CLoM » Atlas Shrugged, Part IV » Hank Rearden

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Atlas Shrugged, Part IV » Hank Rearden

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Hooray for Atlas Shrugged! Hooray for not being able to sleep, at all, even though I'm pretty tired. Hooray for both these things equally.

It began with a few lights. As a train of the Taggart line rolled toward Philadelphia, a few brilliant, scattered lights appeared in the darkness; they seemed purposeless in the empty plain, yet too powerful to have no purpose. The passengers watched them idly, without interest.

The black shape of a structure came next, barely visible against the sky, then a big building, close to the tracks; the building was dark, and the reflections of the train lights streaked across the solid glass of its walls.

  1. “shape of a structure”? Well that’s just great. This whole “describing everything bit-by-bit because it’s dark” thing reminds me quite a lot of how I used to write when I was about 12. I had this really awful sci-fi “novel” I was working on, and at least 90% of what I remember about it was really really over-emphasized descriptions of people looking at buildings and landscapes. The thing is, you can’t really slow things down to a crawl and describe everything slowly, because it doesn’t even vaguely approximate to how the characters should be experiencing it. Unless they're descending to the face of an alien world, in which case it is fine.
  2. Why is the “structure” distinct from the building? There’s something weird going on here and I intend to get to the bottom of it.
  3. “reflections of the train lights streaked across the solid glass of its walls.” - I can imagine this just barely, but again I feel like I’m doing most of the work. Case in point - my imaginary vision of this glass facade is streaked with rain, but that is clearly something I’ve just invented. Seriously, there must be a good, evocative way of describing this vision, because it seems like a promising idea. More and more I get the feeling that Ayn Rand isn’t particularly bothered about immersion and effective imagery — some writers struggle for years to get things from their head to the page, but Ayn Rand stops as soon as it gets difficult. I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised — the book exists mainly to argue a political viewpoint, not actually do anything artistic. Eh.
An oncoming freight train hid the view, filling the windows with a rushing smear of noise. In a sudden break above the fiat cars, the passengers saw distant structures under a faint, reddish glow in the sky; the glow moved in irregular spasms, as if the structures were breathing.
  1. More teenage writing hallmarks — nothing you see is allowed to be identified until you’re finished describing how it looks. You can’t say anything like “...and behind that was the red brick of the library”, it has to be “...and behind that was a broad sloping oblong of red brick, it’s eastern faces catching the sun” ... eventually followed by “it was the library” if you’re really lucky. I’m pretty sure Ayn doesn’t intend to ever tell us what these mysterious distant buildings are, even though they sound like they might be an alien invasion.
  2. To be honest, this chapter so far reads like one of those acid sequences from a Disney film. The light is changing dramatically all the time, and everything you can see is abstract. Was that the effect you were going for, Ayn? I know that things passing in front of a train window is a unique and arresting effect, but you don’t seriously have to describe it this heavily. I feel like the “viewpoint” characters have their faces pressed against the glass.
When the freight train vanished, they saw angular buildings wrapped in coils of steam. The rays of a few strong lights cut straight sheafs through the coils. The steam was red as the sky.

Yeah. What I’m picturing is basically a rainforest.

The thing that came next did not look like a building, but like a shell of checkered glass enclosing girders, cranes and trusses in a solid, blinding, orange spread of flame.

I would guess that it isn’t a building.

Oh god, we’re back to the “dressing up direct information like analogies” thing again. That first bit, for example, would be “the thing that came next was not a building” if it was being completely honest with itself. The second half of the sentence just does the same thing again. “Like a shell of checkered glass enclosing [stuff]”? It’s not like that, it is that. Who writes like this? This is just bizarre.

The passengers could not grasp the complexity of what seemed to be a city stretched for miles, active without sign of human presence. They saw towers that looked like contorted skyscrapers, bridges hanging in mid-air, and sudden wounds spurting fire from out of solid walls. They saw a line of glowing cylinders moving through the night; the cylinders were red-hot metal.
  1. That first sentence is horrible. It’s like she took two innocent sentences that had never met each other, cut them in half, and then stuck the bits together. “they could not grasp the complexity of what appeared to be a city stretched for miles”? What the fuck, Ayn.
  2. “bridges hanging in mid-air” - Well, we have two options here. Either there are platforms in mid-air without suspension, or there are some normal bridges. It actually turns out that bridges, just by virtue of being bridges, have the whole “hanging in midair” thing fitted as standard. That is kind of what a bridge is.
  3. “They saw a line of glowing cylinders moving through the night; the cylinders were red-hot metal” - Finally she says something directly, and fittingly enough I have not a clue what she is talking about. I’m just going to assume that cylinders of glowing metal are something you see in a factoryish place like this. I could make a snarky comment about molten metal needing to be in a container, but to be honest I know very little about smelting steel. My education so far has emphasized things which are not in the sphere of smelting.
An office building appeared, close to the tracks. The big neon sign on its roof lighted the interiors of the coaches as they went by. It said: REARDEN STEEL.

“Lighted” again? Seriously? Did they not have the word “lit” in the fifties?

A passenger, who was a professor of economics, remarked to his companion: "Of what importance is an individual in the titanic collective achievements of our industrial age?" Another, who was a journalist, made a note for future use in his column: "Hank Rearden is the kind of man who sticks his name on everything he touches. You may, from this, form your own opinion about the character of Hank Rearden."

That’s what you get for sharing a carriage with strawmen.

The train was speeding on into the darkness when a red gasp shot to the sky from behind a long structure. The passengers paid no attention; one more heat of steel being poured was not an event they had been taught to notice.
  1. “one more heat of steel being poured”? You’re kidding, right? That’s literally the worst construction I’ve ever seen. I’m not even exaggerating. That is just poor, Ayn. I’m appalled and disappointed.
  2. “not an event they have been taught to notice” - You expect us to believe that a crowd of ordinary people would not look at a flash of light because they lack the Fierce Industrial Spirit needed to grasp it’s value? This sentence is just like a black hole of stupid.
  3. “red gasp” - You know, for a worshiper of “logic”, Ayn Rand has a pretty serious weakness for mixing the senses in her imagery. It’s vaguely endearing. Like if she’d written the book with a unicorn-decorated pencil. She might be trying to destroy the foundations of empathy, but it's ok because underneath she's a sulky teenager. Scientifically proven.
It was the first heat for the first order of Rearden Metal.

Wait, is “heat” a technical term?


OK, I’ve just briefly looked up steel smelting, and I don’t see any use of the word “heat” as a verb. “Heat treating” exists, but it doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to what Ayn is talking about. I'm going to file this under "Hm".

To the men at the tap-hole of the furnace inside the mills, the first break of the liquid metal into the open came as a shocking sensation of morning. The narrow streak pouring through space had the pure white color of sunlight. Black coils of steam were boiling upward, streaked with violent red. Fountains of sparks shot in beating spasms, as from broken arteries. The air seemed torn to rags, reflecting a raging flame that was not there, red blotches whirling and running through space, as if not to be contained within a man-made structure, as if about to consume the columns, the girders, the bridges of cranes overhead. But the liquid metal had no aspect of violence. It was a long white curve with the texture of satin and the friendly radiance of a smile. It flowed obediently through a spout of clay, with two brittle borders to restrain it. It fell through twenty feet of space, down into a ladle that held two hundred tons. A flow of stars hung above the stream, leaping out of its placid smoothness, looking delicate as lace and innocent as children's sparklers.
  1. “the first break of the liquid metal into the open came as a shocking sensation of morning” - Seriously, Ayn, stop trying to be poetic. It’s freaking me out. You’re not writing gothic fanfiction.
  2. Way too many colors here. I can see why black and red would be useful, but “pure white color of sunlight” is a dead weight. You don’t need it for anything, and it fails to evoke anything whatsoever.
  3. I was already pretty sure Ayn wasn’t going to describe any aspect of industry in a way that would make it sound dangerous, or in any way that would sound vaguely like an unpleasant environment to work in, but it still surprised me that she actually describes molten metal as “friendly”, “obedient” and “innocent”. This book has propaganda about the personality of metal. Don’t listen to those selfish socialists who would tell you that molten metal is dangerous. Molten metal is our cute little friend, like a cartoon pixie, or a wise-cracking dog. THIS IS NOT THE REAL WORLD HOW DID I GET HERE.
Only at a closer glance could one notice that the white satin was boiling. Splashes flew out at times and fell to the ground below: they were metal and, cooling while hitting the soil, they burst into flame.
  1. I come from the nineties, and I have seen loads of stock footage from factories. I’ve never seen molten metal look deceptively unlike molten metal. The molten metal I’ve seen always looked molten, metallic, and really really seriously hot.
  2. Having introduced us to the existence of boiling metal, and then moved for a closeup description of how it splashes when boiling, Ayn Rand feels the need to remind us that we’re still talking about metal. If I tried to edit this down, I’d end up with “the molten metal splashed over the edges (it was metal) and fell to the ground”.
Two hundred tons of a metal which was to be harder than steel, running liquid at a temperature of four thousand degrees, had the power to annihilate every wall of the structure and every one of the men who worked by the stream. But every inch of its course, every pound of its pressure and the content of every molecule within it, were controlled and made by a conscious intention that had worked upon it for ten years.
  1. It’s a pity you had to convey your down-to-earth common-sense ideas about industry by writing a science fiction novel. It almost seems like 100% unregulated industry might not work so smoothly in a world where you can’t invent magic metal to help your friends out.
  2. Why did we need to know that this metal could kill all the nearby men? I really wasn’t wondering about that. I am now, though, because although I concede the possibility, I really can’t see how the situation would arise. Did they challenge it to a fight? Is the metal actually explosive? Is Ayn Rand such a shallow person that she reflexively describes an efficient product by speaking in terms of mass destruction? (Hint: yes)
  3. Hank Rearden makes his metal by telekinesis. This is sort of cheating.
Swinging through the darkness of the shed, the red glare kept slashing the face of a man who stood in a distant corner; he stood leaning against a column, watching. The glare cut a moment's wedge across his eyes, which had the color and quality of pale blue ice — then across the black web of the metal column and the ash-blond strands of his hair then across the belt of his trenchcoat and the pockets where he held his hands. His body was tall and gaunt; he had always been too tall for those around him. His face was cut by prominent cheekbones and by a few sharp lines; they were not the lines of age, he had always had them: this had made him look old at twenty, and young now, at forty-five.
  1. I have completely lost track of the light sources involved in this scene. It started out pretty chaotic, but by now it’s just completely mental. Trying to make sense of the lights in this scene is like playing chess with a psychopathic genius squid. Somehow there is a “red glare” “swinging through the darkness of the shed”, and it is cutting “a moment’s wedge” across the eyes of Hank Rearden. You know, if I were him I wouldn’t stand for such behavior in my factoryish place. Hank Rearden, you tell that red glare to fuck right off.
  2. Since there is a train in this equation, I would have assumed the “swinging” meant the light tracing an arc across the inside of the building as the train passed... but no dice - the red glare is from the steel heating. How can molten steel make any kind of light effect that can be described as “swinging”? I haven’t the slightest.
  3. More examples of irrelevant details being politicized — being tall becomes “too tall for those around him” (those socialists and their crazy height regulation schemes).
  4. Again, one of the protagonists looks younger than their years. I guess this is going to happen a lot.
Ever since he could remember, he had been told that his face was ugly, because it was unyielding, and cruel, because it was expressionless. It remained expressionless now, as he looked at the metal. He was Hank Rearden.
  1. Why does every sentence have to contain an encrypted version of the objectivist philosophy? Not only is Hank Rearden’s appearance a direct indicator of his work ethic, but it is so accurate that people tell him off for personality traits based only on his expression.
  2. I like the “he was Hank Rearden” bit at the end. It sort of works. It’s just dropped in, without making too much fuss over it, and it fits rhythmically.
  3. Also, about the Hank Rearden thing. Ayn, please could you not refer to Hank Rearden as Hank Rearden for ever and ever? People have first names so that you can refer to them quickly, and the effect of doing this in text is immeasurably more natural than referring to people by their full names all the time. Please at least think about it.
The metal came rising to the top of the ladle and went running over with arrogant prodigality. Then the blinding white trickles turned to glowing brown, and in one more instant they were black icicles of metal, starting to crumble off. The slag was crusting in thick, brown ridges that looked like the crust of the earth. As the crust grew thicker, a few craters broke open, with the white liquid still boiling within.
  1. “went running over with arrogant prodigality” Ayn, what the hell are you smoking. This molten metal has more personality than anyone else in the book so far. This is not actually standard writing practice, and some people might class this as extremely weird. I hope the metal is a recurring character.
  2. “Then the blinding white trickles turned to glowing brown, and in one more instant they were black icicles of metal, starting to crumble off” — Yes, because I can definitely picture this.
  3. OK, I kinda like the “white liquid still boiling within” bit. The imagery isn’t really pressed home, and it doesn’t need to be, because the idea is very direct and image-based on its own. I wouldn’t have chosen “within” though. We’re describing something very immediate that demands your attention, so formal words like “within” aren’t really appropriate. I would have gone with “under the crust”, which is very drab on first glance, but it also very direct and to the point, and allows you to mention the crust without doing it the way Ayn has (at the beginning of the sentence, as “As the crust grew thicker”).
  4. You don’t need to introduce the “crust” image by explicitly saying “X that looked like the crust of the earth”. Just saying “the crust” gets it across just as well, especially since the mention of “craters” backs it up so well.
A man came riding through the air, in the cab of a crane overhead. He pulled a lever by the casual movement of one hand: steel hooks came down on a chain, seized the handles of the ladle, lifted it smoothly like a bucket of milkand two hundred tons of metal went sailing through space toward a row of molds waiting to be filled.
  1. I see he pulled the lever with a “movement of one hand”, and not with the non-movement of two feet, as I would have assumed.
  2. Maybe I’m being overly picky, but the fact that I don’t have any idea how this factory works makes it difficult to see these activities as anything other than a series of random events. Or maybe I’m just saying that because a man just came “riding through the air” and sent some molten metal “sailing through space”. I tend to feel a bit disconnected from reality when that happens.
Hank Rearden leaned back, closing his eyes. He felt the column trembling with the rumble of the crane. The job was done, he thought.

In this style of third-person narrative, the text can already function as the “focal” character’s inner monologue, without needing bits like “he thought” stuck after them. It’s much smarter to cover a character’s thoughts in plain text, in the narrative, and it makes for a warmer reading experience in my opinion. But I might be wrong - it’s an issue of style as much as anything else, but the way it’s written here just doesn’t seem right to me. Read that paragraph as if the last sentence was just “The job was done” and see what you think.

A worker saw him and grinned in understanding, like a fellow accomplice in a great celebration, who knew why that tall, blond figure had to be present here tonight. Rearden smiled in answer: it was the only salute he had received. Then he started back for his office, once again a figure with an expressionless face.

Rearden smiles... but the twist is, he stops smiling after a bit.

It was late when Hank Rearden left his office that night to walk from his mills to his house. It was a walk of some miles through empty country, but he had felt like doing it, without conscious reason.

Stop right there. This looks like it could optimistically be viewed as a scene break, and you know what that means.

End of post! Hurrah! //party music//

I actually enjoyed this one more than the others. It was basically all description and no dialog, so there was really nothing I was forced to cut out. On the last post, I had to cut loads because it was all circular dialog and there is no logical way of criticizing the same moronic idea over and over again without getting repetitive. This section is better, I think.

Next post — how to deceive a Muntjac. This is a necessary skill for surviving in the wild, as Muntjac are skilled at grifting.

--Mei (talk) 14:05, 26 April 2010 (UTC)

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Inspired by a droning Randroid on IRC #wikipedia - David Gerard (talk) 14:13, 26 April 2010 (UTC)

Haha, nice. In any case, nice post, Mei. But if you think this part is bad, wait until much later, when she starts making every little piece of trash on the ground and every random person on a train into an extremely didactic symbol. Tetronian you're clueless 02:39, 27 April 2010 (UTC)