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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Mon 01
Nov
2010

Ayn Rand and a Hint

Writing The New Yorker published one of my short stories in full without even asking. That’s a gross copyright violation. I’m thinking of suing. Admittedly, the story is only 25 words long. But still. They broke the ten percent rule. Two and a half words would have been okay. “She walks i.” I’d have no problem with that.

So now The New Yorker has stolen my livelihood, there’s no reason for you to buy the book it’s published in, Hint Fiction. Unless you would like to read 150 or so stories by the other contributors. I guess that’s a good reason. The deal is they are all hints: 25 words or fewer, not self-contained stories but rather suggestions of larger tales. There are some more examples, by which I mean copyright violations, in The New Yorker article, and you can pick up the book, published today in the US & Canada, here or here.

If you are in Australia, I’m on TV tonight, talking about Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Actually, I’m doing that no matter where you are. You can’t affect it. I’m also discussing Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I mention the Rand book first because it’s the one people will send me emails about.

Here’s the thing with Atlas Shrugged. It’s eleven hundred pages of brilliant, beautiful, go-getter industrialists talking to stupid, grasping, corrupt collectivists, set in a world where only half the laws of economics apply. The character names change but nothing else. Otherwise, it’s not bad. No, I lie. Even setting that aside, it’s terrible. I felt like Ayn Rand cornered me at a party, and three minutes in I found my first objection to what she was saying, but she kept talking without interruption for ten more days.

It’s not a novel so much as a manifesto, and, I think, impossible to enjoy unless you’re at least a little on board for the philosophy, and it’s hard to be on board for the philosophy if you understand economics or see a moral problem with starving poor people. I realize many believe fervently in the philosophy. They email me. And I don’t think it’s one hundred percent bogus. But it demands that you choose between no government or total government, and I think all such extremes have similarly extreme problems.

Freedom is good, though.

Comments

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John Reynolds (#2534)

Location: New York, USA
Posted: 3128 days ago

I haven't read Atlas Shrugged, but The Fountainhead is easily my least favorite book I've ever read.

Greg Karber (#1568)

Location: gregkarber.com
Posted: 3128 days ago

Your analogy re: Rand is absolutely spot-on.

Somehow Atlas Shrugged became one of the central forces of modern American conservatism, but if you talk to any of its adherents for more than a few minutes, it's apparent that they have absolutely no clue about what they just read.

I think the book should almost be required reading for liberals: it's too easy to poke holes in so you can embarrass conservatives at their own game.

Greg Karber (#1568)

Location: gregkarber.com
Posted: 3127 days ago

(Also, I use the terms liberal and conservative in their American senses, though every time I make statements about "liberals" abroad I get confused stares in return.)

Tommy Mandel (#2554)

Location: nYc
Quote: ""You want me to sign this now?""
Posted: 3127 days ago

I agree about Ayn Rand. Since you mention Freedom (which my gf is reading!) Freedom™ is cool too. It's like all my favorite 'dystopian' writers (you, Gibson, Stephenson, and now Suarez, with a little Strosse thrown in when all else fails) are drinking from the same watering hole. Best wishes, good vibes, happy dadding, and all that. tm, nyc.

Machine Man subscriber Katrina (#847)

Location: SF, CA
Quote: "Good sex is like good Bridge: if you don't have a good partner, you'd better have a good hand." -- Mae West"
Posted: 3127 days ago

LMAO Go Max! Hooray for someone actually speaking against Ayn Rand.

And I don't know about suing the New Yorker, you should just ask for some percentage of their profits for the run of that magazine.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3127 days ago

The book people paid $25 for that short story, so proving damages may be difficult.

Incidentally, $1 per word is a pretty good rate.

Machine Man subscriber SRD (#2889)

Location: Ogden, Utah
Posted: 3127 days ago

Here's the thing about Ayn Rand, and I'm speaking as about the biggest defender of Western Capitalism, is that she is ridiculously long winded, and may have been somewhat mildly deranged. But this may be just because she is Russian and this is what many Russian novelist are like. See also Tolstoy. See also Dostoevsky. She is a lot like Stephen King in the way that for each individual thought that passed through her brain required her to blather on for, at the very least, 150,000 words. You don't need to bore someone to death while at the same time beating them senseless with the blunt end your your political beliefs to get your point across. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-Rand per se, but her ideas, or ideas similar to hers, have been better expressed by William F. Buckley and Ann Coulter.

And Coulter is, at the very least, funny.

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 3127 days ago

Well max, if the RIAA can get a few thousand dollars for each illegally downloaded song, there's probably a decent profit in it for you. If it would help, we can all illegally upload and then download your section of the New Yorker, just to make sure they run afoul of the DMCA even more.

On the topic of Ayn Rand, the less that is said about her screed the better, it makes the rest of us capitalists look evil.

Brian Kenneth Conway (#2864)

Location: Pozos de Santa Ana, Costa Rica
Quote: "Siempre estar pateando de la vieja escuala, MOPRI ('Kick it Old School, Cuz' -- more or - very much - less as rendered poorly into Español)"
Posted: 3127 days ago

I'm with you dude,

Readin' Ayn Rand is like havin' teeth pulled... Slowly. Bloody 'orrible. Nots so's much that I's dislikes whats she's gitsdas say, jess that by the tyme she gets aroun' a sayin' it, I've gots granchittlens.

Blimey.

Machine Man subscriber tim (#3234)

Location: chattanooga, TN, USA
Quote: """
Posted: 3127 days ago

In the haze of my pre-dawn rituals I think you may be the most brilliant man alive. However, my dog is also putting on an impressive show of intelligence by impatiently jingling her leash at me. Good read on Rand; it was a powerful book but it felt more like a fairy tale. Also, the sex scenes weren't believable.

Álex Hernández (#5095)

Location: Germany
Posted: 3127 days ago

Actually, there are ways I can affect it - your being on TV. Like, if I jumped in front of your taxi on your way to the studio. Or if I landed my helicopter on it. Supposing you take a taxi. And I had a helicopter.

Machine Man subscriber Keith (#4156)

Location: Ballston Spa, NY, USA
Quote: ""You're more than just a naive moron to me""
Posted: 3127 days ago

I don't know how this works but did the book publisher give the New Yorker permission to print the story?
Seeme like the New Yorker is a pretty major magazine to be pilfering stories...

Machine Man subscriber Ariel (#3057)

Posted: 3127 days ago

Oy. Rand. I read my first book by her when I was ten years old. But it was Anthem, so that was fairly easy. I actually quite enjoyed it, but that was probably because it was short and I had fun trying to figure out what all the pronouns mean when everything is in plural. Then I tried reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged a few years later. Didn't work out so well.
My dad has a weird fascination with her books even though he doesn't really agree with her philosophy and he suspects she might have been a space alien who never evolved a sense of humor. You gotta admit though, she is an expert at polarizing people.

Alex Hall (#3610)

Location: Ohio, USA
Quote: ""¡Hasta la victoria siempre!" —Ernesto "Che" Guevara"
Posted: 3127 days ago

I'm a great fan of Franzen, though I haven't read the new novel yet. I read his first three novels and the collection of essays called /How to be Alone/. I was initially drawn to him because he had the balls to stand up to Oprah and her drones. If /Freedom/ is as good as the rest of his work, I'm bound to be satisfied.

Machine Man subscriber Morlok8k (#4133)

Location: The Moon
Quote: "I like stuff..."
Posted: 3127 days ago

Max, you only used 23 words... you could have used the full 25 and gotten one more thought out. (unless contractions are counted as 2 words - then its exact.)

never read Atlas Shrugged, but i did read one book by her, Anthem. it was interesting.

Machine Man subscriber tim (#3234)

Location: chattanooga, TN, USA
Quote: """
Posted: 3126 days ago

Max, I watched the video from your spot on the quaint little book show and I have a few comments.

Your voice is much deeper the 3rd person narrator I hear in my head while reading your books.

You should have spoke up more so you could have given the group more material to agree with.

Speaking of the group-think; Did they pre-interview you to make sure you were all on the same page or was that a coincidence?

I like how the mousey girl referred to the sex scenes as rapey which aligns with my thought of them being unbelievable.

I am curious about the show itself; what time of day does this show air and is this a national station?

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3126 days ago

@Álex: Ha! It was pre-recorded. So you would have had to firebomb a transmitter.

@Morlok8k: Hey yeah, 23. So then I can include the title. Because some of those stories have long, explanatory titles, which is surely cheating.

@tim: The station (ABC) is government-owned and kind of notoriously left-wing (liberal), so beforehand I fully expected the five of us to sit around agreeing about the evils of free market economics. I was kind of bracing myself to be the guy who had to defend it, just for some conversation. But fortunately Jennifer liked it.

Fun fact: my wife's mother was friends with Jennifer Byrne in high school, which arguably influenced the naming of my wife, which arguably influenced the title of one of my novels.

Rapey sex: yes, Marieke was right. I try not to impose a 21-century moral framework on decades-old books, but for a fiercely independent woman, Dagny sure does like getting knocked around. At one point Frisco punches her for thinking anti-intellectual thoughts and she thanks him for it.

It's a national broadcast, 10pm on the first Tuesday of each month.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3124 days ago

Friday, November 5, 2010

25 Word Blog:

It's like Max's short story. Non-fiction though..and no snipers! Life's not quite that exciting. No theft, drugs, or anything illegal. Just cold-calling. wait...

-adam

Abgrund (#3357)

Location: Atlantis
Quote: ""Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority." - Ayn Rand"
Posted: 3124 days ago

You should definitely sue the Yorker, that way you can get damages AND free exposure.

Ayn Rand = a voyage into the world of brain damage, sometimes fascinating, sometimes tedious. "Half the laws of economics" is a wild exaggeration. No comic book ever printed had less connection to reality than Atlas Shrugged.

RayRay (#3747)

Location: Texas
Quote: "Sometimes late at night Wearing a cat on my head I get transmissions."
Posted: 3122 days ago

Every time I think I might read that novel, someone warns me away. Rand uses the same pragmatism that leftists use. I think that's funny.

Hynlyn (#5130)

Posted: 3112 days ago

Atlas Shrugged is very much a libertarian manifesto (as you mentioned) but instead of merely bashing the book at bad literature, have you thought about looking deeper? American's always get the bad reputation for comparing people who disagree "hitler" or "communist" or "socialist" or "stalinist" or other stupid phrases. I fail to see any better tact displayed by the writers on this show.

Let my try to elaborate on that which you have failed to see.

To begin, I wanted to start with discussing libertarianism (Ayn Rand refused to be associated with the Libertarian Party (for good reason) and thus kept her title as a little "l".)

For those who are familiar with the political compass test, there are not just liberals and conservatives, but those who are liberal and conservative (differently) on social and economic issues. Those who are socially liberal and economically conservative (neo-liberal economics) are referred to libertarians. Ayn Rand is a libertarian and Atlas Shrugged preaches both social libertarianism and economic conservatism.

I think that a majority of people can agree that Ayn Rand is wrong economically; Milton Friedman tried and failed in Chile and Bush abandoned the free market "to save the free market".

Socially though, I believe that Ayn Rand deserves some thought and consideration. One of the panelists said that she believe that Ayn Rand is people's excuse for being egotistical. I do not believe that her reading was as openminded as it could have been. Egoism is the idea that man is, for lack of a better term, a heroic being who is capable of great things. I fail to see what is wrong with this. Egotism is a completely different idea. Nowhere in her writings does Ayn Rand advocate Egotism.

I do wish the panelists, instead of saying "ugh this book is despicable" sat down and said "here's a passage of her book I disagree with, and here is why".

Although her economics are naive and don't take into account the realities of modern day, simplistically speaking, what is the root of all money? Not factoring in inheritance, futures trading, speculations, and the entire banking industry I fail to see why money is not a tool of exchange. After all, if I wanted something before currency, I'd give you a chicken for a pound of bricks and now I'll give you five dollars.

The panelists talked about her long-winded speeches, but didn't talk about what in them they disagreed with. I also have no idea what kind of sex other people have had... but I do not believe that her sex scenes sound like fantasy. I for one enjoy sex and do not understand why people consider it dirty:

"They kept their secret from the knowledge of others, not as a shameful guilt, but as a thing that was immaculately theirs, beyond anyone's right of debate or appraisal. She knew the general doctrine on sex, held by people in one form or another, the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of man's lower nature, to be condoned regretfully. She experienced an emotion of chastity that made her shrink not from the desires of her body, but from any contact with the minds who held this doctrine."

From a biographical criticism perspective, Ayn Rand lived what she preached, having different lovers and a husband as well.

I hope this can spark some discussion that resolves more around "X idea is X and here is why" rather than... "On the topic of Ayn Rand, the less that is said about her screed the better, it makes the rest of us capitalists look evil."

I also would like for Max (if he has time) to outline a bit more about what he doesn't like about the book ideologically rather than face value.

Hynlyn

chimerakiller2 (#5263)

Location: squambodia
Quote: "Life is masterless"
Posted: 3016 days ago

quite interesting, I write on an online site called Protagonize, and it does not show how much attention your story will get however you will get critized, if given the attention, rated, and even reccomended so others can read, rate comment, and reccomend. However I'm not sure what the rules are on taking the story off and getting it published but it is fun to write about something or see how well you write.

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