I figured I’d tackle the infamous Ayn Rand.
Anthem, a novella written in 1937, is set in a dystopian future where individuality has been outlawed. In this world technology is banned for the most part, as are any and all exceptional things. There’s also a large government backed hatred for the past and all its advances. Even the main character’s above average height is frowned upon. The story follows Equality 7-2521, who refers to himself and others in plural pronouns only, with singular pronouns having been outlawed. Issues arise for our protagonist when he commits the crimes of indulging his curiosity, breaking rules and reinventing basic technology.
I originally thought with this blog that if I didn’t really want to write bad reviews. If something was bad, I’d simply not review it or I’d find other works and do a bigger piece on the author’s writing. But man, Ayn Rand. This is an author you have to agree with to enjoy. She slugs you with her opinion. In the first paragraph she hits the reader with, “And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone.” It’s so heavy handed it sounds sarcastic. But the problem is, the main character, the one who is supposed to be speaking, isn’t being sarcastic or jaded.
I mean, it’s a fascinating world. Imagine having individuality erased. It’s essentially the finalized world 1984 was gearing up for. This is the society after all the words have been erased. There exists no concept of individual thought. There aren’t any words for specific and none general emotions, like love for one person in particular. And it’s set in a future where technology has been shunned, but they live among the ruins of 1930′s civilization! That’s some H.G. Wells style classic intrigue.
But the problem is that it isn’t the world the author is interested in, nor the characters. It’s her point that she wants to get across. And that could be fine, but it grinds against the story. You can’t write lines for a character who has not yet developed a concept of real individuality, while thumping home an anti-communist agenda. Of course there are exceptions to that rule, but here it just creates dissonance. It’s like trying to read a research paper from a high school student who hates the subject s/he is writing about. And it goes on. The point that individuality is gone and this monstrous commonality has been imposed is set out for pages, before you even know anything about, well, anything other than Rand’s opinion.
And there are some cool ideas, but they’re so beaten through that they lose their flavor. I like the concept of this character in a weird society who’s pushed towards enlightenment because he just happens to be taller than the others. That’s a neat fantasy/sci-fi impetus. But no, Equality is also smarter. And that isn’t implied. It’s chucked at the reader. He’s smart, and not only that, he wishes and hopes that he was like one other, who has “half a brain.”