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Literature / The Ungoverned

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The Ungoverned is a science fiction novella by Vernor Vinge, first published in 1985.

It is a sequel to The Peace War, although there are no returning characters. Set some decades later, it involves an attempt by the Republic of New Mexico (one of many independent nations in what used to be the USA) to invade the "ungoverned" lands to its north.

It introduces Wil Brierson, who is also the protagonist of the next novel in the series, Marooned in Realtime.

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The Ungoverned was first published in the Baen Books anthology Far Frontiers III, and has subsequently been republished in several other themed anthologies and in collections of Vinge's short fiction.


The Ungoverned contains examples of:

  • Crazy Survivalist: Jake Schwartz, a farmer who "went armadillo" and has spent the last three years stockpiling as much military-grade firepower as possible, including illegal nuclear weapons.
  • Mundane Utility: Bobbles, the cutting-edge technology that was at the center of The Peace War, have become widespread and developed everyday uses, some of which are described or demonstrated.
  • Divided States of America: During the events of The Peace War, the former United States was fractured into numerous smaller nations, including the Republic of New Mexico, the feudal autocracy of Atzlan (formerly southern California) and the "ungoverned lands", a region with no central government where the peace is kept by protection companies. In The Ungoverned, the divisions remain, and nobody seems much interested in reassembling the former Union.
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  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The true nature of the Bobbles is a big plot twist in The Peace War, but they're mentioned casually in passing in this story.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Protection companies like MSP and Al's Protection Racket are the closest thing the ungoverned lands have to state authorities. Signing up for protection requires also signing on to an associated private legal system like Justice, Inc., or Midwest Jurisprudence, and agreeing to be bound by their code of conduct. From the perspective of a protection company, a national government in war mode is just another crime gang to be dealt with the same way as any other.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: When the invasion starts in The Ungoverned, local law enforcement sends a request up the line for an army to come fight it. What they get is Wil Brierson.
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  • Superweapon Surprise: Kansans in The Ungoverned use Bobble devices on remote-operated rockets to destabilize tornadoes before they form, and a one-tonne rocket turns out to also make a decent guided missile...

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