Tuesday, August 02, 2005

What if...?

What if rocket scientist Wernher von Braun hadn’t worked for the Nazis before and during World War II but instead had made aerial weapons for the anarchists in Spain? What if, while fleeing Europe and her arms manufacturer husband Fritz Mandl, on her way to Hollywood, actress Hedy Lamarr had met, inspired, and become the lover of von Braun? What if, instead of being crushed between the Republicans (Communists) and Nationalists (fascists) during the Spanish Civil War, disparate anarchist factions had successfully linked arms and won out (with the help of von Braun’s rockets)?

Those are a few what if’s addressed by Anarquía, a sci-fi alternate history of the Spanish Civil War by Brad Linaweaver and J. Kent Hastings (you’ll find Kent’s comments posted on this blog occasionally). I’ve had a copy of this novel for a few months, and I’m not sure why it took me so long to get to it. I’m glad I finally did, because I had a blast. Ever since I first read Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” in the seventh grade, I’ve been fascinated by the idea that if you tweak this or that in a timeline, new paths emerge and things down the pike necessarily change. L. Neil Smith has written some wonderful spins on history (his Probability Broach, of course, is a libertarian classic). And Harry Turtledove’s made an industry of the alternate history genre.

But Anarquía is special in that it covers ground I can’t recall seeing covered before. There have been dozens of speculative novels about “what if Hitler had won WWII?” New takes on the U.S. Civil War are pretty common. But the Spanish Civil War is fresh territory, and Linaweaver and Hastings don’t waste it. They’ve stuffed every conceivable “what if” into Anarquía, as well as every possible true-life figure you can imagine: Eric Blair (aka George Orwell), Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Francisco Franco, Louis B. Mayer, G.K. Chesterton, Ayn Rand (and her husband Frank O’Connor, who has an affair with Hedy Lamarr in the book), Konrad Zuse, John Dos Passos, and even an “off camera” Canadian political theorist named Konkin (the father of Agorism). And almost every political stripe is represented: Fascists, Falangists, Carlists, Marxists, Trotskyites, Separatists, Loyalists, Royalists, International Brigades, Comintern members, Syndicalists, Distributists...

Some readers will be annoyed that the dialogue in Anarquía often consists of speeches. But that’s customary in most philosophical novels (think Rand). Here, for example, is German computer geek Konrad Zuse expounding political theory to his friend von Braun in the early ’30s:

“The world’s States will fight a war that might very well destroy civilization if they are not stopped. The only people in the world crazy enough to make war against all the States are anarchists but they come in two different varieties. The anarchist ‘commune’ types and the extreme ‘individualist,’ free-market types stand in complete opposition to each other, but all of them share a common aversion to the State. Right? No one has ever tried to forge a serious alliance between them before. As the majority of humans prepare to become slaves to various dictatorships because of economic woes, a growing minority will be ready to do anything to secure their freedom. These are the sort of people who can respect radically different lifestyle choices, including economic choices. No one else takes liberty that seriously.”

Anarquía takes anarchism seriously. And it takes anarchist victory very seriously. This novel’s a must for history buffs, political junkies, and especially frustrated Libertarian Leftists who need a philosophical pick-me-up.
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At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It will be worth the price of the book to discover how the author proposes to save the Anarchists from the nocturnal pistols of Stalin's NKVD Thugs. The Catalan nights (Nacht und Nebel) witnessed the demise of Anarchism as a serious European political movement. (After the Americans attempted to spell the name of McKinley's assassin, Anarchism had no chance there. Damned Scandahoovians, the good citizens thought, in their ignorasnce.) The Proles have learnt to prefer the Welfare State's benevolent Fascism. But what will happen when the Bond Market can no longer finance the idle lay-abouts and the tiresome, incompetent louts, who batten on the gnawed, raw dugs of the Great Sow in Washington? Will the Anarchists fare any better in Detroit or New Orleans? Or will the blood-letting of Barcelona be repeated? Bet on the pistols, alas!


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