In this sci-fi novel, a government bureaucrat learns the strange truth of his parents’ deaths.
The year is 2041, and Jack Tone works for the Federal Security Agency in Manhattan. He’s an exemplary employee, writing detailed assessments on citizens, legal residents, and noncitizens of the United States. He’s miserable, however; one day after work, he nearly walks in front of a delivery truck. When Peter Andronicus, an accountant, saves him, they agree to have some drinks. Jack lies about his sensitive job, telling his new friend that he’s a U.S. Customs inspector. In turn, he suspects that Andronicus is also lying about his profession. Two weeks later, Jack runs into him at Penn Station, and they head to The Cock and Bull for more libations. This time, Andronicus lays some strange cards on the table—including his knowledge that Jack wanted to be an archaeologist in high school. He then reveals Jack’s true position within the “Corporate-Government alliance” and asserts that “America must be re-founded anew, this time on the pure ideals of liberty and life.” He invites Jack to a meeting, in Pennsylvania, of the Friendly Neighborhood Political Discussion Group, aka Faction 9. The bureaucrat is reluctant to attend, but Andronicus says, “I have information about the circumstances of your parents’ deaths.” Jack eventually learns that 17 years ago, his geologist parents discovered a secret so unsettling that its revelation would have reshaped the fabric of human society. Ultimately, Jack must decide if he’s willing to use his FSA position to help these revolutionaries.
For his debut, author Firelocke marries modern politics and the outré to hypnotic effect. In the novel’s opening salvo, he parodies America’s current obsession with surveillance and data collection—and the notion that it can only intensify. Among Andronicus’ Faction 9 colleagues is the chilly, ruthless Karin Polyvox. After she saves Jack from a genetically bastardized human called a Plutocroid, the narrative starts careening across bracingly weird landscapes. Fans of classic authors like Wells and Lovecraft will revel in Firelocke’s tight fusion of strange ideas, including divergent races of humanoid earthlings and giant insects frozen in time. Though his core subject matter is that of a citizenry perpetually distracted by pharmaceuticals and entertainment, Firelocke maintains a tongue-in-cheek atmosphere, like when two recent presidents are referred to as “the Idiot Ape of Texas” and “the Tower Ape.” He saves his darkest critiques for today’s incarceration industry. Prisoners of the Freedom Fortress have an arm amputated upon entrance to reinforce cooperation and eat a nonfood called Ploop. Events remain tense and fascinating as Faction 9’s violent goal—revolving around the megarich Gregory Randolph Reid—crashes against some unexpected emotional subversion. The author also wedges Jack between Polyvox’s fantastic origin and Andronicus’ grounded focus on the mission, which makes for a dreamy kind of madness that sweeps audiences along. There’s plenty of room for pop-culture references, too, including nods to the film Blade Runner.
This sci-fi debut thrums with creative juice.