Atlas Shrugged: The Sci-Fi Dystopia Novel That’s Also a Self-Help Book

I have the longest story with this book. I’ve been battling serious depression over the past two years (longer than that by the time the post actually goes out) because it feels like human civilization is falling apart. Heck, you could argue it’s been happening longer than that; since the #MeToo movement in 2017, it feels like violent protests have been a way of life. Of course, 2020 set a new precedent of despair, when COVID took the world, and simple matters of health became political. That same year, George Floyd was murdered, and divided the human race amongst itself overnight. 2021 began with a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, organized entirely by American citizens with a political agenda. At the time of writing this paragraph, Russia is invading Ukraine, laying the groundwork for World War III. To top it off, earth is being ravaged by climate change, at a rate that keeps increasing at an exponential rate despite all the efforts that have been put in to delay it. As of completing the book, Ukraine is still at war, and abortion is now illegal on a constitutional level following the result of Roe v. Wade, not to mention a spike in mass shootings.

This is where Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged comes in. I was at a point when I finally figured out how to enjoy life, but now I’m drowning in despair. I can’t begin to list the violent emotions and twisted thoughts I’ve felt. To give you an idea, my mother has considered sending me to the psych ward numerous times. After some intense discussions with her, she offered up Atlas Shrugged. According to her, it would—at the very least—expose the media and these new-fangled activists as the BS-spewers that they allegedly are. I was skeptical, but Atlas Shrugged is apparently one of the most influential novels of all time; second only to The Bible.

Atlas Shrugged, however, is massive. This is the kind of book that I can only read with the new purging of pop culture media that I have committed to. One chapter can take about an hour, and there’s a lot of chapters; over a thousand pages’ worth. I started the book in February 2022, and you’re reading this post not long after I actually finished the book. That’s how much of an investment it is.

Like any hard SF novel, completing it is a monumental task. One aspect of these kinds of books is that merely figuring out the basic premise is a headache that you’re meant to experience, and thus, it feels like discussing any aspect of the novel is spoiler territory, even though it’s super old. So… Here’s a spoiler warning then. Read on if you wish.

Right off the bat, Rand’s prose feels like what a lot of modern writers, whom I consider pretentious, try to be. A lot of Atlas Shrugged is very verbose, and at first, it feels like nothing is happening. However, unlike books such as Monogatari, I wasn’t mad. A lot of passages give you hints pertaining to the book’s worldbuilding and how characters think and feel. The writing is also very poetic, describing things metaphorically but in a way that can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language; unlike a lot of YA and light novels that vomit nonsensical similes at everything. 

You are given your first signs of how messed up the world of Atlas Shrugged is with the initial conflict centered around Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company. The organization has always been run by Taggarts, and this generation is brother and sister James and Dagny Taggart. When one of their lines desperately needs fixing, Dagny is literally the only person to do anything about it. She orders an untested metal from a company that James doesn’t trust, while his “trusted” metals haven’t been delivered in over a year since being ordered. What jumps out is that she is the only one in the whole organization who’s proactive; everyone else, except a guy named Eddie Willers, sucks. 

The story also involves the creator of the aforementioned untested metal, Hank Rearden. He went from slaving away in the mines to owning his own steel plant, an achievement that he knows he’s damn well earned. Dagny’s order for his metal is the first big order his company has ever received. The reason for this is because everyone else is afraid to risk using it.

Right off the bat, Atlas Shrugged should resonate with just about anyone alive, especially these days. Heck, a lot of the stuff brought up in this book is stuff I’ve had internal debates about for years. I one hundred percent relate to Dagny and Hank, who feel like they’re surrounded by morons at all times. Well, I say morons, but a more literal term would be sheep; they just stick to doing what they’re told, with no drive to make anything better. This isn’t even remotely a new trope, but in Atlas Shrugged, it feels more grounded and real. Every writer and their grandma these days would chalk this up to how humans are wired to behave and there’s nothing we can do about it. Good ol’ Ayn Rand, however, presents this behavior as an unnatural, conscious choice that most people—unfortunately—decide to make. 

Words cannot describe just how vindicating Atlas Shrugged is. Every other scene, there’s something that feels like Rand literally wrote for me specifically. The inane ignoramity (professional term) of mankind feels like every day of my life since Donald Trump ran for President. On a side note, Atlas Shrugged is significantly easier to digest than what I thought going in. It’s lengthy, sure, but the actual content of the book is incredibly straightforward. If you could get through crap like Of Mice and Men in high school, then Atlas Shrugged will be no problem.

The plot starts off in earnest at the end of part one. Dagny and Hank go on a road trip and stumble upon a mysterious machine, abandoned in a junk heap in an equally abandoned factory. Turns out that this device, if seen through to the end, would literally solve all of humanity’s energy problems and save the world. However, its creator is unaccounted for, and she scrambles to find that creator or reverse engineer the machine, all while surviving the ignorant world she lives in. Survival is not easy, especially when the few smart people that remain start abandoning their businesses unannounced.

Of course, you could look at the publication year saying “1957” and chalk Atlas Shrugged up for yet another McCarthy-ist novel written during the Red Scare. The thing is, due to everything discussed up to this point, I would’ve never guessed this was a Red Scare book because it sure didn’t feel like it at all. Despite the difference in eras, I could attribute so much more about Atlas Shrugged to real life in this day and age than any other cyberpunk I’ve ever experienced. However, the fact that Atlas Shrugged feels even more relevant than it did at the time isn’t exactly a good thing.

If you couldn’t tell, Atlas Shrugged is meant to have only two likable characters, and they are Dagny and Hank. Let’s talk about Hank first, since I’m saving the best for last. He loves his career with Rearden Metal, especially more than the stupid people he’s surrounded by, including his stupid wife. He doesn’t let other people’s thoughts get in his way, including those in the media. It’s ironic that someone who cares so little about people contributes more to their lives than most… or at least he would be if there weren’t politically correct idiots trying to ruin his business.

Meanwhile, Dagny… ho-hoh boy, lemme tell you. I daresay that she is the Best Girl in all classic literature. She’s like Hank in not caring, only better. Her proactive personality feels so modern compared to any other character of classic literature. Dagny is unimaginably badass, and if you told me that girls like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind or anyone from Little Women were better, I would absolutely not believe you. 

Among these two awesome protagonists whom you’re meant to love, and these wingnuts that you’re meant to hate, there is an anomaly named Francisco d’Anconia. You could argue he’s the main villain of the book, despite him definitely not being an ignoramus like the rest of mankind. He has iconic and inspirational moments that feel amazing, like he really understands how life works, yet he seems to be working against the human race with most of his actions. I’d say he’s the extreme end of Dagny and Hank’s personalities, but at the same time, he could just be a massive troll.

If there are any flaws in the book’s writing, it’s that I always had trouble telling where anyone was in 3D space. The dialogue is the heart and soul of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s so easy to get absorbed in it that they can seemingly teleport to another location. You could also argue that some of the big long passages that convey the book’s themes get redundant (including a seventy page speech that is more-or-less a summation of all the themes explored), but the way Rand thinks is so unconventional, that you kind of need to see it multiple times to really process the full weight of her words.

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Final Verdict: 10/10

Why does anyone bother with any classic literature other than Atlas Shrugged? I’ve read crummy books with blurbs that say “I’ll be thinking about these themes for a long time”, but Atlas Shrugged is the first time I truly feel that way about a book. It’s so insane that—scratch that—it’s saner than almost anything else out there. If Ayn Rand wrote and published it today, it would get canceled ten times over. Heck, the FBI would’ve personally hunted her down. Atlas Shrugged would be considered by many to be pure evil, and that’s precisely why it’s a must-read. Just keep in mind that it will not give you hope for mankind; it’s only meant to give you hope for yourself.

Isekai Rebuilding Project Volume 2 Review

Last time on Isekai Rebuilding Project, a salaryman named Eiji Kazama is summoned- by a strange woman known only as the Inspector- to a fantasy world that had recently been saved by a plucky, teenage boy. This turns into a mish-mash of various eras of Japanese history and begins to destroy itself as a result. When he gets there, he is partnered with a dragon named Tiamat, who proves to be a real hoot. In the first town, a disease that previously ravaged urban Japan is working its way here, all thanks to white rice! Fortunately, all Kazama has to do is introduce pork into the town’s diet. So, he prepares to hunt this world’s closest equivalent: the gagd (hey, I didn’t come up with this name myself). The hunting goes smoothly, and they bring a good load of gagd meat back to Lishua. He also cooks some Sunday mochi as a sweeter alternative. This, naturally, grabs the king’s attention, and Kazama and Tiamat meet with the guy. He’s the descendant of the hero, who was named Shizuru Mishima. The hero ends up being Kazama’s brother-in-law, who had committed suicide six years ago. But Kazama has no time to dwell on that when he dies of poisoned tea, courtesy of the king. Back in purgatory, the Inspector tells him that the king monopolized the knowledge of “gagd” and refined sugar for himself, and went to war with another country that suffered from the same disease. Millions of people died, but due to the declining economy, people settled back to brown rice, making Kazama’s project a success. He is disgusted at this development. But when he realizes that Tiamat was not only the actual person summoned to fix the world (with Kazama as her assistant), but his own fiance, Ayano, in dragon form, he is given one final chance to save that world again.

One thing I didn’t get at the start of this volume was that he was summoned to the point in time where he’s initially summoned to the castle. So, that means the war technically doesn’t happen yet (I think?). I just wanted to put that out there because I was confused about it at first. 

Anyway, the issue surrounding Azur gets resolved pretty smoothly; all it needed was a change of venue. But as we learned last time, the neighboring country of Noura has the same problem with beriberi. So, the natural thing to do is head over there. 

He’s accompanied by new faces, and by new faces, I mean existing faces who use magic to acquire new faces. Tiamat, Baze, and Hieronymus (the latter two of which are the Fenrir and Cait Sith that I didn’t mention in the recap because I thought they’d be one-time characters and not mainstays) all gain human forms. I didn’t like this because up to this point, I’d been picturing Tia as Wheezy from the REAL greatest isekai ever written: Dragon Tales (*sarcasm*). There’s also the Murdock troupe, a team of circus people led by a guy named Murdock (no sh*t, Sherlock). 

But hey, it’s not always politics here in Isekai Rebuilding Project. This volume’s main conflict is one that many-a fantasy character has had to deal with time and time again: goblins. The interesting thing about them is that the group of them is unusually good at various tactics that goblins wouldn’t specialize in. There’s an interesting possibility that another human was summoned to lead them… But regardless, it’s up to Eiji’s squad to stop them.

Unfortunately, the execution could be better. While the banter between Eiji and Tia is entertaining, the other characters are pretty boring. Also, the power of Eiji’s companions really don’t showcase any stakes whatsoever. Locations are still not given any personality or description, further baffling me as to how the illustrator was able to create such gorgeous art with no reference.

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Verdict: 7.75/10

Isekai Rebuilding Project isn’t bad, but it’s definitely looking to be another one of those low-key, feel-good fantasy series. It still has potential to become something bigger than what it is now, so I’ll keep it on my radar.

Isekai Rebuilding Project Volume 1 Review

Isekai has definitely entered a new era of subverting its own tired tropes, all with varying success, and with each one seemingly more ambitious than the last. To that effect, J-Novel Club has just published the most ambitious attempt to subvert the genre yet: Isekai Rebuilding Project, the sequel of every bad isekai.

“Wait, how can it be the sequel to multiple things at once?” you ask. Well, you see, Isekai Rebuilding Project stars a successful salaryman by the name of Eiji Kazama, who’s on his way to his fiance’s when he’s suddenly summoned to another world to save it from an evil, corrupt influence that’s spreading its way across the world. “Oh boy, all-powerful Demon Lord again…” Actually, no, it’s something worse than the usual Demon Lord; Kazama has to save the world from the unwitting damage brought to it by the generic, idealized teenage boy who had saved it from said Demon Lord in the first place.

“Wh-what? What the hell’re you talking about?” Let’s use the main conflict in this first volume as an example. In the first town that Kazama visits, he notices people eating white rice, a Japanese food introduced to the townsfolk by the hero. Unfortunately, due to science, the excessive carbohydrates from the white rice is causing their bodies to lose large quantities of an essential vitamin, resulting in a fatal disease. See where I’m going now? The path to hell is paved with good intentions, after all.

Isekai Rebuilding Project is the most literal deconstruction of isekai ever. A lot of the dialogue is just making fun of isekai tropes, and how impractical a lot of fantasy business, such as adventurer’s guilds, are. Mel Brooks said something like, “You can only spoof something that you love,” and it feels like these roasts are coming from someone who deeply loves isekai.

Based on this volume, Isekai Rebuilding Project could also be called Trivia Murder Party 2: Japanese History Theme. Kazama knows a lot of obscure stuff, such as the mortality rates and lifespan of the Japanese population throughout every era. His knowledge is a bit too bottomless, to be honest, despite how “normal” he’s supposed to be.

The only characters worth discussing are the two lead protagonists, the first of which is Kazama. He is established as a wholly unremarkable man, and I don’t exactly know how to feel about him yet. Normally, I’d shut down protagonists like him, but he’s at least smart, and respects the fact that he’s engaged to get married in the real world. The other main protagonist is Tiamat, a female dragon that is assigned to help him on his quest. She’s real sassy, and the dialogue in the series is at its best when these two are firing shots off each other.

As for the art, there are only two pieces: the front over, and a landscape version of it that was shot from behind. Seriously… it is gorgeous, almost excessively so. I have no idea how this artist was able to draw such detailed and whimsical artwork, practically out of a Studio Ghibli film, when the author doesn’t even put much emphasis into describing things in such detail. If I’m pumped for anything, it’s what later volume covers will look like.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

Normally, I don’t like “grounded” stories. Nonetheless, Isekai Rebuilding Project had a great first volume. But it’s so stinking short, I have no idea what to make of the series as a whole. This is something that has potential to be really great, or really terrible. But with only one volume out, we have no choice but to wait and see. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes slice-of-life fantasies, such as Ascendance of a Bookworm.