Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Christian Nation: Dueling Reviews of a Book I Haven't Read

Hey, check this out!  Weekly content, baby!  Two weeks in a row!

So, I haven't read this new alt-history book, Christian Nation.  Tam read it, and it's not always easy to tell, but I don't think she was impressed.  Like Tam, I've read a relatively large number of these kinds of books, in which Not My Side gets control of the country and wrecks it.  She even mentions my favorite: Heinlein's classic Revolt in 2100, the story of the revolution against the twisted theocrat Nehemiah Scudder, complete with secret cave bases and plenty of fight scenes and pretty girls.  She omits my second favorite, which I admit I favor mostly for its hipster obscurity: Tom Clancy's Executive Orders, in which he kills off the President, most of the Cabinet and Congress, and makes Jack Ryan President.  One can only hope this is the Harrison Ford version.  Anyway, I don't think most people think about this one in connection to Ayn Rand or Matthew Bracken, but it's basically the other side--finally, a common-sense guy gets total power and promptly solves all the world's problems.  That may not be entirely fair--I know President Jack Ryan struggled with the press a little, and maybe his solutions weren't as perfect as I remember them--but the clearest memory of that book, for me, is of reading about President Jack Ryan deciding that violence in Palestine/Israel has gone on long enough, so he'll ask the catholic church to send the Pope's Swiss Guard into the region as peacekeepers.  Someone reports back to him that the Swiss Guard are so imposing--they're big, tall Swiss guys in serious body armor--that nobody dares mess with them, and violent unrest in places like the West Bank is thus just about over.
Uh huh.

Anyway, I wasn't going to write about Tam's review of the book (prompted, in turn, by a post at Ace of Spades.)  But I ran into another review from a very different perspective at Susan K. Perry's "The Creative Atheist" blog on Patheos.  Perry loves the book; for her, it's a look at a very real, possible future that was avoided only narrowly by the defeat of John McCain.  She makes an important point: leaders who do crazy things, if you go back and look at what they were saying before they got into power, have often been giving surprisingly frank warnings of what they were about for years before they had the power to do any of it.  People do have an alarming tendency to disbelieve the crazier pronouncements of fringe (and not-so-fringe) elements, then put them into power, then react with dismay when they do what they said they would do.  George Bush said he would walk a fine (some would say dishonest) line on the assault weapons ban if elected, and then he did.  A lot of gun owners reacted as if surprised by this, demanding that he come out and squash the AWB flat, but that wasn't what he'd said he would do.  Similarly, President Obama said he would work to make fossil fuels, especially coal, more expensive; he wants alternatives to get to economic competitiveness faster.  He's done some of that work, and it's no surprise.  Whether Sarah Palin has been saying that she'd put people like me (filthy, baby-eating atheists) into Re-education Church Camp (do you think they make God's eyes during craft time? Is there canoeing?) is another matter, I guess.

Interestingly, while Tam struggles to find the so-bad-it's-good comic fodder, and Perry ponders what she can do in the real world to stop the nightmare prophecy of Frederick Rich from coming true in her lifetime, they do agree pretty closely on some aspects of the story.  This paragraph of Perry's review could have come from Tam's:
One of the main characters is gay, and there is a lot of homophobia and homosexual oppression, even brutality, by the new extremist Christian government. The only major female character is a social climber, an ambitious player, wholly unsympathetic, which allows her to be dispensed with fairly quickly. I detected what seemed to me to be a homo-erotic charge between best friends Greg and Sanjay, though it’s never acknowledged as such.
Interestingly, Perry mentions all this, but makes no judgment upon it.  I'd been looking forward to seeing whether she would notice the same dearth of female characters as Tam did.  Apparently she noticed it, but it wasn't enough to dampen her enthusiasm.  Both reviewers agree on a few things:

  • A little stilted and didactic, but briskly paced and plotted.
  • Total sausage party; almost no female characters, zero to root for.
  • Competent Other-Guy-In-Power dystopia.
But that doesn't mean the worlds merged when they collided.  Perry ends on this note:
I’m curious as to whether non-extremist Christians might read this and think, “It wouldn’t be so bad if all this came to pass, but of course without the torture and killing.”
While Tam is slightly less charitable:
Anyhow, if you can stomach it, it's a chance to see what an Ivy League corporate attorney in Manhattan thinks of you when he's pretty sure you're not going to read it. Because he thinks you can't.


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