I’ve finished Divided we Fall: One Possible Future, an anthology that was published shortly before the 2020 US election and depicts a dystopian future arising from Biden becoming president (see also the first, second and third parts of this series). My honest verdict? It was pretty boring, really. Its spiritual predecessor MAGA 2020 & Beyond had crazy stuff like the border wall being attacked by a giant mutant Kim Jong-un and General Mattis turning into a werewolf to fight ISIS vampires, but Divided we Fall is more down-to-earth and thus rather duller. Well, except for the story where Biden-appointed government agents murder an elderly librarian for refusing to take Rudyard Kipling off the shelves, that was a laugh.
In many ways, Divided we Fall’s comparatively grounded treatment of politics makes it the less credible of the two books. At least MAGA 2020 & Beyond wasn’t written with the aim of convincing the reader that ISIS vampires were an actual threat. Divided we Fall, on the other hand, is meant to be a chillingly believable prediction of the blue nightmare just around the corner.
Well, we’re now an eighth of the way through Biden’s first (and possibly only) term as president. Scant days ago, the Florida State Board of Education approved the following amendment to education requirements:
Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and must not suppress or distort significant historical events […] Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include […] the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
This is Joe Biden’s politically correct dystopia? Somehow, I doubt we’ll be seeing Kipling purged from Amazon any time soon.
But anyway, I’ve started so I’ll finish. Allow me to mop up this series with a look at the final three stories in Divided we Fall…
“Marching Orders” by Brennen Hankins
Most of the anthology’s stories take place during a nebulous period when Biden is president but specific dates are avoided. This one though, explicitly places most of its action in February 2021 and has a rather, shall we say, quaint notion of what the early weeks of the Biden era will look like.
The main character is Colonel Roy Lawson, an airman forced to watch on with horror as Biden tinkers with America’s military. First, he is informed by his deputy commander Marcus Banquist that physical fitness standards and dress and appearance regulations have been abolished by executive order:
“The dress and appearance regs are being reported upon as ‘outdated’, ‘unnecessary’, and ‘racist against people of color’,” Marcus said. “As for the fitness standards, apparently they’re viewed as ‘fat shaming’.”
Roy leaned forward, putting his face into his palms. “Jesus Christ, this is going to be a cluster…”
“And only the first day in office. Cheer up, that one was the most mundane of the 15 executive orders he handed down.”
Next, Roy receives a visit from Special Agent Kinniston, a former social worker who has since been transferred to the FBI as a “sensitivity outreach coordinator” and turns up with “pink hair, over-applied make-up, and massive hoop earrings”. Kinniston orders the airmen to assist the FBI and National Guard on enforcing Joe Biden’s firearms ban, travelling door-to-door and confiscating whatever guns they find. Roy is appalled by the prospect, not only because of the constitutional violation, but because the gun-owners would naturally fight back (Kinniston, being naive and inexperienced, thinks this won’t be a problem as the airmen have bigger guns).
Some of Roy’s cohorts are fine with the changes, however – namely, the story’s two main female characters. Lieutenant Colonel Sharp (described as “portly” when she makes her first appearance, so we know she’s not to be trusted) takes the opportunity to dye her hair blue; Lieutenant Colonel Maya Andouille shaves her head completely, and says she’s in favour of confiscating firearms because they’re “weapons that were used to enslave people of color for centuries”. Between them, Kinniston, Sharp and Andouille are given the same dialogue as most antagonists from Divided we Fall:
“Who’s this ‘they’?” Reyes asked.
Roy sighed. “Special Agent in Charge DeLouis Kinniston. They’re non-binary.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” The Security Forces commander rubbed a hand over his face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lieutenant Colonel Sharp stood up, hand on her hip.
“You got a problem with genderqeer people of color, you cishet ass clown?” Lieutenant Colonel Andouille asked demandingly.
Roy ends up disobeying the order and is subsequently court-martialled. By the time the trial takes place, his prediction that trying to take people’s guns would lead to mass violence has turned out to be correct – even Agent Kinniston has been shot dead right outside the local Civic Center (“As the Great Falls Police Department had been disbanded and replaced with ‘community outreach officers’, local officials were having a hell of a time locating the shooter”).
Despite this, the court-martial (presided over by a short female general named Rashida) declares Roy guilty and sentences him to 25 years’ hard labour, substantial fines and a dishonourable discharge. He sends a letter to his cohort Marcus comparing himself to Claus von Stauffenberg (whose first name is misspelt “Klaus”) and, by extension, comparing Joe Biden to Hitler. However, he still hopes to fight back against “Biden and his administration systematically destroying our government and way of life” and provides Marcus with details of a support network, presumably the one established elsewhere in this anthology.
So, yes, this is Divided we Fall Story Number Ten. Its sole innovation is in managing to use both the “patriots rebel against Biden’s gutting of the military” premise and the “patriots rebel against incompetent neon-haired social worker” premise at the same time. By this point even someone who shares the political outlook of the authors must be finding the book just a tad repetitive, surely?
“Teach the Children” by Sarah A. Hoyt
Not to be confused with Rick Cartwright’s similarly-named “For the Children” elsewhere in the anthology, this is one of three stories in Divided we Fall by an author I’m in any way familiar with: Sarah A. Hoyt is a member of the Baen Books stable and, more recently, started penning Dynamite Comics’ Barbarella revival. Her contribution to the book is the story of a Colorado couple from 2016 onward; the husband who narrates the story is a Republican while his wife is a Democrat. Their differing perspectives are spelt out early on:
It’s just, I was a programmer, worked with hard stuff, and Maggie? She was a teacher. Union. Appalled at how parents were raising their kids. Appalled at all the kids who came to school without food, or unwashed.
She thought that meant the state needed to do more. She said kids shouldn’t suffer for the sins of their parents. She wasn’t wrong. But she turned a blind eye to the fact that the government had all but given prizes to women for kicking their husbands out, that they kept entire families—for generations—on the dole. That humans are made to strive, and we’d deprived them of their right to strive. That they were on drugs and destroying themselves because that’s what humans did when they had nothing to live for. Not when they didn’t have enough.
But I’d only told her that once. There was no point in having screaming arguments in your own home. I was speaking from statistics, from facts. She was speaking from feelings. You can’t argue with feelings.
The setting is a small town near Colorado Springs, which the husband characterises as a haven for hippies and gay people. Despite his conservative views he gets on well with the locals, aside from the inhabitants of a certain apartment complex: “those were the people Maggie thought the government should help. Only the government was helping already. That’s why they were in the state they were in.”
Come the 2016 election, the husband dislikes Trump so much that he’s tempted to vote Libertarian, but his mind is changed by Maggie’s best fiend Tom. Given that Tom is one half of a married couple “gayer than a clown car flying the rainbow flag” the protagonist assumed him to be one of the local liberals, and so is surprised to hear him endorse Trump:
I must have looked like a stupid idiot. “Trump?” I said. “You want me to vote for Trump?”
He made a face. “Listen to the guy’s program, that’s all I ask. Just listen to him. Not the hype, not the media. Not the trolls who appear to be promoting him online, while tarring him with their crazy. Just him.” He paused. “I’ll send you the websites.”
The husband ends up voting for Trump and goes on to bond with Tom over their shared political views (“in ’18, it was really great to be able to drink beer and talk about the rampant fraud”). Then comes 2020, and with it the coronavirus – which, for the first time in the book, is used as a major part of the story. Maggie turns out to have forsaken her Democratic leanings and become a Trump supporter (partly because “a lot of the people in the apartments had found jobs”) thereby allowing her to become a soapbox for a speech on the effects of lockdown:
“I’m angry. I’m so angry. This is all such bullshit. They’re just locking down to crash the economy.”
I blinked. Okay, so s me of the crazier sites I hung out at were saying that, but most conservative sites were saying the virus was very dangerous and the decent thing to do was to stay in the house, protect the vulnerable. “Uh, a lot of very smart people seem to think it’s very dangerous,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said, and her crying turned to a glare. “Sure. Very dangerous, if you’re like 80. Maybe. Look, I did a deep dive into the Diamond Princess numbers. It can’t be that dangerous. Those ships are plague vessels at the best of times.”
The 2020 election approaches, and according to the narrator, “all of us knew it was bullshit”. Amongst the reasons offered for this conclusion are “[t]he questions about whether Trump would concede”. Then the town is hit by riots that see multiple shops and a café owned by the couple’s friends Paul and Mary burnt down. “Why the hell are white college kids burning things because they think the police did something bad in an eastern state?” asks Paul. “I don’t know,” replies the protagonist. “Because they were taught.” Later, the apartments erupt into a pillar of flame after professional fireworks are launched inside by rioters, forcing Maggie to rescue three children and provide them with shelter.
Incidentally, I did some online research, and as far as I can tell the only riot that involved attacks on Colorado buildings during 2020 occurred in Denver (if anyone has facts to the contrary they’re welcome to post in the comments section). And while the unrest there involved shops being vandalised and looted, I’m unable to find a report mentioning any buildings being completely burnt down. So, the story is positing that the violence in Denver not only reached this unnamed mountain town (specifically identified as being nearly two hours from Denver) but grew considerably more intense in the process.
Next, the story (which, as a reminder, was published days before the 2020 election) imagines how Biden’s victory would pan out:
Well, you know what happened. The election was called for Joe and the Ho, and Trump didn’t dispute it. And things got crazy. Real crazy.
It was hard to know what was actually happening, you know, because the news was all bizarre. They’d started the fiction with their Tales of the Covid, and they just ramped that up. The Green New Deal was going to save us. The Native Americans were coming out of the reservations to teach us how to love Mother Earth. Police were disbanded.
The hippie town in the mountains, meanwhile, stands firm in the face of all this: “while Denver and Colorado Springs burned, our little town pulled together.” The locals are able to isolate themselves from the rest of the country, growing vegetables in their gardens and using solar panels for electricity. The powers that be object to this, with the town labelled “fascistville” by the mainstream media, and the government continues to put pressure on them. “Remember Waco?” asks one character, marking the third time the Branch Davidians have been brought up in the anthology.
Finally, things become too hot for the protagonist couple to handle and they decide to flee. On the road, an official stops them and asks for papers; Maggie responds by shooting him dead. “You did what you had to do”, her husband tells her. “When people unmake civilization, you have to defend yourself and yours.” After this, Maggie begins cutting up American flags (forbidden items under Biden, apparently) and gives squares to the children to carry with them so that they will remember America as an idea:
“We’ve lost the land. We’ve lost he Republic. But America is an idea, a belief. Think about it, Israel fell to Rome, but Rome is gone, and the Jews are still here, they still believe. At least most of them.”
Amidst “rumors of Chinese troops in California” and “stories of warlords and fights” she begins teaching the children a religion based around America’s core values, with the Declaration of Independence serving as a catechism (this leads to the unfortunately-worded sentence “Maggie is cooking and catechizing the kids”). The story ends with the narrator expressing hope that America will someday again be the Land of the Free.
As a story, there’s not much to “Teaching the Children”. The idea of America’s founding principles become the centre of a religion is intriguing, but Hoyt doesn’t give herself room to explore it in detail: the plot element is reserved for the very end and, through an in medias res sequence, the very beginning. The concept of a hippie town of organic vegetable gardens and solar panels becoming a rebellious, right-libertarian enclave of organic vegetable gardens and solar panels could also have been interesting, but is likewise drowned out by soapboxing. What we are left with feels more like a blog post than a thought-out story; and given that one of its biggest plot devices (entire buildings in Colorado being burnt down by BLM protesters over the course of 2020) is simply made up, not even a particularly convincing blog post.
“Good on Camera” by Kurt Taylor
While most of the anthology has been geared towards showing the beginnings of a dystopia, the final story depicts a scenario in which things have already gone to ruin. Socialist policies have led to food shortages, power cuts are rife, and in the principal setting of Nashville “evening fires and shootings [are] more common than acts of violence.” Those who try to flee the big city risk having the authority interfere with their GPS and cause a fatal crash. Those who do not flee, meanwhile, face a worse fate:
The dangerous elements around Nashville were long gone, cleared out in the first heady weeks of consolidating power after Trump was put down. Anyone with military experience was called in for “safety purposes” by an imported group of loyal street soldiers, culled from the best Oregon, California, and New York had to offer. It had taken three weeks, but Congress, acting with unusual savagery, had pulled every Republican out by the root. If they resisted, they were shot. If they acted out, their families were shot, and in extreme cases, examples had to be made, usually with young daughters, whose tears and sobs could break even the hardest veterans. Even the independents—or those goddamned Libertarians-were hoisted onto trucks and sent east, where hard work in the clean salt air would correct their politics.
The narrative of “Good on Camera” cuts between the protagonists and antagonists: in the red corner we have Jim Bowles, who had “thirty years as a surgeon, before the board had pulled his license because he’d voted wrong” and now belongs to a farming community outside Nashville; and in the blue corner are Tess Hartmann and Bob Radke, presenters of Nashville news and two more of the out-of-touch urban elitist Democrats who have been serving as default villains throughout Divided we Fall. They are accompanied by their producer Judi, who hopes to see a “new nation, free of pesky things like voting and guns.”
But things are changing. Jim takes part in an effort to build a resistance, pulling together the local community, stockpiling banned firearms and researching military tactics where possible (“I tried to access the library,” says one character, “but it’s closed out. Can’t even get old news articles about battles”). Many of them have already suffered losses (“Sarah had been taken away because of her role as a sheriff’s deputy and chess instructor”) but these merely spur the community to fight back. So, when the Democrats finally send in their so-called Unity Teams, the patriotic rebels are ready:
The boy vanished, and the roadside erupted in a shattering blast. Fire and dust and stone shot skyward, out, and down, pulping the Unity soldiers in a storm of sharpened debris. A mist of red clouded the air, then began to settle as the staccato beat of falling rock hammered the corpses, their steaming guts opened to the rising sun just now piercing down to the warming pavement.
“Jesus,” someone said.
“Jesus,” someone prayed.
One of the Unity troops bayed in agony, then fell silent as a skinny girl with curly hair and a frown stuck her hunting knife into his throat. She wiped the blade, turned, and vomited on the gravel next to the bones of a dead armadillo, bleached white by the sun.
The news reporters Bob and Tess arrive as well, but it does them little good:
“Fuck alla you—I’ve got a law degree from NYU, and your asses are as good as dead. We came here legally for the greater good—“ Bob spat, but he got no farther. Tim’s pistol cracked, and Bob collapsed, his knee a pulverized memory.
In a final twist, we learn that two of the rebels – codenamed Duchess and Duke – are none other than Melania and Barron Trump:
“You?” Tess laughed, her perfect teeth a crescent of disbelief. “Are you fucking joking me? How did Mel—“
“I go by Duchess now. It suits,” the former first lady said with a small shrug.
“Call me Duke,” her son said, from his height. He wore an expression far too old for his years.
So, the dystopia of Divided we Fall may have kicked off with the Donald being torn apart by a mob of leftists, but the anthology is still able to end on an optimistic note with surviving members of the Trump dynasty poised to retake their rightful place like French aristocrats in a Dennis Wheatley novel. The spirit of hero-worship from MAGA 2020 & Beyond lives on!
Well, that concludes my trip through Divided we Fall. If any readers were sadistic enough to actually derive pleasure from my ordeal, you can salve your consciences with a donation via Ko-Fi or Patreon.