons and planetoids of the solar system. Each of these groups vie for control in one form or another and this sets a fascinating stage for political intrigue, war, innovation and discovery.

In this blog series called Liberty in Low-G I will take an in-depth look at the various aspects of the story of The Expanse, both from the books and the TV show. I’ll be analyzing how the story relates to the ideas of libertarianism and what lessons we can draw about the future of liberty, not just here on Earth, but perhaps soon, also out among the stars.

Liberty in Low-G will contain potential spoilers for both the TV show and book series of The Expanse. At the beginning of each installment I will disclose the books and/or episodes being discussed.

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