I have only read Wright’s Golden Age trilogy, not any of his other novels. I can say that I greatly enjoyed the trilogy. Not only is it good science fiction but it is explicitly libertarian science fiction. There is a distinct Randian influence evident in the main character’s words and actions as well as in the setting and plot.
As a libertarian, I do have a few problems with the libertarian society Wright dramatizes, however. One is that I am skeptical of any government remaining as limited as his over such a long period of time. Unfortunately, Wright, quoted in the article, makes clear that he is not a “true-blue libertarian.” Whatever that means. But better mostly libertarian than mostly not. However, his description of the type of government he thought he had to create for his fictional world in order to make his plot possible makes me wonder how well he understands the nature of the state. How did his government get to be so ultra-minimalist and how did it manage to stay that way? Wright doesn’t provide an adequate explanation. The only workings of the government we are made directly privy to are the (literally) one man army and the “Supreme Court.”
The second major sticking point is a major plot device without which the novels would have been very different indeed. A major part of the ills that pervade Wright’s libertarian society stem from its universal and rigid acceptance of intellectual property rights. Like a good number of libertarians, albeit not a majority, I believe that intellectual property rights are illegitimate (see here and here). Remove them from Wright’s fictional world and many major problems stemming from them disappear. In a society of immortals the royalties accruing from intellectual property will be endless and bountiful. It is thus no surprise that Wright’s fictional society is dominated by a relative handful of mostly older immortals who are absurdly wealthy and control some of the most vital technology. In effect, their dominance is subsidized by the state. Given the obvious ills IP causes in the trilogy it wouldn’t have been difficult to have the main protagonists at least come to doubt its legitimacy, but alas.
But again, these quibbles aside, I enjoyed the books very much. They were well-written, imaginative, engrossing and very explicitly libertarian. At least one of the three books should have won the Prometheus Award. Perhaps this oversight will be rectified with a Hall of Fame or Special Award.
Given the strong Randian influence, it came as no surprise to me that Wright was an atheist while writing these books. In his own words, a “vehement, argumentative, proselytizing atheist.” I am disappointed to find out that he renounced his atheism, but glad that he survived the heart attack that precipitated his conversion to Christianity. Still, to speculate a bit, it is not so surprising to me that someone I would describe as a militant atheist would have a change of heart. It seems to me there is something similar psychologically about this kind of atheist and proselytizing, especially fundamentalist, Christians. There is something defensive about it* and that to me implies doubt. A mid-life crisis like a near-death experience can be powerful fertilizer for that seed. Ayn Rand was an atheist; not as a primary or starting point, however, but as a consequence of her philosophy. Hence, she described herself not as a militant atheist (or some similar combination of adjectives) but as an intransigent atheist.
*Granted religious conservatives and radical Islamists periodically give us reason to be defensive and even worried, but not enough in my mind to justify it dominating one’s life to the point one can be described as “vehement, argumentative, [and] proselytizing” (or militant).