By Randall Garrett
Published by Librivox.org
Read by Phil Chenovert
According to my on-line dictionary, an “Anchorite” is a religious hermit, one who has retired from the world. I tried to see if that applied here and came close, but in this story an anchorite is someone who sets anchors in asteroids (so a ship, or a miner, will not simply go floating away from it.) Setting anchors is a dangerous job and one that can easily get a fool killed if he fails in any number of ways. A number of fools have been getting killed that way and Earth’s authoritarian government wants to know why, not because of the loss of life, but because it is costing them in insurance claims.
Back on Earth all people are equal, not only under the law, but in all things. That sounds good on the surface, but it ignores the fact that some people are better at some activities than others. Earth’s system is a welfare state that coddles the fools and the lazy (and the stupid). IN the Asteroid Belt, there may be room for the fools, the lazy (and the stupid), but only because they don’t last there for long. The biggest problem is that some fools are better at being fools than others and might kill their companions as well.
The story is good hard science fiction with good physics explained well with the characters explaining how mass, momentum and the law of motion work in zero, or rather, microgravity. And the nice thing is that not only do they explain it well, but do so in an entertaining manner, although I did find some of the vocal mannerisms of the eccentric pilot, Jules Christian to be rather annoying (more of that below).
It’s a fairly short story; technically a short novel, but just barely and spends much of its time in training an Earthman to be an anchorite. In the end the man goes back to Earth, but admits that the basic difference in life in the systems was that on Earth you were constantly watching your own back against supposed team-mates, but here in the Belt you could rely on your team because here, each person could be counted on to do their job and work together. The men of the Belt, on the other hand realize that the Earthman still does not get it. It is not about teams. If you have a good team it is only a consequence, to them, of starting with good individuals. They don’t think in terms of teams, since each belter has to be self-sufficient.
Come to think about it, the anchorites, in this story, while not actually religious hermits have chosen to live outside this world.
In all, the story is a sharp commentary on authoritarian society, whether paternalistic or maternalistic and a prediction as to where we might all be headed.
Normally, I like Phil Chenovert’s reading style in Garrett’s stories, but this time I thought it was a bit of too much. He has a sarcastic tone that usually matches Garrett’s style well, but this time it felt more than a little out of place in a story where the characters seemed to be a bit more serious than in many of Garrett’s pieces at the time he wrote this so the sarcastic tones seemed out of place.
Even more annoying were the outrageous accents of Captain St. Simon’s pilot. I think Garrett meant them to be outrageous and Mister Chenovert probably read them exactly as the author intended, but sometimes such mannerisms read better than they sound and it might have been a better idea to tone them down a little in the actual reading.
Can I truly fault the reader for doing as the author intended? Well, I think I just did. The accents jarred on the ears, though they must have been fun for Phil Chenovert to read.
So we have an interesting and insightful story on societal trends and with some predictions that might be all too accurate combined with good hard science in a mix that worked well, and while I might have preferred a little less schmaltz on the part of the reader, I might be too hard on him. Why not listen to this one and decide for yourself?