LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #1. LARRY NIVEN “Cloak of Anarchy.” First published in Analog SF, March 1972. First collected in Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (Ballantine, paperback, 1975).

   Some time in the near future, when “modern transportation systems” have made automobiles obsolete, the question is, what should be done with all of the roads in the United States that are no longer needed?

   The answer, as far as Los Angeles and the 405 (the San Diego Freeway) is concerned, is to cover it over with dirt and grass and make a people’s park of it. Anyone can do do anything there, except for one rule: no violence is allowed. This rule is monitored and enforced by a large number of basketball-sized “copseyes” floating in the air above the park.

   What happens, though, when the monitoring system breaks down? It isn’t instantaneous, but you can imagine it yourself, and it isn’t pretty. Niven’s touch is largely light-hearted, though, up to a certain point, and the story is filled with all kinds of well-defined characters, even if most of them do not have much screen time.

   The basic theme: Anarchy isn’t stable. Or, absolute freedom is highly overrated. The story itself is chock full of ideas, bouncing all over each other and all over the place, and all of them are interesting. Example: What was it the replaced the automobile? Who is the beautiful girl with the fifteen feet of flowing cloak?


NOTE:   Over the next few weeks, I plan to continue working my way through this Best of the Year anthology and reporting on each of the stories in it. I think the era of the early 1970s was a good one for the kind of SF I like to read. As I go forward, let’s see how true that statement is and whether or not you agree.