Re-entering the Probability Broach
I stumbled on a copy of L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach while weeding through a dusty closet last weekend and thought I’d revisit it. I last read the novel in the early ’80s, shortly after it won the Prometheus Award, and I recall my excitement then about its sly “inside” references to the libertarian movement. I loved its alternate history. The story was pretty damn clever. And even after two decades of disappointment over every other Smith novel I’ve struggled to finish, Broach holds up pretty well. It’s still very entertaining, and the historical twists are spot-on wonderful. But in retrospect, The Probability Broach now stands more as a good “first of its kind” than it does a great novel. Characters are two-dimensional, even when they’re front-and-center to the story. Smith stretches for cornball humor that’s too often, well, just inappropriate to the plot. And there’s a bit too much fawning over guns, even for my taste (and most people consider me a gun nut). But a new standard for libertarian fiction was set by The Probability Broach when it first appeared 25 years ago. And for that reason, I’m fond of it and will probably give it still another look a few years from now.