17 October 2011
69. The Iron Heel
Before 1984. Before A Brave New World. Before We. There was The Iron Heel. A dystopian novel with a different dystopia than normal. This one covers an America run by an oligarchic tyranny.
It is possible to completely disagree with the premise being promoted by a book and still be in awe of the novel itself. Jack London has written a masterpiece of political dialogue in this dystopian novel.
The book itself is written as if a narrator is reading an ancient manuscript (The Everhard Manuscript written by Avis Everhard) that is a first-person account of the rise of the Socialist movement against the Oligarchy that is running the capitalist America. The manuscript is discovered hidden in a tree and explains so much of what was unknown about that time hundreds of years earlier.
There are also numerous notes within the book that explain the results of actions and expand on subjects touched on in the manuscript. The novel explains more than the author of the manuscript could possibly have known. It was an interesting way to read a story.
The first half of the book is a series of extended conversations between middle class businessmen - clergy members and a working class Socialist with a gift for debate and leadership.
The second half of the book is what happens after they have these numerous discussions about what could and may happen politically. Of course, all the Socialist predictions of enslavement of the workers and abuses from the capitalists came true and caused lots and lots of problems.
This book was like reading current events in 1905. It was all real world stuff...and then it branched off into the future and became dystopian. Being that I am now reading it over 100 years later it is hard to consider it actually dystopian without placing myself back in time. It also feels a lot like an alternative history. Of course, it was not intended that way at all. It feels that way because the book survived so long and is still relevant enough to make sense.
What I found most interesting is that despite my disagreement with London's philosophy and the protagonist's (Ernest Everhard) ranting against capitalism...it was awesome. I loved reading it. I loved cheering for the little guy. I could feel the tension in the rooms as Ernest debated with clergy or with upper middle class businessmen. The dialog in this book was some of the best I have ever read.
The one problem I had with the dialog though was that it was one sided. Earnest would go on and on about the benefits of Socialist society and then the opponents in debates would always stutter or fall into his linguistic traps. They never had real counter-points. It was always a point they would make to lead into Ernest's next rant...but ohhh, how fun those rants were. Really.
That is a credit to an outstanding writer. He took a subject that would normally have me throwing up a little in my mouth, used numerous convenient events (like Shaggy and Scooby always stumbled upon a clue), and still made me love the characters and the book itself.
READ IT! You must.
I did this one as a audio book. I downloaded it for free. The man who read it (Matt Soar) did an outstanding job. I am sure I liked the book more because it was in this format. The long debates would have probably worn me down in a printed version. I suggest you download the MP3 for this novel and listen to it. It fit on 8 CDs (normal CD audio) and played in the car as I drove everywhere.
You can get it here: The Iron Heel by Jack London
Oh, I forgot...in some ways it reminded me a lot of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.