Liberty's Daughter

by Naomi Kritzer

Cover image

Publisher: Fairwood Press
Copyright: November 2023
ISBN: 1-958880-16-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 257

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Liberty's Daughter is a stand-alone near-future science fiction fix-up novel. The original stories were published in Fantasy and Science Fiction between 2012 and 2015.

Beck Garrison lives on New Minerva (Min), one of a cluster of libertarian seasteads 220 nautical miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Her father brought her to Min when she was four, so it's the only life she knows. As this story opens, she's picked up a job for pocket change: finding very specific items that people want to buy. Since any new goods have to be shipped in and the seasteads have an ambiguous legal status, they don't get Amazon deliveries, but there are enough people (and enough tourists who bring high-value goods for trade) that someone probably has whatever someone else is looking for. Even sparkly high-heeled sandals size eight.

Beck's father is high in the informal power structure of the seasteads for reasons that don't become apparent until very late in this book. Beck therefore has a comfortable, albeit cramped, life. The social protections, self-confidence, and feelings of invincibility that come with that wealth serve her well as a finder. After the current owner of the sandals bargains with her to find a person rather than an object, that privilege also lets her learn quite a lot before she starts getting into trouble.

The political background of this novel is going to require some suspension of disbelief. The premise is that one of those harebrained libertarian schemes to form a freedom utopia has been successful enough to last for 49 years and attract 80,000 permanent residents. (It's a libertarian seastead so a lot of those residents are indentured slaves, as one does in libertarian philosophy. The number of people with shares, like Beck's father, is considerably smaller.) By the end of the book, Kritzer has offered some explanations for why the US would allow such a place to continue to exist, but the chances of the famously fractious con artists and incompetents involved in these types of endeavors creating something that survived internal power struggles for that long seem low. One has to roll with it for story reasons: Kritzer needs the population to be large enough for a plot, and the history to be long enough for Beck to exist as a character.

The strength of this book is Beck, and specifically the fact that Beck is a second-generation teenager who grew up on the seastead. Unlike a lot of her age peers with their Cayman Islands vacations, she's never left and has no experience with life on land. She considers many things to be perfectly normal that are not at all normal to the reader and the various reader surrogates who show up over the course of the book. She also has the instinctive feel for seastead politics of the child of a prominent figure in a small town. And, most importantly, she has formed her own sense of morality and social structure that matches neither that of the reader nor that of her father.

Liberty's Daughter is told in first-person by Beck. Judging the authenticity of Gen-Z thought processes is not one of my strengths, but Beck felt right to me. Her narration is dryly matter-of-fact, with only brief descriptions of her emotional reactions, but her personality shines in the occasional sarcasm and obstinacy. Kritzer has the teenage bafflement at the stupidity of adults down pat, as well as the tendency to jump head-first into ideas and make some decisions through sheer stubbornness.

This is not one of those fix-up novels where the author has reworked the stories sufficiently that the original seams don't show. It is very episodic; compared to a typical novel of this length, there's more plot but less character growth. It's a good book when you want to be pulled into a stream of events that moves right along.

This is not the book for deep philosophical examinations of the basis of a moral society, but it does have, around the edges, is the humans build human societies and develop elaborate social conventions and senses of belonging no matter how stupid the original philosophical foundations were. Even societies built on nasty exploitation can engender a sort of loyalty. Beck doesn't support the worst parts of her weird society, but she wants to fix it, not burn it to the ground. I thought there was a profound observation there.

That brings me to my complaint: I hated the ending. Liberty's Daughter is in part Beck's fight for her own autonomy, both moral and financial, and the beginnings of an effort to turn her home into the sort of home she wants. By the end of the book, she's testing the limits of what she can accomplish, solidifying her own moral compass, and deciding how she wants to use the social position she inherited. It felt like the ending undermined all of that and treated her like a child. I know adolescence comes with those sorts of reversals, but I was still so mad.

This is particularly annoying since I otherwise want to recommend this book. It's not ground-breaking, it's not that deep, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable day's worth of entertainment with a likable protagonist. Just don't read the last chapter, I guess? Or have more tolerance than I have for people treating sixteen-year-olds as if they're not old enough to make decisions.

Content warnings: pandemic.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-12-23

Last modified and spun 2023-12-26