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It took me several weeks, but I have finished Rand's magnum opus, about a woman who likes running trains and clever rich people going on strike. I will leave detailed analysis to those who care more about it than me - I refer especially to John Scalzi's critique, which has links in comments to a couple more posts on it. (Here's one: "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.")

Having not especially enjoyed Rand's The Fountainhead, I was surprised by how readable Atlas Shrugged actually is. Once you accept the ridiculous premises of the fantasy world Rand has constructed, the plot moves along at a fairly cracking pace as long as you ignore the political speeches (and there aren't in fact all that many of them, though one of them does go on for fifty pages).The evil guys are evil, the good guys are mysterious and threatened, and Dagny's moral dilemma is almost realistic.

It is of course an absurdly premised book. The dystopian society that Rand portrays is rather closer to We and Nineteen Eighty-Four than to anything the US is ever likely to develop into. Her heroes' response, to sabotage the economy and steal from their own companies, is itself pretty immoral. (At one stage she has a whole trainload of lefty do-gooders killed, but we are meant to understand that it's OK because they had it coming to them.) The fundamental axiom that you should never do anything for anyone else is impossible to comprehend for anyone who has ever contemplated having children (or even pets) and is in fact contradicted when the good guys rescue one of their number near the end. But on its own merits it holds together, and I think it's possible to admire the structure without sharing the sentiments.

Atlas Shrugged is certainly a work of sf; quite apart from the new metal developed by Hank Rearden, Galt is able to conceal his valley refuge by arcane means and, Vogon-like, to take over every radio in the country to broadcast his message, and there is the catastrophic explosion of Project X. So I think it qualifies as one of the important political sf novels that any fan with an interest in politics should consider reading; but I also hope that not too many people take it seriously.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 17th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
I always read the thesis as you can do anything you like with YOUR resources -- including rescuing people, helping those in need, and so on -- but that this does not place an onus on you to continue to do so, and should not be read by anyone as giving them license to expect or demand that you do so ever again, especially if those people give you nothing in return.

In other words, Hank Rearden supporting his family and giving them what he can because he wishes to is not the problem. The problem is that they not merely EXPECT him to, but DEMAND that he do this in a manner that shows they neither respect him nor even seem to harbor much affection towards him. He gives, they return little or nothing.

I do often see Rand's thesis stated in the more extreme fashion, and even she on occasion stated it that way, yet her actions -- and those of her exemplars -- point, at least for me, in the direction of the less extreme version. Naturally her novel, being a reaction to what she saw as a child in Russia, states the case with bombast and extremity, as do most single-author visions and polemics. Realistic approaches to socialism aren't actually going to follow the extreme statement of the philosophy, either.

That said, Rand's approach is exactly the sort to be misinterpreted, overexaggerated, and THEN taken to heart by teenage isolates, where it becomes a parody of itself.
Oct. 17th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
"...but I also hope that not too many people take it seriously."

Alas, too late.
Oct. 18th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
I see it as basically SF, not just because of the gadgets, but the premise: "mind on strike", a "What if?" combined with "If this goes on." Also the stylization, exaggeration of the events.

What's confusing and fascinating, is the pace and focus: decades long romance. Someone called it a 'bodice-ripper', except it's the heroine who keeps loving and leaving a succession of devoted men.

Oct. 18th, 2010 09:04 am (UTC)
Atlas Meh-ed is a substantial chunk of dead tree to plough through. Anyone interested in finding out the essence of Ayn Rand's thoughts should try get hold of 'For The New Intellectual', a book of extracts from her books and writings. Interesting, not only for the sociopathic creed she espouses but also for the many moments where her contempt for the poor and the weak (and the non-anglo-saxon) are vitriolically on show.

Mike Cobley
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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