ATLAS SHRUGGED: EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW BUT DIDN’T WANT TO READ
The “Objectiverse” is a fictional dystopia in which fossil fuel scarcity and economic depression have led all governments to adopt the sort of centralized economic control you might see in China or the Soviet Union.
Dagny Taggart is the heroine of the story, and she literally keeps the trains running on time, as the COO of America’s largest railroad company. With all the natural resources getting exhausted, cars and planes are now a rare luxury and railroads are once again the lynchpin of U.S. transportation infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Hank Rearden, the Objectiverse answer to Steve Jobs, invents a lightweight metal stronger and longer-lasting than steel, let’s call it rMetal. It’s applications are endless. It could revolutionize every major industry and radically improve the country’s environmental sustainability and economic efficiency.
So Dagny and Hank become business partners — and lovers, even though Hank is married. But their success is short-lived. The media attention paid to their high-speed rail venture upsets the status quo balance of power, and soon lobbyists for a cabal of special interests descend on DC to buy laws that will obstruct our heroes’ cleaner, leaner, meaner business models.
One of these corrupt businessmen is Dagny’s brother Jim, the Taggart CEO. He is a mediocre man who always resented Dagny for her excellence and ambition. Since his only contribution to the company’s functioning is to pull tax subsidies and policy favors from Washington, he easily gets caught up in the fervor for government centralization even as it undermines his family’s business and his self-interest.
As the global economic collapse becomes a self-perpetuating death spiral, America’s corrupt industrialists and political puppets fully embrace a totalitarian state, declaring that all economic decisions must be approved by an all-powerful tribunal, The Unification Board.
In response, nearly all of the hardest-working entrepreneurs in America abandon their companies and drop off the grid entirely. The founder of the last remaining US oil company torches his oil fields on his way out for spite.
Only Dagny and Hank remain, determined to overcome the Board and save society from the dangerous vested interests and the self-destructive government they’ve purchased.
Weaving in and out of all this business is Dagny’s former lover Francisco D’Anconia, scion of the world’s oldest fortune, who is brilliant and gifted but squanders his talents as a decadent playboy. Turns out, he’s actually Batman and that was his decade-long Bruce Wayne act. In that time he has meticulously and “accidentally” torpedoed his own multinational conglomerate with the express intent of plunging industrial society into an irreversible tailspin.
Francisco reveals himself to Dagny as a double agent for the faction of off-the-grid elites. He asks her to join them, but when she learns a humanitarian disaster occurred on one of her rail lines, costing 300 lives through the willful negligence of employees appointed by the Board, she refuses to abandon the world to either the incompetents who are ascendant or the shadowy conspirators who seem hell-bent on bringing it down.
Then, during their own off-the-grid lover’s retreat, Hank and Dagny randomly discover the defunct prototype of an ion drive of sorts — a motor that could literally run on air (the static electricity in the air). If fixed, it could solve the world’s energy and environmental problems in one fell swoop forever.
Obsessed with finding out who invented it and if it can be repaired, Dagny sends it to a physicist and engineer in the Rockies for study, basically Q from James Bond.
So naturally, when Dagny gets word that Q has decided to join the off-the-grid shadow faction on their seemingly nihilistic mission, she races to reach him in time to preserve her one last hope of saving society from a new Dark Ages.
Landing her commandeered plane just in time to see Q take off on a mysterious unmarked jet, Dagny gives chase and is soon shocked to see the mystery jet disappear in a shimmering haze in the middle of the Rockies. Yet she pursues it with an almost suicidal fervor, and discovers herself breaching some kind of futuristic cloaking device that short circuits her plane and sends her plummeting to the earth, where she crashes and, I can only assume, dies in an enormous fireball.
What secrets of the shadow faction lie behind the cloak? How will the people of America and the world be freed from their totalitarian overlords? What is the classified military-industrial technology the government is developing under the name Project Xylophone?
All these questions and more will be answered in the coming weeks, in the climactic third act of Ayn Rand’s obnoxiously fascinating Atlas Shrugged.