Saturday, January 7, 2012

"What Came After" by Sam Winston

A Carolina Parrothead book review.

There are many reasons a person might read a dystopian novel, but a wild guess about the chief motivation for some would be to taste, ever so vicariously, how bad things can get. This is particularly true for people with a political bent, pundits and futurists from both the left and right of American politics like to froth at the mouth whenever their specific groups are out of power warning us about how the other side is out to crush everything good in the country. Whether these political agents actually believe the propaganda they like to spew or just use it to keep the unwashed masses fearful of the boogeyman they want their members to believe is hiding under their beds is just one of those things that have to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

Since the election of President Obama the right wing has been exceptionally inflamed with fears that he is a secret Kenyan-born anti-colonial/Islamic/socialist out impose the tyranny of Sharia law on the United States or is the actual biological spawn of Satan. In fact after the recent purchase of my Kindle I was browsing the long list of cheap books by unknown authors and found a “novel” that had a ragtag group of true red blooded Americans patriots out to overthrow a fictional president curiously similar in accused background as Obama. At least the author had the good manners to put a disclaimer on the advertisement saying that his work “might be offensive to some.”

I will do something dangerous here and make an assumption that anyone with some semblance of a rational mind will have to admit that the vast majority of nightmarish scenarios that have members of the right wing running around like Chicken Little are simply insane. I doubt I have any conservative readers but before anyone’s nose gets out of shape I will admit my fellow liberals are very good at espousing their own brand of insanity from time to time. Except in the case of many  liberal dystopian nightmares, I am forced to write that we have good little bit of evidence on our side that we are dancing dangerously close to the abyss. The final result of what may happen after such a fall can be read about in a book called “What Came After” by Sam Winston, which I recently finished.

You would pretty much have to be living under a rock these days avoiding all news media, or just watching Fox News, not to have heard one of many reports saying that since 1980 a huge majority of American have seen their real worth decline an insane amount. At the same time the richest amongst us, a small minority, have seen a huge Midas-like increase. The same is true for how the national infrastructure of roads, water systems, bridges, power lines and many other vital things that support our ability to stay competitive globally is absolutely falling apart from lack of repair and replacement.

Now throw in the Conservative talking points about how all government and taxes are evil and that the free market is the solution to everything from the ingrown toenail to male pattern baldness. For good measure add the real life worship of corporate profit above all else with the deranged phantom of Ayn Rand floating around infecting certain members of society and the end result is the dystopian world of Sam Winston’s book.

Set twenty to thirty years in the future it would be an understatement to say that the United States has at a minimum fallen to third world status although it would not be pushing it to say that good old America has more in common with medieval, Dark Ages Europe than say real life Haiti or Liberia. The federal government has not just gone broke or been physically taken over by corporations it has been “disassembled.” The main cause for this was a complete collapse of the economy and the persistent, deluded myths of libertarian philosophies and the core Republican belief that government services should be outsourced so it could be done cheaper and better.

The result was a few massive corporations effectively in control of the country. A monolithic banking corporation issues some sort of monetary scrip everyone uses. A pharmaceutical/agricultural corporation that makes medicine, for those that can afford it, and grows heavily genetically engineered crops that if I understand correctly will poison those who eat them if the plants are not processed. What few roads that are still operational are controlled by a corporation called “National Motors” whose main job it seems is to transport supplies that keep the rich comfortable.

The big winner in the United States pulling a full-fledged reenactment of the fall of the Roman Empire is a corporation called “Black Rose.” They provide the lion-share of the security with corporate headquarters in none other than the former United States Capitol building.

Given the hints about extensive life support equipment used to keep the last chief executive of the Republic going it easy to guess that fine stalwart of human compassion Dick Cheney is the man who ushered the United States into that good night freeing us all from the threat of the federal government taking our money. But wait, there is more, the country has not just been liberated from corrupt federal bureaucrats but even state governments have disappeared leaving civilization just along the coasts and in a few scattered spots like Chicago and Houston.

What down home Red State people like to call “Fly Over” country when they want to separate themselves from the nasty liberal elites has been declared Empowerment Zones. I have to admit the exact purpose for these zones was never really explained fully but given the Orwellian speak done these days it has a very uncomfortable ring of possible truth.

In the book as food prices rocketed into orbit as the economy collapsed a huge chunk of the population starved to death and when the dust cleared the result was the survivors barely living at some subsistence level. This is where I have to introduce the main character of the book, a poor but intelligent man named Henry Weller.

Henry is an old-fashioned Mr. Fixit who has created a mechanical workshop from equipment he has salvaged. After one of the very powerful men working for the baking corporation drives his ancient hummer into a ditch Henry is able to fix the wrecked vehicle. Before driving off Mr. Banker makes the mistake of having a picture taken with Henry and his family and writing on it something to the effect that he owes Henry big.

A few weeks later while Henry is looking at the photograph he gets the idea to going on the long and dangerous trip to New York with his young daughter to have Mr. Banker use his influence to cure her increasing blindness. What unfolds is an odyssey that should scare the living hell out of any observant person because while this is just a work of fiction all the elements for a similar future are already here. Needless to say, I highly recommend the book.

“What Came After” is mainly available as an eBook on Amazon for the Kindle but can be bought in the paperback form.


Windsmoke. said...

Who is the best candidate to challenge Preident Obama do you think?. I ask because down here in OZ we get very sketchy reports that don't often reflect what is really happening :-).

Beach Bum said...

Romney is the candidate who polls suggest would have the best chance to beating Obama but it would be very close. There are a multitude of factors working this election cycle including the American economy which is slowly improving, a possibility of several independent "third party" candidates, the euro situation which could throw us all back into recession, and the tensions with Iran.

I can safely say the winner will probably not be known until the day after election day.

John McElveen said...

"Hanging Chad"--that would be a good book title! I hope the Girl can now "see" what a self sufficient man like her father has to offer to the Village!!

He is the one who should get paid in the end. Sounds like a great read!


Marja said...

Sounds like an interesting book
About the economy;The whole world is doing pretty bad at the moment America is on top I think as people talk about that it has 14 trillion dollars debt

Beach Bum said...

John: The character Henry Weller is an amazing man but in this fictional world the deck was stacked against him at every turn.

Marja: Yeah, America is way over extended and needs to stop trying to rule the world but with the power elites wanting to protect their positions that is easier said than done.

Randal Graves said...

Funny that the main character is a Mr. Fixit 'cause those are the skills that are going to be valuable once everything goes to hell, not technocrat cubicle bullshit like most of us are experienced in.

zach said...

I don't think America will ever completely go to hell, but damn it sure seemed a lot easier back when Clinton was in charge.

Beach Bum said...

Randal: In the book something called "The Great Dying" killed off anyone who could not adapt. Given my intense and devoted hatred of suburbia and the pod people who I live around I will not lie and say outright I felt a small amount of pleasure in thinking how a few of them would really be up shit creek.

Zach: I don't think it will all go down the tubes either but you never know.

Ranch Chimp said...

Evening Bum ... No I havent read it or even heard of the book, but Thanx for the review. I have of course an idea of what the future hold's myself, well, to an extent that is : )

Red Nomad OZ said...

You know you're getting older when you think movies of near-future dystopian novels are actually documentaries ...

There's a spate of such works at the moment - it's a pretty effective litmus test, don't you think? I haven't read this one - but Justin Cronin's 'The Passage' gives pause.

Truth 101 said...

I have nothing to add other than when I was 42 I finally finished reading the entire Bible. I can honestly say I have read The Bible.

Since then I've tried to keep it light. You're the best writer I read anymore BB.

Beach Bum said...

Ranch: I figure we should all be very afraid.

Red Nomad: Justin Cronin's 'The Passage? Will have to look that one up.

Truth: Thanks, but right now I still wish I had been born rich rather than so damn good looking.