by Timothy Lane 7/8/14
Sarah Hoyt dedicates this book to Glenn Harlan Reynolds of Instapundit for helping her remain “sane and informed for the last several years.” Not surprisingly, this book is a paean to the American tradition (so badly tattered in our own time, but still surviving, at least for now.)
Protagonist Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva (Luce to his friends, except he killed the last 14 years ago for very good reason, as readers eventually learn) considers himself a monster. The son and heir of the dictator (Good Man or Patrician) of the seacity of Olympus (the continental areas of the world were devastated in the Turmoils a few centuries earlier) in the 25th Century, a time when the whole world is divided up by the various Good Men. Keeva, as it turns out, is in solitary confinement (with no human contact even with his jailers, at least since they finished torturing him a few days after he was sent there) in the top-security undersea prison Never-Never. But one day someone breaks in and starts rescuing the prisoners. Luce is persuaded by his conscience (the mental image of his late friend Ben) to rescue those on the lowest level (the torture chambers) before escaping. This he accomplishes, helped at the end (as a group of special paramilitary soldiers known as Scrubbers enter to remove the problem) by some remarkable talents of his own.
Selling some extra great he captured during the escape, Luce gets enough money to go to ground for a couple of days to decide what to do. He learns that his brother (who had succeeded his father as Good Man) has just died, leaving no heir, and decides to see if he can claim the position. It turns out he can – his father had never bothered to disinherit him (for reasons he will soon learn, to his horror), though the remaining Good Men are reluctant to accept his return (especially those who anticipated adding Olympus to their own realm).
As a young princeling, Luce had been the usual troublemaker, though only to a minor degree. He soon learns that the family that represents the top aides in Olympus (Ben had been a member) are sympathizers of a strange )and illegal) religion known as the Usaians (in fact, it would appear that all religions are illegal), who revere the old United States (members are expected to know, and support, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution). From them, and especially the father (who effectively is his Grand Vizier or Prime Minister, though neither title is ever used), Sam Remy.
From them, and especially Sam, Luce learns about the layers of evil inherent in the rule of the Good Men. For one thing, he learns the hard way (when he goes to visit one of his old friends, who has since become the new Good Man of his seacity, and then has things explained after he gets back) that the Good Men don’t actually die, nor do they reproduce. They are genetically engineered Mules (which would horrify the population if they knew about it, as of course they never will if the Good Men can help it) who reproduce by cloning (though they keep very nominal wives around); they may well have little interest in heterosexual behavior (Luce himself is a homosexual). Worse, each Good Man uses a brain transplant to take over the body of his heir; when Nat Remy (son of Sam, nephew of Ben) killed Luce’s brother Max (who had been his own homosexual lover), he was really killing the father who had usurped Max’s body.
But the layers go deeper. Luce becomes very concerned about some of the routine papers he has to sign as the new (if not formally recognized) Good Man, and Sam explains the reality of their society. The Good Men favor stability as their main (official) goal, and that means controlling population (often through unnecessary wars and deliberate famines), preventing innovations, and similar monstrous techniques. This leads to one of the first key philosophical lessons of the book.
Luce is horrified by these past deeds, but Sam points out that there were also heavy costs in the Turmoils of the past, and then challenges him: On what basis does he oppose these acts? Even their own attempts to attack his palace and kill him were approved by nearly every Good Man, the legal authority on Earth – who is he to say they’re wrong. Luce realizes that the only basis for opposing their crimes is natural law, the notion that every person has an inherent right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – though he never can accept the idea that they might be God-given rights. (But the Usaians don’t insist on any actual religion; their concern is always the restoration of what America at its imperfect best had been.) From that point on, Luce becomes a Usaian, ready to lead a revolution against most of the other Good Men (a couple of others are sympathetic). I found myself wondering at this point if Hoyt was familiar with Henry Hazlitt’s The Great Idea (later reissued as Time Will Run Back), in which the new dictator of the communist world tries to fulfill the promises of good times that communism made, and ends up restoring democratic capitalism without having any idea initially of what it was.
One should note that this isn’t just a lesson in the importance of natural law; it’s also a lesson in the nature of political trade-offs. Luce sees the deliberate evils of the Good Men as worse the happenstance evils of the Turmoils, but the fact remains that everything comes at a price – whether it’s the freedom and democracy that led to those disasters, or the stability with which it was replaced (and which has been very convenient for the Good Men, of course).
Luce becomes involved with the Usaians and their active arm, the Sons of Liberty. (There are other such groups, with similar but not identical goals, such as Guy Fawkes’s Legion and the Sans-Culottes.) This leads to some more lessons. For example, some of the Sons of Liberty want to wipe out not only the Good Men and their military and paramilitary forces, but anyone who supports them. The Remys and Luce quickly repudiate the notion that those acting in the name of freedom (including free expression) should start by restricting it for those who disagree with them. They remind the others that there was no unanimity in 1776, and though the Tories were often mistreated there were no pogroms against them. This is another example of the trade-offs that freedom can involve; there’s no doubt that in the short run, eliminating the Good Men’s sympathizers would be very pragmatic, however monstrous.
One problem the would-be revolutionaries face is the problem of getting their message out to the population at large (disarmed, of course, but there are ways of revolting effectively even so). The Good Men have complete control of communication, even to their equivalent of the Internet (as, of course, some dictatorships do today). One of their methods in the past was to license the communications media, so that only those they accepted were able to use them. (Hoyt lists herself as a blogger as well as writer on her site, accordingtohoyt.com, and no doubt is outraged at the Democrats’ notion that journalists should be free of surveillance – probably they have the proper recognition as representatives of major media organizations.)
There are plenty of adventures and minor lessons in the book, with lots of fighting at times. Hoyt, like most modern writers, makes no attempt to hide the cost of either war or revolt (for example, after the Good Men recover one city that had revolted, they exterminate the population). The Usaians (or at least the Remys) pick names that express their reverence for the founders: Nat is Nathaniel Greene Remy, Ben was Benjamin Franklin Remy, their youngest brother is James Madison Remy, and one can guess who Sam and his daughters Abigail and Martha might be, Each Usaian also has a piece of an old American flag that flew when the country was still around; Luce receives one that Ben had owned (and keeps it throughout the rest of the novel). One also learns the basis for why Luce was arrested (one of his friends had learned the Mule secret, and perhaps also the brain replacement secret) and why he killed Ben (to save him from further brutal torture).
And later Luce himself expresses the final lesson of the book. He speculates that the old republic had gone astray when it embraced collective guilt and innocence, dividing society up into hostile groups instead of (often unruly) individuals with individual rights.
As for how it all ends . . . read the book and find out. I think most of us here will find it well worth reading.
Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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