Single Acts of Tyranny
2008, ISBN 978-0-9560016-0-3
2008, ISBN 978-0-9560016-0-3
“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day, but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing a people to slavery” - Thomas Jefferson.
This book tells the story not of those single and cumulative acts of tyranny, but of the society that results from them. One that is not quite a clear mirror of the modern Western world but which is uncomfortably close, perhaps only a small step into our future. The spinmerchant and schemer John Legree, his attitude and methods, would not be considered out of place in any modern Western government.
Contrasting this oppressive regime is the neighbouring free country, where government powers to control people are limited to the maintenance of defence, law and order. To set up the comparison, the author has envisaged an alternate version of history where the Southern states of America won the civil war and progressed independently of the North. The resulting two parts of America have followed entirely different political paths. Slavery is abolished in the South at the time of the novel but it was achieved without external pressure. The North, meanwhile, has become socialist.
The author does not describe an absolute utopia/dystopia comparison. Even in the freer South, racism is not extinct. The black heroine of the novel, Halle du Bois, has reached her high level of employment by sheer hard work and it’s clear that even in that free society, being black and female has meant she’d had to work harder than average to get there. Not everything in the garden of freedom is rosy.
On the other hand, if she had been in the North, her chances of reaching the level she has would have been close to zero. Again, the North is not painted as filled with evil, slavering controllers and downtrodden proles. James Emerson is a Northern journalist with rich connections but with no desire for power over others. Not everyone in dystopia fits into the oppressor/oppressed classification.
For me, it was this ‘shades of grey’ approach that most appealed. The free land of Halle du Bois is not perfect, and the Soviet-style land of John Legree is not full of terrible people. This story does not follow the formula of ‘good guys in white hats, bad guys in black hats’ that is found in simpler tales. It’s more complicated than simple good vs. bad, perfect vs. evil.
There are Libertarian ideas within the book but these are presented within the story rather than being the point of the story. The story itself deals with political intrigue, conflict, manipulation and weaves in a romance. Even if politics don’t interest you, it’s a damn good story.
Downside? For me, the only downside is in the editing. Rather a lot of typos for my taste but then I’m a natural-born proofreader who was trained into Darth Grammar by a particularly evil English teacher (a direct descendant of Vlad the Sarcastic and related to Attila the Pun) in the seventies. Normal people probably won’t notice but I can’t help spotting every one.
Even with my hyper-typo-sensitivity, I thoroughly enjoyed the tale and while it does certainly carry a message, it’s done in a way that doesn’t detract from the storytelling aspect. It’s presented in a way that, I suspect, sort of sneaks up on you while you’re reading if you’re not politically inclined. I plan to test that by passing the book on to some non-political friends.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book. Even if politics makes you yawn, the story is about far more than just politics. In fact, give it a try especially if you’re not interested in politics.
It might remind you of something you’ve been ignoring for a very long time.