With the presidential election just ahead, what better time to read a political satire? Just when it seemed like real-life politics trumps everything satire could produce, Luke Rhinehart returns with a barnstorming novel that rages against the state of the nation. Not only does Invasion dissect the current political landscape, it helped me reevaluate my relationship with my children and the legacy I’ve inherited from my parents. An impressive feat for a novel that, at its heart, is all about having fun.
Invasion offers an excoriating analysis of contemporary western politics, whilst also managing to be laugh-out-loud funny. Let’s be clear, though, if you’re going to be voting Republican (or whatever the right wing party is called in your part of the world) in this or any election, you may want to leave this book well alone. Invasion is a barely disguised anti-capitalist polemic.
The novel’s premise has peculiar, hairy spherical aliens coming to Earth (the inevitable hairy ball gags do end up being rather overplayed). What these aliens have come to do, though, is have fun. Fun which capitalism, from Rhinehart’s and the “FFs” (Furry Friends) point of view, is designed to stop us from having. Rhinehart makes a compelling argument that this is indeed the case.
He leads off with the idea that humanity’s general outlook is that if we don’t understand something it’s probably hostile. Then, rather than try to understand it, its best to destroy it. Or, if not destroy it, then prevent it from exhibiting the behavior we don’t understand. It doesn’t help that the FFs are super technologically literate and use their abilities to hack into banks and the NSA.
Using the money they’ve embezzled and secrets they’ve garnered, the aliens attempt to buy and blackmail their way to changing the way we are governed. Rhinehart examines how the system, apparently created to protect us, really uses fear and ignorance to perpetuate its own existence. It focuses heavily on the self-perpetuating nature of the arms industry and the War on Terror.
Whether you agree or not with his message about capitalism, it’s hard to fault his logic about the lack of fun in our day-to-day lives.
One of the core reasons for GeekDad’s existence, I think, is because of an eternal quest to have fun. It’s no coincidence that many of our geeky passions hark back to days as children. Wargames and superheroes, board games and video games, these are all things most of us here loved as children and try to pursue as adults–when the nuts of bolts of life aren’t getting in the way.
“[W]hen creatures find their existence is no longer endangered, they can develop a second way of living: play. They begin doing things ‘for the hell of it.’ We see hundreds of different creatures acting in their play mode when they’re young – puppies and kittens and bear cubs and human children. Children racing from one tree to the next, but not caring who wins. As soon as a child cares if he wins, then it becomes purposeful and stops being play. And you humans took the wrong step on the evolutionary road when purpose became your primary mode and play was seen as childish. In our evolution we chose play. And see seriousness as childish.”
The parent in me was captured by the novel’s contention that having fun is what life should be about. Rhinehart suggests that as adults we create too many barriers to having fun. I know I do. Often I find myself refusing to play with my children just so I can carry out some pointless task that will probably need doing again tomorrow. Worse, I might be caught up with a social media announcement, which is interesting in that instant but ultimately inconsequential.
Personally, I often feel guilty when “playing”–painting small figures or pretending to be an elven ranger is not serious stuff. Much of this guilt has been passed on to me by my mother. She sees such frivolities as a waste of time and has given up asking when I’m going to “grow up” because she’s given up hope that I ever will. I feel similarly guilty when my hardworking (and lovely) in-laws come to stay. They grew up in much more austere conditions than I did. Fun was a luxury that was hard to afford. They find it difficult, I think, to do anything without purpose.
Arguably, modern innovation and capitalism are what’s given rise to a generation who feel able to play. The capitalist society Rhinehart rails against has allowed greater freedoms but not without cost. What you think those costs are, and whether they are worth paying, is down to your own outlook on life. (As an aside, I was watching a teenager walking to school this morning, having just come out of a UK coffee chain, holding her drink in a huge paper cup. There was no way, as a child of the seventies, I would have been able to afford a coffee or even thought of buying one. Is this good or bad? I’m not sure.)
Rhinehart contends that humans spend too much time and energy trying to protect ourselves from those we think have less than us. We have more, they have less, and the logical conclusion is that they will want to take it. But maybe that isn’t true?
Invasion reminded me of another cult novel I read years ago called Ishmael, another book that examines the capitalist system and finds it failing. Ishmael invokes the idea of “locking up the food,” essentially saying once people started hoarding more than they could eat, and making others pay for it, that’s when humanity’s troubles began.
Both Invasion and Ishmael are flawed and present the idealized sides of their arguments, but both have, I think, enough truths in them to make readers wish to live in a different society.
The ending of Invasion is a little disappointing. The book fizzles to a close, before cutting off abruptly. The way Rhinehart constructed his story meant that a satisfactory resolution was always going to be awkward. I didn’t mind the open ending so much, but it seemed Rhinehart didn’t really know how to answer his own questions.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps there are no answers. Invasion is an entertaining thought experiment from start to finish. Love it or loathe it, one thing guaranteed, this book will make you think. It made me consider my own position on things, it made me think about the people who govern in my name, and it made me laugh out loud. Invasion is fun, promotes fun, and I hope will lead me to a more fun-filled existence!