Maymin, Zak. Publicani. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4382-2123-6.
I bought this book based on its being mentioned on a weblog as being a mix of Atlas Shrugged and “Harrison Bergeron”, and the mostly positive reviews on Amazon. Since both of those very different stories contributed powerfully to my present worldview, I was intrigued at what a synthesis of them might be like, so I decided to give this very short (just 218 pages in the print edition) novel a read.

Jerry Pournelle has written that aspiring novelists need to write at least a million words and throw them away before truly mastering their craft. I know nothing of the present author, but I suspect he hasn't yet reached that megaword milestone. There is promise here, and some compelling scenes and dialogue, but there is also the tendency to try to do too much in too few pages, and a chaotic sense of timing where you're never sure how much time has elapsed between events and how so much could occur on one timeline while another seems barely to have advanced. This is a story which could have been much better with the attention of an experienced editor, but in our outsourced, just-in-time, disintermediated economy, evidently didn't receive it, and hence the result is ultimately disappointing.

The potential of this story is great: a metaphorical exploration of the modern redistributive coercive state through a dystopia in which the “excess intelligence” of those favoured by birth is redistributed to the government elites most in need of it for “the good of society”. (Because, as has always been the case, politicians tend to be underendowed when it comes to intelligence.) Those subjected to the “redistribution” of their intelligence rebel, claiming “I own myself”—the single most liberating statement a free human can hurl against the enslaving state. And the acute reader comes to see how any redistribution is ultimately a forced taking of the mind, body, or labour of one person for the benefit of another who did not earn it: compassion at the point of a gun—the signature of the the modern state.

Unfortunately, this crystal clear message is largely lost among all of the other stuff the author tries to cram in. There's Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, an Essene secret society, the Russian Mafia, parapsychology, miraculous intervention, and guns with something called a “safety clip”, which I've never encountered on any of the myriad of guns I've discharged downrange.

The basic premise of intelligence being some kind of neural energy fluid one can suck from one brain and transfer to another is kind of silly, but I'd have been willing to accept it as a metaphor for sucking out the life of the mind from the creators to benefit not the consumers (it's never that way), but rather the rulers and looters. And if this book had done that, I'd have considered it a worthy addition to the literature of liberty. But, puh–leez, don't drop in a paragraph like:

Suddenly, a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses descended from the sky. Sarah was driving. Urim and Thummim were shining on her breastplate of judgment.

Look, I've been backed into corners in stories myself on many occasions, and every time the fiery chariot option appears the best way out, I've found it best to get a good night's sleep and have another go at it on the morrow. Perhaps you have to write and discard a million words before achieving that perspective.

July 2009 Permalink