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2044 Packs a Polemical Punch

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The basic flaw in libertarian reasoning is its neglect of all the ways freedom can be threatened by private (including corporate) action, rather than public action. There is no doubt a fine essay to be written on that topic; probably someone has written it.

But to make an actual political point no essay is as good a strong story; can anyone doubt that Harriet Beecher Stowe was a more effective abolitionist than Sumner? Orwell was a great essayist and (with the huge exception of Animal Farm) a distinctly second-rate novelist, but in terms of both readership and impact Nineteen Eighty-Four is orders of magnitude above "Politics and the English Language" and "Notes on Nationalism," which have more or less the same conceptual content but not a fraction of the emotional impact.

Eric Lotke is a lawyer and a progressive activist, not a professional novelist, but his book 2044 is, just as a novel, a far more polished performance than its Orwellian model; for one thing, the characters are more or less human, and the author is capable of making you care about their fates, which is more than can be said for Winston Smith (whom Orwell deliberately made a thoroughly uninteresting "last man") or Julia.

As a tract, 2044 pursues the same strategy as its predecessor: it takes some of the more noxious features of contemporary society and imagines a future in which they have grown to monstrous proportions without really changing their fundamental shape. Malcolm Moore, like Winston Smith, is a bureaucrat. Instead of working for the Ministry of Truth, he works for Tentek Corporation. Somewhat against his will, he finds himself in opposition to his employer and to the transnational corporate/state symbiosis of which Tentek is an element. The book's subtitle states its theme: "The problem isn't Big Brother; it's Big Brother, Inc."

Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth ploughed some of the same ground half a century ago in two fine science-fiction novels, The Space Merchants and Gladiator-at-Law. If Lotke lacks some of their invention, his superior grasp of the actual social and economic processes involved more than makes up for it; Tentek is as frighteningly plausible a workplace as MiniTrue.

Regrettably, 2044 is samizdat, which means that few bookstores will carry it and - more damagingly - few reviewers will bother to notice it. But there's always a chance that word-of-mouth will pluck it from undeserved obscurity, especially since the Kindle price is only 99 cents. Take a look.