THE PREFERRED OBSERVER by Matthew Bruce  Alexander

THE PREFERRED OBSERVER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An authoritarian Science Bureau dominates future surveillance-state America, where rebels and criminals suspect that the dire threat of an extraterrestrial plague may be a high-level hoax.

This sci-fi novel’s events occur largely in New York City in the post-World War III era (no details are given about the conflict), although there are initial forays into deep space. Orphan Maggie Powers desperately joins a “grave-robbing” expedition of paid miscreants to an orbital mausoleum and is the sole survivor when the spaceship explodes. Miraculously rescued—along with a vial of unknown stuff purloined from a corpse—she subsists in a space-station bar serving miners of the asteroid Ceres. There she meets Anthony Mayes, a kindred outcast with his own secret. In testing revolutionary ship technology, Mayes—eventually betrayed and presumed dead back home—proved Einsteinian physics wrong. Back in New York, the Science Bureau upholds the status quo. Thomas Pauling was a top-level director whose tenure ended when he dangerously questioned Science Bureau dogma. Now disgraced and pacified with pharmaceuticals, he holds a minor visitor-guide position. With routine police brutality and summary executions, freelance “avengers” commit reprisals against officers with blood on their hands. Richard Hilinski, aka Frank (a tribute to Marvel Comics’ Punisher), is one especially resourceful mercenary, and his mission intersects with Maggie, Mayes, Pauling, and others caught up in the same web of deceit. Overshadowing everything is the dread of “The Rouge,” supposedly flulike alien microbes contracted by Mars colonists. An incurable, deadly threat after accidentally being introduced to Earth, The Rouge has been a societal game-changer, limiting space travel, creating quarantine zones, and clamping down the heavy hand of government, law enforcement, and the Science Bureau. But what if The Rouge is an exaggeration—a powerful tool of the elites?

As with much of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid sci-fi tales, the lengthy narrative seems to offer a vast conspiracy with no cohesive structure—even its minions are ignorant of its goals. Alexander (Withur We, 2010) comes from a background of Libertarian-leaning sci-fi writing and commentary. He sends a cast of interlinked protagonists with more subplots and shifting loyalties than an Alexandre Dumas serial scrambling through the Manhattan sprawl (an unedifying Orwellian dystopia of high-rises and flophouses, with no particular flavor). They careen off one another in fairly suspenseful stuff—with incidents sometimes doubling back and rerunning from varying points of view. While characterizations lean on the thin side, the author resists making them mouthpieces for soapboxing extensively on abuses of authority by political and scientific interests, preferring to show readers rather than lecture them. The participant most baldly advancing the themes is actually a robot called Sara, a revolutionary police android created without preconceptions or programmed bias. Instead of being an obedient enforcer, impartial Sara logically rejects The Rouge—deeming it a sham—along with the moral superiority of the bully cops themselves. She determines herself to be an individual and more or less formulates the Golden Rule. The ending offers a reasonable explanation of events, but not even key characters quite believe it.

An intriguing, paranoia-laced futuristic thriller with crisply described action; heavily plotted yet maddeningly vague on the fine details.

Pub Date: May 29th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-5333-4554-7
Page count: 574pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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