Alongside Night | Book Review

                 J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night, Thirtieth-anniversary edition

Fictional novel ‘Alongside Night’ is a tale set in an alternative version of America, an America hammered by inflation and the social unrest that follows from that. We follow Elliot Vreeland’s adventures in a world where protests and underground economic activity to balance out government imposed rationing is a natural part of daily life. This is a review of the updated 30th Anniversary Edition and is close to spoiler-free.

Schulman’s Alongside Night is one of the classic libertarian fictions that is, as I’ve come to understand, a must-read in certain libertarian (and closely related to libertarian) circles. After finishing the last page I didn’t need to ask why:

The book is uncompromising on its political stance and is so straightforward with what its political nature is that there is no question on which ideology the author is following. None at all. This might turn off a huge chunk of the audience, as it might feel a bit pushy at times with the message, but for its intended readership – The libertarian-minded person hungry for confirmation – it’s like an early birthday, Christmas and graduation gift all rolled into 305 pages. Tied neatly together with a big Ron Paul ribbon.

The Alongside Night world is one where protest signs read “(Ludwig Von) Mises over Marx” and the network of counter-economic agents use gold as money and the phrase “Laissez-faire” as a farewell. It is a wonderfully non-shy way to give the reader a straight road to the intents of the author. Where other writers might try to use different methods to obfuscate their political motives, Schulman just put it under the spotlight and let the audience deal with it.

There are also plenty of nerdy (non-political) references and comical relief throughout the book, like this passage exemplifies very well:

“Recreation Room Four was simulation gaming, everything from simple games such as Diplomacy and Stratego, to full scale interstellar war-gamin and Dungeons and Dragons. In one corner, a couple had the audacity to play checkers”

The backdrop of the story is one depicting an America on the brink of a violent revolution because of rampant inflation in the economy, engineered by bankers and politicians (not unlike our real world, to be fair). People can’t trust the underpaid/understaffed police force to keep the peace anymore and strikes are common-place. Parts of the city is heavily guarded by private security, payrolled by store owners that bands together against the threat of looters.

Even tough Alongside Night is classified as dystopian, it don’t contain enough grit and darkness for my personal taste to put it in that category. What’s going on in society is mere background noise and a few media-headlines, with a few exceptions, and the author focuses more on the interesting, fun and brighter sides of his storytelling – The very-much-alive counter-economic activity of the people forced to live under bad conditions. Using underground markets, cooperatives and alternative currency, much more stable than the monopoly money printed and distributed by the state, to combat the rationing and the sickness of bad politics plaguing the fictional no name-characters of the above-ground variety.

And that is, to me, the core of the book. It gives you parallels to our own world and its problems with failing faith in the money we use for trading, just one more over-regulation or bail-out of bankers away from becoming the very story Schulman is giving us. But, where other fiction stops there, Schulman invests some fantasy into building up ideas about how a peaceful solution could theoretically work out.

As the story progresses forward, we are let in on more and more of the secrets underneath and how they function. Hiding from the watchful eyes of government agents trying to sniff the secrets out.

“To Keep a secret, you divide it into data segments – perhaps ‘modules’ would be closer. and spread these modules among a few trusted persons – the fewer the better. An underground agora is a machine – social structure – based on that principle” – Alongside Night

Perhaps not elegant, a little rough around the edges as far as writing-styles goes. But in a world soaked in pretentiousness, the classic pulpiness of Alongside Night is a welcomed addition to my bookshelf. Dystopian? Nah, romantic is the label I’ll give it. Agorism-romantic.


alongside-night

If you are interested in getting a copy of Alongside Night, consider buying it from Amazon and support Utopium at the same time.

There is also a movie-adaptation of Alongside Night you can watch with a Prime membership.

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