Larken Rose is best known for his courage in resisting the supposed US "income tax," which is enforced without having been written into law; and suffered imprisonment for encouraging folk to take advantage of the fact. Recently, however, he has taken to writing novels, and his latest, called The Iron Web, has nothing to do with the i-tax but much to do with our prospects for terminating the government it funds. I'm delighted to give the book two thumbs up.
The heroine is a teenager who flies off to go camping, but encounters adventures far more stressful than anything she might have anticipated; "The Iron Web" is therefore ideal for any young people you may know who have birthdays looming.
Novels, to me, need to have a credible story line, told in a tantalizing way that demands each page be turned, about characters that are fleshed out so that the reader can empathize and identify with them, rather than being just cardboard or wooden stereotypes. The skill of a good novelist, which I certainly don't possess, relates to how well he meets those requirements, and I can only admire the way the masters do it. Not all of them succeed all the time, even those high on the bestseller list. Since reviewing George Smith's Flight of the Barbarous Relic last Fall, I've read some more by P D James and can now count three of her works in which the convoluted plot is internally inconsistent or relies on her characters behaving way out of character. So while elegantly constructed, descriptive prose is admirable and impressive, some of the masters have clay feet . . . in my layman's opinion.
So I do have high standards for novelists to meet, and Larken Rose's The Iron Web meets them. The story is about the state of freedom in America in the near future, and the plot hangs together and is credible. I don't agree that the events he foresees will actually take place, but that's just my guess against his, and it's his story and he never pretends it is anything but fiction. The story is certainly within the bounds of credibility--things may turn out that way--and he tells it very well. I particularly admire his ability to surprise the reader; two or three times in the novel, something completely unexpected happens with a dramatic impact, which left me saying "Wow!" out loud.
So I found that the pages required me to keep turning them. I thought this sizeable novel (363 pages) might take me a week to read, but I could not readily put it down, and after just over a day, the job was done. And what a pleasure it was! Rose's uncompromising and outspoken repudiation of government and all its miserable works made this the best work of fiction I have read this Century. Many of the events he relates will strike some readers as improbable, but they are not; reflection shows that almost every one of them is an echo of something that has already happened in recent memory. I need to avoid "spoilers," but for example, one of them concerns a collection of independent people under attack by jackbooted federal thugs. Waco and Ruby Ridge both spring to mind to confirm that such things do really take place. One of the nice features of Web is that Rose brings us to appreciate what is going on in the mind of one of the thugs (I wonder if he learned to do that by getting to know some of his prison guards, up close) but a possible improvement would be to color the defenders with more tension and angst as they faced imminent attack--they seemed to me unrealistically calm.
Larken Rose picks up in this book where Ayn Rand and John Ross left off. Ross, recall, wrote his monumental Unintended Consequences in 1996 to "terrify and appall jackbooted stormtroopers everywhere" (so, the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph) and to ensure readers had a more thorough understanding of firearms, and so be better prepared to use them in self defense. His magnificent story foresaw that the worms whom government thugs trample would turn, and kill a few of them in sheer frustration, that the killing would increase, and that government would respond by scaling down its arrogance and tyranny. Wonderful reading--but ultimately Ross hopes for no more than a restoration of Constitutional rights, and so fails to reach the core of the problem. Rose also foresees some armed conflict, but avoids that limitation of vision.
Rand was a master of the didactic novel--she taught her world view through the words of her key characters in the stories--and Larken Rose uses that style too. However, whereas Rand magnificently portrayed the logic of freedom and free enterprise, at day's end she never overcame the logical inconsistency of suggesting that some small degree of government is "needed" to play some role as arbiter in society; a classic error of calling for a fox to guard the hen house. Rose will have none of that; his characters excoriate government in all its disguises and pretenses and hypocrisies and calls for nothing less than its total elimination, and on almost every page his characters express some insight or other with explanations as clear and winsome as I have ever seen, while at book's end his hero gives a magnificent presentation that takes Rand's "Galt's Speech" to the cleaners and contains some of the finest freedom rhetoric I have ever read.
I did have to disagree with one point in The Iron Web; in my view, Rose is too pessimistic about John & Jane Q. He portrays ordinary folk as gullible, conformist and complacent--accurate indeed--but apparently also assumes they are incapable of being changed or re-educated; one character even says "forget trying to convince them." That seems to me to conflict with the nature and quality of the human animal, as well as to contradict Rose's portrait of three of his characters. This matters--for if most people are beyond persuasion, freedom-seekers are forever doomed to live as outcasts in increasingly stagnant economies; whereas if they are not, everyone will realize his full potential and free human beings will progress to accomplishments never yet imagined.
Otherwise, there are just a couple of minor flaws. I saw that at one point Rose wrote that the "power to tax" is a "fatal departure from the principles of the Declaration of Independence"--but I beg to differ; once past its sublime first stanza, that document is just another bleat that the wrong people are writing the rules, not that no rules ought to be written. That could be corrected readily in a second edition (of the Web, not the Declaration), and I hope it will be. Lastly. when referring to false-flag operations, he says Hitler blamed the 1933 Reichstag fire on Jewish terrorists, but my understanding is that he fingered his Communist rivals and used the event neatly to exclude them from further political opposition.
But those take little from the power of this book. Get a copy, thrill to it as I did; then get some more, and give them away.