Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Mandibles: 2029, Chapter 4 (Good Evening, Fellow Americans)

This is going to be a long post with a lot more quotes than the last few. I could have broken it up but the post titles are already unwieldy enough without adding "The Mandibles: 2029, Chapter 4 (Good Evening, Fellow Americans) Part I" to the mix, so we'll try to get back to a reasonable length starting with Chapter 5 (but no promises).

Chapter 4 gives us our first bit of conflict, or at least a convincing simulacrum thereof. Here, we're introduced to President Alvarado. Yes, we weren't truly doomed until we elected a Mexican (or "Lat," to use this book's terribly clever patois) President. Much of the chapter is taken up by a Presidential speech; it's a respectable simulation of an actual State of the Union speech, and I'll spare you the specifics in favor of the broad strokes. Here are the policy changes he announces:
  • It is now illegal for an American to possess or trade in "bancors" (the international currency mentioned in the previous chapter). In fact, it's treasonous.
  • Americans and American companies can't send more than $100 overseas until further notice.
  • All gold reserves - up to and including jewelry - are seized by the federal government in exchange for "compensation by weight."
  • Gold exports are prohibited.
  • All Treasury bills, notes, and bonds are now void and will not be honored (a policy referred to as a "reset").
Not being an expert on fiscal policy, I couldn't tell you if any of these are justified, feasible, or even constitutional - the last one seems illegal, and the first one is simply insane. But as I said so long ago about Agenda 21, any respectable hack writer of political fiction can always claim that the absurd and/or illegal behavior of the government is merely proof of how stupid and/or corrupt the opposition is.

The rest of this fairly long chapter focuses on Florence and what a silly dunderheaded liberal she is. A few samples:
"And that newfangled money, well - I wouldn't know a 'bancor' if it bit me on the butt. Do we ever take 'bancors' to Green Acre to buy cereal? No."
"Off the top of my head, I bet that 'reset' you told me about will keep our taxes down. That's good for us."
"First off, this president borrowed hardly anything. He inherited the debt from other presidents, who couldn't stop rescuing jerkwater countries that only ended up hating us for our helping hand."
I could compare Shriver's writing style to those employed by any number of criminally overrated lit-circle darlings, but I have a feeling that, like me, she was inspired at least in part by the antifascist classic It Can't Happen Here. They share a number of elements, some not so positive (i.e. the affected speechifying). But here we see a very clear comparison. Sinclair Lewis peppered the opening chapters of his novel with intellectual characters airily dismissing the threat posed by violent populist Buzz Windrip with a simple "it can't happen here." Even when Windrip's paramilitary forces start hunting down dissenters, they're still not convinced that it's anything but a momentary disturbance.

It's not working for me here, though. Maybe it's because Florence is so underdeveloped, or because she's simply not as absurd as any of Lewis's intellectuals. Hell, maybe it's because Shriver seems to be mocking me here.

So by now, you might be wondering how one of the Mess'cans managed to get elected. In THE FUTURE! the Twenty-Eighth Amendment scrapped the natural born citizen requirement, and this never would have happened were it not for Arnold Schwarzenegger running for President. How timely! This chapter is studded with "satire" like this - pop culture call-outs that are just dated enough to give it that "stuck to the bottom of the wastepaper basket" feel. Examples:
On the ramp, they all agreed that the hardest part was not knowing what had happened. On every side, other pedestrians volunteered their sure-fire theories...Harold Camping's notorious prediction that the Rapture would arrive on May 21, 2011, was only off by thirteen years, nine months, and fifteen days.
"...Whatever happen to that idea of them 'wealth taxes' a while back? Platform Colbert run on."
Florence wasn't the only one who attributed the Terminator's surprise defeat to the eleventh-hour incumbency gimmick of nominating Judith Sheindlin - a.k.a. "Judge Judy" - to the Supreme Court.
Again, I hope you're laughing.

We're then treated to a flashback to Florence's experiences during the (ugh) Stone Age, which plunged the neighborhood into darkness while she was navigating a Bed, Bath and Beyond. That was when she met Esteban, and it wasn't exactly romantic:
Clutching her son's hand, she hadn't yet entered the world in which refusing to relinquish their new wicker laundry hamper was ridiculous...When a muscular Mexican attempted to take it away from her, she assumed he was undocumented and a thief, using the pandemonium to hustle.
You see, like most liberals, Florence is a hypocrite who says the right things while hiding a secret racist fear of all nonwhites. I just thought I'd lay that out in case the section opening "she'd put herself on notice that [she] was a racist" was a little subtle.

Back in the present, we follow Florence to her job at the Adelphi Family Residence. We get a chance to meet some of the staff and residents, and...oh dear God no...
What, you telling me there a shared baffroom? Where Dajonda gonna sleep, she sixteen - ain't she got a room with a door? What do you mean we can't have no microwave? Them sheets, they stained.
I had to type that.
"I love the pitcher of all them rich folk having to cough up they big piles of gold. Had my way, wouldn't get no 'compensation' for it, neither. Somebody got to level the playing field."
Don't call me racist.
"'Sides, I don't see why the gubment ever pay anything back. Pass a law say, 'We don't got to.' Presto. No more loan."
This would be the "Afri-merican" dialect that's "only partially discernible to honks," and if you ask me it's actually worse than Luella. Yes, the black-woman-as-pet is far more viscerally repulsive, but you could at least try to defend that on the grounds that it's not depicting Luella as subhuman because she's black, that it's coincidence. There's no coincidence here. All of the black characters we meet in this chapter are lazy and ignorant and speak a broken form of English that's not shared by the white or even Hispanic characters.

Oh, also we're introduced to Kurt, the downstairs neighbor who's not important enough to show up. If that felt tacked on, is Kurt.

We're almost done here, but I'd like to point out something small that jumped out at me. The end of this chapter contains a typesetting error:

There's too much space at the end of this line, a small but noticeable flaw. I did this kind of thing for a living for a too-brief period of time, so I think I can explain what happened: Text in print books is right justified, leaving that nice smooth right edge. Even the most basic of word processors will adjust the spacing between words to make this work, and most can be set to split words with hyphens. But throw in one of these obnoxiously long hyphenated phrases and the computer gets confused - it sees one giant word that it can't break. This might not have been a problem in the standard edition, which could explain why it was overlooked.

This is why I'm beseeching any real or would-be authors out there - don't do anything this obnoxious. There are ways to fix this (increasing the spacing between letters, for example), but it never quite looks right and it's a headache for the sap who has to do it. Have a little mercy for the peons who have to work on your literary masterpiece.

No comments:

Post a Comment