Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Next Project: Atlas Shrugged. The Books. The Movies. All of it.

So one thing I've become absolutely facinated by is Atlas Shrugged.

For those of you who don't know, Atlas Shrugged is the foundational tome for Objectivism, a philosophy best summed up by the phrase "Fuck you, Got Mine." Essentially in Objectivism, altruism is bad, religion is bad, emotions are bad, faith is bad, general friendship is bad, taking care of the poor is bad, attempting to keep capatalistic markets from eating themselves is bad, basically everything is bad!

...except for free markets, ice cold realism and being an utter dick.

Now, there are a lot of arguements to be said in favor of altruism. Long before I read AS, I understood (mostly) what it was and considered it to be the ideological synthesis of garden-variety capitalism and communism--Namely, Rand's attempt to smother the latter with what she felt was the best of the former. Which is completely understandable. Rand grew up in communism and hated every single thing about it, so much so that when she was exposed to alternatives she went in the absolute fucking opposite direction. A-MURICA became her ideal, and she latched on to...archetecture and railroads as the absolute symbols of both.

It's an emotional reaction. It doesn't have to make sense.

But remember how I said that Objectivism holds that feelings are bad? Yeah. The greatest thing about Objectivism, as laid out in Atlas Shrugged AND as followed by most of its adherants is at a certain point it swivels around and shoots itself in the face. Everything about it, from its foundational ideas to its every day functionality, eventually collapses under its own weight. Basically, it's an idea that was created in opposition to another set of ideas, and thus once the opposing ideology is removed it turns on itself like a fox chewing off its own limb. I'm not sure that communism is a functioning ideology either, but Objectivism's sole purpose in life is to defeat both communism and altruism as concepts. Which means that it does not exist as a concept in and of itself. In essence, its entire function is to reject the qualities the founder (Rand) feels threatened by. However, it replaces these items with...nothing whatsoever. Really. All it has to offer is the free market which...cannot replace anything. Seriously, it's the "Let them Eat Cake" of ideologies, and not even Marie Antwonette ever said that.

Which doesn't mean that Atlas is not entertaining. It's a facinating mixture of bad and good writing, something that manages to be exciting and interesting even though your brain is screaming "THINGS DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT". And while her characters are about as deep as a water drop on a windsheild, Rand is extremely consistent in her characterizations. Now, when she fails it's on really fucking big points, and I'm not going to lie, there are segments where the plot pancakes down on itself and traps the characters inside...but these are usually the points where Rand lets her ideology overcome her writing skill. If anything, it's far superior to its derivative works, as anyone who has ever sat through the Sword of Truth series can testify (And oh, you know I'm getting to that someday) where the ideology rules the characters from the beginning. 

However, she falls victim to, interestingly enough, the pitfalls more common to religious fiction. There is a reason, my lovelies, why I usually hate Christian fiction, and it' ain't cause I don't identify with the religion. While this is best demonstrated by authors like Frank Peretti and Jerry B. Jenkins, probably the best book to compare Atlas Shrugged to is That Hideous Streingth, the final and most hated of C.S. Lewis's Perelandra books and a novel that I absolutely adore. The books are...similar. So much so that I just looked up the publication dates, absolutely sure that THS was published after AS as a reaction to AS's shitty quasi-religious politics (Because C.S. Lewis did that. A lot.) In fact, the exact opposite is true. That Hideous Strength is a 1945 book--hence the Satanist Science Nazis--while Atlas Shrugged is from 1957. Which means if anybody cribbed from anybody it was Rand, and not the other way around.

Seriously, the simularities between these books are amazing. They both feature hapless, gifted (and somewhat dense) female protagonists, a nebulous evil force that is slowly and progressively (no pun intended) taking over all of the world, and a cluster of Ultimate Goodness centered around ONE MAN WHO CAN SAVE US ALL. And while the Messianic undertones are kinda par for the course with That Hideous Strength--it being kind of Lewis' magnum opus--they are utterly damning in Atlas Shrugged, to the point that they completely destroy every single thing Rand is trying to build.

The books are also very unique in how poorly they translate into modern cultural views. Atlas Shrugged is very much a product of the Cold War, and as the horrible trilogy of movies shows (Which I will eventually cover) trying to bring its plot into modern day without updating its characters, technology or events one iota fails catastrophically. That Hideous Strength fails more on a cultural front, with dated sexual dynamics, poor focus on woman's issues--beyond a half-hearted effort in the early chapters to address Jane's shitty marrige, she's just kind of there--and what is quite possibly the most diabolical lesbian character I have ever read in my life. Probably the ONLY major difference is that while THS is a svelte seventeen chapters, Atlas clocks in at exactly THIRTY. These books are so strikingly similar, in fact, that personally I think a comparison between the two will display exactly what kind of issues the book has, and why writing a homage to your personal ideology is a bad, bad, bad idea.

It will also make me hammer one of my favorite novels, which is going to really hurt.

 Strap in, my lovelies. It's gonna be one hell of a train wreck.


  1. I admire your ambition but fear for your sanity.

    1. I have read both books multiple times. I have no sanity left to fear for.