August 20, 2013

Christian Nation

By way of the inimitable Nate Winchester comes word of a new ... novel that purports to be something of a "case study" of what would happen if the Religious Right ever got its way. It's called Christian Nation and, well, you can just guess at the usual "progressive" clichés:

Christian Nation is a work of speculative political fiction, arising from the counterfactual of a McCain/Palin victory in 2008 followed soon after by McCain’s sudden death and Sarah Palin’s ascension to the presidency.

When the book opens, eight years have passed since the Holy War ended in victory for the fundamentalist Christian forces. Americans live in bondage to a comprehensive authoritarian law called The Blessing, enforced by a totally integrated digital world known as the Purity Web.

Yeesh. As a big fan of alternate history, I believe the single biggest factor involved in establishing an alternate reality is the plausibility. So, how exactly did Palin manage to pull all this off?

Struggling with perspective and memory, the memoirist recounts the country’s long slow descent to religious authoritarianism, propelled by economic distress, a second major terrorist attack, and the fanatical ambitions of an extremist evangelical minority.

Oh, I see. So after another radical Muslim terror attack (which kills substantially more than 9/11, FWIW), we traded what those fundies wanted ... for what other fundies wanted. Got it.

Interestingly, Nate mentioned to me that this whole premise makes an interesting addendum to our post about Orson Scott Card, which soooo irritated the [comicbook] Left with its fantasies about Boss Obama creating a national police of disaffected "urban youth" ... even though Obama actually stated a desire to create a civilian "security" force some years earlier. Can someone point to me where Sarah Palin has indicated where she wanted to create a fundamentalist Christian government here in the United States?

Hilariously, the irony of some of the reviews put up at the book's website seems to have escaped the author/publisher. For instance,

Though McCain did not win the 2008 election, in recent years controversial actions like drone strikes, invasions of privacy and unlawful detainment have been condoned in part due to greater worries over terrorism. So it’s not for us to say, “It can’t happen here.” This disturbing book argues that much of it already has.

Uh, helLO?? And just which administration has done that?? The irony that is completely missed by the author via his HAL-9000esque (thanks, Ace) dialogue is beyond head-scratching. He has his protagonists pondering how the Right would completely overlook "their self-proclaimed values and their own interests" in order to get power ... and that if Obama had won in 2008 this same Right would be "screaming bloody murder" if he took the same measures that President Palin did. Apparently author Fred Rich must exist in the reality in which his novel is set. After all, in our reality it's the Left which was screaming bloody murder about George W. Bush's methods of fighting the War on Terror -- for seven long years -- but now that "their own" inhabits the White House, these very same measures, and much, much more, are EMBRACED by the Left. Or, at least, their complaints are kept very mute. And why is that? Yep: They're overlooking "their self-proclaimed values and their own interests" in order to get (and maintain) power.

At least the Kirkus Reviews blurb knows precisely what the book's intended purpose is: "Dystopian, wonkish fun for the Maddow set.”

Even more gut-busting hilarity ensues at Ace's, where he dissects the stodgy -- and ridiculous -- dialogue (or, as Ace calls it, "Compelling and Realistic Simulacrum of Human Speech") of the book. Be sure to read this one all the way through. It'll make your day for sure. But before all that, Ace has the money quote: "When Alex Jones prattles on about this, the right goofs on him; when 'Frederic Rich,' leftist fantasist extraordinaire does, W.W. Norton books says 'Let's publish that.'"

Oh, Ace also bets that the terror attacks in the novel actually were not enacted by Muslim fundies, but by some Christian militiamen framing Muslim fundies. Because that's how the fringe "progressive" Left rolls, after all. It's the same 35-some percent that believes G.W. Bush orchestrated/knew about 9/11, y'know.

Here's USA Today's review of the book. And here's a [very cheesy] video summarizing the story:

The vid includes a blurb comparing Nation to Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Uh huh. Aside from the fact both are alternate history, that's where any and all similarities end. Remember what I said about "plausibility." I liked this comment about the video (at YouTube): "I'm an atheist and I found this ridiculous and idiotic."

I'm always fascinated by those who "warn" about a Far-Right Christian takeover of America. I really -- and I've tried! -- cannot fathom how such could realistically (key word) come about. Lefty scifi author Joe Haldeman's novel The Accidental Time Machine (which I liked a lot, by the way) unfortunately spent a lot of time on a future America ruled by a similar regime found in Nation. I had to laugh at the premise. Tom Kratman's Caliphate approaches the same American society from a bit of a different angle: radical Muslim attacks against the US leads to Islam basically becoming illegal in the country, and the world geopolitical breakdown includes a US "empire" which encompasses all the Americas, and Muslim caliphate presiding over Europe and much of Asia. Though seemingly more plausible than Haldeman's scenario, I still couldn't buy many of the actions taken by the future US and especially the Muslim domination of Europe as if those countries' majorities would just sit still and meekly accept their new overlords.

At any rate, expect to see Christian Nation proferred about by many of the usual suspects as "insightful," "prophetic," and "realistically frightening." Which, of course, it's anything but.

Posted by Hube at August 20, 2013 09:55 AM | TrackBack

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Thanks for the link to Ace, will read it in a sec.

But you know what? As much as I might be crucified, I'll admit that OSC's excuse would work here as well.

Requote: "It isn't my work as a writer of science fiction and fantasy that prepares me to write about unlikely events. My job in writing sci-fi is to make impossible events seem not just possible but likely. Inevitable."

Though, like all art, how well does the author pull off his effort? In short, which makes the impossible seem more plausible? (though we must be honest that it will be hard to answer without our biases influencing our choice)

Posted by: Nate Winchester at August 20, 2013 10:17 AM

Yeesh is right, Hube. I like alternate history as well, but this is implausible in the extreme. Not to mention insane in the extreme. The author of the book must be a regular MSNBC viewer or something. I like how Kirkus acknwoledge that with the reference to the Maddow crowd, because that's the only people (and she maybe has an audience of 5 viewers)

I haven't read Kratman's Caliphate, although I have heard that he got called "racist" for writing it. Blogger Ed Trimmell talked about it here (I don't know how to insert links into the comments here). He also talks about a writer named Dan Simmons, who wrote a book with a similar premise:

And you can bet that the same won't happen to Rich. Like you said, they'll view it as "prophetic." The whole premise is just a petty attack on religious conservatives, Palin and Republicans in general.

Posted by: Carl at August 20, 2013 01:56 PM

Indeed, one glaring problem I had with "Prayers for the Assassin" was the key part of the book was unconvincing. How exactly did the US become an Islamic nation. The author tries (and fails IMNHO) to convince me how it happened but it kept nagging at me and detracted from an otherwise enjoyable book. YMMV.

To wit: Can anyone recommend any alternate history novels not written by someone who's last name ends in "urtledove"?

Posted by: Duffy at August 20, 2013 02:04 PM

The majority of the comments seem to tell exactly what this "novel" is: a POS. I'm glad to see that some people still have common sense.

Posted by: Carl at August 20, 2013 02:05 PM

Pastwach: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card is really good. The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, which involves the computer revolution happening in the 19th century instead of the 20th, isn't bad. Those are two I can think of at the top of my head. There are differently more out there.

I've never read anything by Harry Turtledove; is he any good?

And BTW, I was referring to the comments in the video, but for some reason it wouldn't submit me referring to Youtube.

Posted by: Carl at August 20, 2013 02:10 PM

Duffy, how about John C Wright's current ongoing series?

I recommend both Count to a Trillion and the Hermetic Millennia though these look at the world as a whole, and deal with futures thousands and THOUSANDS of years into the future.

I've written reviews of both books on my blog for those interested.

Posted by: Nate Winchester at August 20, 2013 02:26 PM

Duff: The Philip Roth book The Plot Against America is good. I have several anthologies with cool stories in 'em, including "The West is Red" and "Bring the Jubilee." Fatherland, about the 1960s detente between the US and Nazi Germany with a Nazi officer determined to discover what happened to Europe's Jews is very good. I'm sure I have more in my collection; I'll post 'em after I check 'em out.

Carl: Turtledove's Guns of the South may be his best work. It shows a victorious Confederacy due to time-traveling [white] South Africans helping them out (ie, giving them AK-47s).

Posted by: Hube at August 20, 2013 02:42 PM

Oh man, how did I forget Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle? It's considered a classic, if you can get past Dick's quirky style.

John Birmingham's "Axis of Time" trilogy from a few year's back is very good. It shows what happens when an Allied naval battlegroup is whisked back to 1942 from 2021 after a teleportation experiment goes awry. Leaves open a sequel possibility, a new Cold War between the USSR and the Allies with future tech.

Posted by: Hube at August 20, 2013 03:01 PM

I've read "Man in the High Castle" and some of the "Guns of the South" stuff but the latter left me cold. I've also read Roth's book as well as Fatherland. There's also What If? and What If volume 2. (NB: these have no connection to the comic book series)

Personally SS-GB by Len Deigton (sp?) was really good and worth reading.

Thanks for the suggestions on the other stuff I'll be sure to check them out.

Posted by: Duffy at August 20, 2013 03:15 PM

I'll have to check "Guns of the South" out some time. The premise sounds interestingly. I've also been wanting to read "Axis of Time" for a while.

Posted by: Carl at August 20, 2013 04:57 PM

If we are discussing alternate history or SF that deals in a future when there is a religious dictatorship in America, then it's important to remember that Robert Heinlein did it first in 1940 with "If This Goes on--"

It is a clunky story by today's standards, partly because of eviscerating editing by John Campbell and Kay Tarrant and an uneven Heinlein rewrite (to match his more libertarian ideology by then) in the 1950s. (I'm actually working with a team of scholars trying to reconstruct his original version from the fragmentary typed drafts that we still have of it.)

But it was groundbreaking in its day. Heinlein consciously patterned it after Sinclair Lewis' "It can't happen here," and his short novel might more accurately have been titled "It did happen here."

Posted by: Steve Newton at August 20, 2013 05:27 PM

Interesting, Steve... that's one Heinlein story I've never heard of.

Posted by: Carl at August 20, 2013 07:14 PM

Hube, you *liked* The Plot Against America? I read it in college, and couldn't stand it.

Besides being irritated by the lazy trope of "Lindbergh was a Nazi" (and by inference, "isolationists/Republicans were all secret Nazi sympathizers"), I also quickly noticed that it was also being set up as an allegory to George W. Bush (as the left portrayed him), as soon as Lindbergh made a campaign appearance strutting around in a flight suit. ("Does this remind you of anything? Huh? Huh? Huh?")

The only thing which really intrigues me about the book, in retrospect, is its portrayal of Walter Winchell. Without knowing it, Philip Roth basically predicted Glenn Beck, 5 years before it happened. (He just put him on the wrong side of the aisle.)

Posted by: Jeffrey at August 24, 2013 11:48 AM

Hi Jeff. Thanks for commenting. Yeah, I was intrigued by TPAA. Perhaps the "Lindbergh was a Nazi" trope was a bit lazy, but I thought it was intriguing how ... well, subtle the insidious nature of the dismantling of Jewish families/neighborhoods was. It really freaked me out.

Posted by: Hube at August 24, 2013 12:20 PM

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