G. Harry Stine’s 1983 Manna is a standalone near-future1 science fiction novel.
Alexander Sandhurst Baldwin, formerly a Captain in the United States Aerospace Force, arrives in Topaway, the capital of the United Mitanni Commonwealth, knowing very little about the East African nation. What he does know is the Landlimo Corporation offered him a job, which the disgraced Aerospace Force officer very much needs.
It’s just as well that his research efforts turned up little info re Mitanni, because most of the available info is pure lies, put out by the dastardly Tripartite Coalition , enemies of free nations everywhere! Although in 2050, the list of free nations everywhere has but one major entry: the Mitanni Commonwealth.
Having realized that the Solar System’s resources are so huge that humanity has entered an era of post-scarcity, the Mitanni have shed old statist ways in favour of a glorious libertarian state(albeit one with universal military training for all citizens2). The minimalist state is backed up by a healthy assortment of companies, each one fulfilling some state function at a fraction of the cost of conventional governments.
This unconventional approach is an affront to the Rothschildian bankers who secretly run the Western world. Worse, it could serve as an example to other nations. Thus, the Tripartite Coalition is keen to find some way to force the Commonwealth to come into line with accepted practices. They believe they have found the lever they need in a proposed space import-export levy,
The levy would require nations to collect taxes on space cargoes. The official purpose is to reduce the tax burden for those nations who have subsidized space utilization in the past and to aid the world’s non-space nations who don’t yet benefit from space industry and power. The true purpose is to force the Commonwealth to start collecting taxes at Mitanni’s Vamori Free Space Port, which accounts for forty percent of the world’s space commerce. The Commonwealth has no mechanism to collect taxes and to adopt one would be an affront to their free way of life.
Baldwin was hired in part for his space expertise, but mostly because as a former Aerospace Force officer, he has military insight of a nature that the Commonwealth lacks. Having rejected the space levy, the Commonwealth is now a pariah nation. The world’s news agencies, owned by one Tripartite front or another, are busily painting the Commonwealth in a light little inhibited by mere facts. The propaganda war is merely the first step in a grander plan to crush the Commonwealth. Baldwin’s advice is valuable in case subsequent steps are military.
As, indeed, they are. In fact, the Coalition is so determined to put an end to the Commonwealth they will risk triggering a global war.
There is so much to discuss about this book! For example, I didn’t pull the Rothschilds out of a hat: they’re mentioned specifically in the section about how bankers secretly run the world. Not that there’s anything overtly antisemitic in the book. In fact, the word “Jew” never appears . I suppose that it’s just that if Stine thought about a “shadowy group of financiers covertly orchestrating history” the next word that came to mind was “Rothschilds.”
One good point. The super-shiny libertarian paradise is African. How many 1980s  SF novels feature a thriving, wealthy African nation that other nations of the world should take as an example? Scratch that: how many SF novels, period, don’t write the entire region off as “irrefragable Africa,” portray it as forever trapped in the past, or obliterate large swaths of it in the name of plot? SF novels not written by writers of African descent, I mean?
It looks like Stine is setting up a classic Mighty Whitey story by having the Commonwealth seek out Baldwin for his military insight. Baldwin concludes that the Commonwealth is superior to the USA and must be saved … and then? Baldwin proves somewhat useful but not critical; not Mighty Whitey at all. Crucial battles are won thanks to social practices that were long established before Baldwin turned up.
On the other hand, there are a lot of if only moments in the book.
- If only the African nations that take an active role were not a collection of Ruritanias, of the sort that makes one wonder whether Stine’s regional research might be best described as “aspirational.” The only “Topawa” I could find, for example, is in Arizona. Arizona is not traditionally counted as an East African nation.
- If only Stine had managed to write about an African Ruritania without mentioning cannibalism. Or at least not using promises of cannibalism as a common threat uttered by irate Commonwealthers.
- If only the nations surrounding the Commonwealth were not stereotypical African nations of the sort one expects from Western authors of this period.
- If only Stine had opted for a term other than Yellow Menace to denote the Commonwealth’s Chinese allies.
- If only Stine had decided not to describe a diverse population as “a mixture of nearly every humanoid type on Earth.”
- If only Stine had managed to establish the superiority of the Commonwealth’s way of life in some manner other than vigorous handwaving and passing citation of ill-defined “metalaw.”
- If only the prose were not rather turgid, and the characters were not cardboard.
- If only there had ever been any hint the Commonwealth could actually lose.
This is an interesting example of an author setting out to write a remarkable work while lacking many of the tools required to accomplish the task.
Manna is out of print.
1: Oddly, although it was set 67 years in the future when first published, it is now set only 29 years in the future.
2: Note: training, not service. All does mean all. If one is a living citizen, the state provides suitable training.
3: Jews don’t show up in an infodump re the Commonwealth’s religious demographics: Catholics: 11%; Protestants: 22%; Muslim: 32%; Hindu: 21%; other: 14%. Presumably, there are so few they are lumped into Other.
4: Speaking of the 1980s, the power blocs mentioned are the Tripartite Coalition (Americas, Europa, and Japan), the Socialist Hegemony (which I think is also known as the Soviet Empire), Confederation of PetroFed (basically OPEC) and of course, the Yellow Menace, also known as China.
Despite the name, the Yellow Menace is very short on menacing behavior, preferring instead to be enigmatic. In fact, they’re actively trying to modernize despite many challenges not least of which is having lost a major war with Russia in the not-too-distant past. I will give Stine this: no matter how regrettable his label for China is, he does not see it as a