Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Divided We Fall : An Anthology of One Possible Future; Tiffany Reynolds. Patty McIntosh-Mize eds.

A great good day, to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, it appears that one aspect of a joyful heart’s good medicine is that it provides resources to do the Next Right Thing, which is to finish this review. Also, this review is so long that I doubt that even the authors will read the whole thing. It doesn’t matter.

Editors: Tiffany Reynolds and Patty McIntosh-Mize. Kindle Edition. Published October 30, 2020.
Fourth Box Press

Preliminary and subjective comments.
I got the book via Kindle Unlimited before Election Day, but only started reading it on November 13. The experience was eerie and unsettling. Normally, when reading the type of books I prefer to review, I have little difficulty separating fact from fiction; this time, I had to bring myself OUT of the immersive reading experience, long enough to breath, on multiple occasions. I started writing this review on Monday, November 16, 2020; today is Tuesday. At this time, the winner of the 2020 Presidential election has not been determined.
I find that I am deeply troubled by these stories, in this time of uncertainty. I strive to be as apolitical as possible, so the name of the party holding power doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the horrible division I see between people of good faith that brings me to the verge of tears. If you should happen to read this some years from now, please remember: I am writing about near-future predictions that I cannot just toss out with the trash. This is my world, and the world of my children and grandchildren, I may be describing.

Preliminary observations about the work itself.
The book came was published on October 30, by a previously unknown publishing house: Fourth Box Press. Most of us are familiar with the expression “Ballots or Bullets,” most likely from two speeches given by Malcolm X in April of 1964. Earlier, other descriptions of the basis of liberty included speech and trial by peers. At some point, these were combined into the phrase, “the four boxes of freedom.” These are the soap box; the ballot box; the jury box; and the bullet (some use the term ‘cartridge’) box. 
Given the explicit anonymity of the first author, and the independent status of the two contributing authors I am most familiar with, I suspect that this is a one-time, special purpose press. Whether additional work will be issued under this mark, I have no idea.
Truly, I want the back story on this volume. The similarities of these stories with the actual events is quite disturbing. So, I would very much like an answer to this: What did the directors of this project know, and when did they know it?

The shared narrative.
A coalition uses fraud of multiple types, and steals the Presidential election on November 3. The coalition is composed of: 
1. Political machines, operating under the flag of the Democratic Party,
2. Controllers of news and social media, including print, broadcast, and streaming platforms, and
3. Ground level enforcers, consisting of political believers, anarchists and thugs Bad things follow.
At the time period covered by the stories in the anthology, it’s not clear which of the first two elements is actually in control of the coup.
More details are included in the first story.

Reviews of the stories.
My standard procedure for writing reviews of anthologies is to review each story individually. In this case, though, since the overwhelmingly dominant theme is in each story, I’m just going to highlight the particular aspect the story examines. I suspect that won’t allow me to praise the gifts each author brings to the story. For this, I am truly sorry. 

FOURTH ESTATE by Mack Henckel 
Victor Parker is a retired journalist, recording his version of the events much later. (NOTE: he makes a cryptic note about ‘the last 12 years” but doesn’t define what it is about those 12 that prompted his memoir. However, we can date this story to approximately 2042, as he states his career as a journalist began in 1992, and lasted 50 years.)
In detailing Parker’s opinion about which events leading up to the 2020 election. Author “Henckel” is able to infodump without being tedious. Not only does he lay a foundation for understanding the constitutional process of elections, he also documents Parker’s personal professional and political journey. The 2000 election coverage both lifted him to prominence, and gave him his first serious taste of distrust of the way the political AND reporting systems worked. 
I fear that much more “review” will cause MY word count to rival that of the author, so here’s my own infodump; it’s the essentials of the narrative, which are common to all of the stories. I’m NOT issuing a SPOILER ALERT, however, because this is strictly the sort of information that might appear on a book jacket.
On Friday, November 6, Trump concedes, stating that because the corruption was so widespread, it was impossible to fight. Shortly after Biden/Harris take office in January, Congress and the Executive Office act in concert to defund the police, and withdraw Secret Service protection for former presidents. Mobs pursue Trump and his family, and murder him as he tries to get on his private jet. 
The country collapses in chaos. The new powers  marginalize or even imprison their enemies. Some few pockets of resistance remain. 
All of the basic narrative for the anthology is contained in this story, which leads me to believe that if this ISN’T the source document, it is the first iteration of it. It’s also the only story with an anonymous author, and you may decide for yourself the significance of that information. 
The remainder of the story reviews will be much shorter.

SECRET COMBINATIONS by Brad R. Torgersen Confession: I have great affection for this author. He invented an entirely new take on the BEM, and he made the hero of his astounding first work an enlisted man who was NOT a SEAL / Ranger / Green Beret / Recon Marine / Delta Force, but: just some guy. He and I also share a deep and abiding love for beautiful wives who are MUCH too good for us. If he would just change his last name to something that only Scandinavian word-check software won’t report as an error…
His story centers around the actions taken by the new coalition to subvert any authority that does not submit to them. His example is that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but the story would fit for any of the churches that admit to governance by a Higher Authority than that dispatched by governments. 
This is NOT stretching a point beyond belief, by the way. At least one governor has issued standing orders prohibiting the free exercise of religion, based on the possibility of spreading COVID-19. 

DANGEROUS WORDS by William Dietrich Marine sergeant McAlister is in a tough situation. The platoon sergeant was arrested for political reasons, and whether out of natural incompetence or fear of being next, the remaining leaders appear to have just decided to go along and not make waves. Sgt. McAlister has an alternative online identity, that would send him to prison if discovered. He also has a respected father, an officer long retired from the Corps. And the rumor mill has it that they are about to be mobilized to police American citizens, in the US, and Posse Comitatus will not apply.
I had a hard time accepting the premise of this story. My own service was closer to 50 than 40 years ago, and not in the Marine Corps, but I just can’t accept that an entire command structure would fold in the way described here.

DELENDA EST by Leigh Smith A companion piece to “Dangerous Words,” this tells the story through the eyes of Ash McAlister, USMC LTC (ret), the father of SGT McAlister. Like his son, although neither knows it, he also has an online presence that would get him arrested. However, his problem is different: he has been reactivated, with the threat that his children will go into the system if he refuses. His orders state explicitly that he will be used in a police role. He has to decide how he may best protect his wife and kids.
A minor quibble: this story mentioned Posse Comitatus, and notes that the US Marines are not included in the original act. That’s true, as far as it goes. However, 10 U.S. Code § 275 - Restriction on direct participation by military personnel  specifically addresses this oversight. It affects the story not at all.

A COUNTRY BOY CAN SURVIVE by Julian Thompson Louisiana native Wesley has a day job and a calling; his day job is working on an oil platform, but his calling is to administer the land that has been in his family for generations. Some of it has low-producing oil wells on it, that nonetheless produce some income; most of it is farmed, or left for wild game. Except for his tofu-eating sister Sandra, all of his family appreciates a good dish of fried venison.  
When the regime changes, tofu-eating sister Sandra is going to present a problem.
I found these characters, and the way they acted in times of the crisis, to be emphatically believable.

THE STANDARD by Lea Valencia Noring Luke is a cop in a small town in south-central Georgia. Since that’s where I spent most of the first 19 years of my life, I’m pretty familiar with guys like him. Some of the other elements of the story, of a touchie-feelie  hippie-dippie way of doing things being forced on a southern town ring quite true. What utterly fails to ring true is the idea that the prep for the transition would have been initiated BEFORE the election took place. I could be wrong; after all, I left that area in 1972. Maybe it HAS changed that much.  

THE BALLAD OF BECKY AND KAREN by Jon Del Arroz I looked for reasons to show some mercy to this story, until I realized that was what I was doing. Frankly, if the author hadn’t made such an utterly uninformed series of statements about the recoil from an AR-15, I would have looked harder, and likely found something. 
However, his statements that the recoil from three shots kicked the stock into the protagonist’s jaw, dazing him and  almost making him pass out, with continued overwhelming pain, blah blah blah: those statements killed any mercy I might have had. Need to research my objection? Type “little girl firing AR-15” in your search engine. 
This isn’t a story; it’s a revenge fantasy, with the targets of the revenge being the mindless twits who think we all can live happily together if the white people just suck it up. Now, I’m not offering any sympathy to those twits; I’m just saying that if that IS a reason for this story’s existence, it’s the only one. And I’m glad that I was able to express that without any foul language.

SUPERMAX by Lee Thompson For reasons of their own, the clique in power decides to release a LOT of bad actors from prison. That actually might be a pretty good plan, in the case of prisoners who don’t represent a threat to the community. Bully, I say!
But you cannot apply that concept to the people who are found in the super maximum security prisons. Conventional incarceration could not stop them from killing. The guards and administrators know this to be the case, even if the powers controlling the pardons don’t. But, what are you going to do? Orders are orders.
I’m inclined to believe this one might be close to the truth, in the event.

FOR THE CHILDREN by Rick Cartwright Jack Payne is a pretty good mechanic in rural Tennessee. He’s a single parent, raising his daughter with the help of his neighbors and family, and he’s getting by as well as can be expected. He hopes the chaos he hears about on talk radio will confine itself to the areas around the cities. It probably would, too; except: books.
So much about this rings true; the story of his daughter’s birth is amazingly like mine. I can also testify to the natural reaction that local authorities have when people from upstream appear, and throw their weight around.

MARCHING ORDERS by Brennen Hankins Another story of conflict in the armed services under the new regime, this time in the Air Force. We have a solid set of operating instructions, coming from the base commander, Colonel Roy F. Lawson, upon the announcement of the Biden/Harris victory. The rules are: everybody is entitled to their opinion, but the President is The Boss, and everyone is expected to act appropriately while on duty. Yes, that’s the way it works; I’ve seen it work that way. It’s because of the Oath, and the nature of the people who take it, and take it seriously. The Oath does not imply that you will win, though. It does describe how you act until the end.
While I’m not sure that the people in leadership at the federal level could be quite as foolish as this story implies, I try never to bet AGAINST human stupidity. 

TEACH THE CHILDREN by Sarah Hoyt. This "Hoyt" person is an immigrant. Could she POSSIBLY know ANYTHING about American values, American culture?
Well, yes. Quite a bit, actually, if her literary output is any indication of her understanding. Not just the political end; she has a series about a greasy spoon diner that convinces me she understands my favorite restaurant, Waffle House. Somehow, her perceptions of American culture got her labeled as a white male Mormon, which generated a significant amount of tittering among her fans. Evidently, this diminutive woman somehow inhaled all of America that was good, including those parts not yet realized, and has been advocating the principles in her writing, without once having to resort to preachy language. 
Our unnamed protagonist and his teacher wife Maggie like to joke that they always cancel out each other’s vote during the elections. It’s not a big deal for either of them, although Mr. Maggie begins to wonder if he might get into trouble for being the more conservative of the two. The bottom line for both of them concerns whether they care for children as individual people, or as a social construct.

GOOD ON CAMERA by Kurt Taylor Although it’s evident from the story guidelines that the controllers of the news and social media are at least as responsible for the chaos and subversion of the legal processes as the various political machines, this is the only story that specifically addresses the culpability of talking heads and news panderers. 
The machines have forgotten to keep the food producers in production; perhaps this was something they never learned in the first place. At any rate, people in Nashville Who Matter (the members and hangers-on of the machine) are getting hungry, and they intend to confiscate food from the countryside areas, which are still in production. 
To make it work, though, it needs a sales job, and that’s up to the local news team, Friendly Bob and Flashy Tess, under the guidance of Shadowy Judi. They have zero problem with any part of the program, until they learn they are being sent out to go Live On Location! 
The event is preceded by four days of coverage, so the ignorant farmers will know to get the supplies  ready.

I said all that I needed to say in the Preliminaries; except to reiterate: this was a tough one to write.

Peace be on your household.


  1. I absolutely HATE ambush reviews, and I avoid them whenever possible. I savaged Jon Del Arroz's work in this review, and I feel bad that I didn't give him a better heads-up.
    A very few minutes before I published this on the blog, I sent him a PM, to let him know a very critical review of his work was on the way.
    Under other circumstances, I would NOT have published, until I had gotten a response back from him. I did NOT do that this time, a most ungentlemanly gesture on my part, because I am ill, and I have been working on this for two days, and my wife just got home for work, and I need to sit with her and help her de-compress.
    I most sincerely apologize to Mr. Arroz for my discourtesy.

  2. If someone is firing an AR15 -- which is much like the M16A1 I trained on, close to 50 years ago -- and has no clue how to hold it, so they rest the barrel on the backside of the left hand, finger on the trigger and right thumb under the trigger guard, and hold the rifle with the stock out a modest distance in front of their face so they could aim, DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME and then pull the trigger, they might ding their face. This would be way easier to do with an M14. How they managed to load the weapon, get a round into the chamber, and release they safety is a separate question.

    But it might be the author's way of saying that the protagonist keeps losing games of skill to his cat.

    1. Sr. Arroz responded quite graciously to my apology, and he and I chatted amiably for a bit. He freely confessed that not only had he never fired an AR, he had never seen one. Alas, he lives in San Francisco; thus his opportunities to learn are quite limited. I extended an invitation to him to take him out to the range, if ever he gets out this way. Perhaps, if he comes to a DragonCon, we will joyfully put small holes in pieces of paper.

  3. Hi, stumbled onto your review via Amazon. Just wanted to say, thanks for taking the time to write this! Appreciate the feedback.

    -Brennen Hankins