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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Reading List: The Eye of Moloch

Beck, Glenn with Jack Henderson. The Eye of Moloch. New York: Threshold Editions, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4516-3584-3.
I have a terrible record of reading a book, saying I don't intend to read the inevitable sequel, and then once again, finding my bandaged finger wabbling back to the Fire. This novel is a sequel to The Overton Window (June 2010) which I found to be a respectable but less than gripping thriller with an unsatisfying conclusion. The present volume continues the story, but still leaves much up in the air at its end. As a sequel to The Overton Window, it assumes the reader has previously read that book; little or no effort is made to bring readers who start here up to speed, and they will find themselves without any idea who the principal characters are, the circumstances they find themselves in, and why they are acting as they do.

The grand plot to use public relations to manipulate the U.S. population into welcoming the imposition of tyranny by a small group of insiders is proceeding. Noah Gardner, son of one of the key players in the conspiracy and former worker in its inner circle, has switched sides and now supports the small band called Founders' Keepers, which, led by Molly Ross, strives to bring the message of the country's founding principles to the citizens before the situation reaches the state of outright revolt. But the regime views any form of dissent as a threat, and has escalated the conflict into overt violence, deploying private contractors, high-tech weapons, and intrusive and ubiquitous surveillance, so well proven in overseas wars, against its domestic opponents.

As the U.S. crumbles, fringe groups of all kinds begin to organise and pursue their own agendas. The conspirators play them against one another, seeking to let them do the dirty work, while creating an environment of fear of “domestic terrorists” which will make the general population welcome the further erosion of liberty. With the news media completely aligned with the regime and the Internet beginning to succumb to filtering and censorship, there seems little hope of getting the truth out to the people.

Molly Ross seizes upon a bold stroke which will expose the extent to which the central planners intend to deliver Americans into serfdom. Certainly if Americans were aware of how their every act was monitored, correlated, and used to control them, they would rise up. But this requires a complicated plan which puts the resources of her small group and courageous allies on the line.

Like its predecessor, this book, taken as a pure thriller, doesn't come up to the standard set by the masters of the genre. There are many characters with complex back-stories and interactions, and at times it's difficult to remember who's who and what side they're currently on. The one thing which is very effective is that throughout the novel we encounter references to weapons, surveillance technologies, domestic government programs which trample upon the rights of citizens, media bias and overt propaganda, and other horrors which sketch how liberty is shrinking in the face of a centralised, coercive, and lawless state. Then in the afterword, most of these programs are documented as already existing in the U.S., complete with citations to source documents on the Web. But then one wonders: in 2013 the U.S. National Security Agency has been revealed as spying on U.S. citizens in ways just as extreme as the surveillance Molly hoped to expose here, and only a small percentage of the population seems to care.

Perhaps what works best is that the novel evokes a society near that tipping point where, in the words of Claire Wolfe, “It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” We have many novels and manifestos of political turnaround before liberty is totally lost, and huge stacks of post-apocalyptic fiction set after the evil and corrupt system has collapsed under its own weight, but this is one of the few novels you'll read set in that difficult in-between time. The thing about a tipping point is that individuals, small groups, and ideas can have a disproportionate influence on outcomes, whereas near equilibrium the system is difficult to perturb. This book invites the reader to ask, in a situation as described, which side they would choose, and what would they do, and risk, for what they believe.

Posted at December 29, 2013 01:19