Mar 26, 2008

Fatherland by Robert Harris


One of those "what if the nazis won" alternate history novels, this is one of the most mainstream-style reads I've picked up yet. The triumphant Germany of the 60s serves as a backdrop to a police thriller/murder mystery. Berlin's been restyled according to nazi tastes and fantasies - giant looming buildings house the SS and other arms of the ever-reaching government. A tour guide, in one bit, consistently describes certain monuments as "20 times larger than the one in France". Everyone from school children to grannies belongs to a uniformed offshoot of The Party. Well, you have to admit - if there is one thing the stiff right arm boys had going, it was a deep understanding of symbolism and how to use it.

So here's my question - could Germany have hidden the slaughter of Europe's Jewish population from the rest of the world? Could 11 million people have gone up in smoke without the general population of, for instance, America knowing? I mean, we, as a society, certainly ignore some atrocities (Darfur), but in this day and age we do know they're going on. In a time before the internet, before fax machines, before automated media, in a tightly controlled situation, could they have pulled it off? Even then, I have my doubts. The vast majority of people will do nothing to stop a great evil, but a secret spread among workers, those who built the camps, those soldiers running the camps and trains, those filing the paperwork, even the camps neighbors seems to me to be a secret unlikely to be kept. What say you?

(I just now realized that HBO did a tv version of Fatherland in 1994, with Rutger Hauer Miranda Richardson. Shit, I'd watch that. I wonder if I can rent it.)

final thought: I wonder how long the nazis will continue to be such an effective boogyman. Will they eventually pass into mythology of a sort, devil figures from a shady past?

Mar 20, 2008

hardbacks vs. paperbacks

It's official. Hardbacks take me a lot longer to read than paperbacks. Especially hardbacks with big, obvious swastikas on the cover. You probably don't know this, but I'm a white guy with a shaved head, and toting this tome around to snatch a few chapters here and there makes me the target of some very irate misconceptions. The book itself, Fatherland by Robert Harris, is proving to be a pretty entertaining story. I just wish I could take it along when I, for example, go out for a solo dinner. As I am apt to do.

The next one I read will fit in my back pocket, I tell you what.

Mar 14, 2008

is it starting to affect me?

I'm watching a messageboard discussion about the Iraqi Perspectives Report, the huge Pentagon-sponsored study indicating no "direct operational link" between Hussein's Iraq and al Qaida before the US invasion of Iraq. As you might know, when the current administration found out what the results of the study turned out to be (no shock to anyone with half a brain at this point), they scrapped plans to have it available online right away.

In the course of this online conversation, an employee of the U.S. Joint Forces Command (the govt group in charge of distributing the report) popped up to say that anyone can easily aquire a free official copies. You simply go to the Joint Forces web site, click on "contact us", and send a request along with your name and mailing address, and they'll get that right out to you.

Maybe all these dystopian stories are starting to get to me, but it sure seems like the US government is very interested in knowing exactly WHO is interested enough to hunt down a legit copy and WHERE they live.

(By now, the report is available for free and as-anonymous-as-anything-else-online from NPR. But not from our own government.)

Mar 6, 2008

too close to home

The one thing that most perplexed him was that there could be a dictator seemingly so different from the fervent Hitlers and gesticulating Fascists and the Csars with laurels round bald domes; a dictator with something of the earthy American sense of humor of a Mark Twain, a George Ade, a Will Rogers, an Artemus
Ward. Windrip could be ever so funny about solemn jaw-drooping opponents, and about the best method of training what he called "a Siamese flea hound." Did that, puzzled Doremus, make him less or more dangerous?

Then he remembered the most cruel-mad of all pirates, Sir Henry Morgan, who had thought it ever so funny to sew a victim up in wet rawhide and watch it shrink in the sun.

(Sinclair Lewis, "It Can't Happen Here")

Ever watch W's face when he talks about torture or war or the death penalty? It's that everlovin' smirk that worries me most.

Mar 3, 2008

America 2014 by Jonathan Greenberg writing as Dawn Blair

America 2014

Oh good Lord, that was terrible. I mean, truly truly bad. Oh sure, a few details gave me a chuckle (I especially liked renaming the US "God's United States"), but overall this wasn't worth the effort Greenberg put into writing it. And it sure as hell wasn't worth reading.

I mean, come on. Either go ahead and use the names of current politicians or don't, but things like George Blush, Dick Croney, and John Flashcroft only serve to kick us out of the already-thin plot. And what a plot it is, as tortured as the unfortunate characters themselves. As I mentioned in a previous post, the villeins are such broad puppets they might just as well have said "boogity boogity!", stuck their fingers in their ears, and waggled them at the hapless prisoners who are hauled off for "ultimate rehabilitation" or whatever silly euphemism Greenburg chose for his death camps.

The female characters only exist to rescue the "hero" or pop in and out of bed with him. The underground is entirely made up of thinly drawn cyberpunk hackers and neo-hippies, and every single one of them smokes weed like it's their jobs. The employees of the government are all rabid, grinning psychos who only come onto the page to torture, rape, and taunt the "good guys".

final thoughts:I understand that the author gave away free copies of America 2014 on college campuses when it came out in 2004 as a way to bring attention to the evils done by Bush's administration. I'm as left wing as they come, and I still think those college kids who actually read a free copy failed to get their money's worth.