Swannson’s (Crash Gordon and the Revelations from Big Sur, 2014, etc.) latest sci-fi takes place in a familiar near future in which conspiracy theories are “conspiracy facts.”
Sabina Hrafnsson is a 39-year-old “iAesthetician,” essentially a digital PR and image-control guru. As an iAesthetician, she works to repair the public opinions about rich and powerful men whose proclivities have come to light in information made available in post–National Security Agency–leak America. The power of the iAesthetician is such that, through clever branding, one iAesthetician managed to rebound Anthony Weiner’s political career, landing him the role of New York City mayor. Sabina’s chance at professional repute comes when a strange new client offers her a cryptic proposal backed by an anonymous millionaire. As it turns out, she’s granted an opportunity to contribute to a small morally motivated campaign to expose the “conspiracy facts” and ultimately set in motion a movement to correct pervasive government corruption. The story is set in New York with real-life staples like Beauty Bar and frequent celebrity name-dropping, making it somewhat difficult to decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction, which enhances the eeriness of the sci-fi plot. The narrative describes Sabina in a male-gaze kind of way: “Scandinavian genes had blessed her with a heart-shaped face, well-defined cheekbones, a perfect Barbie nose, and a thick mane of toffee-blonde hair that she usually kept in a silky side-braid resting on her left breast, where she tended to flick at it whenever she felt angry or tense.” Still, with her frequent casual references to David Lynch and Nick Cave, Sabina is apparently more than “a high-strung slut wearing see-through yoga pants from Lululemon,” as one friend tells her. Though the storyline cleverly builds on very real concerns about NSA spying and shockingly corrupt politicians, its cheesy action scenes, tawdry sexual references, and one-note characters diminish the impact of what could be a riveting tale.
Hits close to home but misses.