Review: 'Freedom City', by Phil Geusz
Freedom City may be Phil Geusz’s most didactic s-f novel to date. The undated setting is roughly 100 years in the future. The locale is Freedom City, a nation-state on a very large and complex artificial platform constructed in international waters in the Caribbean. Geusz’s futuristic bioengineering transmutation science is displayed here. Most citizens of Freedom City are happy to remain human, but Harvey Foote, the protagonist, and his major rival have had themselves transmuted into a funny-animal rabbit and a cat for pertinent reasons. The rabbit-man has a large rabbit staff; so does the cat-man, but his staff includes funny-animal tigers, pumas, lions, leopards, a Siamese cat, lynxes, jaguars, and every feline that can be imagined. The story makes it clear that not only have humans chosen to be turned into anthropomorphic animals, there have been gender and age changes as well. Foote is a dynamically young 83 years old.
The novel is narrated by the rabbit-man, who is the manager of the Rabbit’s Foot Casino, the largest (76 floors) hotel/casino on Freedom City. He has had himself and his staff bioengineered into funny-animal rabbits partly as publicity for his Rabbit’s Foot, but mostly as a statement of individuality; to show what Freedom City’s science and technology can do, and to thumb their noses at the U.S. government which says, “You aren’t allowed to do that!”
In the Prologue, Foote makes clear that a long-standing rivalry exists between Freedom City and the USA. Freedom City was constructed to be a new nation for those escaping from the increasingly stultifying laws and confiscatory taxations of the United States.
Only mainlanders were obsessed with limitations, I mused as I turned and stepped back inside to face another in an endless series of busy, fulfilling days. They’d tried to impose their crippling self-imposed limits upon us as well, and worked damnably hard at it. The USA had hampered Freedom’s construction every step of the way, and still claimed from time to time that we were an illegal outpost of Americans created as a haven by the evil rich solely in order to evade fair taxation and social responsibility. (pgs. 6-7)
The opening scenes are a travelogue to display what Freedom City looks like, and a brief set-up to display the sociological and legal differences between Freedom City and the USA. A careless American tourist, visiting to take advantage of Freedom’s gambling, is mugged, robbed, and left for dead; he is rescued by Foote. The American expects that the Freedom government will replace his stolen money and cover all his medical expenses. Where is the government to get the money? Tax somebody.
‘Geez!’ Sally commented, rolling her eyes. ‘What a loser! I can deal with REAL charity cases – people with physical limitations, or those who honestly can’t work for some reason or another. It’s sad, though I can deal with it. You, though? You were just stupid. And now you expect others to pay for your own bad decisions? Selfish, you are! Just plain selfish!’ (p. 21)
Geusz hammers the Libertarian creed with surprising heavy-handedness. Fortunately, he quickly gets past this and to telling the story. The next few dozen pages show Foote going about running his businesses. Since Freedom practices Libertarianism, and Foote is a multimillionaire who he can do whatever he wants with his money, he mainly concentrates on business. It is fortunate that he is shrewd, reasonable, commonsensical, charitable, a believer in compromises, a benevolent boss to his employees, and an all-around paragon of Capitalism. There are also frequent examples of how being turned into rabbit-men and –women has made Foote and his employees into better people.
Another major character is Beatrice Foote. When Bea is introduced, it is as Foote’s computer; a seemingly especially intelligent AI who can keep track of Foote anywhere on Freedom. The truth is that Bea is Foote’s wife and partner of many decades. When Foote allowed himself to be remade as a semi-rabbit, Bea went one step farther and had her brain transferred into a Brainbox with many links. Foote also shares a mental link with Freedom’s super-computer, for increased memory storage, ability to process additional data for decision-making, and so on. But Bea has become an almost pure Brain, encased in “a titanium sphere with a few leads attached here and there.” (p. 61)
In addition to acting as Freedom’s ultra-efficient secretary while connected to its computer, which only takes a small portion of her mental energy, Bea’s real interest is in the Foote Institute for Gengineering, doing pure research with a staff of scientific experts who are also computer-connected.
‘I’m a fully-qualified doctor because I can access Dr. Phillips’ mental abilities. How exactly is that different from reading all the books he’s read and taking all the same cases he took, then studying his case histories? Was he stealing the talents of his instructors when he used THEIR knowledge to complete the mesosaur and the pleiosaur projects?’ (p. 56)
Bea divides her time between “being in” Freedom’s computer to facilitate the city-state's necessary social maintenance (run its fire-prevention services, etc.) and conducting her scientific research, and returning to her “meat” body to perform regular maintenance to keep it healthy. Foote and Bea still love each other deeply, and he tries to always be there when she transfers back into her rabbitized physical body for exercise; but he can’t help feeling that they are drifting apart.
Foote and Felix Morris, the cat-man manager of The Cat House, are longstanding professional rivals but personal friends. The status quo between them has existed for a long time, to their mutual satisfaction, so they are mildly upset when a new rival comes to their attention. The Aces High Casino is more sleazily-run, its management is unknown, and a security check seems to lead back to a USA crime family, the Lambinos. Foote’s attention to the entire hotel/casino industry on Freedom has made him aware that The Cat House is in serious financial trouble anyway, so he resolves to run both The Cat House and Aces High out of business and emerge with a hotel/casino monopoly on Freedom. He offers top terms to Morris and The Cat House’s staff, while Aces High’s personnel can look after themselves.
For the next few weeks, things go as planned. Then someone kidnaps and tries to murder Foote and Bea.
Geusz is an expert at putting his protagonists into seemingly-inescapable death traps and working out last-minute yet plausible escapes. This time, though – well, read the novel. I’ll just say that there is a much higher body count than usual.
When things return to “normal”, Foote and what passes for the government on Freedom City look for whom the assassins were working for. To give away a minor spoiler, it was the U.S. government and the Mafia in cooperation. There is precedent; the U.S. military and the Mafia cooperated against Mussolini during World War II. But why now? The USA has hated Freedom City for decades; what has changed that would make the American government team up with organized crime and resort to assassination now? What will they do next? And how can Freedom City, which has no military, defend itself? Geusz provides answers that you might not expect.
This is Part One of Freedom City, pages 5 to 177. Except for the Prologue and some very minor revisions, it is what was originally published as “Freedom City” by Infinite Imagination eBooks in 2001. Part Two, “Pilgrim”, pages 179 to 267, is (as far as I know) a brand new story. [Ed: TSAT's review suggests it was originally a "bonus"]
Chris Standish, an American prevented from opening a small-business restaurant by a mountain of rules and regulations that would force him to quickly fail, emigrates to Freedom City. This is set just after the events in the preceding story, but is not a sequel. Chris realizes intellectually that he must succeed on his own; that there is no governmental safety net to fall back upon. But he is not prepared for how brutal the reality is. This is Freedom City from the bottom, not the top. It is truly dog eat dog, survival of the fittest; and Chris still has too many scruples at first to compete with those willing to undercut him. He can always accept employment at one of Harvey Foote’s establishments. But Chris stubbornly wants to make it as his own boss, not someone else’s employee. He doesn’t want to become a bunny rabbit, either. Perseverance finally pays off – can you guess how?
The final seven pages of Freedom City are a preview of Manifest Destiny, its sequel. This is another older work; its original copyright date is November 2003. It will be good to have them both available again.
Freedom City, the earlier edition, may be the only Furry novel with its own type font! It is not used here, but it is still available from Anthro Press. [Eurofurence also has one, which it once used for badges.]