There’s something I’ve been waiting to see happen since the publishing model shifted from the Big Five and their small press colleagues acting as absolute gatekeepers to the free love and hot sauce self-publishing world of today. Reading Suited For War, the freshly-minted second volume in the anonymous (!) Nine Inch Bride series, I wondered if that something’s time had finally come. The something in question is this: A book comes out on Amazon that has the cultural nous to change the world, and nobody notices.
In the centuries prior to our hyperliterate age, the ability to write down big ideas was sufficient to secure a person government office, or at least a cozy monastic cell. Revolutionary ideas often placed their authors in peril of their lives. After centuries of struggling with the notions of whence power derives, most of the world has come to the conclusion that contrary opinions deserve to have an airing in press and pixels. Subsequently, our freedom of speech has become so open-ended and our technology so capable at disseminating that speech, that books seem quite passe as a medium to inspire social change.
These days, documentary video is the social revolutionary’s medium of choice. And like so much of today’s media, influential video is generally short and pointed. Images of smoke over Syrian rooftops or police cracking down on a political protest speak directly to the gut, requiring little to no imagination. Graphical brevity has trained a generation of world-shakers to respond to concise calls to arms. So where does that leave text? Sitting in a coffee shop browsing a collection of Thomas Paine’s pamphlets recently, I was struck by the verbosity of Common Sense. How much momentum could Paine, the propagandist extraordinaire, have generated on social media? What might his treatise on imperial overreach have looked like divided into 140-character chunks?
Suited For War is a revolutionary book. It presents a perspective on America’s position in the world that would have appalled and delighted Paine. Appalled because the America it portrays has devolved into a puppet state, a militaristic hegemony that holds the world economy in perpetual servitude while willfully prostituting itself to the whims of economic elite. Delighted because it portrays an America primed for revolutionary upheaval. Suited For War highlights the power of individuals to engineer social change. The protagonists – financial whizkid Ken, socialist Tahen, and mastermind Sahar – oppose some truly villainous collusions between industrial titan Avery Wellingham and the CIA, all the while staying true to their principles.
If that sounds a bit stodgy in theory, it’s not in execution. The book is highly entertaining, with plenty of nail-biting twists and a much greater sense of tension than Epiphany on Wall Street, its predecessor in the series. Ken’s double-agent exploits in particular add a good bit to the fun factor of the narrative, rivaling those of his B-surnamed peers. The difference between Suited For War and a contemporary spy novel is that, in between Ken’s bouts of jetsetting and Sahar and Tahen playing power politics, the latter pair act as authorial avatars, giving voice to scathing denunciations of America’s self-interested political meddling and its willingness to stomp on smaller nations in pursuance of its proxy wars. There are moments in the book when all this doom and gloom is hard to take, but the writerly asides are always cogent. Consider this excerpt from Chapter 5, appropriately titled Stretch your mind some more. Here speaker Sahar discusses the moral bankrupty of “Old Man” Wellingham.
“How many crimes of war would you guess are afoot in the world, well outside the Old Man’s purview, never mind the media’s? Hundreds, thousands – more? Each day a million little acts of war? With which weapon does crime become war, war become crime? Whose blood is the boundary between collateral death and genocide?”
Musings like this are commonplace in the book. Indeed, this is a mundane example, less barbed and more scattershot than Tahen’s indictments of capitalist excess. Basically, Suited For War a ticking time bomb of a book. In another age, its anonymous author would have been dragged out of obscurity to either be lionized or shot, or both. Now I sincerely have to wonder, is America too media saturated for the bomb that it is ever to go off?
Having now read both extant volumes in the The Nine Inch Bride series, I’m convinced of the author’s bona fides as a culture critic. He or she belongs in the company of Orwell and Vonnegut. In its denouncement of profit motive, Suited For War hooks with heft and uppercuts with ambition. It’s a one-eyed pirate of a book, clutching a knife in its teeth and preparing to board our democracy with ravishing intent. By all that’s Jeffersonian, it should strike fear into capitalist hearts.
Granted it’s not a perfect book, possessing at least twice as many dialogue tags as the text demands. Yet it has its soaring moments too, like the opening image of frenzied minnows being mobbed by predatory gulls. For the record, in sober moments I’m not in whole-souled agreement with the book’s politics, particularly in its holding up the socialist ideal as a desirable alternative to the capitalism of its near-future setting. But my agreement is not the point. The point is that Suited For War is a uniquely American book. It rages mightily against the machine, even at those springs and cogs we imagine most essential. Were one looking to test of the First Amendment’s original intent, it’d be hard to find a more robust example of distrust for the powers that be.
In short, Suited For War deserves to be read. It presents views that have the potential to change perspectives, maybe even ignite a movement. These views deserve an airing. So how do we prevent Suited For War from being lost in the flood of paper and eBooks on the market?
One-fourth of my way through the novel, I started given thought to this problem. NPR’s All Things Considered provided the answer. To save Suited For War from obscurity, to give it the audience it deserves, we’ve got to ban it. Short of a major political celebrity unmasking as the author, it’s the only way forward that I can see. We have to ban Suited For War from libraries and schools, deny it to our children, speak of it in our peer groups only in hushed tones. Only a banning has the potential to elevate the book to its deserved level of infamy among the young and disenfranchised.
Certainly Suited For War deserves to be banned. You want to talk anti-American? Suited For War. Anti-white privilege? Suited For War. Ken and Sahar and Tahen have a winked-at relationship that can certainly be described as unorthodox, so check that box off too. I dare say that the only people who could not find something at which to be offended in Suited For War are the sort of covert freedom fighters it portrays, and they mostly live at sea, or in cabins off the grid.
I’m serious about this. This year, 2016, the ALA’s Banned Book Week runs September 25-October 1. There could be no more perfect time to lock up this dangerous volume of revolutionary rhetoric behind flimsy, alluring bars. Get it labeled as pinko propaganda. Say it incites violence and discontent. Better yet, lump it in with Epiphany on Wall Street as a sex book! Ban it fast, ban it hard, ban it deep.
Post #BanSuitedforWar on Facebook and Twitter. Demand the ban! And tell your friends you’re banning it. Warn them of the dangers. Assure them they’re clever people. Their heightened critical faculties may be just refined enough to endure the assault on the senses that is Suited For War. But the rest of the country? Someone has to speak up for them. Won’t somebody think of the children?
For more about Banned Book Week, check out http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek.
For rants, rhetoric and news, check out http://nineinchbride.com.
Disclosure: I am not the author of the Nine Inch Bride series nor am I associated with the author in any way, to the best of my knowledge. I was given a pre-release electronic copy of Suited For War by a representative of the website above after posting my review for Epiphany on Wall Street.