A time-traveling insurgent makes plans to kill the mother of an authoritarian president in this acid satire of commerce, society, and social media.
Longtime New York City journalist and recent New York State Senate candidate Barkan skewers American society in this mashup that jams a dystopian time-travel story into a 1970s private-eye novel. First, we meet Archie London circa 1979, a prototypical, sullen ex-cop–turned–private dick slumming around the city, fighting crime at night as a masked hero named “Vengeance,” and nursing an aching crush on 20-year-old firebrand Lolita Velez. Meanwhile, in the 21st century, a charismatic president named Octavio Velez has transformed the country into a virtual slave state, where everyone works to boost corporations and brands over people. The key to this repression is a device called “The Gaggle,” a kind of souped-up social media platform that consumes the populace: “The system encouraged ephemeral interaction, thought and language facilitated by technology that could never undo the cancerous status quo because they were, by definition, the status quo, and suicide was so taboo.” In the midst of all this, a multibillionaire named Chase Dimon announces a splashy event to take his son back to the Jurassic Age using his company’s spanking new time machine. But the experiment fails, sending them back to 1979, where Dimon meets a poor end. Following the incident, a fierce dissenter named Sundra Glassgarden plots to use the time machine to travel to 1979 to murder Octavio Velez’s mother and the love of Archie's life, Lolita, before Octavio can be born. Barkan’s punchy prose is terrific, but the novel never really crystallizes, shifting amorphously from superhero satire to gritty urban noir, punctuated by first-person chapters that sometimes disrupt the third-person flow. There's a dash of Bradbury, a healthy helping of Anthony Burgess, a scary reflection of our Orwellian times, and a bit of kink in Devora, Chase Dimon’s strap-on–wielding dominatrix widow.
A funky sci-fi satire with something for everyone, but perhaps not quite what they expected.