January 2012

For those who love statist politics as well as those who love to hate it, or who just love fantastic epic fantasy, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series brings plenty of grist to the mill. The game of thrones is the game of political power.

Named after the first book the series, Game of Thrones is the best fantasy television series ever produced. If you missed the first season, get caught up quickly! But read the book first if you haven’t yet.

Season 2 follows the second book in the series (A Clash of Kings), with the first episode scheduled to air on April 1st. If the teaser trailer is any guide, it’ll be all about the struggle to acquire and maintain power; and the character of Tyrion Lannister, superbly portrayed by Peter Dinklage, will be at the center of it.

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MOVIE REVIEW | The Grey Thumbnail

The GreyWhen an airplane bound for Anchorage, having departed from a remote oil refinery, crashes into a frigid Alaskan mountain removed from any sign of civilization, the handful of survivors must band together against the cold and the pack of wolves following them. Such is the scenario in director Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. If you think you have seen it before, you probably have, but probably not like this. The title is fitting both as a description of the bleak snowscape in which the actors find themselves as well as the mood that informs the work, that of an agnostic’s uncertainty and despair.

I do not expect to see another movie this good until December, unless recent trends are bucked. It is far more than a harrowing survival tale. It is also a very thoughtful piece, something made not by a technician, but by an artist. To be perfectly honest, after seeing Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, I did not think that Joe Carnahan had it in him. But he has crafted a very effective bit of cinema, something that can appeal to someone looking for some subdued tension and sudden thrills as well as a movie-goer more sensitive to metaphors and in a more introspective mood.

The opening shots of the movie are arresting in their austerity, atmospheric in their composition. It quickly becomes apparent that time will be spent creating a character to care about. Liam Neeson, playing John Ottway, is a man who is burnt out on life, who has, in some undefined way, lost the woman he loves. He puts the business end of a loaded rifle in his mouth, and only the howling of a wolf distracts him from his suicide. He misses the window of opportunity, the moment of resolve. I was intrigued, but it was not until after the plane crash that I was sold.

[Keep reading…]

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NEWS | Gregory Benford in Reason Magazine on Science Fiction in Light of Humanity’s Future in Space Thumbnail

Wernher von Braun's Vision

There’s an article by science fiction author Gregory Benford in the February issue of Reason Magazine (also available online at Reason.com). I hadn’t realized it, but Benford has written three other articles for Reason (see below for a list of the others).

In the article, Benford briefly discusses the role of Nazi SS officer and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun ((Benford doesn’t call Von Braun a facilitator of mass murder, but does mention that he ran “Adolf Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 programs, which sent more than 10,000 rockets into England in 1944 and 1945.”)) in the American government’s space program, from his popular promotion of his vision of man conquering space (interesting choice of war metaphor) to his running the Apollo program.

Benford discusses Von Braun’s vision for how man will conquer space, a vision that strikes me as impractical and expensive and that still lingers in NASA today. He also highlights the decline of NASA and its “ruinously expensive” nature of the American government’s space shuttle program, which suffered catastrophic failures and kept going long past its planned obsolescence.

Though Benford says that Von Braun’s vision lives on, I’m not so sure of that. If he means Von Braun’s  general vision of man “conquering” space, then yes, that vision is not dead. If he means Von Braun’s more specific vision of how this is to be accomplished, then no, I do not think that vision will live on.

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High Desert Barbecue by J.D. Tuccille

High Desert Barbecue, by libertarian author and columnist J.D. Tuccille, is a fun romp through the dry country of the southwest. The protagonists are libertarian and manage to slip in many an observation about life and the government. The antagonists are government agents, usually environmentalist wackos and bumbling idiots to boot. Mr. Tuccille does not try to hide his colors, but whatever the reader’s are he will at least find some humor and adventure in the tale, and if he is libertarian some satisfaction as well.

The story concerns a plot by environmentalists to burn out animals — humans especially — from northern Arizona so that plants may take their place at the top of the food chain and not be bothered by inferior creatures. The irony of these mammalian Forest Service enviros passionately fighting for plants, against their own kind, is thick throughout the book. One can sense the author’s amused disdain and the pleasure he takes at the antics of these defectives.

Their act of arson — referred to as “The Carthage Option” — is witnessed and filmed by Rollo, his friend Scott, and Scott’s girlfriend Lani. A chase through uninhabited territory follows, while the fire burns. The three protagonists are desperate to get the footage uploaded to the internet so that everyone can see what the government is up to. The Forest Service hippies, a group of incompetent boobs who are good for a couple dozen chuckles through the course of the story, pursue them, determined to keep the intelligence from reaching Youtube but having difficulties getting out of their own way during the chase.

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Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

J. Neil Schulman

AM:  Right off the bat, it strikes me that I don’t know what to call you.  Will Neil work?

JNS:  Sure. It’s J. Neil Schulman in credits, and Neil in person.

AM:  Anyway, thank you for doing this interview, Neil.  You’ve had a fascinating and unique career.  You’ve written novels, short fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and other works.  Which of your works is your favorite and why?

JNS:  Every artist gets asked this question sooner or later. I asked it of Robert A. Heinlein when I interviewed him in 1973, and his answer was, “The latest one I’ve been working on.”

I’ve only completed one movie so far — Lady Magdalene’s — so it’s a Hobson’s Choice on that one. Ask me again when I’ve made two! But a lot of people also seem to like the script I wrote for The Twilight Zone, “Profile in Silver.”

I’ve written three novels. My first, Alongside Night [editor’s note: free in pdf], seems to be my most accessible and popular. I consider my second novel, The Rainbow Cadenza, to be my most layered, literary, and richest in explicit philosophy. My third novel, Escape from Heaven, is my favorite. It may not be as timely as my first novel or literary as my second novel, but it’s the one that’s closest to my heart…both the funniest thing I’ve ever written, and the one which is most deceptively simple. It appears to be a lightweight piece of comic fantasy, but it’s full of ideas that if examined more closely turn both traditional theology and rationalist philosophy on their heads.

Short stories? I’ll pick a few: “The Musician,” “Day of Atonement,” and “When Freemen Shall Stand” — all in my collection Nasty. Brutish, and Short Stories — and my latest short story, “The Laughskeller,” published on my blog, J. Neil Schulman @ Rational Review.

AM:  Your worldview is, in a word, libertarian.  Why is that?  How does libertarianism come across in your writing?

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The Stygian Conspiracy by Kodai Okuda

The Stygian Conspiracy by Kodai Okuda

The Stygian Conspiracy, by first-time author Kodai Okuda, is a bulky tome and quite an undertaking. The myriad pages are brimming over with a story of action, science fiction, and even some horror elements. It is a tale on a grand scale, both in time and space. Not content with a small moment or two with a libertarian flavor, the story tackles the big issues and concepts and makes no apologies, without forgetting that the plot and characters come first.

The story transpires in a future in which the human race has spread out through the solar system and taken some tentative first steps towards exploring other star systems. The population is roughly divided between the Eastern socialists and the Western capitalists, the latter of the two having newly emerged as a power again on the world, or better yet solar, stage. That description and its implicit chauvinism make me cringe even as I write it, but Okuda does much better with the characters, creating roles that defy the simplistic expectations set up by that line drawn down the middle. There are good bad guys and bad good guys and even, I think, a little room for debate.

It is a bold concept and a wild ride. There are space battles and daring personal missions, enmities and romances, betrayals and tough decisions. It lacks nothing of the right ingredients to leave a voracious reader with a satisfied feeling upon completion. If the reader wants nothing more than an epic tale of adventure with some characters to care about, he may well come away from The Stygian Conspiracy without complaint.

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NEWS | Libertarian Author Publications: “Communitas” and “Pretty Citadel” Thumbnail

Allen Mendenhall

I’m finally getting around to writing about two short stories published late last year that were written by libertarian authors. Both are works of literary fiction.

One of the stories is by our very own Allen Mendenhall. “Communitas” was published in the online quarterly magazine of literary fiction, Full of Crow, in October 2011. You can read it online in full for free. The story is set in Okmulgee, Oklahoma and is told from the point of view of a nameless old man obsessing over a lost… loved one? It strikes me as a rather bleak tale about the modern breakdown of identity, social relationships, and moral decency.

Allen is a multi-talented writer, attorney, editor, and teacher. Visit his website to learn more about him. Also, check out his interview with Jeffrey Tucker.

The other story, “Pretty Citadel,” is by Kerry Howley and was published in The Paris Review, also an online quarterly magazine of literary fiction, in the Fall 2011 issue, No. 198. The first four paragraphs of the story can be read online for free, but you’ll have to purchase the issue for $12 in order to read it in full.

Kerry Howley

“Pretty Citadel” is set in Burma, in a local newspaper office, and is told from the point of view of a woman (I assume) who works there. Her boss talks of revolution, though it’s not clear it’s the political kind. There’s mention of most everything besides the newspaper being banned — it being an exception because it is censored before publication by a government bureaucrat — and of politically incorrect people being disappeared. I like the way the brief glimpses into the workings of the totalitarian Burmese regime are casually interspersed between cynical descriptions of Burma and the POV character’s work. But that’s about all I can tell you about this story, as I’m not about to pony up $12 for one short story, however good it may be.

Kerry Howley is a former editor of a Burmese newspaper (which would help explain the story’s setting, I suppose) and a senior editor of Defunct: A Literary Repository for the Ages. You may already know her from her work as a contributing editor for Reason Magazine as well as some tv news appearances. Visit Kerry’s website to learn more about her and for links to some of her articles online.

~*~

This post is the first in a new series in which we will highlight new and recent fiction publications by libertarian authors. If you think there are any we might have missed, please do let us know. If you’re interested in reviewing any of these stories, contact me.

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