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Volume 24, Number 1, Fall, 2005

Noble Vision

By Gen LaGreca

Winged Victory Press, 2005, $27.95
Reviewed by William H. Stoddard

Noble Vision

Certain books become the inspiration for entire literary movements: Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings inspired the revival of genre fantasy that started in the 1960s, and Gibson’s Neuromancer the cyberpunk movement. In the years when Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was still a relatively recent book, some of her admirers hoped to see fiction by other authors written under its inspiration in this way. Not very much has appeared in this line, but Noble Vision seems to be an example: Rand’s writing looks to be one of its inspirations, along with The Phantom of the Opera and soap operatic tales of family conflict.

Nominally, this is a science fiction novel, about a doctor who develops a revolutionary new technique for restoring lost neural function—and the conflicts that result, in a socialized health care system. But Noble Vision really isn’t about the scientific idea in any meaningful way; LaGreca doesn’t convey the details of the neural regeneration process or explore their implications for other aspects of biology or medicine. The process is more or less what film critics call a maguffin: an object that exists solely to be the focus of conflict in a plot. What the plot is really about is socialized medicine, in a very near future where both high standards of medical care and the invention of new treatments are threatened by politicians, bureaucrats, and the sort of entrepreneurs who are willing to cooperate with them. That part is science fiction, at least in United States, but a different kind of science fiction, focused on social trends rather than science and technology. LaGreca weaves together three different strands of conflict: The political conflict over how medicine should be practiced, the medical conflict over the hero’s new treatment, and the romantic triangle between the hero, his wife, and the patient he wants to treat, a dancer blinded by an injury to the optic nerves.

The trouble is that one influence on this book is overwhelmingly strong—the influence of Ayn Rand. As I read the first page, I found myself saying, “Yes, this is modeled on Rand”—and the impression grew stronger and stronger as I read further, as some examples indicate.

The choice of vocabulary is remarkably close to Rand’s, especially in the way the author uses abstract and evaluative phrases (such as her title); the descriptive passages often have exactly the effect, common in Rand’s fiction, of portraying the scenery as if it were an oil painting, or a stage set, slightly static and sharply visualized; the married couple in the romantic triangle have almost exactly the conflicts and character traits of Hank and Lillian Rearden, including the husband’s perplexed struggle to understand his wife’s motives; the courtroom scene in which the heroic doctor is brought to trial is remarkably close to Rand’s courtroom scenes, especially Hank Rearden’s trial scene in Atlas Shrugged.

I’m not saying that this novel is a plagiaristic work—LaGreca went to some trouble to come up with new specific content—but that its methods are Ayn Rand’s methods, copied with stunning exactness. In a word, it’s a pastiche. Many novelists start out this way, emulating the writers they like best; the good ones go on and find their own voices. I regret that LaGreca hadn’t done so when she wrote Noble Vision.

What’s wrong with writing this way? To start with, it makes it hard to surprise the reader; I got more than halfway through Noble Vision before I found anything in it surprising—and that was an artificial surprise, created by the author not giving the reader full information. Worse, it suggests that the author lacks respect for the integrity of her own fictional world. Too many of the events come about, not because of the inherent logic of the characters and situations, but because that’s the kind of thing that happened in Rand’s fiction. I don’t feel that the final chapters really resolved any of the conflicts fully; instead, they found ways to minimize them.

As I said, this is often a failing of new writers. LaGreca has some impulses to originality, and her style is on a higher level than the really bad prose I read so much of in reviewing small press books for Prometheus; she may have better books in her. I hope her next one will be, not a tribute to Rand, but an original LaGreca all the way through.

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