In an overregulated, stratified future, an idealistic lawyer gets caught up in power schemes between unscrupulous politicians and a crime kingpin manipulating a dysfunctional government.
This Libertarian-tilted, cautionary thriller takes place in a nanny-state West Coast, specifically the metropolis of Bakerton, perched somewhere on the San Andreas fault. After internecine wars and uprisings, society is now rigidly controlled—all in the name of “fairness”—with genetic/psych testing predetermining one’s role in life. Elite but busy classes of “Workers” and “Entrepreneurs” have careers, pay all taxes, and generally make things run while the lumpen majority are largely idle, sports- and media-hypnotized "Privileged Citizens,” not required to work and coddlingly given what they need to get by. A Privileged Citizen can hold a job, but too much ambition or defiance is punishable by law—sometimes brutally. Thus, Privileged Citizens form a borderline-thug class prone to lawlessness. When Bakerton erects a Wall to prevent Privileged Citizens from raiding Worker neighborhoods, Amobo, a military man–turned–crime boss, foments rebellion (in a secret alliance with politicians) to increase his power. A wild card: crusading attorney Nathan Englander, who routinely handles Privileged Citizen complaints and foils a few of Amobo’s acts of terror on camera, paving the way for a political career, his own possible manipulation, and a violent finale. With solid pacing, characterizations, and pathologies, O’Neill’s (Slugger, 2017, etc.) novel largely eschews the hectoring AM radio talk show tone of much politically oriented, speculative fiction from the conservative side. Comparisons to Brave New World (complete with a popular somalike pacification drug) would not be far off the mark, which is high praise. Still, there’s a third-act suggested remedial reading list of Thomas Paine, de Tocqueville, Hamilton, etc. (the Adam Smith–derived title is a point not even a Privileged Citizen could miss), and a cavalry of armed militiamen to the rescue. The Wall element, a tool of repression disguised as a solution, is well-timed for the era of the Donald Trump presidency.
Dystopian political sci-fi with a disturbingly persuasive edge.