Books by Beck, Glenn

Beck, Glenn and Harriet Parke. Agenda 21. New York: Threshold Editions, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4767-1669-5.
In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (“Earth Summit”) in Rio de Janeiro, an action plan for “sustainable development” titled “Agenda 21” was adopted. It has since been endorsed by the governments of 178 countries, including the United States, where it was signed by president George H. W. Bush (not being a formal treaty, it was not submitted to the Senate for ratification). An organisation called Local Governments for Sustainability currently has more than 1200 member towns, cities, and counties in 70 countries, including more than 500 in the United States signed on to the program. Whenever you hear a politician talking about environmental “sustainability” or the “precautionary principle”, it's a good bet the ideas they're promoting can be traced back to Agenda 21 or its progenitors.

When you read the U.N. Agenda 21 document (which I highly encourage you to do—it is very likely your own national government has endorsed it), it comes across as the usual gassy international bureaucratese you expect from a U.N. commission, but if you read between the lines and project the goals and mechanisms advocated to their logical conclusions, the implications are very great indeed. What is envisioned is nothing less than the extinction of the developed world and the roll-back of the entire project of the enlightenment. While speaking of the lofty goal of lifting the standard of living of developing nations to that of the developed world in a manner that does not damage the environment, it is an inevitable consequence of the report's assumption of finite resources and an environment already stressed beyond the point of sustainability that the inevitable outcome of achieving “equity” will be a global levelling of the standard of living to one well below the present-day mean, necessitating a catastrophic decrease in the quality of life in developed nations, which will almost certainly eliminate their ability to invest in the research and technological development which have been the engine of human advancement since the Renaissance. The implications of this are so dire that somebody ought to write a dystopian novel about the ultimate consequences of heading down this road.

Somebody has. Glenn Beck and Harriet Parke (it's pretty clear from the acknowledgements that Parke is the principal author, while Beck contributed the afterword and lent his high-profile name to the project) have written a dark and claustrophobic view of what awaits at the end of The Road to Serfdom (May 2002). Here, as opposed to an incremental shift over decades, the United States experiences a cataclysmic socio-economic collapse which is exploited to supplant it with the Republic, ruled by the Central Authority, in which all Citizens are equal. The goals of Agenda 21 have been achieved by depopulating much of the land, letting it return to nature, packing the humans who survived the crises and conflict as the Republic consolidated its power into identical densely-packed Living Spaces, where they live their lives according to the will of the Authority and its Enforcers. Citizens are divided into castes by job category; reproductive age Citizens are “paired” by the Republic, and babies are taken from mothers at birth to be raised in Children's Villages, where they are indoctrinated to serve the Republic. Unsustainable energy sources are replaced by humans who have to do their quota of walking on “energy board” treadmills or riding “energy bicycles” everywhere, and public transportation consists of bus boxes, pulled by teams of six strong men.

Emmeline has grown up in this grim and grey world which, to her, is way things are, have always been, and always will be. Just old enough at the establishment of Republic to escape the Children's Village, she is among the final cohort of Citizens to have been raised by their parents, who told her very little of the before-time; speaking of that could imperil both parents and child. After she loses both parents (people vanishing, being “killed in industrial accidents”, or led away by Enforcers never to be seen again is common in the Republic), she discovers a legacy from her mother which provides a tenuous link to the before-time. Slowly and painfully she begins to piece together the history of the society in which she lives and what life was like before it descended to crush the human spirit. And then she must decide what to do about it.

I am sure many reviewers will dismiss this novel as a cartoon-like portrayal of ideas taken to an absurd extreme. But much the same could have been said of We, Anthem, or 1984. But the thing about dystopian novels based upon trends already in place is that they have a disturbing tendency to get things right. As I observed in my review of Atlas Shrugged (April 2010), when I first read it in 1968, it seemed to evoke a dismal future entirely different from what I expected. When I read it the third time in 2010, my estimation was that real-world events had taken us about 500 pages into the 1168 page tome. I'd probably up that number today. What is particularly disturbing about the scenario in this novel, as opposed to the works cited above, is that it describes what may be a very strong attractor for human society once rejection of progress becomes the doctrine and the population stratifies into a small ruling class and subjects entirely dependent upon the state. After all, that's how things have more or less been over most of human history and around the globe, and the brief flash of liberty, innovation, and prosperity we assume to be the normal state of affairs may simply be an ephemeral consequence of the opening of a frontier which, now having closed, concludes that aberrant chapter of history, soon to be expunged and forgotten.

This is a book which begs for one or more sequels. While the story is satisfying by itself, you put it down wondering what happens next, and what is going on outside the confines of the human hive its characters inhabit. Who are the members of the Central Authority? How do they live? How do they groom their successors? What is happening on other continents? Is there any hope the torch of liberty might be reignited?

While doubtless many will take fierce exception to the entire premise of the story, I found only one factual error. In chapter 14 Emmeline discovers a photograph which provides a link to the before-time. On it is the word “KODACHROME”. But Kodachrome was a colour slide (reversal) film, not a colour print film. Even if the print that Emmeline found had been made from a Kodachrome slide, the print wouldn't say “KODACHROME”. I did not spot a single typographical error, and if you're a regular reader of this chronicle, you'll know how rare that is. In the Kindle edition, links to documents and resources cited in the factual afterword are live and will take you directly to the cited page.

November 2012 Permalink

Beck, Glenn and Harriet Parke. Agenda 21: Into the Shadows. New York: Threshold Editions, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4767-4682-1.
When I read the authors' first Agenda 21 (November 2012) novel, I thought it was a superb dystopian view of the living hell into which anti-human environmental elites wish to consign the vast majority of the human race who are to be their serfs. I wrote at the time “This is a book which begs for one or more sequels.” Well, here is the first sequel and it is…disappointing. It's not terrible, by any means, but it does not come up to the high standard set by the first book. Perhaps it suffers from the blahs which often afflict the second volume of a trilogy.

First of all, if you haven't read the original Agenda 21 you will have absolutely no idea who the characters are, how they found themselves in the situation they're in at the start of the story, and the nature of the tyranny they're trying to escape. I describe some of this in my review of the original book, along with the factual basis of the real United Nations plan upon which the story is based.

As the novel begins, Emmeline, who we met in the previous book, learns that her infant daughter Elsa, with whom she has managed to remain in tenuous contact by working at the Children's Village, where the young are reared by the state apart from their parents, along with other children are to be removed to another facility, breaking this precious human bond. She and her state-assigned partner David rescue Elsa and, joined by a young boy, Micah, escape through a hole in the fence surrounding the compound to the Human Free Zone, the wilderness outside the compounds into which humans have been relocated. In the chaos after the escape, John and Joan, David's parents, decide to also escape, with the intention of leaving a false trail to lead the inevitable pursuers away from the young escapees.

Indeed, before long, a team of Earth Protection Agents led by Steven, the kind of authoritarian control freak thug who inevitably rises to the top in such organisations, is dispatched to capture the escapees and return them to the compound for punishment (probably “recycling” for the adults) and to serve as an example for other “citizens”. The team includes Julia, a rookie among the first women assigned to Earth Protection.

The story cuts back and forth among the groups in the Human Free Zone. Emmeline's band meets two people who have lived in a cave ever since escaping the initial relocation of humans to the compounds. They learn the history of the implementation of Agenda 21 and the rudiments of survival outside the tyranny. As the groups encounter one another, the struggle between normal human nature and the cruel and stunted world of the slavers comes into focus.

Harriet Parke is the principal author of the novel. Glenn Beck acknowledges this in the afterword he contributed which describes the real-world U.N. Agenda 21. Obviously, by lending his name to the project, he increases its visibility and readership, which is all for the good. Let's hope the next book in the series returns to the high standard set by the first.

April 2015 Permalink

Beck, Glenn with Jack Henderson. The Eye of Moloch. New York: Threshold Editions, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4516-3584-3.
I have a terrible record of reading a book, saying I don't intend to read the inevitable sequel, and then once again, finding my bandaged finger wabbling back to the Fire. This novel is a sequel to The Overton Window (June 2010) which I found to be a respectable but less than gripping thriller with an unsatisfying conclusion. The present volume continues the story, but still leaves much up in the air at its end. As a sequel to The Overton Window, it assumes the reader has previously read that book; little or no effort is made to bring readers who start here up to speed, and they will find themselves without any idea who the principal characters are, the circumstances they find themselves in, and why they are acting as they do.

The grand plot to use public relations to manipulate the U.S. population into welcoming the imposition of tyranny by a small group of insiders is proceeding. Noah Gardner, son of one of the key players in the conspiracy and former worker in its inner circle, has switched sides and now supports the small band called Founders' Keepers, which, led by Molly Ross, strives to bring the message of the country's founding principles to the citizens before the situation reaches the state of outright revolt. But the regime views any form of dissent as a threat, and has escalated the conflict into overt violence, deploying private contractors, high-tech weapons, and intrusive and ubiquitous surveillance, so well proven in overseas wars, against its domestic opponents.

As the U.S. crumbles, fringe groups of all kinds begin to organise and pursue their own agendas. The conspirators play them against one another, seeking to let them do the dirty work, while creating an environment of fear of “domestic terrorists” which will make the general population welcome the further erosion of liberty. With the news media completely aligned with the regime and the Internet beginning to succumb to filtering and censorship, there seems little hope of getting the truth out to the people.

Molly Ross seizes upon a bold stroke which will expose the extent to which the central planners intend to deliver Americans into serfdom. Certainly if Americans were aware of how their every act was monitored, correlated, and used to control them, they would rise up. But this requires a complicated plan which puts the resources of her small group and courageous allies on the line.

Like its predecessor, this book, taken as a pure thriller, doesn't come up to the standard set by the masters of the genre. There are many characters with complex back-stories and interactions, and at times it's difficult to remember who's who and what side they're currently on. The one thing which is very effective is that throughout the novel we encounter references to weapons, surveillance technologies, domestic government programs which trample upon the rights of citizens, media bias and overt propaganda, and other horrors which sketch how liberty is shrinking in the face of a centralised, coercive, and lawless state. Then in the afterword, most of these programs are documented as already existing in the U.S., complete with citations to source documents on the Web. But then one wonders: in 2013 the U.S. National Security Agency has been revealed as spying on U.S. citizens in ways just as extreme as the surveillance Molly hoped to expose here, and only a small percentage of the population seems to care.

Perhaps what works best is that the novel evokes a society near that tipping point where, in the words of Claire Wolfe, “It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” We have many novels and manifestos of political turnaround before liberty is totally lost, and huge stacks of post-apocalyptic fiction set after the evil and corrupt system has collapsed under its own weight, but this is one of the few novels you'll read set in that difficult in-between time. The thing about a tipping point is that individuals, small groups, and ideas can have a disproportionate influence on outcomes, whereas near equilibrium the system is difficult to perturb. This book invites the reader to ask, in a situation as described, which side they would choose, and what would they do, and risk, for what they believe.

December 2013 Permalink

Beck, Glenn. The Overton Window. New York: Threshold Editions, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-8430-1.
I have no idea who is actually responsible for what in the authorship of this novel. Glenn Beck is listed as the principal author, but the title page says “with contributions from Kevin Balfe, Emily Bestler, and Jack Henderson”. I have cited the book as it appears on the cover and in most mentions of it, as a work by Glenn Beck. Certainly, regardless of who originated, edited, and assembled the words into the present work, it would not have been published nor have instantaneously vaulted to the top of the bestseller lists had it not been associated with the high profile radio and television commentator to whom it is attributed. Heck, he may have written the whole thing himself and generously given credit to his editors and fact checkers—it does, indeed, read like a first attempt by an aspiring thriller author.

It isn't at all bad. Beck (et al., or whatever) tend to be a bit preachy and the first half of the novel goes pretty slow. It's only after you cross the 50 yard line that you discover there's more to the story than you thought, that things and characters are not what they seemed to be, and that the choices facing the protagonist, Noah Gardner, are more complicated than you might have thought.

The novel has been given effusive cover blurbs by masters of the genre Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. Still, I'd expect those page-turner craftsmen to have better modulated the tension in a story than we find here. A perfectly crafted thriller is like a roller coaster, with fear-inducing rises and terrifying plunges, but this is more like a lecture on constitutional government whilst riding on a Disneyland ride where most of the characters are animatronic robots there to illustrate the author's message. The characters just don't feel right. How plausible is it that a life-long advocate of liberty and conspiracy theorist would become bestest buddy with an undercover FBI agent who blackmailed him into co-operating in a sting operation less than 24 hours before? Or that a son who was tortured almost to death at the behest (and in the presence of) his father could plausibly be accepted as a minion in the father's nefarious undertaking? For the rest, we're going to have to go behind the spoiler curtain.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.  
In chapter 30, Noah is said to have been kept unconscious for an entire weekend with a “fentanyl patch”. But fentanyl patches are used as an analgesic, not an anæsthetic. Although the drug was once used as a general anæsthetic, it was administered intravenously in this application, not via a transdermal patch.

The nuclear bomb “model” (which turns out to be the real thing) is supposed to have been purloined from a cruise missile which went missing during transport, and is said to weigh “eighty or one hundred pounds”. But the W-80 and W-84 cruise missile warheads weighed 290 and 388 pounds respectively. There is no way the weight of the physics package of these weapons could be reduced to such an extent while remaining functional.

The Mark 8 atomic bomb which comes on the scene in chapter 43 makes no sense at all. Where did it come from? Why was a bomb, of which only 40 were ever produced and removed from service in 1957, carefully maintained in secret and off the books for more than fifty years? Any why would the terrorists want two bombs, when the second would simply be vaporised when they set off the first? Perhaps I've missed something, but it's kind of like you're reading a spy thriller and in the middle of a gunfight a unicorn wanders through the middle and everybody stops shooting until it passes, whereupon they continue the battle as if nothing happened.

Spoilers end here.  

Apart from plausibility of the characters and quibbles, both of which I'm more than willing to excuse in a gripping thriller, the real disappointment here is that the novel ends about two hundred chapters before anything is actually resolved. This is a chronicle of the opening skirmish in a cataclysmic, protracted conflict between partisans of individual liberty and forces seeking to impose global governance by an élite. When you put the book down, you'll have met the players and understand their motives and resources, but it isn't even like the first volume of a trilogy where, regardless of how much remains to happen, there is usually at least the conclusion of a subplot. Now, you're not left with a cliffhanger, but neither is there any form of closure to the story. I suppose one has no option but to wait for the inevitable sequel, but I doubt I'll be reading it.

This is not an awful book; it's enjoyable on its own terms and its citations of real-world events may be enlightening to readers inattentive to the shrinking perimeter of liberty in this increasingly tyrannical world (the afterword provides resources for those inclined to explore further). But despite their praise for it, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor it's not.

June 2010 Permalink