Category: 1 Barrel

“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand Review

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged

Author:  Ayn Rand

Released:  1957

Full disclosure: I listened to the audio book of this. It was 63 hours long.

Late in this book, there’s a moment where one of the heroes takes over the radio waves to make a speech about why the great men in this society have all abandoned the masses. It’s an essay on the values of those men, versus the values of the rest of society. The men are tired of having their work, their ideas, and their money taken away from them by individuals who do not work, don’t have ideas, and don’t produce their own wages. It’s the central thesis of the book, and for the most part it is eloquently stated. After the speech, the government panics. More great men join the movement. The government decides that the man that made the speech must be made the dictator of the economy as only he can fix these issues. The man refuses to help, stating the reason why he refuses was laid out in his three hour speech. Sorry Ayn Rand. I just had the speech delivered to me, and it actually took SIX HOURS to listen to.

That’s how the whole book felt. Some very thought provoking arguments were delivered, every good guy was qualified to give a thirty minute statement on the value of the individual, and every conversation felt completely phony and at least twice as long as it should be. Every piece of dialogue in this book felt like that speech. It’s people droning on and on, uninterrupted, while they all fall on one of two sides with no gray area characters in between. All characters are on one of side of the moral absolute or the other. It’s an interesting idea for a book. In execution, I found this to be incredibly tedious.

The plot of Atlas Shrugged (great title) centers on Dagny Taggart, the Vice-President in Charge of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental railways, who is one of the most efficient individuals in the industry. The man in charge of the railroad is her brother James, a worthless inheritor of a company who actively does things that undermine the company. Why would he do that? James has fallen in with several other powerful lobbyist and legislators who actively seek to regulate the industry of the country to 1) preserve the current powerful corporations from their upstart competitors and 2) make sure that revenues also go to those in need and not just that that produce. The novel is also populated by remarkable men® who want to have sex with Dagny, including copper magnate Francisco d’Anconia, steel tycoon Hank Rearden, Dagny’s right hand man Eddie Willers, and the mysterious reputations of Ragnar Danneskjold and John Galt.

Each man (and Dagny) in the previous paragraph (except for her brother James) is the exact same man, with the exact same ideals, just at different points in the same chronological storyline. The prodigy becomes the millionaire becomes the rebel becomes the revolutionary. The antagonists in the book are all interchangeable as well. Each villain is a individual confident making laws that take things away from successful people, but who literally panic or freeze if somebody challenges their ideology. If I were reading a paper copy of this book, I would have started highlighting each time somebody said “Don’t say that! We shouldn’t even think that!” in response to somebody challenging the ‘take from the doers and give to the need’ers’ philosophy. If you’ve ever read through the comments section on a political article and seen somebody refer to another as a Libtard, you have a good idea of what Rand’s view of the opponents of her philosophy are portrayed as.

It’s a shame really, because provocative art is normally right up my alley. I’ll go to bat for just about anything Spike Lee or Larry Clark, and Steinbeck’s political writing is among my all time favorite. I agree with a lot of what Rand wrote, and I really loved The Fountainhead. But this entire book felt phonier than a Wes Anderson movie house with zero of the charm. There’s a scene where a young man never previously introduced in the book is shot during a labor dispute. As he lays there dying in Hank Rearden’s arms he give a 30 minute diatribe about what the meaning of ownership. At a cocktail party, Francisco d’Anconia gives a two hour speech on the same material every other good guy is espousing and everybody present sits silently listening with no rebuke afterward. The America of Atlas Shrugged is populated by business men who all give lengthy speeches and sniveling hangers-on who can not form a cogent argument against them or perform any job of productive value. The ratio of civilians seems to be about 100 of the sniveling whiners to one remarkable man. Throughout all 1100+ pages, there are numerous sections on people losing the will to work, or businesses going under because no quality men are available to hire.

The plot has some fun elements to it but they get buried in the lengthy discussions, a dull protagonist, and a really stupid ending. How stupid is the ending? **Spoilers follow** Imagine the government has the number one enemy of the state in custody. They take him to a remote military installation under lockdown with 14 personally chosen soldiers to watch him. Now imagine that group of soldiers getting the crap kicked out of them by 3 business men and a business lady. When one soldier gets shot, he asks “who shot me?” and the man in the suit responds, “Ragnar Danneskjold.” It only makes sense in this world the business men with strong values and self worth would also be better at soldierly work than the weak men with no individuality who would rather be shot than make decisions (but it doesn’t make it read any less ridiculous).

Equally problematic is the entire character arc of protagonist Dagny Taggart. Hank Rearden gets a lot of crap from Francisco for being the biggest culprit at enabling the corrupt system to thrive, however Dagny is basically allowed to just be reactive throughout the entire book and not be held accountable by the rest of her peers. Her biggest character arc is that she trades up her dream man whenever she meets a better version of him. Luckily for her all of the men don’t seem to mind, as they all love each other (platonically) and in the entire book there is only one other woman who meets the standard to be welcome into the men’s world, and she’s a retired actress and current cafeteria worker. The love scenes between Dagny and Hank are as creepy as you would expect, with Hank being a very demanding lover who insists on replacing foreplay with monologues on his values.

Go read The Fountainhead for a much more entertaining book that gets into the same ideas but doesn’t feel like getting a hole drilled into your head.



“The Number of the Beast” by Robert A. Heinlein Review

Number of the Beast

The Number of the Beast

Author –  Robert A. Heinlein

Published – 1980

I read 80 books last year, and finished everyone of them. Ditto the year before. The year before that I gave up on an E.M. Forester book, and felt bad about it but I recognized about a hundred pages in that it just wasn’t a book I would end up enjoying. I made it 250 pages into this book before saying screw it, and that was just out of loyalty to this normally great author.

This book was awful (or at least through the halfway point). The book starts with two characters meeting each other and deciding to get married at a dance. Zeb and Deety are both brilliant, and they leave a party accompanied by Deety’s dad Jake and Aunt Hilda who also decide to get hitched. After an explosion meant for one of them, they all flee to A remote location in Zeb’s car and figure out that Jake has previously invented a method for travel across all dimensions of time and space. They hook it up to Zeb’s car and (after discovering it is a alien conspiracy trying to kill them) flee the planet to Mars, which may or may not be Barsoom from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.

That sounds like a lot of action,but it probably took place over 10-15 pages, with the remainder of the first 250 going to such plots as Hilda and Deety both becoming pregnant after their first night on the run, Hilda and Zeb being encouraged to screw by Deety and her dad, Deety hinting that she’d get with her dad if he wanted her to, and Deety’s great breasts but terrible body odor if she doesn’t bathe twice a day.

The main conflict is who will captain their car on this trip, with none of the four wanting to and all of them taking way too seriously their chain of command. Nobody in this book read like a real person; instead they all seem like fantasies of gender roles made up by a 73 year old two generations ago. Apparently the group makes it to Oz and other fictional worlds later on, and frequent character Lazarus Long and Robert Heinlein himself make an appearance. No reward can be worth spending so long with these four bickering, unrealistic, characters in a stationary plot.


“Jim Lee’s C-23 1-8 (Complete Series)” by Jeff Mariotte and Alexander Lozano

Jim Lee's c-23

Jim Lee’s C-23 #1-8

Created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi

Written by Jeff Mariotte

Art by Alexander Lozano

Published in 1998

I had high hopes for this series because it came from an imprint that I loved (WildC.A.T.s, Backlash, Stormwatch, The Authority, Gen13 are all nostalgia filled trips down memory lane for me) and covers by Ryan Benjamin that fit right in with those other books.  What I didn’t know when starting the series though was that this series was created as a tie in for a card game.  I’m usually not big on media tie in series, as they seem to restrict the creative freedom of the writers or don’t have any real stakes taking place.

Once I got into the inside of the book I was immediately disappointed by the artwork.  Character anatomy is pretty much not in the realm of reality, but not even in the fun comic book way of 90’s image comics.  Torsos are a cross between the typical steroid visions of that era, but also have an affected by toxic waste vibe where they flow into necks, legs or breasts in weird ways.  It’s particularly apparent on the female characters (of which there are only two that have any speaking parts, both are wanting to have sex with the protagonist) who look way less humanoid than I’m sure was intended by the story.

Speaking of the story… there’s not much there.  The entire plot of eight issues can be summed up as an elevator pitch or back of a book summary for basically any heroes journey.  Two rival races are at war, and the only person who can win the war is the man born to both of them.  His father was killed by the leader of the evil race, and now he’s the secret heir to the kingdom for the good guys.  I was going to stretch it out another sentence but that pretty much sums up all eight issues.

The setting is a mix between Avatar and Cyberforce, with the good guys being the organic Navi-like race and the bad guys being the cybernetically enhanced humans.  So little happens in this series that it’s inexplicable that one of the only things that happens in the story (a prison break) takes place in between issues.  In addition to the cardboard hero (Corbin), there’s a bad guy (Hemlocke), Scarab (a jealous brother), and the two females (one from each race) who want to have sex with Corbin (whose names I have already forgot).

I’m trying to think of a redeeming quality about this series, but the bad art, cliche story and forgettable characters are leaving me drawing a blank.


Roadwork by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) Review


Author: Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

Release Date: 1981


Warning, this is one of those books I can’t complain about without also spoiling the ending.  Spoilers marked accordingly below.

 I had a feeling of déjà vu while reading Roadwork by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman).  Following on the heels of The Rage, The Shining and even The Long Walk, King has now told multiple books about seemingly sane characters snapping and losing all appreciation for right or wrong, life or death.  In this story, Barton George Dawes is forced to come to grips with a highway expansion that will require him to sell his home and relocate his employer.  From the beginning of the story it’s clear that Dawes is lying either to himself or to everybody else.  After buying some powerful firearms, he concocts a story that will cause the laundry corporation that he works for to miss out on the new property that it has an option on. The result will force the company to go out of business, but have little practical effect on the corporation that owns it.

 If that sounds like a stupid plan, it’s because it is.  Similarly to the main character in (the terrible) The Rage, here the protagonist frequently makes decisions that will cause hardships on other characters with no care for that effect on their situation.  Whereas the shooter in The Rage actually killed people, Dawes actions are more in line with ruining his wife’s and coworkers’ finances.  (There is a ridiculous statement about his coworkers having unemployment coverage that will take care of them better than the laundry ever could, but it only underscores how little Dawes cares for these people or understands their situations.)  As the book progresses, Dawes tries to simultaneously thwart the city’s highway expansion, while also weigh the moral implications of his actions.

 I’m starting to pick up on a trend that the Bachman books are supposed to be bleak.  Through the first three, only The Long Walk has been what could be described as an enjoyable read.  However the problem is not in the dark subject matter of the stories but instead in the execution.  **Spoilers follow for the ending of the book**  Dawes solution at the end is to blow up his house (with him in it) before a televised news crew.  The way he makes sure a news crew is present is to shoot at the lawyer and police officers he told could come take possession of his house when they arrive.  This book takes place in the 1970’s, so I think calling in a tip to the news station could have had the same desired outcome.  Although it doesn’t appear he kills any of civil servants, he shoots at least one in the arm with a Magnum (the book points out repeatedly how powerful the firearms he has chosen are).  Apparently we are to overlook or empathize with Dawes because he lost a child several years back.

 This book may have been a better read if told through the perspective of Mary (Dawes wife) or if he actually spent any time sympathizing with her.  While they both lost a son, Mary’s pain is overlooked because of how much their son was “George’s boy.”  When she loses everything and is forced to move in with her parents, Dawes solution is to split the money he received for surrendering the house with her as well as their bank account, and then give the rest to a hitchhiker he slept with shortly after they split up.  It is obvious King wants readers to either sympathize with Dawes or forgive some of his actions, but he never gives reasons to do so.  If his intent was to just tell a story about a selfish man who decides to kill himself, then he should have made it more entertaining than what is present in Roadwork.  In various introductions to the Bachman books, King expresses disappointment in this story but says it gives readers a window into his mind at the time of publication and later calls it his favorite Bachman book.  Although both statements can be true, I would only concur with his initial evaluation.

 The only positives I can say about this book involve a few entertaining scenes that had me optimistic King’s story would develop into something better.  Early on when Dawes is coming up with stories to fool a gun seller (for no real reason) and later Dawes’s supervisor (in order to make them lose their option on the property), I was eager to find out what the end game he had in mind was.  Instead for 300+ pages, Dawes has no idea what he is going to do and we are dragged along.  This included numerous pages of Dawes moping around his house and a trip on mescaline that seemed out of place with the rest of the book.  While I’m only giving this one star, I will say that on the scale of one star books this is much closer to two stars than zero stars (which Goodreads doesn’t allow) and was much better than The Rage.


“Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny Review


Lord of Light

Author: Roger Zelazny

Release Date: 1967

I nearly quit reading this book three times. The first was around page 75, the second was around page 150 and the third was around page 250. I stuck with it out of a goal to finish all the Hugo and Nebula award winners, but at no point did I enjoy reading this book. Having read one of the other nominees for the 1968 Hugo award (“The Einstein Intersection” by Samuel R. Delany) I can say with some confidence that that was a terrible year for science fiction.

The plot of “Lord of Light” is about a society where Hindu gods and a system of Karma are the norm, and people are elevated into deity roles if they have some attribute that is basically a psychic power (pyrokinetic, death stare, and electromagnetism among those mentioned). All of these Gods have used technology to assert their dominance over the rest of the people from their capital of Heaven, and demand that technology remains pre-renaissance for their people (I gathered this from reading the back of the book, as the book itself is not nearly as clear regarding the pre-Godhood ascension). This despite the fact that any character that dies in the book is likely to reappear in a different body, with a different gender or be transmitted to some other consciousness. The whole thing had similar contradictions that seemed to only make sense as a way for the author to create this world. One God/man, Sam, Siddhartha, Maitreya, Mahasamatman, the Lord of Light, twenty other freaking names (which is common for most characters as they switch bodies) is either a God or a Man, and leads the struggle against the Gods, either resurrected by his own will or by his followers. Also present are demons, who could be aliens or subjugated humans (Christians?). I’m not even sure if this is supposed to take place on Earth or not and I’m not going to bother spending more time on this book looking it up online.

The writing style itself was also unpleasant. The author had a habit of starting chapters off with two characters and try to spend several pages in conversation before identifying who was present or which one was talking. Then once they were revealed, there would often be two more pages of rapid fire dialogue with no additional identifications for the the reader, who must depend on their memory of which character was delivering each boring monologue. I much preferred Zelazny’s other award winner, “This Immortal,” but that’s not saying much.


“Rage” by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) by Review



Author: Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Release Date: September 1977

“Rage” is a book written by a young Stephen King and published in 1977 about a fictionalized school shooting incident. The book has since been taken “out of print” due to its relationship with subsequent actual school shootings and the author’s discomfort with that connection. It would be easy to dismiss criticisms of “Rage” as applying our collective knowledge and experience of multiple school shootings to retroactively criticize King’s work. (King released this book under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.) While reading it, I was in shock that anybody could have ever read this book and thought it told a story that was at all realistic or have a lead character that was even an ounce sympathetic, and it’s that latter problem that really made the book bomb for me.

A few things about my beliefs, before I go any further. First, I don’t believe any topic should be off limits for writing. I think that if somebody is inspired by fiction to do wrong acts, that person is solely responsible for those consequences, not the author of that fiction. Furthermore, I think you can tell stories about bad people doing bad things that end up being great stories. (I’m a huge Bret Easton Ellis fan, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for my enjoyment entertainment in that category.) That being said, it’s not the idea of this book that ruined this book for me, but the author’s goal and execution.

“Rage is the story of Charlie Decker, a high school student who is returning to school after swinging a pipe wrench at one of his teachers. **Spoilers follow** After freaking out and accusing an authority figure at school of very specific sexual proclivities, he goes to a class room, kills the teacher, kills another adult, and takes the students in the class room hostage. The rest of the book takes place in that class room except for flashbacks of certain “traumatic” events from Charlie’s youth, few stories shared by classmates/hostages, and a few pages of epilogue after the crisis is resolved. One about two or three occasions, Decker mentions the thing sitting motionless at his feet, or the former body of his teacher in that room. Besides that, one girl screams and one student (the bad guy in the book) points out that Charlie murdered two people. The rest of the class (and Charlie himself) spend the rest of the time laughing, telling stories and bonding, while ignoring the dead teachers and the situation they are in.

It almost has to be read to be believed how little the students in this class care that somebody is shooting teacher’s in their school. **Seriously, the rest of the book is spoiled here** As Decker begins to tell the students about the events that made him who he is today (vignettes which foreshadow the much better writing by King later in his career) the students change from ambivalent about the murders and being held hostage to actively rooting for Charlie and violence on their own toward the lone bad guy fellow student. Those events that made him who he is? Well, there’s the time he heard his dad saying he’d slide Charlie’s mom’s face open if she cheated on him. There’s also the time he broke a bunch of windows as a kid and his dad threw him and he denied it. There’s also the time he was made to wear a suit to a birthday party and ended up getting embarrassed and in a fight. Finally, there’s the time he almost had sex at a party with a stranger but couldn’t get it up (ok, this story was actually fun enough it almost earned the book a second star). Compared to the trauma of the child in “Firestarter,” or the killer in “Mr. Mercedes” it really just kind of reads as so what? None of the stuff he described has any possible justification for killing two adults that had nothing to do with him. But the students in the class room see differently, and refuse to escape when given the opportunity, and even participate in a group beat down of the lone dissenter in the class room leaving him in a catatonic state afterwards.

The tone King goes for here is not dark comedy, which is probably the only way this type of story could have worked. By having the entire class (except one student) accept Charlie’s actions and later enjoy and participate in the violence, the entire thing comes across as unintentional farce: an entirely unrealistic response to a tragic situation. Not present at any point are sympathies for any of the parties involved, and the concluding epilogue doesn’t seem to indicate anybody has changed based on what happened, except that people still remember and think fondly of Charlie. So far the Bachman books are off to a rough start, hopefully “The Long Walk” is a better story, or at least has some semblance of reality in how the characters respond to its conflict.


“The Einstein Intersection” by Samuel R. Delany Review


The Einstein Intersection

Author: Samuel R. Delany

Release Date: 1967

** spoiler alert ** Well, I’ll admit it. I didn’t understand or care about what was happening for the first 125 pages of this book. The book was only 155 pages long, so that’s a bit of a deal breaker in terms of getting a good score. The story of Orpheus isn’t interesting enough of its own to be a payoff for an exciting ending, and with characters dying and reappearing frequently there was never any real suspense at any moments.

I’ll do my best to summarize the plot, which even reading the back of the book did nothing to clear up for me. So aliens are living on Earth after humans have either left or died out. The aliens are big on making sure everybody can function, speak, hunt, etc. or else they go live in The Kage. The main character is Lobey, who has a thing for a silent girl who can do some special tricks with her mind. She ends up dying. Lobey also finds an old super computer that gives him more questions than answers. He ends up chasing down a guy called Kid Death that’s like a Billy the Kid analogue (not metaphorically, he is actually an incarnation of that figure) while the silent girl may be film star Jean Harlow, or that could just be The Dove. There’s also Green-Eyes and the Spider, who fit in the Orpheus parable depending on when Lobey is getting things explained to him. And it’s possible all of this is just simulated realities by the aliens or the super computer.

Just typing that out made me frustrated at how ambiguous the book is at parts. Instead of clear explanations for the alien civilization (which is also just their version of reliving Earth world life) the reader is thrown in and not given enough reason to care about any of the characters. Also, because it’s a whole retelling of Orpheus and the underworld and everything’s a simulation, nobody really dies and everybody can be resurrected. Also several people have magic power (speaking to animals, telekinesis, knowledge of the exact amount of time somebody can hang off a cliff before falling) to serve the story at random moments. This book was just not for me.