Copyright is dead, motherfuckers: The Great Gatsby and the Atomic Bomb

Ben #post-apocalyptic #fan-fiction

Before the bombs, in my younger and more optimistic years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “Just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran scavengers. The irradiated mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in an uncorrupted person, and so it came about at the Institute I was unjustly accused of being a philosopher because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. The kind of men who would spend long hours alone in the waste, scavenging only to return empty-handed.

Most of the confidences were unsought- frequently I have feigned radiation poisoning, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious misinterpretations. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental survivalist instinct is parcelled out unequally at birth.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be found on the hard rock or the dry riverbeds, but after a certain point, I don’t care what it’s founded on. When I came back from the Eastern coastal province last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions into the waste with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction - Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, even after the bombs, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register gamma rays ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”- it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No - Gatsby turned out alright in the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded relationships of men.

My family had been prominent, well-to-do people in this Middle Western city for seven generations. The Farraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we’re descended from the Kennedys, but the actual founder of my line was my Great Grandfather’s Grandfather, who came here in sixty-one, dodged the draft during the Cold War, and started the wholesale prepper bunker business that my father carries on today.

I never saw a video of this Great Great Grandfather, but I’m supposed to look like him with special reference to the rather sun-bleached painting that hangs in my father’s office. I graduated from the Institute in 2101, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed migration known as the Third Great War. I enjoyed the chemical raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. After the bombs, instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle Western coast province now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe so I decided to go West and learn the bomb business. Everyone I knew was in the bomb business, so I suppose it could support one more single man. All my aunts and uncles talk it over as if they were choosing a bunker for me, and finally say, “Why – ye-es,” with very grave hesitant faces. They are in the bunker business after all. Father agreed to finance me for a year, in exchange for intelligence on the latest developments in bunker-busting technology, and after various delays, I came West, permanently, I thought in the spring of 2120.

The practical thing was to find bunkers in the Western province megapolis. Most provinces had been condensed into megalopolises spanning several cities for the security of their citizens. But it was an abundance season, and I had just left a country of wide bunkers and friendly mushrooms. So when a young man at the factory suggested that we take a bunker together on the edge of the megapolis, it sounded like a great idea. He found the bunker, a weatherbeaten galvanized steel shack at eighty credits a month, but at the last minute the plant ordered him to New Washington, and I went out to the country alone. I had a dog- at least I had him for a few days until he died of Radiation poisoning after killing and eating a Vat Rat. Vat Rats have been known to survive the most extreme conditions. I have heard it said that they can swim through vats of nuclear waste without succumbing to their invisible poison. I also had an old Ford and a finished service AI robot, who made my bed and cooked breakfast rations and hummed robotically to itself while plugged into the electric grid.