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Comment: Hi, Gene. Here's my review of West of 89

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Hi, Gene. Here's my review of West of 89

You said you’d like to hear my comments on your book West of 89, so here goes.

There’s good news and bad news. First the good news: Things I particularly liked:

1. You handle narrative and dialogue well – professional quality work.
2. I liked the overall libertarian sensibility you brought to the book, and would look forward to reading more of your stuff.
3. It kept me reading – you didn’t let narrative tension lapse at all. Very well done.
4. I particularly liked the Donnie Fleming character: you let him GROW. Everybody else in the book was pretty much unchanging in terms of character, but Donnie discovered “something worth doing,” which, as Heinlein wrote, is the secret of happiness. (“Happiness lies in being privileged to work hard for long hours at whatever you think is worth doing”) It redeemed him, and it was good to see.
5. I liked your use of the gold vs. fiat money issue. Also your portrayal of a restitution-based justice system – those might stir your readers’ brain cells in a worthwhile direction.

I’m afraid there’s a lot of bad news, too.
1. The overall concept of your alternate history really isn’t very interesting. So our continent is infested by a bunch of smaller governments, rather than three large ones? This is interesting – why? You don’t go into enough detail about the nature of the different governments for the reader to know if one is really better than the others – or better than our present ones. Schinkler is obviously Evil Incarnate – but that doesn’t automatically make the governments he attacks “the good guys.” Reminds me of the reason I DON”T watch professional sports: I need a REASON to root for one team over another, and geography doesn’t do the trick for me.
2. There’s no theme. Racism and assault and slavery are bad things? Is this news to anyone? I kept hoping that you would come out with a pitch for the PRINCIPLES that men ought to strive for, instead of government-as-usual, but no luck.
3. With the exception of Donnie Fleming, your characters are one-dimensional. Some are likeable, some are hateful, but none of them develop. They don’t learn, they don’t discover any new truths about themselves or their world – and, most disappointingly, neither will the reader of your book.
4. Your villains are cartoons of villainy, not real people. “No man is a villain in his own eyes.” (Heinlein) You should keep that in mind, and try to figure out what makes REAL evil people tick. I’d suggest two reading assignments to help you with that. First, read David Friedman’s essay “Love Is Not Enough,” from his book The Machinery of Freedom. It’s free to read online here (starting down on Page 12)
The second is Larken Rose’s book, The Most Dangerous Superstition.

Friedman’s insight is that there are ONLY three ways to get stuff from other people: love, trade and force. Think about it. People have a gazillion different moral systems, but they have only THREE basic ethical choices, when it comes to dealing with other people. Do some thinking about what allows some people to believe that naked, unprovoked coercion can be a righteous way to treat others.

Larken Rose’s book explores the reasons that governments can wreak such enormous evil in the world – why people go along with monsters like Hitler and Schinkler. Hint: It is NOT because people are resentful, envious monsters looking for a way to victimize their neighbors.

5. Nitpicky stuff:
* I’ve never seen “okay” spelled “okeh” before – yes, I found it in a dictionary as a legitimate variant spelling, but it’s very rarely used, and it annoyed me.
* You’re creating an alternate America – why refer to Schinkler as “Herr” and why, at one point, does a character sneeringly refer to him as “Schicklgruber”? (Yes, I know that was Hitler’s father’s original name) But you make no mention of Hitler himself in your story! Why would “Schicklgruber” be used as an insult? Why use the Germanic “Herr” when referring to American Schickler?? In your alternate world, Germany is not even mentioned. Why do you want to imply that all racism is somehow Germanic?
*Anything you put at the beginning of your book is a “prologue”, not an “epilogue”. Doesn’t matter that the events take place after the balance of your story. When I reached your second and third epilogues, you had me scratching my head and turning pages, trying to find the first one.
*Why is the title “West of 89" ? West of a year? What does THAT mean?
*At one point somewhere in the middle of the book, you have this jarring little cosmological essay with no relationship to anything else in the story, before or after. I’d cut that out, myself.

All in all, the book was not a terrible first effort, and I'd gladly read another . . .

Recommended reading: The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larken Rose