I can’t remember a legal thriller having made me cry before—though I suppose terrifyingly near-future compassionate dystopian SF is another story. RULE OF CAPTURE is both. It started getting to me round about page ten, when the Native filmmaker on trial to be deported for trumped-up (yes I see it and I’m not sorry) sedition charges gets dragged into the courtroom under a black hood. This goes beyond topical into the territory of my—everyone’s?—personal paranoia.
The scariest part is hearing, every time a private security force is shown patrolling an American neighborhood armed with the technological manifestation of the biggest wealth gap in the developed world, how willing and proud so many in the crowd are to be oppressed.
The world of RULE OF CAPTURE and its prequel, TROPIC OF KANSAS, isn’t easy to inhabit, being just that much worse than our own, which is bad enough. But I also find it impossible to look away from, even as I struggle with what this kind of writing is for, what it’s doing. When we’ve already got an America daily tipping further into kakistocracy, what makes Brown’s hyperbolized version of same so compelling? More importantly—to me at least—is it helping?
As publisher and erstwhile editor of Reckoning, I’ve thought a lot about this. I want to publish—and read, and learn from—stories that foster hope, that energize us to foster change. Reading fiction can make us better people by making us care, an antidote to the desensitizing effects of mass media and the fragmentation of social media. It gives us actual human beings to live with and inhabit over time, and in doing so can give us access to ideas we’d be closed to if we encountered them any other way. It can also let us hide. The difference is subtle. Everybody needs catharsis. Right now, people in the US, the kind of people writing and thinking about environmental justice anyway, need to grieve for the world they thought we’d be living in by now. I need to grieve for my kid’s future, for the swarms of bees and vibrant coral he’ll never see, for the coming to terms he’s going to have to endure with the ways the world doesn’t correspond to the principles I can’t help instilling in him. I need stories that elucidate that process, that let me sit with it and prepare. But even more, I need stories that help me think what to do. And those are rare. And hard.
RULE OF CAPTURE does both. This isn’t escape, it isn’t wish fulfillment. There are no easy wins. There are expansive, boggling ideas for the future, for the resurgence of nature, the articulation of utopian ideals. They have to be fought for, and re-fought—if there’s a moral to this story, it’s that you never get to stop fighting—but that’s the only way I’d have believed in them.
For a sense what you’re getting, Chris tells me the idea for RULE OF CAPTURE came straight out of his essay by the same title published in Reckoning 1, a Ballardian/Borgesian/transgressive romp through the concept of ownership by conquest, manifest in the resurgent, post-industrial urban wilderness of his Austin backyard.
The best thing about RULE OF CAPTURE, as far as I’m concerned, is how obviously its author is as invested in our future as his characters, and as willing to fight. As demonstrated by everything he’s put into this mind-bending, emotionally challenging piece of fiction.
Another forty-five minutes and two more wrong turns walking down in there, as the morning sun started to get hot, Donny wondered if it was a stupid idea to wear a suit. He had honestly thought they were headed to an apartment building, and might end up dealing with the law before the day was out. Now he wondered if he had stepped into some even bleaker future than the one he was living in, and by sundown the suit would rediscover its hunting attire roots as they scrabbled to survive in the ruins. Seeing how many people already lived like that, hiding in plain sight in the ruins of the right now, made you realize how adjacent that reality really was. He imagined himself trapping nutria at dusk, long hair held back by a necktie repurposed as a headband—