Atlas Deconstructed ~ Book Review of ‘The Water Thief’ by Nicholas Lamar Soutter

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on November 21, 2012 0 Comments

You don’t necessarily need to have read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to enjoy Nicholas Lamar Soutter’s The Water Thief but it would help.  I concede there might be references in the book to other Rand works, but I didn’t spot them because one Rand novel is all I can stomach in this lifetime.  In The Water Thief Soutter takes on Rand’s most heartfelt (Is heartfelt something one should write in reference to anything Ayn?) philosophy; objectivism.  Because the Wikipedia’s definition is precise and informative I’m going to reprint it here.

            “Objectivism’s central tenets are that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness (or rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans’ metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.”

          Did you catch all of that?

          I have always interpreted objectivism to mean it is a dog eat dog world and that the biggest dog gets the best and most meat while the runt of the litter gets nada.  Further the runt is to blame for getting zip because he or she isn’t as clever, strong, and competent as the big dog.  Also feeding said runt only does him or her a disfavor because s/he doesn’t learn anything except to be dependent.  In addition helping the runts of the world does the big dog a disservice because big dog weakens him/herself by giving away its earned piece of the pie.

            I should also point out that my read on Rand’s philosophy, as demonstrated in her magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, was that she was against inherited wealth for the sake of inherited wealth.  For instance, she would not have been a supporter of several pop culture socialites who are famous for being famous mostly because they had simply been born with a recognizable last name.  I remembered that she had great disdain for businesses that bribed/contributed to politicians in order to have legislation passed that would help sweeten their competitive edge over others.  She rightfully considered that cheating.  Thus neither Republicans nor Democrats can claim her as solidly in their political camp.

             All of the above is good information to have when reading The Water Thief because the action takes place in a futuristic world where objectivism is the rule of the day (although I don’t think the novel used the term per se).  It is a world where corporations rule as they compete with one another for resources.  Often the competition turns violent; a la suicide bombers and other methods of terrorism.  It is as if life is a big chess game where every move is decided by a roll of the dice.  However there are pockets of rising resistance along with rumors that all things capitalistic are about to fail because the system has been overly corrupted with self interest…oh, and no one is particularly happy.  However I didn’t find the book to be a depressing read.

               Soutter requested I read his novel.  He described it as a dystopian tale which immediately made me think it wasn’t a slather oneself with sunscreen while roasting poolside potboiler.  It sounded more like a late autumn drinking coffee at some café in the River Market while at another table idealistic patrons debate the finer points of a Kant inspired book. Ergo I approached the novel with trepidation (obviously I read the book last summer).  I was pleasantly surprised to find within the first few pages a story that took to task the ideas of Rand.  Since there seems to be a resurgence of Rand enthusiasts (Rand 2.0?) along with the upcoming presidential election the storyline is very topically.

               Charles Thatcher works (actually he is more like an indentured servant) for Ackerman Brothers Securities Corporation.  He is in the public relations department and his job consists of finding stories in the media that either reflect badly or could reflect badly on Ackerman.  He gets paid for the information he provides which means often he stretches a situation to satisfy his objective.  Although it sounds horrible Thatcher doesn’t have a choice.  Everything costs money like water (thus the title) and even mundane things such as a trip in the elevator to the floor where he works costs out of pocket.  If he falls into debt he could end up like the rest of the deadbeats and be thrown into a fat melting vat of whatever which at least allows the corporation to profit from his remains.  Then one day Thatcher finds an article about a water thief.

                  What I particularly enjoyed about the novel was how Soutter touched upon Rand’s main points while tying elements of the story to relevant issues of today all within 230 pages.  Considering that Atlas’ first edition was 1168 pages, Thief is a bargain.  Although I don’t want to sell anyone the idea that The Water Thief is light-hearted fun it’s not the type of book where you want to open a vein after reading.   I thought Soutter did a fine job making his book serious and pertinent without dipping too much into William S. Burroughs territory.  Plus there is a twist on the “Where is John Galt?” question.

        I recommend The Water Thief as a good book that has a serious tone but isn’t a huge time commitment.  It is definitely a great book for people folks who have read Ayn Rand and felt that they wish they could have debated her.  The biggest plus is that after reading it you will feel more aware of political and business trends happening in our world today.

          Happy reading!

Westerfield © 2012

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