April 2011

It might be something like this fantastic new rap video produced by John Papola and Russ Roberts as part of their EconStories.tv project, “Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two“:

One of these days I’ll write an article on why fiction authors, especially science fiction authors (hellooo!), should study the “dismal science.”

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In a recent addition to The Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses The Ambiguous Utopias of Ursula K. Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany.

You can also read the transcript, which was published on Friday as a Mises Daily article.

In the podcast, Riggenbach discusses Le  Guin’s novel The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia and Delany’s novel Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Atlas Shrugged: Part I Thumbnail

Atlas ShruggedIn Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, the first time we meet Dagny Taggart is on the Taggart Comet. The scene comes alive as Rand’s pen reveals the details such that the reader feels as if he is there. When Dagny awakens from a nap to discover the train has stopped, she gets off to investigate. Ayn Rand writes:

There was a cold wind outside, and an empty stretch of land under an empty sky. She heard weeds rustling in the darkness. Far ahead, she saw figures of men standing by the engine—and above them, hanging detached in the sky, the red light of a signal.

I have often thought Rand would have made an excellent director, and in that single paragraph we can see some of her talent. She appeals to three senses and evokes compelling images in our heads. A director, location scout, sound engineer, set designer, and cinematographer intent on filming such a scene have half their work done for them already. Let us hear the weeds but not see them; let us see Dagny shiver once and hold her coat tighter to her body; let us see a long shot of silhouettes of men bathed in red light from the stoplight that seems to float in the dark sky above them. The appropriate shots present themselves, practically instructing the director.

Before the stop, Dagny hears a brakeman whistling a tune she just knows was composed by Richard Halley.

“Tell me please what are you whistling?”

“It’s the Halley Concerto,” he answered, smiling.

“Which one?”

“The Fifth.”

She let a moment pass before she said slowly and very carefully, “Richard Halley wrote only four concertos.”

The boy’s smile vanished… “Yes, of course,” he said. “I’m wrong. I made a mistake.”

This early scene, which I find excellent and a great mood setter for the rest of the book, is absent from the movie. So too is any trace of the talent for storytelling present in it.

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In a recent addition to The Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach discusses Friedrich Hayek and American Science Fiction.

You can also read the transcript, which was later published as a Mises Daily article.

In the podcast, Riggenbach discusses the dramatization of Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s ideas in William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition and Alfred Bester’s short story “Time is the Traitor.”

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When I  wasn’t paying attention Jeff Riggenbach did two more audio podcasts on libertarianism and science fiction in his series for the Mises Institute, The Libertarian Tradition. Here is one, a followup on the previous podcast on libertarian science fiction.

You can also read the transcript, which was later published as a Mises Daily article: “Some Further Notes on Libertarian Science Fiction.”

In the podcast, Riggenbach discusses Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange and several novels by Philip K. Dick (including The Man in the High Castle, which our own Matthew Alexander recently reviewed) as well as two nonfiction books.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick Thumbnail

Author Philip K. Dick

It seems to me that of the two most important elements of a story, plot and character, plot seems to be more masculine and character more feminine. That is to say, a story for men, if it skimps on either of the two, is more likely to skimp on character, while a story for women will shortchange the plot. The best stories, of course, are strong in both categories. Science fiction, being a more masculine genre — in fact the only genre of fiction whose readership is more male than female — has traditionally been solid on plot and hit or miss with the characters. There are exceptions, as one would expect, and Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, a Hugo Award winner, is one of these.

The story takes place in what was the present day when the novel was written, 1962, but in an alternate timeline where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won World War II. The United States has been carved into puppet governments; Germany has sent astronauts to Mars, drained the Mediterranean for farmland and committed multiple genocides; Japan controls the west coast of North America, having become a cultural as well as political hegemon.

It is a marvelous setting, both in conception and in description. Dick’s prose makes it come alive with a few deft touches here and there, sparse but effective. Whereas in most stories the setting serves as a place for the plot to take place, the reader here gets the sense that the plot is just something to have happen in the setting. The world and its characters are the point; what they do in the narrative has less importance.

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If you enjoy dystopian fiction, and dystopias often provide great fodder for libertarians, be sure to keep an eye on Tor.com this week.

From the announcement:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —Nineteen Eighty-Four

Over sixty years later, 1984 has come and gone, but Orwell’s unsettling vision of the future continues to resonate throughout our culture, along with so many other great dystopian works of the last century, from Fahrenheit 451 toThe Hunger GamesMetropolis to Blade RunnerHarrison Bergeron to The Handmaid’s Tale…the list goes on and on and so, on this bright, not-so-cold day in April, we’re pleased to announce a weeklong celebration of a subgenre which has continually challenged the comfortable boundaries of our imaginations.

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