Apocalyptic literature has been with us a long time, perhaps as long as humans have been telling stories, and certainly long before nuclear weapons and human activities threatened civilization. From Noah and his ark to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, readers (and listeners) have loved stories about the worst that might happen and how the fittest might survive.
Fiat, by Jeffrey Schlaman, is one such story, and this time the cause of the apocalypse is economic collapse. The book is set in the very near future, just after the recent economic crisis. A greedy, power-hungry manipulator has captured control of the Federal Reserve and gained power over the newly elected Libertarian president. The economy is in the process of total collapse. Coping as best they can are a variety of characters, including members of a new religion called the One World Church and a group of survivalists who establish a secret, off-the-grid compound in Nevada under the leadership of an opinionated survivalist known as Uncle Al.
As a set-up for a post-apocalyptic survival story, this works well enough. Schlaman probably goes into more detail about the economics involved than most readers will be comfortable with, but he mingles the economics with action and the introduction of characters, so it shouldn’t be too discouraging for readers who have come for a tale and not an economics lesson. The problem is less that Schlaman belabors the economic details than that he belabors the politics. Fiat is a libertarian/survivalist’s wet dream that at times reads more like a late night AM radio program than a novel. Pages and pages of sociopolitical ranting litter the book. And the ranting goes well beyond libertarian conspiracy theories about the Fed and includes screeds on childrearing, the American diet, and popular culture, while featuring the usual stock phrases such as “pseudo-intellectuals,” “the media elite,” and “entitlements.” Even readers who agree with the ranting would, I imagine, find it tiresome, especially in a novel. Nonetheless, if you can get beyond—or perhaps skim over—all of that, there is buried in here a pretty good yarn. Though the middle section is surprisingly slow for what might be described as a thriller, the book is mostly exciting and in many ways thought provoking (again, it would have been nice if the book had backed off the pontificating and let the reader do the thinking for himself or herself).
An excess of characters with no clear protagonist (and a few characters who simply drop off the map) makes it difficult to get really close to anyone, yet Schlaman does an excellent job of describing the disintegration of society and imagining how carefully laid plans and long-held dreams, especially of the survivalist homesteaders, can go surprisingly wrong.
The cover art is excellent, and though the formatting is a bit clunky in places, it does not interfere with following and enjoying the story. Schlaman needs the assistance of a careful editor to make the plot move more smoothly and the characters ring a bit more true. He depends far too heavily on comparing his characters to those from popular movies rather than doing the work of old-fashioned character building. But with a bit more practice Schlaman could become an excellent thriller author. He just needs to learn to let story take precedence over politics.
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