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Raising Hell
by Norman Spinrad

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 4, 2023

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Norman Spinrad's Raising Hell was the 13th (out of a current total of 29) of the "Outspoken Author" series from PM Press. It is short, with just the title story (identified as a novella at ISFDb), plus an essay, an interview with the author, and a bibliography up to the publication in 2014. The story and essay hinge on similar topics, although from different perspectives, and the essay echoes several of the themes Spinrad wrote about in the recently reviewed Fragments of America. As far as I've been able to determine, neither had been previously published before this book. Spinrad has long been an advocate for the labor movement, several of his family members and friends having been union members, and he was president of the Science Fiction Writers of America on two different occasions. That might not be considered a union in the classical sense, but it is an organization that helps writers in negotiating contracts and pay rates, and resolving issues with publishers. The interview, "No Regrets, No Retreat, No Surrender," touches on several issues, the major one being the publishing industry at that time. Spinrad stated he might not have been drawn to SF as he initially was if conditions were the same in the 1960s as they are now. He says he has been much better treated by foreign publishing houses, and prefers living outside the US.

The novella is set in hell, as former labor organizer "Dirty" Jimmy DiAngelo finds himself assigned to a hot boiler room, where his task is to perpetually shovel coal into the boiler, while being poked and prodded by the pitchforks wielded by large demons. He is surprised to find he is toiling alongside several doomed souls he recognizes, other labor leaders. George Meany, Walter Reuther, Samuel Gompers, even Jimmy Hoffa. They all have a shovel, and a routine of filling that shovel with coal, then throwing the coal into the fire, and of course the coal is continually replaced. The others know of Jimmy, and they despise him, considering him no better than a scab. After the sharp decline in union membership following Reagan's actions, many businesses resorted to hiring more temporary workers, who worked only part time, for low pay, and no benefits. Jimmy decided to help them by organizing NUTS, the National Union of Temporary Substitutes, although many other labor leaders, and those out of work, said the "S" stood for Scabs. Regardless of that criticism, Jimmy felt he had helped the temps improve their situation with higher wages and a few benefits. Yet he was still in hell. What's a beleaguered union man to do when faced with such intolerable conditions? What about organizing hell? He convinces the demon guards to let them take occasional breaks, as well as demanding commensurate pay. When the demons are organized, then Jimmy has to negotiate with the Devil himself, lucky to find Lucifer (which he has not been allowed to call himself, or others call him) realizes he has issues he should have taken up with the Man Upstairs long ago. As to how he could pay the demons and the damned, he calls in all the Wall Street bankers and mortgage brokers to figure that out for him.

The essay is "The Abnormal New Normal," which addresses both the labor situation and the creative accounting (which he labels the casino economy) that led to the 2008 recession. That is contrasted with the conditions that led to the Great Depression beginning in 1929. Reagan is once again excoriated for disbanding PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, along with other union busting actions that have continued since. What he says about Wall Street's manipulation is similar to things still in the news today. In spite of some new regulations passed during the Obama years, little has been done to enforce those regulations. Labor and economics are not the only subjects discussed though. He goes back to when the Republicans were a radically liberal party, responsible for saving the Union and freeing the slaves, later to renounce that and become a much more conservative party, especially as regards to the economy. It took a long time for the Democrats to swing from being controlled by the Deep South conservatives, the beginnings of which was with FDR's New Deal, then later JFK's New Frontier, and LBJ's Great Society. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act caused a mass exodus of southern Democrats who flipped to the Republicans.

Trends come and go, and so do economic policies, most of which have not addressed the core problems of the class system, endemic racism, and the desperate need to maintain a strong working middle class, for which higher union membership is needed. Something that Spinrad didn't mention, I suppose since the severity was not as evident when he wrote the essay, but the widespread use of "collateralized debt obligations," a major contributor to the 2008 recession, is what has also contributed to the student load crisis. Loans are transferred from company to company, the buyer of the debt increasing the interest rate, leading to the interest owed being enormously more than the principle. The current trend cannot hold, it cannot work for long. "To work in the long run…a market economy must have a large and relatively prosperous middle class…The vast majority of people must have enough money to consume the goods and services that they produce, or the economy will slide down the black hole." And the slide down will not be the fun kind. Major changes need to be made, and fast, to avoid the next crash. Too bad I'm not confident it can be done quickly enough, if at all. Neither Spinrad or I are pessimists. Being a realist is scary enough.


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Norman Spinrad

July 1, 2014

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