Thursday, February 23, 2012

Norman Spinrad's "Agent of Chaos" (novel): Autocracy vs democracy vs "chaos"

Cover image of the novel Agent of Chaos by Norman Spinrad
I'm not sure I understand the point of the book, though I loved the later parts:
  1. "Freedom from" (hunger, disease, ...) is a less desirable goal for a population than "freedom to" (do what you want, e.g.). Author uses them in the sense where former is a white list of specific freedoms that can be granted by the rulers, while the later is open ended. That it's impossible to list down the freedoms you should have; an evolving universe constantly offers new opportunities, & the society's default should be that you can go pursue any if you are so inclined.
  2. It's not just the universe that has a tendency to become more chaotic with time (increasing entropy), but societies too. To maintain order in a society requires "social energy". But tendency towards chaos is the natural, hence more desirable, state. In the context of story, I could not disagree; proponents of chaos are opposing a despicable tyranny. But as a general principle?
Story itself pits 3 antagonists against each other:
  1. "Hegemony" runs the government. Descended from former US, Soviet Union, & their allies, it runs a sort of world government that spawns several inhabited planets & moons of Sol, besides earth. At the top of the government is a 10-member oligarchy, partly elected. While there is no hunger or disease in this society, citizens are really treated as cattle: do an "Unpermitted Act" & the punishment is immediate death, citizens are killed at every tiny provocation (& non-provacation too), you need a pass to travel anywhere, ...
  2. "Democratic League" is a rebel group that primarily uses terror to make its point, & is working towards a "free" society. But its ideologues are not very clear on the idea of freedom.
  3. "Brotherhood of Assassins" is a mislabeled group that believes in chaos. To them also, killing innocents is no big deal - so long as it achieves whatever goal. They've been introducing random acts in orderly Hegemony, because ... chaos is good!
First two thirds, or more, has a lot of killings & random acts of terror. Things really start falling in place near end.

Fact sheet.

First published: 1967.
Rating: B.
Included in "grubthrower"'s "Top 10 obscure but superb science fiction novels".
Related: Stories of Norman Spinrad.