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book review

Musicians Neil Peart and Geddy Lee of Rush perform on stage at the 28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony April 18, 2013.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

"High above Earth, a portal tore open from a parallel universe."

So begins the namesake story in 2113, a new collection of short stories inspired by the music of Canadian progressive-rock group Rush. And it's down through such an extraordinary, celestial gateway that you'd expect a short story collection inspired by Rush to fall – like a cast-off artifact from some entirely alien dimension.

The obvious bafflements produced by such a book can be swiftly dispatched. Who writes short stories based on Rush songs? Well, there are at least 18 people (or 16; two of the stories packaged in 2113 played a role in inspiring Rush's music, not vice versa). Who edits such a stockpile? Kevin J. Anderson and John McFetridge. And who would bother publishing such a thing? Easy. ECW Press, archivist of many works both Canadian and vaguely pop cultural (including, full disclosure, my own forthcoming non-fiction title). As to the question of who would want to read such thing, the answer again may seem obvious: Rush fans. Duh. But that still doesn't quite satisfy.

What kind of Rush fan exactly? Who on our planet, or in any of the innumerable alternate realities and spiralling galaxies far, far away in which Rush songs lay their scene, is so singularly obsessed with a band that they would read a bunch of stories sparked by their music? This perplexing level of fandom seems to far exceed that of the record collector who can rattle off catalogue numbers or the Beatlemaniac who knows Ringo's blood type. But such is the disposition of the hard-core Rush fan.

See, the thing about Rush – and here I'll disclose, again, that having collected several of their albums, a few t-shirts and having seen them live in concert on more than one occasion, I suppose I would qualify, however bashfully, as a Rush fan – is that their music amounts to more than just a sprawling, musically complex catalogue of songs about spacemen and evil wizards and anthropomorphic trees. It constitutes its own cosmology.

It may not be the kind of cohesive narrative worlds, such as the fictional realm of "Gamehendge" chronicles in the music of Vermont jam band Phish, or the frostbitten demon-scape of "Blashyrkh" that recurs in the music of Norwegian black metallers Immortal. Rather, it's more of a philosophy: one that permeates the band's lyrics, album art, music videos and arena rock pyrotechnics.

Rush's chief lyricist, and the de facto architect of their ideology, is drummer Neal Peart. Beyond being recognized as one of the most proficient drummers in rock music, Peart self-identifies as a "bleeding-heart libertarian." His lyrics and worldview are commonly linked with Ayn Rand and philosophical system of "rational self-interest." While Peart has denied being a full-on Randian objectivist, Rush's songs tend to focus on the triumphal spirit of the individual over societies and systems that are either suffocatingly oppressive (Anthem, the A-side of the 1976 concept album 2112) or drearily banal (Subdivisions, Distant Early Warning).

Even the band's logo, a naked man standing inside a red star(taken from the 2112 album art), starkly opposes the individual against the collectivist will – the connection between the red star and 20th-century ideations of communism obvious enough that any self-styled Grade 8 iconoclast hearing Rush for the first time can likely pick up on them. (There is a frankly shocking amount of material connecting Rush and Rand available online, if you're so inclined or just have literally nothing else better to do.)

Such ideas flatter Rush fans. The band's admirers are – at the risk of generalizing and, again, counting myself as one – geeks. They're outcasts. Nerds. The "indoor kids," who spent middle-school recesses slugging it out with Atlas Shrugged.

So naturally, the idea of society being repressive/boring/mediocre is appealing. It renders loneliness and social isolation the fault of society and not the loner. And it's this rarefied class of Rush fan, the lifelong indoor kid with a self-justifying thirst for tales of against-all individualism, who might find themselves absorbed by a volume such as 2113. "I was cursed with an imagination," laments the narrator of Steve Savile's post-apocalyptic survival tale Last Night, and it's easy enough to see in the shared jeremiad of the Rush fan. Individualism, freedom, creativity and imagination are all noble burdens to bear.

The bulk of the stories collected here reflect this mentality. In Gotta Roll Them Bones, a story by American genre fiction writer/chessmaster Fritz Leiber, a cocksure gambler squares off against a Satanic skeleton-creature. In Race Human, an automobile-racing champion competes against a futuristic fleet of robotic drivers, "rebel[ling] against emulating machines," as author Larry Dixon puts it.

Cars – a go-to symbol for liberation and possibility, the "freedom of the open road" and all that – reappear in co-editor John McFetridge's Random Access Memory, and Richard S. Foster's A Nice Morning Drive, the inspiration for Rush hit Red Barchetta. The automobile is even intimated, however backhandedly, in the name of author Mercedes Lackey, the book's sole female contributor. (A ratio of one woman to seventeen men roughly approximates the demographic makeup of any given Rush concert, in my estimation.)

2113 is a collection about such trite freedoms: about the defiant heroes fighting back against boredom and hemming-in, however futile it may seem. It is, at the risk of sounding duh-duh or redundant, very much a collection of short stories inspired by the music of Rush.

It may be easy to laugh off, and even easier to ignore. But it's all very much tailored to a certain kind of fan and a certain kind of reader: The kind who takes solace in the individual triumph over the collective, the kind comforted by fiction that clearly delineates its narrative and thematic agendas, depicting worlds of stark moral clarity that are richly realized, but very much parallel to our own.

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