Fiction Under the Influence: Ayn Rand’s Literary Legacy
This is how it starts. You read We the Living and get a taste for freedom. You read Anthem and develop a benevolent sense of life. You read The Fountainhead and insist on having a mind of your own. Then you read Atlas Shrugged, and from then on, nothing but hardcore free-market capitalism will do.
Now I can think of worse things than having to spend the rest of my life reading Atlas Shrugged, but, fortunately, the market is taking care of people like you and me. Novelists are finding innovative ways to carry Ayn Rand’s literary legacy into the future. The following is just a sample of the novels and authors writing thrillers, adventure, science fiction, and romantic realism with a Randian perspective. With this many writers to choose from, you and I will be fixed for reading for life.
In the thriller genre, the emphasis is on good versus evil and the individual against the collective. Robert Bidinotto, Terry Goodkind, Erika Holzer, Vinay Kolhatkar, Brad Thor and Kira Peikoff present a wide range of difficult problems requiring nerves of steel to solve.
Robert Bidinotto’s award-winning Dylan Hunter series--Hunter, Bad Deeds, and Winner Takes All--is geared toward readers who crave justice, especially justice at odds with the criminal justice system. Bidinotto is well-versed in Rand’s ideas. He even wrote a compendium to Atlas Shrugged, entitled The World of Atlas Shrugged: The Essential Companion to Ayn Rand’s Masterpiece.
One of the most famous writers influenced by Ayn Rand is Terry Goodkind. Frequently on the New York Times bestseller list, Goodkind’s thrillers, such as The Girl in the Moon, Wizard’s First Rule, Stone of Tears, and Blood of the Fold, explore the choices people make in desperate circumstances. Goodkind told Jeff Riggenbach, who wrote about him in “Ayn Rand’s Influence on American Popular Fiction” (JARS 6:1, 91-144, 2004), “The only writer who played a role in influencing me was Ayn Rand.”
Erika Holzer is the author of Ayn Rand: My Fiction Writing Teacher, a tribute to Ayn Rand’s fiction writing seminars. She is the author of Freedom Bridge and Double Crossing, both cold war thrillers and Eye for an Eye, a psychological thriller made into a film starring Sally Field and Ed Harris. Holtzer told Jeff Riggenbach that she was most proud of her “profound literary debt” to Ayn Rand.
Vinay Kolhatkar is the author of The Frankenstein Candidate: A Woman Awakens to a Web of Deceit, a literary thriller about U.S. presidential politics and A Sharia London, a romantic thriller. While Kolhatkar claims that only The Frankenstein Candidate is Randian, A Sharia London will remind readers of We the Living. Kolhatkar created a heroine as memorable as Kira Argounova and a Muslim terrorist culture as evil as the Bolsheviks. Kolhatkar is also an editor, along with Walter Donway, of The Savvy Street, an e-zine with an Objectivist perspective.
Brad Thor is the bestselling author of the espionage thrillers Spymaster, Use of Force, The Lions of Lucerne, Foreign Agent, A Path of the Assassin and others.
Kira Peikoff is the daughter of Leonard Peikoff and has been around Objectivists and Objectivism her whole life. She is the author of Living Proof: A Thriller, No Time to Die, and Die Again Tomorrow.
In the adventure genre, the themes lend themselves more to freedom. James Clavell, Ruth Beebe Hill, Joel Hirst, O. T. Nelson, John Enright and Tal Tsfany present liberty-loving individuals making their way in the world .
Thanks to Marsha Familaro Enright, I’ll be revisiting James Clavell’s The Asian Saga. Comprised of seven epic adventure novels--King Rat, Tai-Pan, Shogun, Noble House, Whirlwind, Gai-Jin, and Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind--The Asian Saga romanticizes the individualist entrepreneur seeking financial success in conflict with culture, tradition, and authoritarianism. According to Enright, Clavell openly acknowledged his admiration for Ayn Rand, calling her “one of the real, true talents on this earth.”
Ruth Beebe Hill was Ayn Rand’s friend and a member of Ayn Rand’s inner circle. Her bestselling novel Hanta Yo follows the multigenerational adventures of two Teton Sioux families before the arrival of the European settlers.
Joel Hirst is the author of Lords of Misrule; I, Charles from the Camps, The Lieutenant of San Porfiro, and The Burning of San Porfiro. The novels feature characters caught in third-world poverty and despair who strive to become individuals with a future. Hirst’s favorite book is The Fountainhead.
Poet and playwright John Enright’s novel Unholy Quest follows the adventures of mercenary Thor Johnson to the Caribbean where he must battle a religious cult with dangerously bad premises.
Tal Tsfany is the president and CEO of the Ayn Rand Institute. His young adult novel Sophie is an engaging story of a rational and independent Syrian immigrant girl who stands up for American principles even when the citizens of her small town abandon them.
In the science fiction genre time, technology, and space colonization present old problems in new frontiers for such writers as Robin Craig, Robert Heinlein, Victor Koman, J. Neil Schulman, and Mark Tier.
Writer Robin Craig, who is also a molecular biologist, refers to Atlas Shrugged in his writer’s blog as the novel he read after the fact; that is, after he became interested in “reason, individual rights and capitalism.” Ayn Rand’s ideas confirmed his own. His science fiction novels--Frankensteel, The Time Surgeons, The Geneh War, and Time Enough for Killing explore the ethics of the relationship between humans and technology, time travel, and genetic engineering.
Robert Heinlein is the author of numerous canonical science fiction novels including Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in which a self-aware master computer named Mike is referred to as “the John Galt of the Revolution,” and Methuselah’s Children. In her biography of Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden includes Heinlein in a long list of artists and intellectuals influenced by Ayn Rand.
Victor Koman, author of The Jehovah Contract, Solomon’s Knife, and Kings of the High Frontier is a three-time Prometheus award winner. A science fiction novel about humanity’s colonization of space, Jeff Riggenbach calls Koman’s Kings of the High Frontier, “Randian through and through.”
J. Neil Schulman, according to Jeff Riggenbach, demonstrates a “deep engagement with Rand’s ideas” in his science fiction novels. Schulman is the author of The Rainbow Cadenza, Escape from Heaven, and Alongside Night.
Mark Tier is a fan of Ayn Rand’s and the author of the nonfiction self-help book Ayn Rand’s 5 Surprisingly Simple Rules for Judging Political Candidates. Tier also writes and edits anthologies of science fiction, including Visions of Liberty and Freedom. He also wrote the political thriller Trust Your Enemies.
Finally, Kay Nolte Smith was inspired by Rand’s Romanticism.
Kay Nolte Smith was part of Rand’s inner circle, and Rand’s influence on Nolte’s fiction is clear, but as Jeff Riggenbach points out, Nolte claims that Rand’s influence was so strong that she couldn’t begin to write in her own voice until “after ending her personal and professional relationship with Rand late in the 1970s.” She is the author of The Watcher, Catching Fire, Mindspell, A Tale of the Wind, and Venetian Song, 1994.
There is something here to satisfy just about any rational heart’s literary desire, plenty of opportunity to find what Rand described as “The kind of universe which is right for me, in which I would feel at home.” Those dog-eared copies of Atlas Shrugged will be in good company.