Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fugue in Ursa Major: A Review

David Dalton's Fugue in Ursa Major is an apocalyptic novel set in modern day and the mountainous corner of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Charlottesville, VA, the home of the University of Virginia.  Although most of the story time is spent in the buildup to the apocalyptic events, when they do come they are in the nature of a conspiracy theory generated nuclear war.
David Dalton, born in Salisbury, North Carolina, starting in North Carolina before moving to San Francisco in 1991, he seems to have worked in various operational and administrative roles in the newspaper business.  He has retired to the hills/mountain area of Stokes County, North Carolina, just north of Winston-Salem, and east of Mount Airy (aka Mayberry). 
There are a couple of threads in this run up to an intentional apocalypse story.  The main one, by word count, is the story of a young architect, Jake Janaway, awakening to his homosexual desires for the elderly man that will become his mentor, Phaedrus Bartholomew.  The other major thread is, from hints he picks up from Phaedrus, his research and discoveries about a coming collapse that a lot of Washington insiders seem to be preparing for.
There are of course a few subplots, but most of the rest of the story is filled with various rants, generally delivered in monologue form, about various issues of our modern society.  Oddly equating them as being near synonymous, the author hates Christianity and Imperial Romans in particular.  He seems to mostly hate them for their invasion and quashing of much of the various Celtic group's culture.   And he hates Christianity, which he views as the Roman Imperial religion, because of its persecution of homosexuals.  That Christianity picked up its anti-homosexual flavorings from Judaism, and further as a revulsion to the (then) modern Roman Imperial culture under which it formed, long before Christianity became the official religion, does not seem to have entered into his thought process.   As for his supposedly lovely Celts from Gaul, it is ironic that one of the earliest written books in the New Testament, Galatians,  gets its name (Galatia ~ Gaul) from a group of Celtics who came stomping into Asia Minor (what we now call Turkey) and took over the place. The  Galatians, before their culture was absorbed by the greater numbers, hung around for some time, being famous for their berserker-like naked charges and the late use of chariots.
What is head-spinningly odd is that at the same time he is beating up some folks for being foolish and closed minded, he is promoting the concept that a forced mass die off of ~90+% of the population, by a well connected (but not billionaires-he kills them off too) political/academic types through a rain of nuclear weaponry.  Although neither, Jake nor Phaedrus are part of the conspiracy, they are obviously not overly upset by the outcome, and are willing to work with the folks that caused all the destruction.  As Phaedrus notes at the end the world will be run by a technocratic elite, with presumably the non-technocratic rural survivors action as the new peasants.
The supposed points of wisdom that aren't extended rants includes bits from Star Wars, and Tolkien, with the occasion reference source pointers (Tainter, Berry) thrown in for good measure.  Jake spends a lot of time complaining about his girlfriends, and women in particular.  And we get his extended phallic (he seems to be more interested in being the catcher rather than the pitcher so to speak) about homosexual love, that never actually get anywhere by the books conclusion.
So did I like it?  Well it was unique.  If the author's points more concisely, and with a little more sense as presented, it might have at least had some curiosity value. He is after all not the inventor of evolutionary socialism after all, maybe he could have cribbed some better arguments from the Fabians.  It would also have been nice if there had been a little more of a plot.  There is a little bit of a two-stage bugout, but because the author is so busy representing Jake as superior to the masses, particularly those dumb ignorant folks at Liberty University, that there just isn't enough room for a plot.  So in the end, I didn't like it.  It represents itself as a work of philosophy, when it is really just a long, poorly thought out rant.  It is about on par with what some of the militia folks will inflict on, just coming from the other side. 
As an aside, in this urban dominated genocide that the author seems to be encouraging, who exactly would be heavily represented in the death toll.  Well African Americans are a large group in many major cities.  Many gays seem to gravitate to an urban culture where their live style is more acceptable.  Most of his friends that he had back in San Francisco would be dead.  In fact, if rural America is the group that is more likely than most to trend conservative, his nuke-the-masses strategy would appear to leave a relatively large proportion of his arch-enemies alive, relative to his supposed allies.  Of course he has retired to a rural area, so he himself would be safe for a little while. And of course.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
We must remember that the cause of the collapse is not generally part of our realism test.  Although some form of nuclear catastrophe would not be a shocker, the one postulated is a little unlikely.  It is not clear how you would get so many military folks to blast their own families, or get the born-again dominated U.S. Airforce to go along for the ride.  So the situation as it stands, a wealthy prepper in his mountain retreat with a young adult who want to get close to him, is not particularly unrealistic.  The realism is marred by the occasional appearance of flying-saucer like UFOs that appear to have no actual part in the plotline, but none the less do take up almost as much page space as his figuratively erotic stallion dream.  So with a point deduction, its a six.
Readability is low.  There is a whole lot of close to incoherent rambling and not a ton of plotting.  High rambling to plot content is pretty much the inverse to being a page turner: particularly at 320 pages of it.  The homo-erotic symbolism is rather easy to figure out, so we will set readability at a 2.


PioneerPreppy said...

Definitely not on my read list.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: LOL It wouldn't have been on mine either, but the author mischaracterized it on a Goodreads discussion board. Based on looking at his blog posts, he doesn't strike me as a particularly deep thinker for someone who dabbles in history and philosophy.