Russell Madden
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It Mattered
Russell Madden
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Softcover, $24.95
Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.
Hardcover, $34.95
(Preview. Also available in a digital edition, $5.63.)




Russell Madden



Gateways, F. Paul Wilson. (A Repairman Jack Novel.) Gauntlet Publications. Colorado Springs, CO. Scheduled publication: June/July, 2003. 357 p. $60.00. (Other versions/prices available.) (Trade edition scheduled for November, 2003, Tor/Forge Books)

To exist "outside" is not an easy path to follow. The System does not appreciate those who elect to abide by their own judgments, who desire only to steer their lives to a destiny of their own choosing. Those who abide in the nether world of anonymity make the System nervous, so nervous, in fact, that it transforms those craving -- and carving -- spheres of privacy for themselves into enemies to be monitored, neutered, and brought to heel as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Repairman Jack is just such a defiant man. Though the realization has been delayed in coming, even those who have known him longest -- and known him least -- are beginning to grasp the truth...even his estranged father, Tom:

"...Despite Jack's secretiveness, his reclusiveness, his quirky behavior, Tom realized he loved, even admired the strange, enigmatic man his son had grown into. He sensed a strength, a resolve, a simple decency about him..." (p. 344)

Though Jack carefully cultivates an "everyman" appearance to ease his passage through the clutching interstices of the System, he also represents -- in a very real and positive way -- the essence of what is greatest about the promise that is America. The American ideal respects the differences that define who we are; honors the right of each individual to indulge his unique brand of (peaceful) behavior; and simultaneously celebrates and expresses the "strength...resolve...[and] simple decency" that is the hallmark of a life well-lived.

Repairman Jack exemplifies the vitality, the courage, the heart that is America. His determination, his persistence, his assurance symbolize and demonstrate the promise forged long ago in the heat of our founding fires, a promise that is slowly, inexorably being drained and obliterated by an Otherness that is all too sadly real.

In the seventh Repairman Jack novel, Gateways, writer F. Paul Wilson chronicles Jack's life a "few months" after the events described in The Haunted Air. "Haunted" Jack still is by the "rediscovery" of his sister, Kate, (see Hosts [review here]) and her all-too-quick demise in the crescendo-ing battle against the Adversary -- the "One" -- that will culminate in the (literally) earth-shattering war of the worlds described in Nightworld.

After a fifteen-year silence, his brother calls Jack to inform him that their father lies in a Florida hospital in a coma. Reluctantly, the Repairman agrees to fly to his dad's side. His resistance to the trip arises from a number of factors: his father's anger at Jack's absence from his sister's funeral; the tenuous nature of their father-son relationship; and, perhaps most significantly, his helplessness in "fixing" this tragic problem, a lack of control that taps into Jack's deepest fears and uncertainties.

Once in Florida, Jack discovers that what appeared to be a simple case of hit-and-run is anything but straightforward and uncomplicated. In typical Repairman fashion, Jack teases at loose threads as he seeks to unravel the barriers separating him from the truth. Treading literally and figuratively into the quagmire of the Everglades, he is guided and assisted in his quest by a leather-skinned old woman, Anya, neighbor to Jack's dad in their retirement community, Gateways, and owner of a precocious pup named Oyv (short for Irving).

Others, however, are not especially thrilled by Jack's curiosity and tenacity. The white-haired maven of the 'Glades, Semelee, and her misshapen cohorts have other plans for Jack's dad...and for Jack. Before their contest of wills is done, Semelee and the Repairman will further peel away the mystery that is "the One," Rasalom, and face fates not of their own choosing.

As with many of his book titles, Wilson's Gateways serves multiple functions within the context of his story.

My Webster's says that a gateway is "a passage or entrance that may be closed by a gate; any passage by or point at which a region may be entered," and that a "passageway" is "the act or an instance of passing from one place, condition, etc., to another; the permission, right, or freedom to pass; the route or course by which a person or thing passes or travels; an opening or entrance into, through, or out of something."

Most obviously, "Gateways" is the name of the graduated-care community where Jack's father lives. This development lies on the edge of and acts as a gateway to the Everglades, which in the Gateways timeline faces a severe drought. Within the 'Glades itself lies a gateway to the Otherness.

As Anya explains to Jack, this gateway, this nexus is:

"'A place. A very special place. In various locales around the globe there are spots where the veil between our world and the Otherness is thin. Occasionally the veil attenuates to the point where a little of the Otherness can enter our sphere. But only briefly. Rarely do beings from the other side pass through. But influence...ah, that's another matter.'
"'Let me guess a location,' Jack said. 'Washington, D.C., maybe? Say, near the Capitol Hill or the White House?'
"...'I'm afraid those gonifs have no such excuses for their behavior, hon....'" (p. 181)

But there are other, nonphysical -- and in many ways, more important -- gateways that Jack must confront in this tale.

A gateway simultaneously separates and links, is both a barrier to and an avenue for travel. Jack must wrestle with changes in his long-term relationship with his father; must come to grips with his passage from single man to father (and husband?); must navigate the hidden shoals from his alienated past to his impending status as "solid citizen" and open member of society. He will be moving "out of" his old life and "entering" a new "region" that is terra incognito to one such as he who has so zealously guarded his chosen way of life for so long.

His journey is a lonely one. Even the love of his life, Gia, does not really understand. Intellectually, she can see Jack's perspective, but she has yet to experience his world in a visceral and passionate way. Indeed, that act of empathy may be beyond her capacity:

"'Don't you see?' [Gia] said. 'Don't you see? You've built this anonymous, autonomous life for yourself, but it's become a trap. Sure, no one knows you exist and you don't spend the first four or five months of every year working for the government like the rest of us, and that's great in its way, but it's also a trap. Everywhere you go you've got to pretend to be someone else and run the risk of being found out. I go anywhere I want without a second thought. If I go to an airport and someone scrutinizes my ID, I'm not worried. But you've got the anxiety that someone will spot a flaw.'
"She released him and fixed him with her blue stare. 'Who's freer, Jack? Really?'
"...'It's not subject to comparison, Gia. I've lived the way I felt I had to live. By my rules, my code. My not paying taxes has nothing to do with money, it has to do with life, and who owns mine, or who owns yours, or Vicky's, or anyone's.'
"'I understand that, and philosophically I'm with you all the way. But in the practical, workaday world, how does that work for a man with a family?...'" (p. 22-23)

Her criticisms echo those of many today who appreciate "freedom" in an abstract way but are unable to incorporate true liberty into their mental framework, let alone integrate freedom and their actions. Even some libertarians scoff at those who, like writer Claire Wolfe, decide actually to practice what they preach and "drop out": pay no taxes, remove themselves as much as possible from "imperial entanglements," ignore and repudiate the forces seeking to bind them, regardless of the difficulties and costs involved.

To people such as Wolfe and Jack, the issue truly is nothing less than: "Whose life is it?" That is not a mind-set most Americans are encouraged or taught to develop.

The real trap today is not the one Gia describes. The most treacherous trap faces those who ignorantly or willingly surrender or abandon their freedom in exchange -- not for (an illusory) safety -- but for mere convenience.

It is not Jack or other, similarly inclined individuals who have constructed any "trap" in which they are ensnared. It is the State that has -- subtly, slowly, stick by stick, stone by stone -- built a labyrinthine prison in which the best of us must now struggle mightily for even the smallest of breathing spaces. Rather than simply existing with the ease and liberty that are our birthrights, we have to fight for every chance to exercise our dwindling moral autonomy. We are forced to waste time, money, and resources -- emotional, physical, and intellectual -- merely to stave off even greater losses under the taloned grip of the modern vampiric State.

Anonymity -- at least in the sense of privacy asserted and enjoyed at our own discretion -- is, as Ayn Rand pointed out, the hallmark of civilization, the glorious goal of "setting man free from man."

Is the captive bird in its comfortable cage truly better off than its cousin in the wild flitting from tree to tree, fighting to provide its own food, winning its own safety against the predators ready to devour it? Yes, the former may well live longer than the latter. If a human possessed a spirit as narrow and constricted and dimly aware as that of a bird, then perhaps -- perhaps -- a pet's sheltered existence would suffice.

But the soul of a man or a woman is meant to soar to the highest realms it can reach. To be satisfied with the "convenience" of a water dish filled by a master is to betray what it means -- in the best and deepest sense -- what it means to be a human being.

No matter how tranquil its routine, in no significant aspect is the bird fluttering ineffectually against its bars "free."

What is sad is how so few people do "worry" about these concerns. Many to whom I have talked welcome national identity cards, welcome the false caress of Big Brother's callused -- and callous -- hands, welcome "rules" supplied -- and enforced -- by those who are only too happy...and too claim ownership over our lives.

Indeed, those who do not deserve anonymity are not Jack and his emotional kin. Compare his live-and-let-live mentality and actions to the faceless, stolid creatures of the State who hide behind the anonymity of their offices, behind the bewildering array of laws encasing them, behind the impenetrable layers of bureaucracy that protect them from their own banal acts of evil while they imperiously assert their "right" to dictate and control and destroy that which they do not understand...and that frightens the hell out of them.

The difficulty of "fighting city hall" is not merely a quaint saying. That adage encapsulates the reality of an amorphous monster that steals from its victims and then wields that stolen time, money, and spirit against the very schmucks it sanctimoniously purports to be "helping."

With help like this, who needs enemies?

If any discrepancy does exist between the "philosophical" (the "theoretical") and the "practical" realities of human existence, the fault lies not in the principles of freedom or their implementation, but rather in a State that has created a system so filled with contradictions and impossibilities that it has rendered proper human coexistence unattainable. But also culpable for this sorry state of affairs are those who become so completely absorbed by the concrete details and hassles of life that they cannot -- or will not -- spare a fraction of their limited energies to preserving that value, that most precious treasure, that makes all the rest possible and worthy of enjoyment.

The State doesn't care. To it, all that is not under its control, is out of control. (For a fuller explication of this thesis, see The State vs the People, Claire Wolfe and Aaron Zelman.) To it, all who seek to evade its clutches are the enemy:

"This is how a terrorist must feel, [Jack] realized. Standing on [sic] line, sweating, praying that no one sees through his bogus identity. Except I'm not looking to hurt anyone. I'm just looking to get to Florida." (p. 24)

Terrorist. Lover of freedom. To the State, both are undifferentiated threats that must be squashed without mercy.

Gone are the days when one could -- for reasons of one's own -- check into a hotel under a false name without explanation or permission. Gone are the days when one could -- for reasons of one's own -- travel from nation to nation unencumbered by passport or visa. Gone are the days when one could -- for reasons of one's own -- buy a plane ticket with cash sans ID or record of one's passage.

In its warped mind, the State has turned us all into potential "terrorists." Jack experiences the reality of this indignity when he runs the gauntlet that is a present-day, State-run airport along with its "security." Everyone -- child, crippled elder, innocuous adult -- everyone must endure the insult of an unconstitutional and immoral search-and-seizure, an inversion of innocent-until-proven-guilty, a direct enactment of that enemy of justice, "prior restraint," in which everyone is punished and controlled and funneled into State-approved channels because of the transgressions of a few.

Throughout Gateways, those -- such as Gateways caretaker, Carl -- who dare oppose the forces of the Otherness, who seek laissez faire -- to be left alone -- have obstacles erected before them.

Some, like a doctor at a local hospital, recognize the injustice but are uncertain what -- besides complaining -- they can do to alter the situation:

"Dr. Harris shrugged. 'I don't know about that. I know nothing about the accident. I do know that people in these parts sue at the drop of a hat. They're caught up in some sort of lottery mentality. Malpractice insurance is through the roof. People may not be able to figure out a presidential ballot but they damn sure know what lawyer to call if they stub a toe.'" (p. 94)

Unlike most Americans, however, Jack realizes that misplaced trust in the State and its hollow promises is a trap that few recognize...even after their loyalty is rewarded with the foulest tragedy:

"'...What I can't handle is handing some out-to-lunch airline full responsibility for making sure that all the other passengers are going to behave.' [Jack said.]
"'You've got to learn to trust, Jack.' [Gia said.]
"'I do. I trust me, I trust you, I trust Abe, I trust Julio. Beyond that...'
."..'I can't help thinking that if there'd been someone like you on those 9-11 planes, the Trade Towers might still be standing.'" (p. 20)

Gia, of course, is absolutely correct. While the terrorists are fully responsibility for what they did, the State is also fully responsible for creating the conditions of dependence and semi-slavery -- such as dictating airline security procedures, outlawing our Second Amendment rights, and meddling in every corner of the world -- that gave the terrorists the opening they needed to destroy thousands of innocent lives and wreak more damage than they could possibly have hoped for.

Jack's righteous recalcitrance is not, however, sui generis. Blood, it seems, does run thicker than water. When Jack's dad decides to head for home, Nurse Schoch tells him he "can't":

"[Tom] peered at her through his glasses. 'I guess I'm a little confused. When did I become the hospital's property?'
"Schoch blinked and Jack guessed no one had ever asked her that." (p. 140)

Too many of those in authority take their control over others for granted. In this example, Tom dealt with an employee of a (nominally) private organization. When dealing with the arrogantly superior attitudes of State employees, he might not have fared so well. Still, if more individuals challenged their "protectors" and asserted their rights, they might force their would-be masters to question their assumptions. Those tools of the State might wonder about the legitimacy of their own power, about the possibility that their illusions are resting on false foundations. Like the young men in Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" confronting their draft boards, perhaps we could keep the tin-Napoleons that run the world off-balance for a change.

Jack is under no illusions, however. He has witnessed the face of State "justice" and will have no part of it:

"'...This is a street fight that just happened to take place where there aren't any streets.' [Jack's] face twisted, almost into a snarl. 'What do you think you're going to do?... In this system, you'll wind up behind bars while [the criminals] lounge around in a hospital. And when they're all fixed up, some ambulance chaser will hook up with them and file civil suits to clean you out of everything you own, every penny you've saved up your whole life.'" (p. 340)

It's happening in New York City where a man who used a firearm to defend his family and home was arrested for having a gun without State permission and awaits his slim shot at justice. It's happened in Great Britain where a victim who injured a robber received a harsher sentence than the criminal himself.

In Gateways, Jack's connection to the Otherness is reinforced and clarified. His implacable and contemptuous enemy is the opposite of reason and value and production. It thrives on force and fear, feeds on chaos and entropy as it creates confusion, eliminates order, and acts upon its whims with capricious abandon.

Sounds like a pretty good description of what the State has become...

In Gateways, F. Paul Wilson once again focuses the spotlight more tightly upon Jack. In Hosts, Jack's sister, Kate, shared much of the stage. In The Haunted Air, the scam artist brothers, Charlie and Lyle, diverted attention from Jack. This latest installment, however, gives us more of Jack while enriching what we know of who he is...and who he will become. A hundred pages shorter than The Haunted Air and sporting an evocative, wraparound cover, Gateways grabs the reader with its solidly woven plot and delivers a dose of atmospheric suspense that reflects the unsettled waters of the Everglades, an intriguing backdrop for a worthy addition to this excellent series.

New readers will enjoy the story while old-timers will delight in new revelations and the ever-expanding web of connections that is the universe of F. Paul Wilson and his archetypal creation, Repairman Jack.


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