This is a strange book. It has always been a strange book, even when first published in 1922. But it’s a very satisfying strange book, and it contains what may be the most fantastic sentence I’ve ever read in a work of fiction.
Every American generation has its young adult fiction, and we can all agree it tends to reflect the society of its time. We associate the young adult fiction of the 1950s with books like Tom Swift and Nancy Drew. Such fiction, including this book, On The Trail of Inca Gold, was highly optimistic, techno-utopian in some cases, and grounded in an ethic of individual achievement, human possibility and self-reliance, along with belief in America and a positive attitude toward its government and ruling class. We are always told today how awful the 1950s were, where everyone was crushed by endemic sexism, racism and species-ism, all minutely managed by Joseph McCarthy, who bestrode the country with a lead-loaded bullwhip and unleashed hell on cowering America. The reality was that the 1950s were a period of completely justified, unparalleled optimism and growth in prosperity—and young adult fiction fit the actual national mood.
“People’s Republic” is part satire, part warning and part what I would call “conservative military revenge fantasy.” It’s a well-written, gripping read (like everything Schlichter writes). And the combination is successful, if the goal is to hold the reader’s interest and offer a frisson of conservative thrills.
“The Turmoil” is a book little read nowadays, and would probably be a book never read except for Orson Welles. Its author, Booth Tarkington, was a famous Indiana writer of the early 20th Century. Nowadays, when literary life is dominated by coastal authors, or those who want to move to the coasts, and the ecosystem around them, and the Midwest is merely “flyover country,” to be ignored or denigrated, this seems odd. But it wasn’t that long ago that in all aspects of life, from literature to politics, the United States had much more diversity—that is, diversity in its real, non-bastardized, sense, of an organic system of differing people making different actual contributions to society. And in “The Turmoil,” the geographic and philosophical diversity of the author and the novel’s setting adds greatly to its interest to the modern reader.
I read “Laurus” because Rod Dreher told me to, on his blog at least, and I do everything Rod Dreher says. I was not disappointed. And if you’d like detailed analysis of the book through a much more sophisticated lens than mine, you should search his blog for his many posts on this book.
This is a book written on two levels. It works on one, and not on the other. As political polemic and call to action, it is quite good. As a novel, it is not very good.
This is just not a very good book. It’s not a dreadful book. Just not very good. True, it’s better than most modern apocalyptic fiction, but that’s a low bar. And true, it has to compete with Fortschen’s previous book, “One Second After,” which was fantastic. But nonetheless, it’s not a very good book.
Conservative Insurgency is that rare animal: an optimistic look at the future of America through a conservative lens. Framed as a fictitious oral history (think Studs Terkel) from 2041, when a form of conservatism has come to dominate essentially all areas of American life, the book largely succeeds in its goal of showing how such a consummation, devoutly to be wished, might come about—through a decentralized, self-organizing strategy: an insurgency (hence the title).
Lord Of The World is a highbrow, Catholic version of Left Behind, written by a priest, Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, in 1907. It is an apocalypse and theologically directed at Catholics, rather than at Protestants of the a premillennial dispensationalism bent. What makes it fascinating is that Pope Francis has repeatedly recommended it, no common thing in an apocalypse and not what you’d expect from a Pope reputed to be a theological liberal, and its predictive views, in 1907, of politics and technology.