THE PYSTEAD SINGULARITY by James  Pryor

THE PYSTEAD SINGULARITY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A man gets a job at one of the few places free of the United Nations’ totalitarian rule in Pryor’s debut, dystopian sci-fi novel.

When a university in Compton, California, dissolves its entire philosophy department, Dr. Philip Russell and his colleagues find themselves unemployed. Philip luckily has another job lined up, thanks to his previous experience as a cognitive scientist. It’s a temporary, nine-month gig at the Pystead Group, a farming- and hospital-industry holding company on the Caribbean island of Nevis. While driving cross-country to a Georgia airport, where he plans to leave the country, Philip witnesses the dismal state of America in the year 2042. Small businesses have all but disappeared. Cops in Wheaton, Georgia, detain Philip for seemingly trivial security issues, including his current lack of employment and permanent residence. Things improve after Philip reaches Nevis, although he’s initially wary, as he knows relatively little about the company that hired him. He meets and is quickly charmed by Ice (short for both her legal name, Janice, and one she’s considering adopting, Alice); she’s a painter who occasionally does work for Pystead. As it happens, the company’s culture is akin to an egalitarian society, offering more privacy than Philip’s experienced the United States, where online surveillance is the norm. However, Pystead is also under constant threat of industrial and political espionage, primarily from the U.N., which publicly announces its plan to investigate the company. For whatever reason, the U.N. is aiming to take control of Nevis, but it won’t get it without a fight from Pystead.

Pryor’s near future world unfolds organically through Philip’s eyes. The protagonist has led a sheltered life and, like readers, experiences the true horrors of dystopian America for the first time. Despite the novel’s length, there’s minimal action; for the most part, this befits the protagonist, whose internal monologue mostly consists of philosophical meanderings. These are sometimes purely conceptual: “If innate morality lies beyond our reach in non-discursiveness, then we cannot completely know ourselves or others.” But in other instances, there’s a more colorful, visual component: “Who are we in the vastness of this cosmos of countless suns? Must our atoms have been forged in the same fire to have a common physicality, to exist as entangled human beings?” As a result, the plot progresses slowly, and it’s outright stagnant during Philip’s Pystead orientations, which should have been condensed. The action eventually picks up as the U.N. becomes a more pronounced adversary, sporting nuclear weapons. In the same vein, Philip’s deepening feelings for Ice give him extra incentive to protect Nevis from potential assailants, including pirates. Pryor incorporates technology well throughout: Philip wears a smartphonelike “kom” on his wrist that may be compromised, which leads Pystead to suspect that he’s a spy. At times, the tech descriptions are odd—for instance, a bug on one particular device is designed to “send coded ‘here I am’ signals and video”—but they’re never bewildering.

A leisurely paced but diverting story, with hints of a possible sequel to follow.

Page count: 486pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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