Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Politics of Radio Freefall

Finished the book today. Jarpe brings everything to a slam-bang conclusion, bringing his plot strands together with a beautiful bang of poetic justice for the bad guys. Better yet, he pulls it off without using any Hidden Laser Beams Up the Sleeve. HLBUS's are the surprise secret weapon that too many science fiction authors reveal at the last minute to get their protagonists out of trouble. (Even the otherwise stellar Kay Kenyon bails out the hero of Bright of the Sky by revealing at the last minute a secret extradimensional escape hatch her prot. wove back in the day.) Jarpe even manages to put an interesting twist on the one perhaps too-convenient plot-forwarder in the novel, Quin Taber's nearly omnipotent tethered AI super-genie secretary Molly.

I wanted to talk briefly about the politics of RF, because politics are a big part of the book. Of course it's imaginary politics, focusing on the struggle between the forces of the Unification (mainly WebCense and evil villain Walter Cheeseman), and the Nationalists, a disparate underground band struggling to stop the big U.

Aqualung, one of the novel's two protagonists starts out fairly indifferent to the political issues. As the novel advances, though, Aqualung is drawn slowly towards the Nationalist cause. The other protagonist, Quin, doesn't seem to care about unification but has made destroying his ex-boss Cheeseman his mission in life. So he is on the same side on the principal that The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend.

Whenever a book has a strong political focus you have to ask yourself what the connection between the politics of the book and the politics of real life are. Another recent example of a book with strong political inclinations would be China Mieville's Iron Council. Since Mieville is a hardcore Trotskyite, I think it's clear that his Iron Council, a wandering train with portable tracks bringing hopes of liberation across the continent of Bas Lag to New Crobuzon, but (spoiler alert), getting frozen in time before they arrive, represent his hopes for change in his own country. I read Iron Council not long after the frustrating 2004 US presidential election, and can remember being tempted to create stickers saying "The Iron Council is coming" to put up in NYC subway stations.

Based on the book, I suspect that Jarpe's politics likely swing a lot more in the techie/libertarian direction. But it's definitely from an anti-authoritarian viewpoint. The focus of the book is definitely about the struggle between The Kids and The Man (the Snake Vendors have a song called "Workin' for the Fat Man," and an Animal Bones song called "Let's Get Ugly" features the lyrics "You can bring in the army/you can bring in the cops/just bring in more beer/'cause we ain't gonna stop.")

Some of the politics are a lot more transparent. When Cheeseman suggests that they get the UN to approve a military takeover of the Freefall space station, a general points out he might not get the votes. Cheeseman responds, "Well that's the beautiful thing, general. If we don't have the votes, we still have the gunners." Hmmm, remind you of anyone?

In general, I think the message of the book is that trouble starts when the most powerful nations/corporations believe that they have all the answers, and decide to annihilate or devour all competition. It's a fairly non-partisan message, really, one that could apply to Google as easily as Microsoft, or to either political party. True, it's been the right lately that has pushed us into conquer-the-planet mode. But the Democrats started Vietnam, after all, so both parties are subject to imperial fantasies.

What's especially good about the politics here is that they are open-ended, and not necessarily tied down to the current moment necessarily. Jarpe said that the book was written mostly in the 90s, so the book's Real Year would probably be sometime pre-9/11/2001, though post 9/11 events have clearly shaped the narrative.

So f**k the man, free Luna forever, and buy the book.

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