Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Books you obviously should not be reading

Just for kicks and grins--and because it will drive some people crazy--let's talk a little about secession, revolution, and survivalism in popular literature, starting with Texas secession.

There's a long skein of SF/Alternative History about "second civil wars," "second American Revolutions," "America invaded," or "post-Apocalypse/survivalist" scenarios out there.

With regard to Texas, which gets into the US after fighting its own war for independence from Mexico, there is a Cold-War-era light fantasy (sorry, any novel with a battleship surfing a tsunami counts as light fantasy) by Daniel da Cruz, The Ayes of Texas [followed by a series of sequels and pre-quels]. Read the reviews at Amazon in the link: some people got it; others got their panties in a twist.

More recently, expanding from Texas, there's Tom Kratman's A State of Disobedience, which is more radical libertarian polemic than novel in some ways.

Neither of these books qualify as great literature, but they are fun in a mindless sort of way, and even occasionally thought-provoking.

Unfortunately, to read them and talk about them today would get one accused of rightwing violent political rhetoric because the bad guys are always ... liberal politicians, who are stereotypically depicted as spineless nanny-staters, while the heroes eventually decided to, you know, pick up their guns and defend themselves.

In the pure "not even quite sure I'd take it to the beach" trash category is Ian Slater's WW3 or USA vs Militia series, not to mention a whole host of survivalist books by James Axler that seem to stay in print purely via sales at K-Mart.

More upscale: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's ultimate disaster novel Lucifer's Hammer and David Brin's The Postman [the novel not the movie, which is Kevin Costner trying to combine Waterworld with Dances with Wolves].

These novels--the good and the bad alike--have a common context: the idea that something is inherently out of whack in our society that doesn't seem to be getting any better under the existing political process. So the writer either invents a natural disaster (Niven & Pournelle); a devastating war (Axler, Slater); or a Federal government grown to domestically interventionist to tolerate (de Cruz, Kratman) in order to have an excuse to examine the kind of society they'd like to see America either become or go back to.

It's a huge genre; I haven't even scratched the surface of L. Neil Smith, William Fortschen, H. Beam Piper, John Ringo, Harry Harrison, S. M. Stirling, Spider Robinson et al.

The rebuilt societies also share common characteristics: they are generally fiercely libertarian and venerate the concept of the competent man [John Galt tempered by Robert Heinlein and sometimes modified by David Gerrold]. Rights to political participation usually have to be earned; people who refuse to work are allowed to hit the road or starve; justice is dispensed pretty freely and quickly, but fortunately always by truly benevolent despots.

There's a lot of fighting with old weapons, a lot of tactics and technical geekspeak; the characters usually react true to their stereotypes and rarely have much time for introspection. Martial values win out.

They are great fun, and I'll bet a lot of militia members think so, too.

Which is obviously why they should be banned; or at least tracked.

Most people don't realize, however, that this genre pretty much gets its start from two related works published respectively in 1936 and 1940: Upton Sinclair's It Can't Happen Here and Robert Heinlein's "If This Goes On...".

Upton Sinclair, watching the Nazi takeover in Germany, sets out to examine an extreme rightwing seizure of power (the Corpos and the League of Forgotten Men), and Heinlein does a Second American Revolution against an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian dictatorship. In other words, the original paradigm for these sorts of novels has actually been sort of reversed: rightwingers and evangelicals are the bad guys, and the folks fighting back would be more or less classical liberals.

[Note to those who only know post World War II Heinlein: RAH, through 1942, was an extreme liberal in thought and fiction. He was a minor mover and shaker in California Democratic politics, had supported Sinclair for Governor, and believed in the Social Credit movement. His early fiction includes the idea that people with uncontrollable violent tendencies should either be exiled from society or required to take psychological re-conditioning. The link above is to the heavily revised version of the novel: the original MS and the version published in Astounding in 1941 were subjects that Heinlein spent a large part of the rest of his life keeping a careful distance away from. He was not, by any means, either militarist or libertarian.]

I'm waiting for our friends to discover and denounce this genre because--who knows?--somebody might be unable to separate fiction from fact, might take inspiration [Charles Manson and the Beatles, anyone?] from books like these.

Think it won't happen? We've already got people out there asserting that the use of specific words in a political context [regiment, fight, resist, and others] are indicators of violent intent.

Oh. One other SF novel for them to consider: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Seems to suit their temperment.


Anonymous said...

So did you like Harry Turtledove's "Guns of the South"? I've generally stayed away from alternative history novels, but I liked that one.

Mark H

Bowly said...

I'm an Elmore Leonard fan, myself. Does that mean I'm going to become a violent, psychotic criminal?

Hube said...

Guns of the South was superb.

G Rex said...

I'm wondering if Hammer's Slammers is required reading at Blackwater.

Anonymous said...

Both my library and Wikipedia list "It Can't Happen Here" as being authored by Sinclair Lewis, not Upton Sinclair.