Governors Ungoverned

In State of Emergency, Western guvs declare war on big government--deja vu?

And probably any immediate chances of scoring with the lovely lady governor.
Then a stroke of genius: Carter thwarts the rebel governors by enlisting a coalition of Native Americans to assert the sovereignty of their reservations, call in their water rights from the seceding states and deny passage on their highways.

The rebels fold. Al and Cheri chase them to Salt Lake City for the final shootout with the evil Mormon governor of Utah, who has been using the LDS genealogy computers to send out hate mail.

So the feds win in the end after all--even though the author could have guaranteed himself a cult following if he had let the states-rights guys win.

"I don't want a cult following," says Pieczenik. "I don't really want to be on one side or the other. I just want to show the arguments and issues, vis-a-vis water rights in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming, where you have very strong governors and--in my book--you do not have a federal government that is strong. At the second level, I'm showing what happens when you have militia groups that go unbridled and they become the posse comitatus and create their own judicial system. And on a third level, I show what happens if you have an actual secession of states from the federal government. And what would happen would be an imminent second civil war."

Now, did we say Pieczenik could write?
He launches into long lectures about false patriots--we find it amusing that he chooses local blab station KFYI as one of the radio stations poised to broadcast a call to arms to militia groups.

And he waxes absolutely turgid--in this passage either about nature or the free market:

At this time of year, the Grand Tetons stood as a magnificent testimony to the natural beauty of the country. Its outline mirrored the finest of America's character. Independent. Proud. Tough. The mountain range was chiseled into ragged sparkling granite spirals covered with parchments of snow. Dense rows of trees covered the side of the mountain, providing an impressive shelter for an array of moose, deer, wolves, and snakes, all of which lived in a wonderful predatory ecology, where the simple dictate of Darwinian survival, eat or be eaten, permeated the cool, brisk air.

And oh, did we mention that the governor of Utah had already pointed out that Grand Tetons means "big tits" in French?

What the hell. No one reads thriller novels for their lyricism. When Pieczenik details the conference-table workings of the State Department officials plotting their course of action, the book takes off. And speaking from experience, he claims that the international mayhem he describes, tiny retaliatory actions the U.S. takes against the European nations helping the rebels, are well within the realm of possibility.

According to myriad newspaper reviews, Tom Clancy has referred to Pieczenik as one of the smartest guys he knows. But Pieczenik's vulnerable on a few points.

He picked the wrong dam, for one thing. And Lake Powell, contrary to Pieczenik's assumptions, only supplies water directly to the city of Page and the Navajo power plant. The Glen Canyon Dam's turbines are supposed to provide power for the Southwest during peak use periods, when air conditioners are humming. If you really wanted to shut off utilities to the Southwest, you'd take over Hoover Dam--or drop a tree on a power line in the Pacific Northwest, which accounted for last year's big outage.

Pieczenik says he knew that, but took dramatic license.
When the bad guys open the floodgates in the book, they imperil hundreds of thousands of people in the villages downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. But wait, there's another problem: In real life, there's nothing downstream from the gates but the Grand Canyon. Or, in Pieczenik's futuristic vision, did the Republicans finally succeed in selling off park land to developers who made it into golf courses and gated communities?

More dramatic license, Pieczenik says.
Then the big boo-boo. When those spillways open, instead of draining Lake Powell, the water in the lake somehow rises and floods the city of Page--which actually is upstream and uphill from the dam! Moses couldn't have done better.

"I do apologize for that error, and it may be a serious error, and I will take fault on that," Pieczenik says.

Surprisingly, Pieczenik has actually been to Page. "I'm not a great expert on geology or navigation," he says.

Despite its author's vagueness on Western watersheds and his clunky language, State of Emergency is still a pretty good read. Here's a suggestion for the sequel: A certain albino ex-governor breaks out of a country-club federal prison, declares he's still in control of the state . . .

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