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Book Title: The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica|
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Reader ratings: 5.7
The author of the book: John Calvin Batchelor
Edition: Dial Press (NY)
Date of issue: May 1st 1983
ISBN 13: 9780385278119
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 23.42 MB
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If Batchelor intended Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica to be satire, then I consider it a work of genius. But I don't think he intended it to be satire. So it is not.
It is instead the ultimate paranoid vision of the '60s counterculture movement. Reading Birth actually had me reconsider what the counterculture movement was all about. I decided, at least for the time being, that it was the expression of a belief that history essentially ended with WWII. For those who would believe such a thing, there was really nothing left to accomplish, no great achievements or moments in time worth tackling. And the last frontier, space, has gotten us lost in a tangle of technological mayhem that looks like a whole population staring at tiny screens typing inane comments to each other and generally wasting time, believing all the while that we finally, finally have everything figured out. As if.
Batchelor's protagonist is actually the antagonist, when all is said and done. Grim Fiddle is a maniac for whom destiny is drawn from the past and his imperfect awareness of the world and religion amount to a clarion beacon as sketchy in its coverage as what exactly he ever did to accomplish any of it, except maybe narrative convenience. The book's publishers were absolutely convinced that Birth was the next great cautionary tale, but if so, it was the perils of having no clue what good writing looks like. This is the intellectual claptrap that helped lay the groundwork for our increasingly shoddy culture today.
Birth was published in 1983. I have no idea how long Batchelor spent writing it, but in 1982 the brief but apparently long in the imagination Falklands War took place, and Birth sort of took its legacy in hand, extrapolating a few stray ideas into a future crisis and how Fiddle came to represent it. Much of the results read as if Batchelor assumed, or assumed the counterculture assumed, that western civilization was on the brink of collapse, so that life would start to look a lot like it did in, say, the 19th century, when Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Herman Melville were writing. Batchelor seems to have fancied writing something along those lines. He also seems positively obsessed with Norse lore, at one point dedicating a small chunk of the later summary sections to a quasi-mythic interpretation of events, a "dream sequence" that's Fiddle, or Batchelor, finally giving in to his wildest indulgences.
Some readers seem to complain about the comparatively brief later sections of the book. I think that's the very least of Birth's problems. Clearly Fiddle at that point is glossing over events he himself did not experience, just as early on he glosses over the circumstances of his birth and young life. More egregious is Fiddle skipping over his apparent grand destiny and operatic downfall, all in an attempt by Batchelor to explain the cupidity of fate. Or something. Or perhaps Fiddle's deranged state of mind. Or perhaps Batchelor's complete inability to write a coherent narrative without talking on and on in commentary on his own story.
The whole thing is a fascinating mess, worth reading until just about the end. But it is not some secret classic, and it is not intentionally clever, and it has nothing to say about the future, even the grim exile crisis of the present day. I have no idea how much Batchelor understood of the world in 1983, much less 2037. Very little, it would seem. This is a silly capsule of small minds, is all.
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