I had never heard of L.E. Modesitt, Jr. before seeing this beautiful little paperback on the shelf of my favorite second-hand bookstore. Sounded good so I picked it up—one of those blind faith purchases. Surprisingly, he’s been writing since 1982 and has more than forty novels, thirty short stories, and a collection published. At this point in the introduction, I would usually note, “This author is most famous for his…” or “Most notably, this author has written…”, but in this case, all that fails me.
Rear cover synopsis:
“Four centuries in the future the world is rich. Every basic need is provided for, every desire can be fulfilled. It should be Utopia…
But a darkness lies at the heart of this future Earth. A police investigator, assigned to study trends, begins to see a truly sinister pattern behind a series of seemingly unrelated crimes and deaths. Meanwhile a news reporter is beginning to glimpse the shadow world that lies beneath the headlines of the day.
Across the planet, one by one, people are realising that something is very, very wrong with their world—and that they may be powerless to change it.”
By the twenty-fifth century, society has fallen and risen from two catastrophes. Nanotechnology is no longer a modern wonder but an ingrained daily need. The “filch” (a tongue-in-cheek designation used for the filthy rich) “get full nanite protection and self-clone replacements” (122) while three other levels of society getting decreasingly protected against disease and immortality: sarimen (salary men), permies (permanently corrected individuals guilty of offenses), and servies (the uncared for dregs of society).
As a whole, our society was richer than any before it, and yet there were still bioweapons and terrorism across the entire globe, and tensions between Earth and Mars despite more and more material affluence. There were still students glassy-eyed on soop [a common, accepted drug for the youth], murders despite ever more restrictive surveillance and improved nanite shields, and a quiet dissatisfaction that verged on desperation. (184)
Homes and private transportation now use fuel cells, a well-regarded technology and inherently safe for the user. Yet, a string of suicides and accidental deaths are caused by the result of these fuel cells malfunctioning. A researcher for NetPrime, name Parsfal, is the first to begin connecting the dots of the various news stories he is researching; death by fuel cell malfunction is unheard for thirty years and additional death by nanite failure is becoming to seem increasingly unlikely. Due to rigid and sanctified private personal information laws, Parsfal is limited to skimming public records and open statements; even then, a pattern begins to arise, a pattern suggesting murder for cover-up.
Also sensing an uneasy pattern behind a string of unlikely deaths is Lieutenant Eugene Tang Chiang, a Trends Analysis Coordinator whose job is similar to Parsfal’s: connect the dots. In Chiang’s case, however, his job is also to predict patterns of crime. With Parsfal’s intuitive precociousness and Chiang’s wedge of authority, the duo work closely in mining the truth of supposed suicides, vehicular accidents, and death by fuel cell immolation in addition to the spontaneous deaths of some youth who had visited a razrap concert and ingested the drug soop—What is killing these innocent concertgoers? Combined, their divining rods of suspicion indicate a deep, unpleasant, and ominous betrayal. This betrayal, manipulative of the perpetrator’s circle and treasonous against their own country, may pin the social divisions against each other or even destroy an entire generation.
Innocence radiates from an adjunct professor of classical music and voice training, Luara Cornett, whose Music 101B class on Understanding and Appreciation of Music should be the utmost of her professional worries; however, the dean tells her of another budget cut, less hours for her, and possibly a cut in her private voice training at the university. She’s miffed by everyone’s ignorance of real music because of the popularity of rezpop and rezrap, a genre of music relying on resonance and auto-tune: “Today, the rezrappers and poppers don’t practice. They just spew it out. The systems reformulate the sound as they attempt to sing, add in rhythmitonal resonances based on the audience profile” (68).
Classically trained but in need of money, Luara both sings at soirees and sings for commercials, which also use resonance. Laura laments, “working singers in our world—those who don’t want their voices twisted and turned by technology, those who want to preserve the inherent beauty of voice and song—we don’t have much choice” (78). It is at one soiree where Luara gets a chance meeting with a politician, though who exactly that politician is is unknown to her, for she has little care for the nefarious dealings in the nation’s capital, Denver. The passion behind her words in support of classic music woos the politician, yet Luara may not be prepared for the limelight.
Oh, and the ebol4 virus has been killing millions worldwide… and shards of a rocky asteroid, once mined by the Martians, are headed towards Earth, something which Mars is dearly sorry about.
“[Y]ou can’t improve people or society by pandering to them. You have to challenge them, and give them examples of good singing, and good art, and excellence” (264). Ah, the idealism of Luara! She’s a bit of a tiresome character—very one-dimensional in regards to her denouncing modern music and lauding the virtues of classic music—thereby making her appearance tiresome. But honestly, the entire cast is equally as one-dimensional and tiresome, thus making the entire book rather boring.
I wish Modesitt understood the art and beauty of dialogue as much as Luara understood the intrinsic human need for real music. The dialogue is often painful, monotonous, and droning; it ping-pongs back and forth for pages and pages studded by intermissions with additional dialogue via communication link; it blatantly foreshadows every nook and cranny of the proceeding plot. There’s nothing intricate or enlightening from the words uttered other than the occasional glimpse of opinion which Modesitt decided to slide into the novel as a substitute for a soapbox.
Whether it’s about the decline of music appreciation or the fall of penmanship, Modesitt’s injected ideas are nothing new, nothing unheard of; for example, “Almost no one even knew how to write by hand anymore. There were times like this [letter of condolence] when that anachronistic touch was vital, because it showed more than special care” (273). Luara’s love for art and lamentation for the decline of art appreciation reflects the common thought that today’s world is always worse off than a generation ago. The age-old adage is even more tiresome than a string of uni-faceted characters… then writing a book around that idea is eye-rolling.
Considering the novel’s place in time—the twenty-five century—the reader would think that technology would play a key role in society, that some innovations would make life drastically different than modern life. Well, the reader would be wrong in a number of ways. (1) The resonance of rezpop and rezrap sound a lot like auto-tune, an unfortunate and ridiculous technology which sprung to fame with Cher’s song “Believe” in 1998, pre-dating Modesitt’s novel by a hardy five years. (2) Parsfal uses a search engine to limit his investigation to scholarly articles, a technology much like Google Scholar which was launched one year after Modesitt’s novel in 2004. (3) People seem to be without mobile phones, they seem to be only contactable through their respective office; whether this is a technological discrepancy or privacy issue of the future, it seems that the limitation of the ease of communication is screwy.
But Modesitt did nail one thing—the explosive concern, or awareness at least, for privacy. In the twenty-five century, privacy is held sacrosanct. With online data mining by vast corporations, questionable cookie reading, and virulent social media, people’s privacy has shrunken greatly when compared to 2003, just ten years ago. Most of “our lives are open screens” (101), letting most of our information remain private yet when sifted, a great deal about our personalities and habits can be lifted from the data. “All we see of the filch [or the rich, in general] are beautifully decorated covers … They’re shielded by privacy laws, by their credits, and my other filch” (101). Teams of lawyers and modes of harassment can shield you privacy further, but for the common man, only street smarts and careful consideration can protect your privacy. When laws are written by the powerful for the powerful, the modern day equivalent of sarimen, permies, and servies can only fend for themselves.
Nothing inspiring here. This is a dud of a first read for my Modesitt experience… if there’s a one-off novel that sounds interesting, I may give it a shot but I sure as hell am not going to invest my time in one of his eight series, fantasy or SF. If I haven't summed it up well enough, Ian Sales offers this:
Shit writer is shit. But don't tell him-- oops, too late... http://t.co/jDhhGAUtFw— Ian Sales (@ian_sales) November 27, 2013