Ship of Fools

Qanon. The Illuminati. Freemasons. The New World Order. Anti-Vax. Moon landing denial. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Rothschild conspiracy. Lizard People. The JFK assassination. 9/11. The Plandemic. The list of conspiracy theories goes on and on. The image below, straight from a conspiracist’s website, seems pretty comprehensive, while disinformation researcher Abbie Richards’ Conspiracy Chart attempts to place conspiracies in a hierarchy from real to false and from harmless to dangerous.

Image of hundreds of conspiracy theories linked by arrows.
Conspiracy chart from the Deep State Mapping Project. You’ll have to Google it yourself, because I’m certainly not going to link to this guy’s website.

Of course, some conspiracy theories turn out to be true: MK-ULTRA mind control experiments, the Tuskegee Experiments, government surveillance, forced sterilization, human radiation experiments, and on and on. And that’s just the government-backed variety. Well-known corporate-backed conspiracies include cigarette manufacturers’ efforts to hide the effects of tobacco, Exxon’s attempts to obscure the effects of burning fossil fuels, and Big Pharma covering up the addictive nature of opioids.

In such a milieu of sometimes-true conspiracies mixed with outlandish notions, and with more and more people seeming to buy into the latter, it’s easy to despair for democracy and for society in general. So in response, I wrote a satirical novel about conspiracies titled Ship of Fools. Though Part I takes place on a Conspira-C Cruise, the ship of the title actually refers to spaceship Earth, acknowledging the fact that anyone can fall for a conspiracy theory—the human mind just persists in seeing connections and patterns, even where there are none.

Rather than taking on QAnon or any of the other more political conspiracy theories directly, the main focus is on the Flat Earth, which, intriguingly, is the one outlandish notion omitted from the chart above. It’s almost like the guy behind the Deep State Mapping Project knows that adding the Flat Earth to his map is the one thing that would put it over the edge into unbelievability (as opposed to the lizard people, the moon landing denial, the Pleiadians, and Neuschwabenland!).

Abbie Richards' Conspiracy Theory Chart.
Conspiracy Chart by disinformation researcher Abbie Richards

You might say that focusing on Flat Earth is like shooting fish in a barrel, but actually, a lot of flat-earthers are pretty smart, and can win debates with random believers in the spherical nature of the Earth, especially if the latter haven’t thought or studied beyond what they were taught in school. The FEers have ready rebuttals for round-Earth evidence, from ships disappearing over the horizon to photos and video from space to the (mostly false) notion that you can see the curvature of the Earth from the window of your average commercial jet. So one thing the novel tries to do, along with (I hope!) making the reader laugh, is to provide some of the actual ways we know Earth is round, along with rebuttals to flat-earthers’ efforts to poke holes in that evidence.

The novel focuses on Elizabeth Dare, a science reporter for the New York Times who earned her reputation by debunking science denial and conspiracy theories. As the novel starts, she’s covering the Eighth Annual Conspira-C Cruise, a gathering of conspiracy theorists with varied and sometimes conflicting beliefs. Among the array of characters she meets are flat-earth YouTuber Sarge Marshall, billionaire space mogul Lonnie Ester, creationist pastor Rev. Paul Lee, flat-earth astronomer and inventor Clive Cuddleshanks, climbing guide and Buddhist monk Dawa Tenzing, and a security expert and sometime Michigan militia member known only as Mike.

We also meet Ben Himmelstein, a Hollywood archivist with the most outlandish moon-landing-denial theory ever concocted; his grand-daughter, Penny “Moonglow” Himmelstein, a yoga instructor, New Ager, and sometime anti-vaxxer; Alex Croft, tech entrepreneur and principal venture capitalist with Veritas Ventures; Ezekial Zebediah “EZ” Smith, Apostle of the True, Living, Devout, and Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints and de facto governor of the Southwest Semi-Autonomous Zone; William Luddington, anti-space expansionist and member of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space (CAOS); and Sven Nordquist, chief expedition guide for Amazing Antarctic Adventures and possibly a NATO/UN agent keeping the Antarctic Ice Wall a secret from all the globe-tards.

In an alternate universe — in which the Earth really is flat! — we meet Jareth Leeman, Director of the US Department of Science and Technology, whose efforts to send a rocket to the moon are stymied by the lack of orbital motion on a flat non-planet; Samuel Rowbotham, a dedicated skeptic and explorer who wants to prove this flat Earth is actually round; and Brother Geraint of the Druidical Order of Ancient Celts, who believes the only way to get to the South Pole on a flat disk is by first going North, with the help of ley lines and a dowsing rod.

And before any of that, there’s the Prologue, which you can read here, featuring Slim and Shorty, Nazi-fighting philosopher-cowboys.

In short, it’s the craziest, most Pynchonesque thing I’ve ever written. Hope you enjoy it, whenever I manage to get it published!