Tell a fib, a whopper, a confabulation in California, and, promises Winters (The Last Policeman, 2013, etc.), you’ll wind up in a heap of trouble.
“Any assault on reality, any infusion of falsehood in the air can’t be countenanced, no matter the source.” Lying weakens trust, which damages society. It also spoils one’s breakfast. Laszlo Ratesic is just tucking into his chicken and waffles as Winters’ yarn opens, but then he, a noted “speculator” in the employ of the Speculative Service, happens to catch the tail end of a prevarication. “Somebody’s telling lies in here,” he pronounces, “and it’s making it hard to eat.” It’s Ratesic’s special skill, shared by only a few, to be able to ferret out lies as they’re being hatched, in this case by a kid who’s been stealing his mom’s pills and takes it on the lam, to Ratesic’s joy, since “it’s the part I like: pure law enforcement, my feet in the boots and the boots on the ground, me breathing heavy and charging after a liar.“ Alas, even in the independent nation called Golden State, there are those who would adorn and adjust the truth, even when it comes close to Ratesic—say, in the matter of the deceased brother for whom he continues to mourn. And are things really all that horrific out in the country that lies beyond the Shangri-La of free California, where the vaunted “Objectively So” may differ in kind and degree? Well, the mind plays tricks, and so does the tongue, and Ratesic finds himself caught up in a web that even he couldn’t foresee. In some details, Winters’ story might have fallen out of a forgotten file drawer at Philip K. Dick’s pad, though Winters takes a less bleak view of humankind than the master of bad-vibes future California; though somewhat less surprisingly inventive than the author’s Underground Airlines (2016), it’s still a skillful and swift-moving concoction.
For those who like their dystopias with a dash of humor. No lie.