by J.D. Tuccille
April 27, 2005

Swashbuckling for Freedom

The Black Arrow
by Vin Suprynowicz
Mountain Media; 703 pages (trade paperback); $24.95

Borrowed from a classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel, the title, The Black Arrow, tells you you're about to read a tale of derring-do. The name of the author, fiery libertarian columnist Vin Suprynowicz, assures you that in this particular swashbuckling adventure, the good guys fight for freedom and the bad guys are corrupt thugs who brood that somebody, somewhere is going unmolested by the forces of authority.

What more do you need to know, other than that this new The Black Arrow is a good read?

Well, OK -- there is more to tell.

Stevenson looked to the conflicts of the past -- the long-gone War of the Roses -- when he wrote of his bow-wielding freedom fighter, but Suprynowicz sets his master archer in a civil war-torn America of the near future. Andrew Fletcher, rock star, millionaire businessman and defender of the oppressed, uses a high-tech bow to kill oppressive government officials and their minions in the year 2030. He and his followers have turned to the technology of the past to evade a network of sonic detectors that help police arrive quickly at the source of tell-tale gunshots. Arrows are as silent as they are deadly, and the costumed bowman quickly becomes a hero to the increasingly oppressed citizenry of "Gotham," a barely disguised rendition of New York City.

The list of villains opposed to Fletcher and his allies is a sordid one indeed: smarmy city inspectors, brutal narcotics agents, fearful gun-grabbers, robotic cops ... Their outrages might almost be over-the-top in a that-can't happen-here sort of way if the author hadn't done something extremely clever: most of the "futuristic" acts of oppression documented in the story are barely rewritten events drawn from America's very recent past. Suprynowicz merely had to rifle through the files he keeps for his columns and change a few names to create the seeds for rebellion in the dictatorial world of tomorrow.

Readers who are horrified by the actions of law-enforcement agents, politicians and prosecutors in the novel might ask themselves if they were equally disturbed when real officials engaged in exactly the same behavior two, three or ten years ago.

Street-corner metal detectors and similar manifestations of a further-empowered "anti-terrorism" effort are among the few fictional additions to the America of The Black Arrow. Well, the major fictional addition is the willingness of people to, finally, fight back after decades of growing tyranny. Surveying the complacent America of 2005, that might be the hardest to swallow of the novel's premises.

No book is perfect, although not everybody agrees on what constitutes a flaw. Let me mention just two points that caught my attention.

The first is the eagerness with which the novel's heroes and heroines don't just fall into bed with one another (who could object to a little sex with their violence?), but also promptly plan to have many children together. That may have fit well in Stevenson's original medieval setting; after all, life was short and you needed to pop out kids early and often if any were to have hope of making it to adulthood. But to readers in an age when sex is at least as recreational as procreational, the sentiment is a bit jarring.

Or maybe my objection reveals more about my decadent youth than it does about the novel.

The second point involves the novel's portrayal of the excesses of the federal income tax system. Most scenes of abusive officialdom in the novel affect the reader through brutality and obvious injustice, but the tax scene hinges on legalism. Without giving too much away, let me just say it's doubtful that anybody would be happier if the Constitution were explicitly amended to address the characters' legal claims. Oppression ticks people off because it's wrong, whether or not it's legal.

But these are minor quibbles about a well-written adventure tale that fulfills many a freedom-lover's fantasies. The Black Arrow is a swashbuckler that demands attention once you've turned the first page. Given the book's futuristic setting, it would be appropriate to clone Errol Flynn to play the lead in a movie version.

Consider buying two copies of The Black Arrow so you can keep one and gift the other to your "favorite" government official.


Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and Iíll use your polished skull as a beer mug.