||June 16, 2006
Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed inspired this alternate history that takes place during the American Civil War, and tells the story of eight people who come together after the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. Using the money they earned by tricking the U. S. Government into buying more Monitor-class ships, they attempt to escape the war and retreat to "paradise," Easter Island. However, this paradise has been transformed by the natives into a human ecological disaster and monument to pagan fertility rights and even cannibalism. Through the inventiveness and labors of the main characters, the fanatical Bird Man cult is finally banished but not before many people have died as a result.
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When Ericsson and Greene entered the cave that night, they met a man who was a far cry from the Catholic order of Jesuits. Indeed, he was almost naked, with sealskin wrapped around his loins and sandals made from polished driftwood on his feet. He was seated in the corner of the cave at a small desk, with an overhead torch lighting his work on several tablets, which were stacked all around him, like so many Hebrew Commandments. His hair was wild and black, and around his sun-bronzed neck was the figure of a wooden carving that appeared to be in the shape of some kind of bird creature.
Ericsson, who spoke Spanish, addressed the priest. He planned to keep what he found out from this gentleman all to himself for possible use at a later time. He told the priest that they had arrived to establish a colony and to work with the local natives to improve their lot.
Father Perez began to laugh maniacally, tears running down his sun-baked cheeks. He told Ericsson about the sad history of Easter Island. The population had once been large, seven to nine thousand, and the clans were formed on various parts of the island. However, there evolved a centerpiece for their pagan religion, and it was the carving of the huge moai statues. The father explained to John that it was this cult of statues that eventually created the environmental destruction that they saw today all over the island.
“The Hanau Eepe and Hanau Momoko had a war, or so legend tells it. Hanau Eepe means fat and Hanau Momoko means thin. All but one of the Hanau Eepe was killed. The creation of the moai destroyed the many thousands of palms and sweet potatoes which grew all over the island at that time,” said the priest.
“How did that occur?” asked Ericsson.
“They used up the trees transporting the moai all over the island. They greased the rollers with sweet potatoes, and pushed the statues until they could be raised in a ceremony. The clans competed and began fighting over the diminishing resources. There was even cannibalism!” the priest whispered, as if he could negate the fact simply by making it less audible.
“What sort of government exists today?” asked Ericsson.
“Most of the clans have moved up onto Rano Kau volcano. They live in the village called Orongo. I am their priest, the only one from below who is allowed to go up there. It is the place where heathen rituals are practiced! The god of fertility, Meke-Meke, rules up there, and none of the clans living elsewhere on the island is allowed to go up there. However, when the Bird Man has been appointed, after the great contest, the island becomes possessed!” the priest’s eyes grew wide, and Ericsson understood that he had to counter this demonic cult in some way, or this island’s population would never see civilization again.
Walter Sinclair stood just outside the cave, and he could hear the priest speaking to Ericsson and Greene. Sinclair could also speak Spanish. He learned it in his travels to Spain for English merchants. The idea of this fertility cult intrigued him immensely. This would be a perfect way to seize power over the natives and over Ericsson and his ideas of law and order. If this Bird Man were given power over the island, then he would find out what it would take to win the contest! Sinclair left the cave, and he secretly vowed to visit Orongo as soon as he could figure a way to get there. Perhaps this priest could get him up there, he thought, and he put his hand on the revolver tucked inside his belt. The gun felt cold and securely persuasive.
As the days progressed, Chip began running all over the island. He enjoyed the freedom it gave him, the pulsing rhythm of the earth beneath his feet, the throbbing of blood through his system, and the joy of learning that his body could be put to such a trial. Gradually, the more he ran and swam, he felt his strength increase, and his lungs expand, until he began to believe he could win the contest. It was a joyful feeling that gave him a hearty appetite, and Captain Sinclair provided him with a bountiful supply of meat and potatoes from his ship. It would soon be time to test his abilities, and Chip began conditioning himself for the mental effort it would require. He believed if he thought of himself as a prince it would justify his victory. Sinclair explained to him that he would be able to run the island in any way he wished, and, he whispered, in a conspiratorial tone, “You’ll get your choice of the ladies in Orongo!” The thought of having such a chance to be in such a powerful position gave Chip’s demeanor an added gusto. He whistled, he made jokes, and he took long baths in the water near the ship, imagining he was the prince of Easter Island. It was quite a grand vision, and Chip shared his vision with the Priest, Father Perez. Together, they discussed a new plan based on what the priest knew about the rongo-rongo tablets. The real adventure was soon to be upon them all.
An Alternate History that Works!
Iron Maiden is an alternate historical story about the American Civil War. I’m actually a little wary about this genre. I tend to know just enough about the time period that the lack of historical accuracy really irritates me. Then, the aliens arrive or some other dramatic paranormal event occurs. This tends to make the situation so laughable that I start to think of the work as comedy. Usually, the authors of such works don’t share my sense of merriment.
Iron Maiden is different, in a good way- a really good way. The author obviously knows his time period and has done a lot of research to make his story fit seamlessly into place. His attention historical accuracy definitely shows. Two of the characters were real people and the author’s story fits very neatly with the records of their personalities and their life stories. I even felt the need to do some checking to see where the alternate history started and ended. I liked that aspect.
This book also made me laugh. The characters were so set on “going native” in the Easter Islands but they really had no clue about these islands or the inhabitants (fitting in perfectly with the knowledge that these people would have actually had at that time). The results are incredibly ironic. --Tami Brady, TCM Reviews
It's Got Everything!
Iron Maiden is an eclectic collection of historical and literary subjects strangely woven together to create a unique novel–maritime activities during the Civil War; inventor John Ericsson’s battleship–the Monitor; readings from and references to Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Moby Dick and The Bounty; John Wilkes Booth’s attempted assassination of Ericsson; three romances; slavery; anthropological research about the South Pacific islands, Easter Island; and Plato’s Republic. Quite a feat–tying it all together!
There’s adventure, romance, intrigue, deception, betrayal and power struggles throughout. John Ericsson tricks the U.S. Government into buying more of his Monitor-class ships for money to escape the war with seven others to create his own version of Plato’s Republic on Easter Island. To find out whether or not John succeeded, you’ll have to read the book.
I generally like to include a sample of the author’s writing to give you an idea of his style and for this I have chosen an excerpt from John Ericsson’s Journal, pages 255-256:
"My grand experiment is going smoothly, even though the addition of Sinclair and his wife has caused me to change some of my plans. I have had time to reflect and to read, and it has been Plato who has been my ultimate salvation. His Republic has given me the inspiration to design my plan so that it will serve us well in our new environs. Combined with my exploration into the characters of my passengers, this philosophical treatise will become the bedrock upon which we will build our community on Easter Island.
"First, off, Plato’s understanding of the human soul has been of great assistance to me in my own designs for the future. He believed that each of us could be categorized according to our class and according to our interest and virtues. And, beneath our surface life, there is the motivation of the soul. . . .
"I note, with pleasure, that I can place each of my new citizens into one of these three categories. For example, Sinclair and Greene are perfect candidates for the Warrior Class. They have the spirit and courage that is demanded of these ‘Guardians of the Republic,’ as Plato calls them. I know that Green has been aspiring toward something he believes is knowledge, but the Transcendentalists are not true philosophers. Emerson never lived in Nature, about which he preaches so profoundly. And Greene has been truly fooled by the chimera of unity. It will not take me long to put him back into the class upon which his soul is truly based, the warrior of spirit and courage! As for Sinclair, he is the epitome of Platonic spirit. He even saw the South as men who were fighting for honor, and thus he became a compatriot for their cause. Sinclair will be easily swayed by the manipulations I will use on him.
"The Commoner Class shall, of course, be the natives on the island, as well as Mister Charles McCord, the Catholic. Even though McCord fools himself onboard ship, once he gets out into this pleasure-seeking wilderness, he will become his old self again. We will work on his temperance." Ah, and how power corrupts!
So now that you know a little about the book and the author’s writing style, let me tell you something about the Jim Musgrave, and I quote from the back cover:
"Following reading experiences such as Camus’ The Stranger . . ., James Musgrave began his own odyssey to become a published author of ‘radstream’ (radical as opposed to mainstream) prose. His nonfiction title, The Digital Scribe: A Writer’s Guide to Electronic Media (1996), was his attempt to teach techies how to write with their entire brains, and his three novels soon followed in an attempt to teach humans how to read with their brains damaged by American ‘bestsellers.’ . . . He presently teaches collegiate humans in San Diego how to think (and hopefully write) with their brains damaged by the American K-12 system. His motto: Carpe nocto!" (Latin for: Seize the night!)
It’s not a bad read and you just might learn something, one way or another.
Reviewed by Kaye Trout - August 29, 2006
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