The Probability Broach

The Probability Broach is the first novel in the North American Confederacy series by L. Neil Smith. Not to be confused with the Probability Broach, which is the mechanism used to travel between universes.

From the Wikipedia article on the Probability Broach:

The Probability Broach is the first novel (1980) by science fiction writer L. Neil Smith. It is set in an alternate history, the so-called Gallatin Universe, where a libertarian society has formed on the North American Continent, styled the North American Confederacy.

Point of Divergence

The ostensible point of divergence leading to the North American Confederacy (NAC) is the addition of a single word in the preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence, wherein it states that governments "derive their just power from the unanimous consent of the governed." Inspired by this wording, Albert Gallatin intercedes in the Whiskey Rebellion to the benefit of the farmers, rather than the fledgling United States government. This eventually leading to the execution of George Washington, the abrogation of the U.S. Constitution, and the reestablishment of government under the revised Articles of Confederation. Over the ensuing century, the remnants of central government dissipate. Thomas Jefferson successfully leads the abolitionist movement to a peaceful end to slavery in 1820, and the absence of government interference creates a Libertarian utopia where science and medicine advance at a significantly greater pace than in our baseline history. Alexander Graham Bell, freed from the duties of inventing the telephone by an earlier inventor, develops a voder technology which allows recognition that chimpanzees, gorillas, and other simians are sentient, and the greater primates are granted citizenship rights equivalent to all races of humans. Later, dolphins and orcas reveal their sentience and join the the land civilizations. In 1892, almost all North American Nations (California, Canada, Mexico, Newfoundland, Cuba, etc) join together to form the NAC, a new nation whose government has almost no powers and which allows its citizenry to do as it pleases (so long as they don't violate anyone else's rights). The NAC is not involved in any major wars as a country, but a massive cohort of volunteers arises to fight whenever Federalist and Federalist sympathizers disturb the peace, most notably in Prussia in 1918, and against the Czar of Russia in Antarctica in 1950 (where the naval action is led by the NAC version of Robert A. Heinlein). Other famous persons named in the series include NAC president Ayn Rand, who visits the Moon in the 1950s, and earlier NAC President H. L. Mencken (who was killed by his vice-president's mother after killing his vice-president in a duel). A west coast university is named after historical San Francisco eccentric Emperor Norton. By the start of the novel in 1986, the NAC spans the continent as an utterly powerless entity, with the presidency a largely honorary role preserved only as a coordinator of actions in national emergencies. Along the way, the libertarian philosophies of the Gallatin Party in the NAC remain in conflict with the remnants of Federalist party (sometimes referred to as Hamiltonians, after the man considered the real villain in the old United States, Alexander Hamilton, which continues to promote strong central government.

Plot summary

Edward William "Win" Bear is a Ute Indian who works for the Denver Police Department in a version of the United States projected (by 1986) to be controlled by an anti-business, ecofascist faction complete with a new Federal Security Police (FSP, or "SecPol" as it is more commonly known) reminiscent of the Gestapo. Called to investigate the unusual murder of physicist Vaughn Meiss, Bear eventually finds himself projected into the NAC by means of the "Probability Broach," an interdimensional conduit originally developed as a means for interstellar travel in the NAC by the dolphin physicist Ooloorie Eckickeck P'Wheet. There he encounters his NAC counterpart, Edward William "Ed" Bear, and Ed's neighbors, most notably the beautiful "healer" Clarissa Olson and the incorrigible Lucy Kropotkin, who is later revealed to be 135 years old at the time of the story. Lucy's life becomes the vantage point by which Win is acclimated to life in the NAC and Laporte (the NAC equivalent to Denver). Win and Ed unravel the mystery of the Meiss murder, learning that he was killed to hide an effort by SecPol to conquer the NAC with the help of Hamiltonian forces on the NAC side (led by none other than Prussian expatriate and 1918 war hero Manfred von Richthofen, known here as the Red Knight of Prussia). Win, Ed, Lucy and Clarissa lead the effort to notify the nascent NAC government of the threat, and later single-handedly resolve the problem. Win elects to remain in the NAC and marries Clarissa. Ed marries Lucy (who at the time of the story was awaiting a delayed "regeneration" due to an accident involving massive radiation exposure) and sets out for the asteroid belt to build a new life for themselves on the NAC frontier.

See the article on L. Neil Smith for further details of this novel sequence.

Presidents of the Old United States/North American Confederacy

The Probability Broach includes a timeline for the History of the United States, which includes a listing of those who followed Washington and Gallatin as the American Presidents. In this history, the US merged with several other nations to form the North American Confederacy in 1893. From that point, the individuals listed here are considered Presidents of the NAC. Note that many of these individuals are prominent in the history of either Anarchism or Libertarianism.

In the sequel, The Venus Belt, it was revealed that Olongo Featherstone-Haugh (pronounced "Fanshaw"), the gorilla who served as Vice-President in this book, had been elected President. At the end, Olongo retires and "None of the Above" (always an option on the ballot) is returned to office.

External links

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