thriller

State of Terror by John Brown (Dystopian Thriller)

In the interest of full disclosure, here are the books we’ve received in so far in February:

State of Terror by John Brown is a dystopian thriller set in a near-future United States following a new wave of terrorist attacks that have enabled the government to ramp up the domestic war on terror.

Drone Pilot 2061 by Thomas Diogenes is a scifi action tale about a drone pilot fighting to protect the drug trade against Christian and Muslim theocracies.

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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.

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BOOK REVIEW | Diabolical by Hank Schwaeble Thumbnail

Diabolical by Hank SchwaebleDiabolical, by Hank Schwaeble, is a Jake Hatcher novel, the sequel to Damnable. It takes place a short time after the events of the first novel, but in a new location. Many of the same characters are back, with a few new ones, and the recipe for the story makes use of the same ingredients in just about the same proportions. How you felt about the first book is, within a reasonable margin, how you are going to feel about its sequel.

Jake Hatcher has moved out to California to lie low for a while, working as a bouncer at a bar. Despite his precautions, he is found by people who want his services. He winds up entangled in a plot where nothing is as it seems, a demonic apocalypse is at stake, and no one can be trusted. Plot twists abound, as do action and fighting sequences, a little sex is sprinkled in, and the resolution is anyone’s guess right up until the end.

There are some areas in which Diabolical is an improvement on Damnable. Though the first novel had some inspired chapter hooks near the beginning, Diabolical saves its best twists for later on. For this reason, as well as a smoother flow that eliminates a little dead weight found in the first book, the second novel reaches its climax in better fashion than the first. In particular, Schwaeble does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about certain characters. Whereas in the first one there was a general blanket of uncertainty covering nearly everything, in the second the author takes you through highs and lows, at times fabricating a specious certainty that is ripped away, only to be brought back again. If the novel were a marionette, I would say the puppet master has grown more adept at pulling the strings.

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Hank Schwaeble

Hank Schwaeble

Damnable by Hank SchwaebleDamnable, by Hank Schwaeble, has been called noir, but anyone who has seen The Third Man, Double Indemnity and The Asphalt Jungle will see no more than a tenuous connection to what noir originally was. Just like the word libertarian often gets applied to anyone who is pro-choice on two or more issues, noir gets thrown at any tale with a dark atmosphere, a detective and/or so much as a single morally ambiguous character, resulting in an abundance of wrongly labeled people and stories. Damnable, winner of the 2009 Bram Stoker Award, is not noir any more than Bill Maher is a libertarian; it is a mix of detective tale, supernatural story full of demons and cultish rituals, and MMA-style fighting and action.

This is not to denigrate the work — or Bill Maher — but merely to put it in its proper category. As a story it is a modest success, not profound perhaps, but also without pretensions of depth and nuance. On the first page, a character muses, “Coffee was like pizza and sex — no matter how bad it was, it was usually still pretty good.” In other words, the author is decent enough to tell us straight away we will not be wrestling with complex ideas and weighty issues. When a zombie attacks a few paragraphs later, it is the author letting us know what we will be doing.

I enjoyed my time with the novel, which I believe is all the author ever wanted for his readers. I know I enjoyed it because I put my book mark in the sequel as soon as the last page was turned. The main character, Jake Hatcher, is something more than one dimensional, interesting from the outset. His situation is intriguing, his history morally ambiguous, and his abilities perfect for the action to follow.

We first meet Jake as a convict in a military prison. One of his jailors has it out for him, and Jake suspects his cellmate has been recruited to pick a fight with him, to get him in trouble so his term can be lengthened. There is also another trap his jailor has set for him, and while he tries to navigate these he gets a call from his mother telling him his brother has died, an event we saw in the prologue.

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Hunter by Robert Bidinotto

In a recent addition to the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach uses Objectivist Robert Bidinotto’s novel Hunter as a launchpad to discuss Objectivist subculture and fear.

You can also read the transcript below:

In a recent conversation with a younger libertarian, I heard something that I found somewhat surprising and somewhat disturbing at the same time. But later, on reflection, I realized that what I had heard should not have surprised me, however much it may still disturb me. My young friend had said, and I paraphrase here, that he was surprised to learn that I thought of Objectivists as libertarians at all. Based on what he had seen of the positions they took on political issues, especially foreign policy, he had concluded that they were just another kind of neocon.

I refer to this younger libertarian as “my young friend,” but the fact is, he’s no kid; he’s in his early 40s, which tells you how long the situation with respect to Objectivism that I’m going to describe and deplore has been going on — that a man in his 40s cannot remember a time when leading Objectivists didn’t talk in such a way about questions of US foreign policy (and about other questions as well, as we shall see) that they become hard to differentiate from certain kinds of conservatives and hard to see as any sort of libertarian.

But before I get further into that depressing theme, there’s a new book I’d like to commend to your attention. It’s a novel entitled Hunter: A Thriller, and it’s the work of the prominent Objectivist writer Robert Bidinotto. Now, a word of caution. What follows is not properly a book review, because what I’m really interested in talking about here is not Bidinotto’s thriller in its capacity as a novel, an entertainment, a work of “popular art,” but rather what it can tell us in its capacity as a cultural artifact.

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The Churchill Memorandum by Sean Gabb

I recently read The Churchill Memorandum, by English libertarian Sean Gabb. I devoured most of it on a transatlantic flight, and finished the last bit on terra firma. I tend to like thrillers (some favorite authors include Nelson DeMille and, of late, Cherie Priest, author of Bloodshot); alternate history (e.g., Harry Turtledove, Brad Linaweaver’s Moon of Ice, L. Neil Smith’s The Probability Broach); and books with libertarian themes or influences (L. Neil Smith, Ayn Rand, Henry Hazlitt, Brad Linaweaver, Victor Koman, J. Neil Schulman). So it’s no surprise I enjoyed The Churchill Memorandum, which is very well written and which combines all three features (full disclosure: Gabb is a friend).

The novel is set in 1959, in an alternate history in which Hitler died in a car accident in 1939, thus averting WWII and changing the course of history. Gabb’s libertarian influences — he’s the head of the UK Libertarian Alliance — as well as his deep historical knowledge, are evident throughout the book. The novel depicts amazing technological progress — some of it rivaling or exceeding 2011 levels — in 1959, since WWII did not occur to sap away the economic strength and entrepreneurial innovations of tens of millions of individuals who would otherwise have been eviscerated in state war. So in 1959 there are magnetic bullet trains, home energy generators, and many other seemingly fantastic innovations.

The story follows the adventures of one Anthony Markham, a Churchill historian who, on a trip to the now-fascist police-state and isolationist America to research the Churchill archives at Harvard, stumbles across an explosive document that purports to document secret pacts that changed the course of American and world history. This leads to an intriguing geopolitical thriller informed by the author’s libertarian views. It is told in first person point of view (POV), my personal favorite for thrillers (and other novels) since it forces the narrator to show not tell, and not to omnisciently cheat and reveal details the protagonist would not know. Gabb’s ambivalent and somewhat bipolar English attitude towards America — at once a great power and friend of England, and a schizophrenic and dangerous destroyer of the ancient European order and institutions — is present throughout; and as a skeptic of the American mythos myself, I really enjoyed this foreign perspective. (Gabb recently presented a talk on “The Case Against the American War of Independence.”)

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MOVIE REVIEW | Ninja Assassin Thumbnail

[Warning: Spoiler in the last sentence of the first paragraph.]

First of all, I found the title of the movie to be redundant from the get-go. The action scenes are mostly way over the top. The gore insanely so. Swords and other blades slice through body parts, even cutting men in half at the waist, as if they were hot knives slicing through butter. Ninja stars fly from hands like they are being fired from a machine gun. They even have chemtrails. Blood fountains and splatters by the bucket load. Our ninja hero takes dozens of lethal wounds, losing gallons of blood, and not only lives to tell about it but keeps on fighting. There is a bit of super-speed blurred movement and mind-over-body self-healing, so the movie is something of a fantasy action thriller. We’re treated to the cliché of the hero being down for the count, about to be killed, when someone he cares about is attacked and suddenly he discovers renewed vitality and determination and, inexplicably, an unbelievable (that’s saying a lot for this movie) leap in skill level.

For all that, I found Ninja Assassin to be entertaining. The action scenes are well-done and stylish. And I particularly liked the parkourinspired sequences. The plot is interesting and tightly executed. The story even has a couple of  elements of interest to libertarians. There are a number of ninja clans that kidnap orphan children and train them to be assassins, indoctrinating them with the belief that the lives of individuals are valueless compared to that of the clan, which is one big family to which they owe unquestioning and unwavering loyalty and obedience. The ninja clans apparently act as secret private contractors for governments around the world, assassinating targets for 100 lbs. of gold. Our ninja hero is one particularly promising pupil of the Ozunu clan. He buys into the propaganda at first, but falls for a pretty young girl, a fellow trainee, who does not. She attempts to escape, and is recaptured and executed in front of all the ninjas-in-training as an example. When he is later faced with killing another girl, whom he is told has similarly betrayed the clan, as the final requirement of becoming a full member of the clan, he refuses and is nearly killed. The bulk of the movie is about his quest for revenge against the Ozunu clan with the help of a female government agent.

Though it is a classic revenge tale, the negative portrayal of coercive and aggressive collectivism is a nice touch. The notion that the individual should be subservient to and acquire his value and ultimate end from The Collective, whatever it be named (the Family, the Clan, the Tribe, the Race, the Nation or State), is an insidious sickness. It permeates the communitarian classical republicanism of Rome (as I explain in my working paper “Roman Virtue, Liberty, and Imperialism: The Murder-Suicide of Classical Civilization” (pdf)), which, along with classical liberalism, with which it is in tension due to the conflict with the latter’s inherent individualism, was one of the major influences on the so-called Founding Fathers of the United States of America. It is also inherent in nationalism and, of course, the modern collectivist political movements of our age. At the risk of being redundant, a truly libertarian and civilized society exists for each and every individual’s own well-being – not the other way round.

[Is-Ought GAP and The Libertarian Standard]

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