"In a future socialist America, Houstonians face the vicissitudes of life as a rising political/religious movement predicts the imminent return of a vanished scientist as a medical messiah."– Kirkus Reviews
In a future socialist America, Houstonians face the vicissitudes of life as a rising political/religious movement predicts the imminent return of a vanished scientist as a medical messiah.
Johnston labels his debut dystopian novel as “science fiction laced with political satire.” But in his deadpan tale, the biggest gag many readers will note is the author cheekily including himself in a future archives as one of sci-fi’s “old masters.” Otherwise, disillusionment with government and mistrust of the Establishment could come straight from today’s headlines and bloggers. America in 2135 is an economically troubled, socialist nanny state, intrusive, abusive, paranoid, and incompetent—whether it’s Democrats or Republicans operating “NatGov.” Some 50 years earlier, an enigmatic Mexican-born genius, Dar Lumbre, threatened the status quo of nationalized health care with his politics, sparking a warrant for his arrest. But he disappeared during the chaos after a providential solar flare erased the surveillance state’s digital records. Disciples since have prophesied Lumbre’s messianic return, bringing freedom and a formula for eternal life (thanks to Johnston’s med-tech savvy, the Jesus parallels are more intriguing than contrived and labored). In Houston, geneticists Crane Hopkins and Annie Lee study Lumbre’s own heirloom tissue samples, which hold amazing, restorative DNA applications that even NatGov allows (while it bans the scientist’s writings). But the sacred flesh is failing over time. Meanwhile, Crane’s freelance programmer brother becomes enmeshed in a Lumbre social movement (with cultish overtones) that may lead him astray, politically and in his fragile marriage. Hanging over the characters is the threat of NatGov’s wrath, but Johnston shies away from action-violence and simple black-and-white morality with a resolution more about science puzzles and societal problem-solving than chases or fights. Some may find the author’s conclusion almost too upbeat for the likes of NatGov. Others will enjoy that late in the ingenious narrative he embeds a shoutout to Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, which is pretty good company for Vonnegut as well as Johnston.
A clever extrapolation of today’s sociopolitical pathologies to the next century, with an uncommonly optimistic dose of medicine in the end.