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|Author||Michael Z. Williamson|
|Cover artist||David Mattingly|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|LC Class||CPB Box no. 2303 vol. 6|
|Followed by||The Weapon|
Freehold is a Prometheus Award nominated science fiction novel written by Michael Z. Williamson, published in 2004 by Baen Books. The Freehold series is continued in The Weapon, which begins prior to Freehold and ends approximately two years afterwards.
Earth in the future has become a rough society where pervasive bureaucratic regulation by a global (and extra-solar) UN means everything happens slowly, permits and licenses are required for most activities, all law-abiding citizens are tracked by computer implants constantly, and workers at all levels are unmotivated. Crime is basically unchecked: rape and burglary are considered commonplace and unavoidable, though still punishable. Petty theft and lesser crimes are all but ignored, and blame is attributed more to the victims than the perpetrators if they occur.
Kendra Pacelli is a logistics noncommissioned officer in the UN Protection Force (UNPF) until she is implicated in a scheme that involved stealing millions of dollars worth of materiel from the Protection Force. The UN Investigators are notorious for brutal interrogations of prisoners and the slow pace of the bureaucracy means exoneration is unlikely even though she is innocent. Warned by a friend, she decides to seek asylum with the Freehold colony, which is independent of UN control.
She moves to the colony, though due to the expense of her transit she must enter the colony’s indenturing program: an individual or a company assumes her debt and she pays it off gradually by working and having a portion taken out of her paycheck. Initially she is advised by Citizen Hernandez and finds work in city park services based on her experience with machinery in the UNPF.
Kendra finds an apartment close to her work, where she meets Robert McKay. He is an operations analyst as well as a highly decorated Freehold Military Forces veteran and a pilot of renowned skill who is involved in various real estate and other business ventures. She is eventually introduced to Marta Hernandez, a former combat medic, who is a high-priced escort. Kendra relies on them for her introduction to Freehold society.
Through her two friends, she slowly becomes acclimated to the totally free market society of Freehold. Differences she must deal with include total lack of regulation of anything, pervasive personal firearms ownership (including high caliber military surplus), relaxed mores regarding sex and dress (many people in Freehold go partially or completely naked without comment, and she eventually becomes involved in a ménage à trois with Rob and Marta), voluntary taxation, almost nonexistent crime, and minimal government infrastructure where voting only takes place to elect Citizens who serve as a governmental body and judges when absolutely necessary, which is rare.
The total lack of regulation on commerce causes the UN to impose sanctions on Freehold due to safety concerns, and Kendra is laid off from her job. At Rob’s suggestion, she enlists in Freehold’s military. She is required to go through basic training (which is noticeably more advanced than Earth/UN forces training (comparable to modern Ranger training)) and then through logistics training before she is assigned a billet as a corporal. Her superior, Alan Naumann, sends her to noncommissioned officer training after a short time, believing that war with Earth is imminent and unavoidable.
Earth soon sends a large group of prisoners and political extremists to Freehold, claiming Freehold volunteered to accept them. Against Naumann’s advice, the Freehold government accepts them. The malcontent people are quickly confused and affronted by Freehold’s society: the criminals who try to operate are often shot by the armed citizenry or challenged to legal duels and die, and the political people assume the lack of voting or regulation means they have no say in how things are run and stage protests and riots which have to be put down. Earth’s media uses these incidents as propaganda to suggest Freehold is oppressive and savage and must be civilized by force.
A covert operation from Earth attempts to infiltrate Freehold, but the UNPF forces are grossly incompetent; they are mostly eliminated by automated defenses or captured by citizens or regular FMF military. In retaliation, a Freehold covert unit subverts and destroys the main UNPF military HQ on Earth. Earth uses that as an excuse to launch an invasion.
Naumann becomes the de facto commander of the entire FMF military, which doesn’t attempt to put up a direct defense against the numerically superior UNPF forces. Naumann instead uses his military people to immediately organize the armed citizenry and conduct guerilla warfare. Kendra is stranded out in the rural sections of the planet, and becomes a commander of a local guerrilla force made up of a large community of farming families. She starts becoming hostile and participates in some brutality and violence beyond the rules of war. At one point, her prior criminal record on Earth is brought up and a reward offered, which requires her to shoot some of her colleagues who want to turn her in.
The UN forces are hampered by the realities of Freehold: 90% of freehold is armed, a large number are military service veterans, the planet has gravity 1.18 times that of Earths', they do not know the terrain, and there is no government infrastructure for them to assimilate. Eventually Naumann calls in the guerillas and organizes a massive counter-offensive in which Kendra is charged with holding an infantry line against a numerically superior force with little support. She is seriously wounded in the effort, but holds her line and the UN forces are defeated. Kendra helps with the systematic urban warfare to clean out the cities, and in the process is raped. Naumann uses captured space materiel to launch orbital strikes on Earth and launches several black operations missions on large cities, causing massive death and destruction.
Earth negotiates a truce, and the aftermath is covered: Marta was assigned by Naumann to seduce and kill the UN general at Freehold, and in the process got captured, tortured, and gang-raped for an extended period, so must undergo counseling. Kendra tries to help, but must also undergo counseling about her violent actions as a guerilla. Rob had crashed and got infected with a nano-virus which renders him unable to fly. Kendra briefly considers returning to Earth (she is cleared of her crimes and offered compensation), but is convinced by Naumann and her friends to remain on Freehold. At a military award ceremony Kendra is bestowed the Citizen's Medal (the highest award in the FMF and the equivalent to the Medal of Honor) and later reunites with her friends as they look hopefully towards the future and begin to recover from their war wounds, both physically and emotionally.
- Kendra Pacelli – The main character for most of the book and primary viewpoint character. Kendra is twenty-five when the book starts and she is forced to escape. She is portrayed through most of the story as trying to cope with one surprise after another as she integrates into Freehold society, and other characters often praise abilities and qualities she does not feel she has. She is most comfortable in the military and exhibits leadership and bravery during the book’s events. She makes friends and lovers of Rob McKay and Marta Hernandez, though she is initially not comfortable with Marta most of the time unless Rob is around as well. She gets over this, however, and begins to enjoy being with Marta sexually as much as she does with Rob. She is promoted to Sergeant, Senior Sergeant, then Warrant Leader and is awarded three Purple Hearts as well as the Citizen's Medal by the end of the book. She becomes more comfortable on Freehold, though she and her friends are all stuck with emotional scars from the war that they have to work through.
- Robert (Rob) McKay – Originally Kendra’s neighbor, he introduces and explains most of the Freehold society to her. Rob also introduces her to Marta Hernandez and they all eventually become lovers. His official job is as an operations analyst but he holds many other business ventures, such as in real estate, in order to make enough money for his goal of becoming a Citizen. Rob is a renowned daredevil military pilot who still flies in the reserve forces and eventually transfers back to active duty when the war begins. A running gag in the book is that any veteran Kendra meets talks about how Rob saved their life in some way during combat. He encourages Kendra to enter the military after she is laid off from her first job. During the final battle with UNPF forces, he is shot down and infected with a nano-virus which causes him to hallucinate continually. He is eventually cured, but doing so renders him unable to fly and he struggles with accepting that a major part of his life is gone.
- Marta Hernandez – Marta is introduced to Kendra by Rob McKay. Marta is a high-priced escort who will offer sexual services to clients and also makes money selling erotic photos of herself. She is also a former medic and combat veteran, which is how she knows Rob. She is portrayed as bisexual and becomes lovers with both Rob and Kendra. She is responsible for most of Kendra’s practical exposure to Freehold society. During the UN war, she is promoted to Sergeant and volunteers to become the UNPF general’s lover, killing him just as the final battle starts. She becomes subsequently captured, tortured, and repeatedly gang-raped, necessitating much therapy and recuperation afterward. She is awarded a Prisoner's Service Medal as well as a Purple Heart. She recovers enough to resume her relationship with Kendra and Rob, but changes her professional limits.
- Alan Naumann – initially presented as Kendra’s superior officer, he is a no-nonsense, by the book commander whose opinion is respected by many in Freehold. He is often brought as an advisor to governmental matters and represents the hard-line military opinion, stating from his introduction that he believes Earth cannot tolerate Freehold society's existence and war is inevitable. He is promoted from Commander to Colonel and becomes the leader of all Freehold forces once Earth invades. He is a stoic and often emotionless leader who exhibits great tactical intelligence and whose strategies and powerful personality have earned him the title "Madman Naumann". He encourages Kendra to stay on Freehold even after she is given the chance to return to Earth and eventually promotes her to Warrant Leader. It is revealed in The Weapon that he originally came from the ranks of Special Warfare in the FMF, most likely serving as a Black Operations agent, or "Blazer", before gaining the rank of commander and transferring to command Kendra's unit.
- Citizen Peter Chinratana – a Citizen, or political leader, of Freehold, he becomes involved with all of the post-war negotiations and works closely with Naumann. He is chastised for grievously killing an Earth refugee, who raped a fifteen-year-old girl, during a legal dual in the middle of a courtroom (Chinratana shoots him in the groin). However, he is never reprimanded for this and later states if he could do it again he would have "shot him so he died slower".
- Citizen Hernandez - Initially deals with Kendra's indenture case and finds her a job and lodging when she first arrives. He is also Marta's father and is a very compassionate and driven man. In The Weapon it is implied he is a military veteran. His fate is left ambiguous towards the end of the book.
- Tom Calan – a Freeholder who operates an employment service, he is considered by most to be a dishonest, selfish person. After being snubbed trying to get Kendra to work as an escort or exotic dancer, he develops a grudge. He provides the UN forces with details of her Earth criminal record as well as other vital intelligence that results in the deaths of hundreds of Freeholders, as well as Rob being shot down. After the UN invasion fails, Rob tortures and kills him.
- Jim Wayland – A military non-commissioned officer who works with Kendra, he is portrayed as someone who skirts the edge of regulations in order to berate others in the service and flatter superiors. Naumann eventually kicks him out of the military. He becomes a guerrilla commander and tries to criticize Kendra’s group’s tactics and targets. Kendra eventually kills him when he tries to get her to surrender so he can turn her into the UN forces.
- Dak Simonsen - A farmer in a rural area of Freehold who becomes a guerrilla fighter under the leadership of Kendra. He is a very respectful man who holds Kendra in high regard. He is shown to be very brutal to UN soldiers, most likely due to their bio weapons killing his young daughter, and does not object to the torture and execution of prisoners. He saves Kendra as she is being raped in Delph by killing all the enemy soldiers attacking her and is partially responsible for Kendra receiving her Citizen's Medal.
- Drew Jaheed- A combat medic and friends with Marta and Rob. Kendra first meets him a couple of days after arriving on Grainne when she faints from the atmosphere and he tends to her. He is a member of Rob and Marta's unit and has an infatuation with redheads.
- Janine Maartens- The Freehold of Grainne Ambassador to Earth, she assists Kendra in escaping Earth and gaining asylum on Grainne. She is compassionate but very driven and dedicated to her planet. When the UN begins placing sanctions of Grainne, Maartens and her staff are forced to evacuate. She is killed when her shuttle is sabotaged and blows up.
- Jelsie Romar- A red-headed and deeply religious corporal in the Freehold Military Forces, she is originally a guard at the Grainne embassy on Earth who is assigned to watch over Kendra when she breaks into the embassy and becomes her first friend from Freehold. She is killed in a major battle near the end of the book and posthumously receives the Citizen's Medal and a promotion to Senior Sergeant.
- Sergeant Carpender- An FMF drill sergeant, he initially greets Kendra when she arrives for basic training and briefs her on everything she needs to know before beginning training. His personality quickly shifts when training begins, however, as he becomes aggressive and brutal. He affectionately names Kendra "Icebitch" but despite his hateful comments, he truly wants his troops to succeed and become better soldiers. He shows up at Kendra's award ceremony, now with the rank of Warrant Leader and promises to keep in touch.
- Kenneth Chinran- An FMF Special Warfare Captain and sleeper agent on Earth who contracts Kendra to consult him and his unit on Earth culture in order for them to effectively blend in. After the first failed UN invasion of Grainne, Chinran and his unit are activated and proceed to destroy a major UN military base, as well as additional Earth infrastructure later in the war. His story is expanded in later Freehold novels and it is revealed he was married and had a daughter.
- Hiroki Stewart- The owner of the park and Kendra's first boss. He is a very respectful and honor bound man who finds great personal shame if he is unable to reward employees with raises or is forced to lay them off, though he has no sympathy for criminals forced into labor. He lays Kendra off when the park is no longer able to afford her services but offers her job back after the war begins and production causes an economic increase. She respectfully declines since she had joined the military at that point.