The Highest Treason
By Randall Garrett
Published by LibriVox
Read by Lee Elliott
Until recently most of the stories by Randall Garrett that I had read were parts of the Lord Darcy series. In the last couple years, however, I’ve been finding out just what I’ve been missing. This is one of those stories that, while a product of its time, has also proven to be well ahead of its time as well.
In this future Mankind has expanded into the stars, but it is a society in which everyone is absolutely and totally equal, not just under the law but in all aspects of society. Sounds good? Well, Garrett shows us the weakness of the system when it is taken too far. Society has eliminated conflict between the haves and have-nots, simply by allowing everyone to be a have. They have developed a system in which everyone will eventually rise to the top, e.g. all soldiers will eventually be promoted to the rank of general, so long as they are not antisocial. Putting in extra hours, for example is antisocial because the offender is ambitious – he or she obviously thinks he or she is superior… and that just will not do. The result is a bland, ambitionless society that is stuck in a politically correct rut.
When that society runs into an alien race that is more aggressive, a race which has sworn to conquer and enslave mankind (according to their own principles – since they see themselves as the only true humans, and Earthlings are just smart animals) war breaks out. The war teeters back and forth, but the main character Sebastian MacMaine sees that if Earthling society does not change drastically and soon, they will eventually become slaves of the aliens. Unfortunately, when he attempts to suggest new strategies, he is scolded as being ambitious and antisocial. He is told to keep his mouth shut and he will eventually be a general and then can act on his ideas. MacMaine soon realizes that not only will that take too long, but even when he is a general he will be surrounded by colleagues who were only promoted because they saw no reason to upset the status quo and who would continue to do things as they always have.
Eventually he devises a bold plan, but one that will brand him as the greatest traitor in history.
This is a great story and classic science fiction of the early 60’s and yet it speaks to the notion of political correctness that surrounds us today. Garret is essentially telling us that courtesy and respect to all is a good thing, but not if taken to the extreme as it has in his conjectured society. Do I think he really thought this could happen? Probably not, but it makes for a great story by one of the genre’s finest writers.
Lee Elliott reads this book very well. Her voice I could, (and have, I guess) listen to happily for hours. Like so many of LibriVox’s readers, she is reading rather than narrating or performing as so many professional voices do, but I felt that he reading fit this story perfectly and after listening to so many professionally performed books, she was a breath of fresh air,
So, classic SF story with a better than palatable reading. Don’t take my word for it, though, Listen for yourself!