Anthem by Ayn Rand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Growing up in the American south, I, like many kids, had politically conservative parents. The kind that more or less blindly follow the philosophy of the Republican party and see almost everything that the Democratic party does as evil or "unamerican" or the usual BS that you hear annoyingly vocal conservative talking heads spouting off day after day. Anyway, Part of that rhetoric I've heard over and over again (particularly after President Obama was elected) is: "Ayn Rand was a visionary that painted the future with startling clarity." Of course they were talking about Rand's ridiculously long so-called masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, a book that I have yet to read...and if Anthem is anything to go by, I will never want to.
Let me be blunt here: Ayn Rand is as TERRIBLE a writer as she is a political philosopher (there I said it). Why? Where do I begin? Anthem is set in an alternate future in where the human race has entered another dark age and has devolved into a society that is laughably socialistic/communistic. How ridiculous is it: The concept of individualism doesn't exist anymore (the use of the words "I" and "Ego" is forbidden for example) and people are given numbers instead of names, and the evolution of technology is tightly controlled by the government. But one man rediscovers electricity and the light bulb and is sentenced to be put to death but escapes into the wild (where apparently no body goes because its dark and scary) and out in the wild he rediscovers individualism and...urgh, it gives me a headache just talking about it.
Its not so much that a setting and plot like this can't work, its just that Rand fails at executing it. Rand's vision of a communistic paradise is just cliche and juvenile. It doesn't even make sense. Like for example, the part when the main character brings his rediscovered light bulb before his societies ruling council. He spends half the book trying to make it work all the while spouting off to his buddy on how he's going to make the ruling council accept his new idea and how it will change the world. Even though he knows how tightly controlled technological evolution is and how much the council hates surprises. And then he's shocked when their reaction to the light bulb is out right revulsion and they start calling for his execution. And then right in the middle of scene, apparently because he didn't get those oh so subtle hints before, the main character actually asks them about adopting his idea and then gets a very detailed lecture about how their economic system works...uh what? First off, why would he even bother asking after seeing their reaction? And why would they even bother to explain that to him, especially after calling for his execution? And secondly: if they came up with it, no real communist nation would reject a brilliant idea or revolutionary method of doing things simply because that's not the way they've always done it. That's not communism, that's just plain idiocy. Heck, if anything, they would probably turn said idea or method into propaganda to show how great their nation is.
Speaking of the main characters, I can't think of the last time characters from any story that were as flat, one dimensional and melodramatic. The main character's (identified as Equality 7-2521...really) development is centered around his rediscovery/recreation of the light bulb and how that drive to create leads him to the rediscovery of individualism. And then there is his arbitrary love interest(called 'Liberty 5-3000') whom he introduces his new found individualism by...well, having sex with her basically. Yeah, I don't see a point to this character at all. Rand leaves here underdeveloped, regulating her to the status of background color. Heck, we only see her for a chapter or two in the middle, and then near the end when she follows him out of their home city, and that's IT. The final chapters of the book is Equality lecturing the reader on the importance of individualism and how the government is stifling the progress of society. The only thing close to closure in this car wreak of a novel is when Equality tells us of his plan to go back to his home city and rescue the people and rebuild society as it was. He tells us about it and then the book just ends. Uh, yeah no, screw that. Although, even if the book was longer it wouldn't really matter. It would only be a longer lecture in narrative form, as opposed to a shorter one. Its a boring, over-hyped, fear mongering, bottom of the barrel trashy sci-fi dime novel. End of story.
Oh,and yes, I am fully aware that the communism utopia was exaggerated like it was on purpose in order to prove a point; namely the dangers of conformity and the resulting cultural and economic stagnation that comes with it. I don't care. I am also aware that the characters are basically avatars that are meant to show/explain the basic principals of Objectivism, Rand's views on sexuality and whatever the hell else she wanted to sign off about. Again, I don't care. A story has to stand on its own merits, not the merits of its message. And Anthem simply doesn't on either count. Look, I'm not saying that Objectivism doesn't have its good points, The idea that the especially gifted and intelligent run the world best when government and arbitrary archaic morality systems get out of the way kinda does have a (microscopic) grain of truth to it. And the idea the that the individual has to look after him/herself and not rely on anyone else to take care of them is common sense. I just think that Objectiveism, and hell EVERY political philosophy you can think of (Communism/Socialism included), is extremely closed minded and has no room for reality.
Anyway, needless to say, this book sucks, stay far far far away. And if just have to read a dystopian fiction novel then go pick up 1984 again, or Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World. Hell, even Starship Troopers could satisfy your fix. You will be glad you did.
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