Daniel Suarez is one of those authors that in a few more years (or after one of his novels reaches the big screen) is going to be talked about as one of the top authors of contemporary science fiction. His latest book, Influx, while I wouldn’t say is his best novel (that honor in my mind goes to Daemon) it is probably his most cinematic.
The plot is based around a “what if” scenario. What if humanity was in reality far more technologically advanced than we thought we were? What if we had already perfected fusion power, created true nano tech, found the cure for cancer, created Artificial Intelligence, vastly expanded human longevity and physical and mental limitations, and made huge advances in materials science? What if the human race had all these things but they had all been hidden from us by an organization that hides them from us for our own good because the consequences of their discovery would do more harm than good?
When you put it like that it sounds noble. However, as the main character of the novel, Jon Grady, finds out it is far from anything of the sort. Jon is a thinker with a unique mind and discovers a technology that could represent one of the greatest technological shifts in human history; the Gravity Mirror, a device that can harness the most powerful force in the universe. That’s when the BTC, the Bureau of Technology Control, arrives and destroys his lab before any news of his accomplishment can spread.
You see, while the BTC may be protecting us from rampant change it has also been taking all of this revolutionary technology and hoarding it for itself, abducting those who created it and attempting to turn them to its own research agenda. Those scientists who decline their offer are imprisoned and tortured. Jon is one of these Resistors.
Influx is a roller coaster read with a wide-ranging scope and well thought out premise. A summer blockbuster waiting to happen. I think I killed the book in about two days because it is one of those page turners that you don’t want to put down. I only have a few quibbles. 1) While most of the book has dead-on pacing the finale seemed a little rushed, but that may only mean it will translate even better to the big screen (including the epilogue that I think could have tied up some loose ends with just a few more words . 2) One of the characters is improbably able to acquire and adapt the BTC’s advanced technology and provide it at the most opportune moment. 3) One simple answer invalidates every single disaster model the BTC produces: Space Colonization. The last scene is good and I like the feeling behind it, but all I need is an orbital elevator or space launch to make me feel better.
Do you want to know what happens when a science fiction writer overhears some idiots during a student riot at the University of Queensland loudly proclaiming how much of an awesomely better place the world would be if the United States of America were to suddenly disappear?
Without Warning is what happens.
The eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
An unexplained/unexplainable teardrop shaped energy phenomenon that mysteriously appeared over most of North America known as “The Wave”. All higher primates (including zoo monkeys) disappear in a rapture-like instant, leaving behind piles of clothing and organic goo. All that is left of the United States is Hawaii, Alaska, and a small corner of northwestern Washington State including Seattle. The Wave doesn’t register on any scientific instrument and “disappears” anyone who attempts to cross its boundary.
The United States civilian government is literally gone. There is no line of succession to follow. The military command structure, however, is still fairly strong but most of its surviving power is deployed on the other side of the globe in the midst of a hostile environment that, of course, sees The Wave as a divine retribution. After a moment of jaw-dropping shock the world realizes that the heart of the world’s economy has stopped beating and its guarantor of global security is no-longer walking the beat. Tom Barnett would be banging his head repeatedly against his desk (except he was probably disappeared), and Nassim Taleb would be clapping with glee at the scope of the Black Swan that just crapped all over the planet (except Israel, back against the wall, pre-emptively nukes all of its neighbors including Lebanon).
I really liked this book. Unlike many ‘end-of-the-world’ genre books, this one didn’t make me want to stockpile cans of food and firearms. Instead, I started to anticipate the next catastrophe, some I got right, some I didn’t see coming, and that made the book a fun and exciting read.
The second book of the trilogy, After America, is just out with a third book yet to come. I’ve finished it and will write a review in the near future.
“We can’t afford just any old future.”
Directive 51 is one of those apocalyptic thrillers that, once read, leave me with the uneasy feeling that I should be stockpiling canned goods and firearms. The book is a good read even if it regularly takes some fairly dubious turns away from plausibility and requires quite a bit of the suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, that isn’t what has made it linger in my thinking. Aside from some of the 5GWishness, Resilient Community and Global Guerilla aspects it contains, the most interesting thing about the book is the organization the main character belongs to, a cabinet level governmental department called the Department of the Future. The Department of the Future (or DoF) is further divided into the Office of Future Threat Assessment, the Office of Technology Forecasting and the Office of Political Futurology. Now, I’m not certain that such a government department would ever really be able to exist, or even function if it did exist much less be the centerpiece for national disaster management and response that it is in the novel, but it is very intriguing as a virtual think-tank (or maybe better yet ongoing Blog-tank!) type institution dedicated to looking down the road to the what is not only ont the horizon, but over the horizon.
Any interest out there for such a project?
The Virga series by Karl Schroeder is a fantastic exercise in world-building. The setting for the space opera is a colossal balloon (named Virga), that is thousands of miles across and filled with air, water, earth and at its center an artificial sun named Candesce. Oh and, by the way, no natural gravity! The people who live in this world must provide their own gravity by building wheels or cylinders that spin around a central axis. Some of these are towns that provide for a few hundred people, some are so monumental they exist as whole nations who, seeking room to grow that is too far from the light and heat of Candesce, have lit their own artificial suns. All are, to some extent, constantly moving, pushed by the eternally circulating winds. This is a world of constant struggle and ingenuity (there are properties of Candesce that prevent certain types of technology like radar from functioning) with plenty of political intrigue as nations literally come together in conflict. Action abounds with gun fights, sword fights and naval battles between nations and pirate fleets where torpedo shaped wooden cruisers and battleships bank and swoop like jet fighters, firing rockets, machine guns and cannons in all directions.
Truly Epic! Looking forward to Book 4.