Propaganda in fiction is dicey. There's nothing inherently wrong with a novel pushing a certain perspective; nobody reaches the end of 1984 thinking that George Orwell should've done a better job giving the totalitarians' point of view. What makes Orwell's book so successful is that it provides more than a perspective. There's a love story, well-drawn characters, and a lot of convincing world-building to get lost in, and while Orwell leads readers toward unambiguous conclusions, those aren't the novel's only reason for existence. The Army Of The Republic, a new novel by Stuart Archer Cohen, never goes in for that level of finesse. It's a call to arms for frustrated liberals; its few moments of artistry only serve to throw its stridency into harsher light.
Political activist Lando is living on the edge. His group, the Army of the Republic, has just upped the stakes in their fight against corporate greed by assassinating a particularly corrupt CEO. Emily, an activist working for a non-violent group, contacts Lando about a cease-fire; when her group manages to shut down the city of Seattle in one massive protest, Lando convinces his fellow extremists that some non-violent opposition could be in everyone's best interests. The truce takes a hit when the government starts using a third-party security group called Whitehall to take out the rebellion, piece by piece. Plus, there's Lando's connection to James Sands, one of corporate America's most prominent figureheads. How do you fight off an enemy with limitless resources and a marked contempt for human life?
In many ways, Army is exactly the kind of book it promises to be. There's a lot of venom toward greed, the mainstream media, and the co-option of civil rights, and most of that venom is delivered by a series of interchangeable talking heads. The points are often well-made, but rhetoric alone isn't enough. Cohen's writing is humorless and strident, but at times, he rises above his debate points in showing the desperation and loneliness of the activists, and their increasing paranoia. Most importantly, Sands' uncertainty about his place in the political machine and his awakening conscience build to a surprisingly moving conclusion. It's an argument that works better than a thousand speeches.