BOOK REVIEW : The Shell Game, by Steve Alten, Cedar Fort, Inc., 2008. 507 pp.
“Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything God-like about God, it is that. He dared to imagine everything,” Henry Miller intoned, reflecting in Sexus. Miller, accused of obscenity in one of history’s most obscene moments, World War II, was criticized for his graphic sexual content, particularly in The Tropic of Cancer, a novel that would shock no one today. Any and all varieties of sexual behavior are freely available for viewing when one plugs into the collective mind via the internet. One doesn’t need imagination or even the ability to read.
Still, child porn, snuff scenarios, and the intimate details of torture as practiced by criminal organizations and our national security establishment are routinely redacted from public awareness as a check against our spiraling descent into depravity and political enlightenment. Henry Miller, who believed in something called “perversion”, did not intend that his small assault against the hypocrisy of Victorian sexual mores should spearhead a broad attack on the moral foundation of human culture itself, but there it is! First you jack off, then you inhale some innocent reefer, and before you know it you’re selling pre-pubescent girls and girls to oily capitalists for a handsome profit.
Miller was correct, there is such a thing as perversion, but like obscenity, it is difficult to define in a strictly sexual context. Is sodomy or cunnilingus a perversion? Should the community of S&M practitioners be sanctioned? Was the Prophet Mohammad’s desire for a nine year old girl a perversion? Is a doting mother a pervert if she masturbates her year old infant son?
Considering Steve Alten’s description of a terrorist nuclear attack on Los Angeles, I realized that there was another scenario that filled me with a similar disgust and revulsion: the exploitation, rape, and murder of a small child by a sexual predator. The shock and awe of a nuclear explosion so impressive to Robert Oppenheimer that he was inspired to quote the Bhagavad-Gita is to me just disgusting pornography. It is no more than perversion on a large scale, the rape and murder of many innocents in a colossal orgasm of death.
Stripping away the veil that once concealed and obscured the true range of human sexual behavior was just the beginning of the revelations of the American character to itself and the secret sexual smorgasbord is the least of it. Pious defenders of public morality and the status quo are perennially outraged by the 16th Century writings of Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince because his prescriptions for power are largely amoral recipes of deceit, subterfuge, and murder. This is all business as usual, of course. Prior to the rise of modern constitutional republics, people were not impressed if their rulers were corrupt, but only if they weren’t. The Constitution and republican government then endowed elected rulers with a presumption of innocence they never had and great expectations for their performance.
The people trusted elected rulers far more than those imposed by divine right or military coup. The Revolution of 1776 inaugurated a new age of gullibility as government by the people and for the people gradually and ineluctably over 200 years withdrew behind a veil of secrecy. Today the patriotic guardians of public morality, paid propagandists and spin doctors for the most part, spreading fictions about good government and the integrity of public “servants”, wage war against the growing ranks of conspiracy theorists who threaten to pull away the veil.
In 2008 the American people are more dangerously naïve than they ever were in the 18th Century, their imagination for evil dangerously circumscribed and manipulated so that the threat to national security seems to always come from without, never from within. The smiley face of the elected government conceals the dark faces of those never elected and the people live in a politically repressed condition like hysterical Victorian virgins haunted by nuclear nightmares and the self-righteous psychosis of the Book of Revelation. Like children never taught to be wary of strangers, they are easy victims to patriotic political predators who play on their fears with promises of security and stimulus payments.
Political thrillers are the dirty books for today’s politically repressed. Unlike many novelists in this genre who regularly make the best seller list, Steve Alten integrates fact and fiction so closely that students of 911 will not be offended by any misrepresentations of the reality of that event, unless they take issue with Mike Ruppert’s Crossing the Rubicon. Unlike other popular writers whom one suspects are working for the Public Affairs Office of the CIA, Alten does not represent the “intelligence community” as an altruistic public service group, but rather as a cozy den of ideological vipers. In the complex shadow world of black operations, he deftly and believable depicts the machinations of sociopathic agents, the serial rapists of the rule of law and the political perverts who carry out the dirty deeds from which the righteous virtual political reality on display before the American public is constructed.
Lovers of fine literature will likely sneer at the heroic dimensions of Alten’s protagonist, former gridiron star, Ashley “Ace” Futrell, and his super human capacity to take a lickin’ but come back kickin’, but to these I say, let down your hair! He’s demonstrably human insofar as his beloved wife, Kelli, a devoted Company girl, successfully deceived him throughout their long married life and continued to manipulate him from beyond the grave. He’s not half as bad as Tom Clancy’s two dimensional embodiment of patriotism, family values, and American exceptionalism, Jack Ryan.
We’re not dealing here with propaganda and feel good pulp, the soporific fare of the major media conglomerates. The Shell Game is hard core didactic fiction, a necessary and very skillfully rendered lesson for the American public. It’s also a page-turner, a thought provoker, and no cheap trick. According to the author, “Two long years of research went into this project; key bits of information were provided to me along the way by concerned fans of mine in the military, the oil industry, and the political arena, and by individuals who have simply suffered far too much. Some of the things they have told me have given me nightmares, and, in fact, this entire project has taxed my nerves to the point of permanent damage. (Four months before the book was published, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.)“When we are the monsters in the story, then the horror becomes a little too real.”