Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Collateralized Soul Obligations

"Raising Hell,” by Norman Spinrad, 2014

This is an uproarious take on a group of U.S. labor leaders sentenced to Hell by the CEO Above - God - and their successful struggle to form a union among Lucifer’s Fallen Angels.  It’s got some belly-laughs.  It’s a short 65-page novella, part of a progressive ‘science fiction’ series at PM Press, gate-kept by Terry Bisson.  Spinrad knows something about the labor movement, unlike 99% of MFA graduates.  Here he spoofs trying to get higher wages for the demons in a hot economy where nothing is for sale  Instead the demands are winning cooler and slower working conditions - with no pitchforks - and respect for everyone.  Most of all, ‘free will’ for the demons! 

Union Miners in Hell ... or West Virginia
 Jimmy DiAngelo, a union boss of NUTS (“National Union of Temporary Substitutes”) finds himself in the sulfurous place after an unpleasant death.  He’s shoveling virtual coal next to Jerry Wurf, Mike Quill, Harry Bridges, John L Lewis, Jimmy Hoffa, Walter Reuther, George Meany and Samuel Gompers.  Behind them stand robotic 7 foot red demons making them work faster and faster, pitchforks in place  Most of the other union leaders know that NUTS used to help break strikes sometimes, so are not too fond of their new coal shoveler.  What to do?  Jimmy decides an eternity of this is a bit too long and proposes to organize a union among the demons.  After all, what are they going to do?  Kill him?

Jimmy understands that Satan has not had new demons since the Fall, so he has a labor shortage, and they can’t be replaced by scabs.  The demons finally realize there is something they want – ‘free will’ – just like the humans. And to be remembered as Fallen Angels, not just Satan's minions.  Jimmy ascends a coal pile and throws down his shovel like some dirty Norma Rae.  The strike succeeds, Lucifer negotiates after a furious entrance, and to pay the demons, gets the bankers in Hell to dream up ‘collaterized soul obligations,’ which bring in billions back up on Earth.  Even Lucifer feels sympathetic and negotiates when Jimmy brings up ‘free will,' as he was robbed of it by the CEO Upstairs.  He too is a fallen Angel.

Spinrad riffs on the 2008 economic melt-down, the ‘demonization’ of unions and union leaders, the idiocies of the concept of Hell, and the possibilities of organizing even the worst work-places.  Bankers are sent to Hell to robo-sign 7-year balloon mortgage contracts every 30 seconds for eternity. After 7 years of the loan, the Devil takes your soul.  This story might work better with people that actually take Christianity a bit more seriously than most left readers, but there it is.  

The story ends there, with Lucifer (his preferred name over 'The Devil' or 'Satan'-  Lucifer meaning “Light-bringer”) meditating on his own newly-acquired free-will.  By negotiating he has defied the CEO Upstairs.  Spinrad could have gone one further, and decided to shut down Hell, and deprive the “Great I Am” of his disposal place and biggest threat.  Instead, Spinrad has a failure of nerve, and leaves God alone, thus demonstrating the imaginative limitations of reformism. 

The book has a tacked-on section by Spinrad that contains a fairly mundane and predictable modern take on “The New Normal” economy in the world.  In it he compliments stock brokers and thinks that finance capital is the real problem over 'productive' capital.  In the third section Bisson interviews the prolific and talented Spinrad about his career – which comes off sounding somewhat braggish, unless you care who Spinrad is.  Evidently he is more popular in France than the U.S., but as he explains it, France actually cares about culture. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
May 5, 2015

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