LBC Dystopia – Book 03 – The Iron Heel Write Up – Guest

Date:  Tuesday 16th of October 2012
Time:  6pm – 8pm
Address: 6 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW
Tel: (0113) 244 1500

* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *
* * * * * SPOILERS * * * * *


Novel by Jack London, published in 1908, describing the fall of the United States to the cruel fascist dictatorship of the Iron Heel, a group of monopoly capitalists. Fearing the popularity of socialism, the plutocrats of the Iron Heel conspire to eliminate democracy and, with their secret police and military, terrorize the citizenry. They instigate a German attack on Hawaii on Dec. 4, 1912; as socialist revolutions topple capitalist governments around the world, the Iron Heel has 52 socialist members of the U.S. Congress imprisoned for treason. Elements of London’s vision of fascism, civil war, and governmental oppression proved to be prophetic in the first half of the 20th century. — The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature 



Sadly there is no write up.

 @Monkeyson had promised to polish his notes up. We met for  a quiet pint. He revealed his plans for me to start a new book club and immediately afterwords mysteriously disappeared. 
Never to be heard of since. 

It’s all very sad. 

However, the following document has become available and may answer some of your questions about the book club that night. Not about the disappearance. 

All very sad.  


The Monkeyson Manuscript

Introduction by unknown scholar from the future.

# The Iron Heel by Jack London. 

## Foreword 

It cannot be said that the "Monkeyson Manuscript", a write-up of October's dystopian Leeds Book Club meeting, is an important historical document. Looking back across the months that have lapsed since the group met, it is clear that many points of discussion regarding characters and plot development that were confused and veiled to the manuscript author are now clear to us. He lacked perspective. He was too close to the club meeting he writes about. Nay, he was merged in the events he has described.

Nevertheless, as a personal document, the Monkeyson Manuscript is of inestimable value. Especially valuable is it in communicating to us the FEEL of that meeting. Nowhere do we find more vividly portrayed the psychology of the persons that attended that club between 1800 and 2130 - their insight and analysis, their jokes and humour, their inconceivable delusions of convincing their benevolent dictator to set up another book club. These are the things that are so hard for us of this enlightened age to understand.

It is apparent that @monkeyson began the Manuscript during the last days of the Leeds International Film Festival. It is quite clear that he intended the Manuscript for immediate publication, as soon as the book club was over. Then came the frightful watching of the 31 films, then Christmas, and it is probable that in the subsequent and dispiriting moment of a Saturday night in with no Doctor Who to watch that he dashed off the entire Manuscript and emailed it to the Leeds Book Club blog. 

## Chapter One. The Challenge. 

It was lunchtime when Leeds Book Club DMed me* to ask if I could host the dystopian book club that evening. Due to foreseen circumstances she could not make it, and due to unforeseen circumstances neither could her backup. I was only about two thirds of the way through the book, but I accepted the offer and started reading furiously. I hoped to finish it before the meeting took place.

_* Direct message. A means of communicating in private on an otherwise public social network._

The book was _The Iron Heel_, a novel by American author Jack London. It was based on the "Everhard Manuscript", a woman's account of life during the rise of the Oligarchy (or "Iron Heel") in the United States from 1912 to 1932.

The book begins with a fictional introduction written from the perspective of a scholar from 2600 and is interspersed with a series of (often lengthy) footnotes also from the scholar.*

_* Most of the group read the free e-book edition which suffered from some confusing formatting. The footnotes were often interleaved with the main text and it was hard to tell where the footnote ended and the manuscript continued. One member's version used a different font for the footnotes which helped to some extent._

The book was thus written on several levels, with the scholar correcting the author's errors, and elaborating upon the author's incomplete understanding of the situation.*

_* For modern day readers there is an additional layer to enjoy. The novel was written in the early 1900s - before the First World War and during the birth of the communist/leftist movement. At times London's vision is surprisingly accurate._

At 5 o'clock I raced home, reading the final chapters on my phone, dodging recklessly from side to side to avoid cars and pedestrians. I finished the book with moments to spare.

## Chapter Two. The Meeting.

The group met upstairs at the Giraffe Bar and Grill*. Drinks were taken. Food was ordered. The guests were a select group; few in number but with plenty to say.

_* A friendly restaurant on Greek Street that offers good food and drink at reasonable prices._

We started by discussing the lead characters Ernest and Avis. Ernest Everhard was a socialist revolutionary and his wife Avis was the author of the manuscript. Avis was the daughter of an accomplished scientist who was later silenced by the Oligarchy.

Earnest was not a popular man. "Why was Ernest seen as such a perfect husband?" asked one guest. "He was always right. Patronising. Imagine if he came to your dinner party!"

"You'd need a lot of wine," somebody exclaimed. "All he talked about was his ideology and how wonderful he was."

Ernest's behaviour in the early sections of the book was criticised for affecting the pace. It meant there was a very slow start with whole chapters devoted to Ernest's dogma. "It dragged." complained one person. "There were too many speeches" said another.

We liked Avis. She was brave and showed diligence and kindness when investigating the accidents in the factories. "But was she doing it to impress Earnest?" asked one member, "she was a bit of a fan girl... hey, don't write that down!"*

_* Too late. It was written down._

And it was nice to have a female voice in a dystopian novel, even though some felt that the narrative did not project a particularly female (nor male) viewpoint. 

It was hard to get attached to many people in the book but we felt sad for minor characters such as the bishop and Avis's father: the people who bought into the ideas the most also suffered the most.

We picked up on some flaws in the plot. Ernest and Avis "were masters of disguise", able to completely change their appearance (and faces!) to remain undercover. We couldn't quite work out how the lead characters became counter agents, nor understand how the oligarchy controlled the flow of information.

"The book fell down here. How did the socialist network function?" asked a book clubber. Despite printing and publishing being very locked down, conveniently the network was still somehow able to distribute information and organise a rebellion.

After a slow start the plot picked up pace but we felt it moved too quickly by the end. The final chapters were very violent and brutal. Although there was little in a way of a happy ending for the characters we had been following, there was a happy end in the long term.*

_* Through the footnotes it is mentioned that the oligarchy was overthrown, though not how this happened._

The manuscript, by its nature, was very one sided - much was described on the revolutionary side, but very little information was given on the oligarchy. We felt the footnotes could have provided more detail about The Heel and its downfall.

But in a sense the enemy (the oligarchy) was faceless and grew naturally. There was no big bad, no evil mastermind plotting the events. This felt similar to Fahrenheit 451*. Everyone in the world clung to what they knew, and in doing so couldn't see the wider problem or help themselves. 

_* Fahrenheit 451 was read by the book group in July 2012._

_The Iron Heel_ was a book filled with socialist propaganda. The author clearly supported it - but also showed it failing.

## Chapter Three. The End.

As the meeting reached its latter stages, we talked more about the meta elements of the book.

"I enjoyed the layered world. There was a lot of work involved in creating it. The author did a good job."

We would have liked to know more about the time the book was written. How well was Marx known? What story elements were coincidence, prediction or true?

"I struggled to know what was real - and I have a history degree!" said one person.*

_* The same person who said to not write down the fanboy comment._

The manuscript predicted many aspects of society that we have now (or have seen since it was written) - talk of super cities, cities for the sake of it. Dubai. Multinational corporations. War.

Final thoughts: "It was clever but not fun to read." "I feel different looking back on it than when I was reading it."

Finally we gave our votes for the book.* I abused my authority in the proceedings by giving an unbalanced half mark*\* - meaning the final score for _The Iron Heel_ was a slightly awkward 4.625 out of 10.

_* The convention at this club was to give marks out of 10: five for the story and five for the writing style._

_*\* The benevolent dictator of Leeds Book Club did not approve of half marks for arithmetical reasons._

With that we finished our drinks and made plans for the next meeting. I had been instructed to set the date in the new year, but rebellion was in the air. We could overthrow authority! If we wanted an extra meeting before New Year, by God we could have one! Names were placed in a hat. In hushed silence, the next book was drawn. _Brave New World._ Aldous Huxley. We decided on November. And while we were at it, we'd get that _Adults Reading Children's Books Book Club_ started too... The magnitude of the task may be understood when it is taken into*

_* This is the end of the Monkeyson Manuscript. It breaks off abruptly in the middle of a sentence. He must have received a DM from Leeds Book Club asking him to send it in whatever state it was in and get it published. It is to be regretted that he did not have time to compete his narrative, for then, undoubtably, we would have learned how wine he had drunk._


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