Archive | February, 2021

The Strastnoy of Ayn Rand

[cross-posted at POT and Facebook]

Ayn Rand’s Red Pawn, written in the 1930s, takes place on the imaginary Strastnoy (“Passion,” in the Christian theological sense) Island, in “the Arctic waters off the Siberian coast,” where a Christian monastery has been converted into a Soviet prison camp.

In real life there actually was, during the 1920s and 30s, a Christian monastery that had been converted into a Soviet prison camp, on a remote island in Arctic waters – though on the western side of Russia, not the eastern, Siberian side – namely Solovki Prison on Solovetzky Island, which was actually the nucleus of the entire Gulag system. (Appropriately enough, the Gulag Archipelago began on a literal archipelago.)

Solovki Prison is not as forbidding-looking as the one described in Rand’s story (Rand’s version has a bit more the flavour of the Château d’If), but I still suspect it influenced the tale. (During World War II, Solovki became a military base. Today it is a monastery again.) (There was also a Strastnoy monastery in Moscow that was demolished by the Soviets, and might have influenced Rand’s choice of name.)

Would Rand have been aware of Solovki Prison? I think likely yes, since two books had been published on it in the west during the 1920s, by former inmates – S. A. Malsagoff’s An Island Hell: A Soviet Prison in the Far North, and Youri Bezsonov’s Mes vingt-six prisons et mon évasion de Solovki.


Sewer Song

In my latest YouTube video, I share a totally authentic song from the mean streets of Gotham City (and below).

Thanks to Alicia Homer for introducing me to the Wellerman song!

Apologies for the change of key and tempo toward the end. If you’re looking for musical competence, you’ve chosen the wrong YouTube channel.


Maxwell’s House of Books!

Continuing the San Diego bookstores series, I chat with Craig Maxwell of Maxwell’s House of Books (good to the last drop of ink!) in La Mesa, featuring titles in philosophy, history, science, law, literature, poetry, drama, literary criticism, science fiction, mystery, and more.


Learning MacLeod’s World

In my latest YouTube interview, I chat with science fiction author Ken MacLeod about Scottish space opera, libertarianism and Marxism, individualist anarchism, the Austrian calculation debate, Neoreaction, Brexit, Scottish independence, paternalism and anti-vaping laws, James Hutton and deep time, the Scottish Enlightenment, what he owes to David Friedman, what he owes to Margaret Thatcher, and that time Charles Darwin changed history by vomiting.


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