del Rey: Badge of Infamy (1963)

BadgeEarlier this week I listened to the audio version of Lester del Rey‘s Badge of Infamy. I cannot call it books-on-tape, because it was not on a tape. Most audio books come on CDs anyway. But this was just a set of MP3 files, chapter-by-chapter, that I downloaded from librivox.org. This was the first (of many more I hope) book I got from there. The volunteer reader did a great job of reading the whole book for everybody’s listening pleasure.

The hero was a doctor who was shunned by the powerful medical lobby/association, because he operated a friend outside an authorized hospital. This single sentence shows that the book was written in the best sci-fi tradition of taking an existing trend of the present and demonstrating what could happen in the future if it gets exaggerated. Nowadays independent thinkers often worry about corporations having too much power and influence over our lives. But 45 years ago, when the book was first published, the professional associations seemed also threatening. Today, some say, the AMA is a influential lobby fighting against universal healthcare in the US. Del Rey’s vision of the direction of the lobby might have been slightly off target. But the costs of healthcare went up more than ten fold the last 30 years and a lot of it is due to the legal malpractice cases. So doctors are trying to protect themselves with insurance against it. In the book they chose another kind of protection, practicing medicine only under controlled and insured spaces.
But back to the book itself. The above was just a starting point of a fantastic journey, during which our pariah doctor finds himself at the center of the Martian revolt against Earth and researching (under extreme circumstances) a new plague and its cure. I believe nowadays it would not be politically correct to write a book where the cure (spoiler alert!!!) would involve a slightly addictive substance that is so similar to cigarette/tobacco. It precludes that the book ever would turn into a movie, at least not with this solution.

A main theme of the book is freedom. The hero’s traitorous wife believed in the kind of order (with limited freedoms) she was brought up. Under that world’s laws she believed she could reach power that she so desperately craved. But in a free world, like Mars became at the end she was warned, “You wouldn’t like what you find here. Freedom is heady stuff, but you have to have a taste for it. You can’t acquire a fondness for it secondhand.” That’s exactly what I see happening in Hungary nowadays. Lots of people do not like the freedom they got after the fall of communism. Sure, a major reason for that is the economic downfall and decrease in quality of life. But the reactions often go towards hoping that less freedom can improve their lives. I do not believe that it would work on the long term.

Meanwhile I finished the book over three hours. It had the right mix of motion and notion for me. Meaning it had enough action and fighting and fleeing to keep it moving (I wonder what will be the equivalent of the “pageturner” expression for audiobooks.) But it also made me think and appreciate the freedoms I have now

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