The Gods of Ruin
CoDe Publishing (July 4, 2010)
Newbie Senator Commodore de Groot is an ex-Basketball star minor celebrity recruited by the party, blessed with good looks and great schmoozing skills but little real understanding of the political scene. He's a big fan of “Big Brother,” REAL-ID type centralized security, including internet monitoring to “smoke out” terrorists. Considered a loose cannon, with a short temper, he's not expected to win, but, against all odds, he does.
His old flame from school, now a lawyer, Cate Heatherton -- described disdainfully by his staffers as one of “those crazy libertarians,” and/or a “Soviet spy,” is a link to Com's past, and stands opposed to nearly every issue in his campaign, but she arrives in time for the election after-party. Cate wants only one thing from him: a promise to do NOTHING with the power he now has access to. No more spending, no more bailouts, no big security juggernauts. But Com just made a lot of promises to the folks (and big donors) who elected him, and much as he cares for Cate, she can't change his mind. He's going to make changes in how Washington works, and use legislation for better purposes than his predecessors.
Com starts getting used to the new world around him, surrounded by staffers with more political skills than he has, growing more and more dependent on their assessments. He also begins to soak in the ego stroking temptations of the DC environment, described as ”the only place in the country where hundreds of thousands of attractive girls geek out about a guy with legislative power.” He's introduced to “the earmark game” and the wheels-within-wheels maneuvers to get a good committee assignment, not easy for a freshman Senator with little experience, but, there are always ways, for the ambious and the willing ... Favors come and favors go, and the Senate goes on as usual. Playing ball in this league has a completely new meaning.
Still hoping to be able to make good on the promises he made during the campaign, he find himself enmeshed in intrigues between parties, deals within deals, secondary and tertiary agendas, growing a wall between his ideals and the realities of life in the Senate, but becomes “a player” with ever more popularity and power. Until, as a co-sponsor of a bill to close it down, he goes on a fact-finding trip to a city in Texas called Ur, a city given private charter status by Congress in exchange for cleaning up the radiation mess from a failed nuclear plant disaster in that area years before. And it's Cate's home.
With no taxes, cars that drive themselves, private toll roads, wild technological advances, and one law -- “Harm No One,” Ur is not the land of greedy outlaws and misfits “bleeding us dry” his Senate cohorts told him it is. Instead it's a place where the dreams of a society unburdened by over-governance and taxes seem in the process of becoming reality. Autocracy – self rule – with a few elements borrowed from the ancient Greek democracy (a judiciary made up of volunteers), is the order of the day here and the resulting freedom has inspired many new inventions and great prosperity. Multiple communities of all types inside Ur have independence and freedom to worship and work as they choose. Incidentally, for those who prefer limited government, the Noah's ark story is a hoot.
How much would such a city threaten the status quo? And, what would the status quo be compelled to do about it? Com finds out a whole lot more than he wants to know about how things really work in Washington, and what sticking to his oath to the Constitution really costs.
“Gods of Ruin” manages to reach many of the main points from “Atlas Shrugged,” with far less verbiage, since Rand spent many pages re-iterating objectivist philosophy, and Morse manages for the most part, to get his points across without interfering with the flow of the story. The portions of the book that deal with the Senate hearken back to Allen Drury's books from the 60s (“Advise and Consent,” “A Shade of Difference,” “A God Against the Gods” and many more) which used fiction to flesh out the incredible machinations of a Congress in the era of the master manipulators, among them Everett Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson, and in Com deGroot's Senate, it sure feels like not much has changed.
This book is a bit of a lightning rod, arriving as it does during a period of hyper-partisanship, contrasted with a strong belief in some quarters that neither major party is really different from one another, and a low Congressional approval rating that signals an unsettling belief that perhaps no one in Congress has our best interests at heart. The topics “Gods of Ruin” bring up are bound to stir strong emotion from both sides of the political divide and everywhere in between. The number of issues surrounding partisanship, corruption, power-mongering and ethics are too numerous to go into in a short review.
This book has a lot of action, which might make it an interesting movie, and while the topics discussed make for some vivid, often partisan, and sometimes downright snarky reviews, it also makes for some thinking about issues that really matter. Love her, or hate her, Ayn Rand's “Atlas Shrugged” is still one of the most read books by those who care about the issues of just and corruption-free governance, and the discussions still rage about what's true and what's not, what will work and what won't. We may still be arguing and debating, but we are most certainly still thinking about ways to get it right, and that's not a bad legacy. May Mr. Morse's work fare as well as the years go by.