When reading libertarian science fiction, one rarely sees men in tuxes combined with men in spandex with computer nerds and hippies thrown in for good measure to explain the virtues of individualism and liberty. Yet, those are exactly the characters we find in Michael Isenberg's Full Asylum. I have just finished reading this novel over the past few days, neglecting nearly every other task as this book is so good that you would make such sacrifices. Found during my recent trip to Las Vegas for FreedomFest 2013, I first thought its plot line was, much like a certain set of characters in the book, absolutely insane. It seems the old adage don't judge a book by its cover, which is quite reminiscent of a famous spy film franchise, is certainly true. After finishing the book, I felt like I had just left the theater after seeing one of these films.
The book centers along the exploits of accomplished if socially awkward software engineer Gimbel O'Hare of Byte Yourself Software. At the beginning of the story, we find him in front of the old Pentagon Palace Mall (Pentagon City Mall) as he begins his education in the game of paintball. Why paintball? He said something that offended a female coworker and, after a disastrous interview on the show Sorry, they both decide to settle the matter on the paintball field rather than in a court room. What did he say? He quoted a line from the Jon Dunn series (a parody of James Bond, who the author is an aficionado thereof) about an input port. However, in the politically correct nanny state America of the future, that is a serious crime. It's even more serious than selling soda with real sugar (banned) or eating a hamburger (limited to those with a certain government-issued certificate). Furthermore, it can get you fired from your job as quickly as missing your government-mandated morning exercises. It is this dystopia that the story shoots off like the opening scene of any 007 movie. Soon, Gimbel finds himself on the wrong side of his boss, the law under the auspices of an attorney general no one really knows with presidential ambition, and the self-proclaimed philosopher-king business mogul with aspirations of a “cooperative society” where everyone has and knows their place. Then there are the strange bunch of men who keep popping up who think they're Jon Dunn and are on a mission. Gimbel realizes who they are and what they're fighting against. With his crimson-haired female wrestler side kick at his side, he battles these collectivist prohibitionists in a climactic street chase around Washington, DC as if he was Agent Beta 11 himself. Along the way, he mends his fence with his offended coworker, shacks up with a Federal prosecutor, makes a dramatic escape from the psychiatric ward of Walter Reed Hospital, and even finds time for a soda and a burger while on his epic mission as Mr. Dunn of Associated Industries. Unfortunately, the rest of this story is for your eyes only.
After reading the book, I certainly can say that I could not stop reading it for hours as the suspense between the beginning and end of the chapters was intense. Much like other classics of this type like Atlas Shrugged and 1984, it presents philosophical ideas through creative allegory, well-placed ideological snippets, and superb narration. However, this story is not as much of a drag to read in both its appeal to reason and sentiment. It glorifies the individual through the experiences of Gimbel O'Hare, who starts out as the nerdy misfit who fell from grace when they took away the cryptography program that gave him personal satisfaction. He is forced to conform to the corporate order of the Business Applications Division and the new political order that came out of the Financial Crises, that has rendered him the “anti-Dunn”. Then through his experiences, he becomes the epitome of Jon Dunn, the strong and confident individual who dares to take on the megalomanic villains in the Department of Justice and Consolidated Software who wish to enslave all of mankind to their insane ideals. The supporting characters are also libertarian allegories and Bond analogues. Cheri Tarte, the female wrestler who believes that a woman's physical esthetics are just as important to female empowerment as her intellect and tells Gimbel to be true to himself, becomes the Agent XXX or Wai Lin of the story. Brownie McCoy, the free market-loving hippie, becomes the equivalent of Q. Cindy Valence, the offended coworker who keeps her word after losing to Gimbel in paintball when she still could have proceeded with her lawsuit, becomes Isenberg's version of Miss Moneypenny and Jaws combined. Finally, Joe, who voluntarily gives Gimbel help in learning the finer points of the game of paintball, is our Felix Leiter, always getting our hero out of a jam and supporting his mission. Because Isenberg packaged this libertarian message in the spirit of one of the greatest action heroes of our time, the book presents these ideas in a fashion that will make people think about and, possibly, reconsider their opinions about individual liberty. What is more, is that Isenberg identifies the social aspect of this in the interconnected story lines in the novel showing the social element of struggle between the individual and the collective. Gimbel O'Hare did not become Jon Dunn in a vacuum but rather became him because the people he associated with showed him the way and, by doing so, made him successful in this struggle between the individual and collective. Full Asylum has improved upon the format of Atlas Shrugged and made it both more appealing and more true to life. It is for these reasons that I highly recommend you read Full Asylum. It will leave you shaken but not stirred.