Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 214
21st November 2011
Review by Sean Gabb
High Desert Barbecue:
A Tale of Suspense, Pyromania and Sexual Tension
by J.D. Tuccille
Stubbed Toe Press, Cornville, Arizona, 274pp – also available via Kindle
The novel takes place in and around a vast expanse of Arizona that has been claimed by the American Federal Government. Rollo, a former insurance salesman, has built a shack here, and he lives in a seclusion that he breaks only when he comes into town to visit his friend Scott, or to buy sexual services with the money he earns from growing marijuana. So things go on until, one day, employees of the National Forest Service decide to burn his shack and steal his truck. This sends him off to stay with Scott, whose employer has just discovered that, following a round of downsizing, his well-paid job now involves printing e-mails sent out from head office and faxing them back.
But Rollo’s life has not been turned upside down by some casual act of sadism. The uniformed thugs of the National Forest Service have big plans for him. All radical greens – or hoping to do well from a green agenda – they have decided to burn down much of the wilderness they are employed to protect. They will burn it down and pin all the blame on Rollo. This will give them an excuse to close the whole wilderness to mammalian bipeds, so the trees and other plants that survive the fire can flourish in peace.
Little, however, do these thugs in uniform realise that they have chosen the wrong man to frame. Together with Scott, and Scott’s girlfriend Lami, and their dog Champ – and eventually with a pair of elderly and overweight pornographers – Rollo sets off into the wilderness to get at the truth and have his revenge. The rest of the novel describes how the baddies are shot and poisoned and revealed and framed, and generally ground into the dirt in ways richly deserved. This is a novel in which the good end well and the bad end very badly.
It is also a very polished novel. The plot rolls smoothly forward, propelled by multiple shifts of perspective, and by a careful balance between narrative and libertarian preaching. The characters and their motivations are believable. The locations are adequately described for those of us who have never experienced their like. I repeat my recommendation of the novel.
Now, there are libertarians who take a sniffy view of libertarian fiction. A few months ago, after one of my more frenzied acts of self-promotion, a friend wrote to me from Australia to say that writing novels was a diversion from the proper business of a libertarian activist, which was to denounce the State and all its works. I disagree. A point I keep making is that state socialism did not become hegemonic in the twentieth century because the masses read the works of Karl Marx or the Webbs, and voted Labour as a result. What happened was that the intellectual classes read these works, or abridgements of them, and reworked what they found there into novels and films and plays, thereby changing the general climate of opinion.
The libertarian movement is filled with bright young men who have read Human Action or Democracy: The God that Failed, but whose enthusiasm for these has no wider effect. I would like Hoppe and von Mises – among many other of our writers – to be popular bestsellers. But it is the nature of things that they will not. Take away the patronage of the Soviet State and of western universities, and I doubt if the heavier works of Karl Marx would have sold more than a few thousand copies a year. The difference is that the state socialists have had popular culture as their transmission mechanism, and our movement is filled with people who think that novel writing is somehow letting the side down. Of course, if we are to get anywhere at all, we need our Hoppes and we need our L. Neil Smiths. And we need Jerome Tuccille.
One of the central assumptions of High Desert Barbecue is that state employees are, by their nature, morally defective, and that the usual requirements of proportionality do not apply when fighting these people off. For example, in chapter 60, Lani kills a park ranger. He has just killed her dog, but there is no reason to believe that he wants to kill her – even when the story is being told from his point of view, it does not seem that he intends to kill her. Even so, she shoots him dead. She gets away with it. No question is raised that she might have committed a murder. Jerome’s assumption here is that the death of a beloved pet may be avenged even to the point of killing a human being if he works for the State. I am not sure if I agree with this. But I do think it is an arguable case. And I am glad that it has now been put in an accessible work of fiction, rather than in some forbidding text bristling with footnotes.
Another assumption – and this is rather less controversial – is the moral superiority of those who live from voluntary exchange. Take the McGintys – that is, the elderly pornographers. Their occupation is generally despised. Even in films like Boogie Nights, pornographers are shown as not entirely respectable. The McGintys, by contrast, are at peace with themselves and generous to others. See the offer they make to Lani, when she says that she has uploaded a video of statist wrong-doing:
“It’s already up on YouTube.”
“Oh, YouTube will fold the first time somebody official waves a take-down order at them, and we already know you’re dealing with government people. Our servers are in Amsterdam. And so is the company that officially owns them. I think we can keep your video online a good long time, even after they find a lawyer who speaks Dutch.”
“Yep. This isn’t our first legal rodeo.”
Lani nodded. “Cool.” [Chapter 72]
Yes, this is a technically competent and ideologically correct novel. It is also consistently enjoyable. With Christmas fast approaching, I gladly recommend High Desert Barbecue as a present.
© 2011 – 2017, seangabb.
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