Virtual Freedom by Sean Kane
Hardcover – 323 pages (September 2001)
McArthur & Co.: ISBN 1552782425
Review by Asta Sinusas

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Virtual Freedom was first published in November 1998 by Ordinary Press, but in a limited run. McArthur & Co. is now brining it out in a larger run as it has since picked up a Leacock nomination.

Virtual Freedom is a glimpse into the future of higher education with deans and presidents acting as business managers. A not-so-distant place where one eye is focused on the bottom line and the other on corporate alliances, with no thought about the value of education, other than how it can be measured in tuition dollars and yearly magazine rankings. 

The tale begins at the start of an academic year with Cameron Galt coming in as the new Dean, his selection cemented by his friendship with Hugh D’Arnay, Chairman of the Board of Governors and owner of Andromeda Networks. Galt’s main mission is to behave as a manager and run Avalon U. in accordance with D’Arnay’s wishes. Ah, but Avalon is, shall we say, a bit odd? It is the refuge and training ground of every known radical out there. Obviously, putting a capitalist system in such a socialist atmosphere is going to be tricky. 

Then comes Mr. Wu and his potential corporate sponsorship of the Ecology Center. All of a sudden, the liberal arts education with all its quirks seems to be more precious to Galt than all the grant money in the world, especially as D’Arnay seems dead-set on prostrating the university before the altar of his own greed. Then Galt begins to discover D’Arnay’s true agenda and starts to question why the leader of a software company is investing in education to begin with. Does Galt allow such a thing to happen to good ol’ Avalon U. or does he assume the role of Arthur and repel the invading hordes? 

VF is at once loving of the culture of academia while at the same time self-mocking. The encounters between administration, faculty and students sparkle with a philosophical madness while Galt and some of the other administration bring a cheerful Machiavellian trickery to the way they do business. A quick introduction of some of the other characters yields a secretary who applies astrology to gossip and university appointments; the screwball request for a native PHD program in aboriginal metaphysics; and D’Arnay’s ex-wife who is doing everything in her power to put a cog in Andromeda Network’s plans.

VF is unique. I would not classify it as science fiction as much as social commentary. Ah, but don’t most writers of the genre ask the question “What if?” and then extrapolate how society would be different if a certain technology or idea were implemented? As a result, I would categorize the book as Canadian speculative fiction because it makes you think and laugh and wonder if we are not on the brink of a revolution where technology and business are up against humanity. This may be Sean Kane’s first novel, and although the subject can not be considered conventional, the end result is a delightful book that proves deserving of its Leacock nomination.

© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu