Kings of the High Frontier

Victor Koman’s Kings of the High Frontier shows us a world a few years in our future where a number of individuals, from billionaire Larry Poubelle to smuggler Marcus Grant, seek to shrug off the combined shackles of Earth’s gravity and Earth’s government to live among the stars.

Caught between the astro-entrepreneurs and the sinister government forces that would stop them is Tammy Reis, an accomplished astronaut who suffers from nightmares that began after the Challenger tragedy and NASA’s reaction to it. In many ways, Kings is her story as she transforms from a believer in NASA’s mission to one of its fiercest opponents. Koman tells her story and those of the four private groups striving for space as they struggle against a government conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep humanity on Earth.

Atlas Shrugged in Space!

Victor Koman’s Kings of the High Frontier is a libertarian science fiction fan’s dream come true. Koman combines Ayn Rand-esque characters from Atlas Shrugged with the daring and genius of Burt Rutan to create a fun, stirring, and engaging thriller about private individuals seeking freedom in orbit. Tammy Reis is Dagny Taggart-like at times in the lengths she goes to defend the institution that is killing her. Marcus Grant, while not the loquacious philosopher of John Galt, does provide a mysterious nemesis for Tammy to chase in much the same way as Dagny sought Galt. Instead of Rand’s Eddie Willers being the man of integrity who breaks his back to serve those who would destroy him, here there is Gerald Cooper, the CEO of an aerospace company that came up with an ingenious new spacecraft design decades ago but made the mistake of trying to sell it to NASA, only to be delayed by one meaningless change request after another. There’s even an Ellsworth Toohey-like villain who pulls the strings of all those who seek space, promoting the worst and frustrating the best.

Koman also borrows heavily from Heinlein, particularly The Man Who Sold the Moon, with Koman’s Larry Poubelle evoking Heinlein’s Harry Harriman as he attempts to ignite the public’s imagination and capitalize on his effort to reach the stars. And what novelist could borrow from Heinlein without including at least a few free spirited and gorgeous women? To paraphrase the Objectivist Center’s Ed Hudgin’s views on when space will become commercially successful — “Sex sells, especially in zero-g!”

But beyond these obvious (and, admittedly, welcome) influences, Koman crafts a stirring narrative about daring individuals going after the dream of freedom. Their enemies come in the forms of government red tape and, at the last, conspiracies to stop them in any way possible. The stories of the various teams trying to get to space intertwine entertainingly and lead to a great climax and final fight.

The technology in Kings is very similar to today’s. In fact, all of the various spacecraft designs have actually been proposed and shown merit in the last several decades. The only future technology in the book is an internet that features a large amount of virtual reality, but nothing too outlandish. All in all, fans of hard science fiction fans should be pleased. I’d even go so far as to say that even those who dislike science fiction shouldn’t have a problem with the book’s level of technology, especially given the recent flights of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne.

Speaking of SpaceShipOne, Kings has lost some of its punch now that there has been a successful private flight to outer space (albeit a suborbital one). Not only that, but our real-world government has been, if not supportive, at least permissive, of the efforts of the various entrepreneurs who tried to win the Ansari X-Prize. Compared to the real world, it turns out that the most fantastic element of Kings is the lengths the government and its minions go to while trying to prevent private space flight in the novel. Also, despite the references to Rand and Heinlein, Koman doesn’t wield quite the literary skill that either of them did for penning narrative. Still, the story is easily engaging and the plot makes up for any awkward turns of phrase.

Bitterly Sweet

And now I feel I should come clean. For almost my entire youth I wanted to design rockets. I studied aerospace engineering in college and fully planned on working for one of the big aerospace firms or even NASA or JPL after picking up my master’s.

Somewhere in college though I ran into objectivism and libertarianism, and the thought of going to work for the government or one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries in the form of Boeing or Lockheed lost its appeal. By the time my senior year rolled around I was being wined and dined by Big Five consulting companies desperate for talent at the beginning of the tech boom that didn’t care if I hardly knew how to program. The lure of riches, travel, and career advancement was a welcome alternative to a lifetime spent working on a random satellite designed to collect rock samples on a planet man would never likely set foot on, and destined to crash into that planet due to a simple conversion error.

In short, I ate up Kings of the High Frontier like a starving man teleported into an Old Country Buffet. I could enjoy it as a libertarian, as an aerospace engineer, as a science fiction fan, and as a dreamer in search of what could have been. I may be skewed in my review.

Game Details

  • Kings of the High Frontier
  • by Victor Koman
  • Final Frontier Books
  • 576 pages
  • ISBN: 0966566203
  • MSRP: $24.95 (Hardcover signed edition)
  • Buy it from Amazon.com
  • Rating: 8/10