Friday, March 7, 2014

The Future Is Now

by Daniel Suarez

4 out of 5 cloned henchmen enjoyed this book.

A-HA! Now I know why we don’t have flying cars!

Jon Grady is a brilliant but unconventional physicist who has just made a breakthrough involving the manipulation of gravity that puts him in the same league as Newton and Einstein.  Before he can share his discovery with the world, Grady and his work is snatched up by the Bureau of Technology Control.  As they explain it to Grady, the BTC was started by the US government after the moon landings to regulate the influence of technology on the public.

It turns out that stuff like fusion reactors and a cure for cancer were created decades ago, but the BTC deemed them too disruptive to society so they’ve kept the knowledge to themselves.  Now they’ve decided that Grady’s gravity invention has to be kept under wraps, but they want him to come work for them and figure out new applications that they can use.

Grady doesn’t believe that keeping scientific knowledge locked away from the public is right and refuses to cooperate.  Unfortunately for him, the BTC has a secret prison and decades worth of futuristic tech and research to help persuade him to their way of thinking.  Even if Grady manages to somehow escape, how can he possibly hope to stop a powerful shadowy organization that is so much more advanced than the rest of the world?

Daniel Suarez thinks big, and it shows in this one.  The concept of a secret group hoarding technology was an intriguing one, and then Suarez uses the concept to introduce a starship’s worth of gadgets and futuristic ideas.  Even though this is a sci-fi conspiracy thriller, the theme about controlling information makes it thought provoking beyond the gee-whiz tech.  Plus, there is plenty of action that will make for mind blowing visuals if this ever gets adapted into a movie.  Someone get Christopher Nolan on the phone!

Grady’s plight also makes him a very sympathetic character and gives you plenty of reasons to root for him to get revenge on the BTC.  I don’t want to give away too much, but what he endures in the prison is one of the most terrifying and horrific depictions of all the ways a human being can suffer that I’ve ever read.  Suarez never lets it seem exploitive or devolve into torture porn though.

While there’s a lot to love here, I did find a few things lacking. The book opens with a long discussion about Grady’s gravity breakthrough and while interesting, it’s a little slow for the opening of a thriller. Suarez writes plainly, and all the characters and their motivations are laid out like engineering schematics.  The dialogue can sometime seem straight out of a comic from the 1950s. “I won’t let your evil plan succeed!”

Also, the BTC is quickly established as the villain here, and I found it a little strange that Grady instantly dismisses their claims that unregulated tech could be extremely disruptive to society.  Grady so completely believes that all information should be shared that he’s willing to suffer immensely for it, yet he never once thinks about what something like a fusion reactor would do to the world’s economy or how some of this stuff could be weaponized in the wrong hands.  There’s an interesting ethical argument to be had about where we should draw the line on sharing science, but Suarez bypasses it completely to make Grady the uncompromising hero and the BTC the completely wrong bad guys.

These are minor complaints about a story I enjoyed great deal.  If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller with some big sci-fi ideas, then pick up Influx before someone decides it’s too much information to share and locks it away.

Also posted on Goodreads.

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