Monday, 14 July 2008
‘The Age of the Conglomerates’ – Thomas Nevins (Del Rey)
The themes of Utopia and Dystopia are staples in speculative fiction and appear under many guises, perhaps the two most famous examples are Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. The line between the two states is a blurry one at best, depending on where you fit in. One man’s Utopia is another man’s… you get the idea.
I sometimes wonder just how much control we have over our future and whether the resulting insecurity manifests itself in visions of a nightmarish future under some totalitarian jackboot. Then I get myself another beer and turn the Playstation on :o)
Thomas Nevins has taken his musings one step further and gives us his vision of a world (forty years in the future) where a breakdown in the American economy has led to the rise of the Conglomerates, a party whose Chairman has transformed national law. Do you have a problem child or just a child that you don’t want any more? The State will remove it from your home and you will then be eligible (subject to status) to have another child bred to order to become an efficient and productive member of society. Are you eighty or over? Bad news I’m afraid, the Family Relief Act means that all your property reverts to your children and you will be shipped off to a government run community in Arizona. All laws are liable to be enforced at gunpoint and cameras record everything. Life will find a way though and four relatives from very different backgrounds will struggle to make their way in this world of the future…
As a vision of the future; Nevins’ ‘Age of the Conglomerates’ is backed up by enough things (happening right now) to make it plausible enough to give the reader more than a slight chill. The ongoing ‘credit crunch’, for starters, foreshadows possible events to come while ongoing research into genetics has raised debate over the kind of abuses that we see in the book. As far as the treatment of the elderly goes; we’re sticking them in homes and retirement villages now (out of sight…) is it that much of a leap to see this kind of approach on a much larger scale in the near future?
It’s all speculation, of course, but there’s just enough plausibility in it to make the reader stop and think for a bit. Well that’s what it made me do.
It’s a shame then that the execution of the story itself doesn’t do the scenario justice. My main issue with the book was the over-abundance of info-dumping in a book that’s only two hundred and ninety four pages long. I can understand it as a scene setting device in the prologue but for it to continue throughout the book is surely unnecessary as there are many other ways to show the reader (notice I said ‘show’ and not ‘tell’…) what is going on. The bit that really bugged me was when Nevins used his characters as ‘info-dump receptacles’ to cram even more information into the book. To have the guy who delivered the water, in the retirement village’, suddenly wax lyrical about the state of the ‘State’ just didn’t feel right to me and really jarred.
The story itself felt stifled under the weight of everything Nevins was trying to get across which resulted in what felt to me like a disjointed tale that left me bemused and frustrated in places. Certain characters would do things and I had no idea why, they certainly hadn’t given much indication that this was how they were going to behave. This was particularly true of Christine Salter, the geneticist, who seemed quite happy to go along under Conglomerate rule but then all of a sudden found herself fighting the good fight on the strength of a man who she wasn’t even sure how she felt about…
It’s a real shame as there were moments when I really got a feel for the landscape this was all happening in and wanted to know more about the characters who lived in it.
‘The Rise of the Conglomerates’ is a novel with a great concept that unfortunately fails in its execution. Maybe it would have benefited from being a little longer and having more room to explore everything it needed to instead of the uneven distribution that it presents.
Five and a Half out of Ten.