“System: With His Face in the Sun” by Jon A. Davidson (CreateSpace, 2015)

System: With His Face in the Sun
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The key to good science fiction is that it doesn’t just have to be set in the future with some cool tech and characters questioning the status quo, it also has to be believable. Jon A. Davidson’s debut novel, System: With His Face in the Sun, the first in a planned trilogy, does exactly this: taking our current tech and knowledge and pushing it further into the future in a logical way that makes everything totally believable and seemingly inevitable.

We are at a point in the future where the world has changed. The System now controls everything; think of it as a sentient Internet that tells you what to do. Almost everyone on the planet is connected to the System through their CommCuffs, and the System lets you know how to get anywhere, what you should be doing to make yourself feel better, and whether your marriage is worth it. The seas rose, and things went to hell, so the System was developed to fix things, which it did, shrinking the population through some secret, not so liked means, and making the world a much better place to live. Now everyone lives their lives guided by the System, and, while it’s not illegal to disagree with what the System tells you, you might disappear from society if you disagree too much, because the System is never wrong.

Wallace Blair thinks everything is going just right in his life. He has a wonderful wife he loves very much, a job he really enjoys that makes him be creative and somewhat individual, a unique facet in the world of the System, as well as two kids and a lovely home. And then one day the System lets him know through his CommCuff that he and his wife are in Transition, meaning their marriage is about to end. Wallace doesn’t accept this, knowing he’s perfectly happy in his marriage, but the System is never wrong. His wife fully believes their marriage is over once she gets the same announcement on her CommCuff, and this begins a long and interesting journey for Wallace. He confronts Arthur, his father, who is a highly-ranked worker in the System, about why this is all happening to him.

The trail leads him to discovering his grandfather, Edward, apparently isn’t in a care home with dementia, but living hidden away in an abandoned town in Spain, completely disconnected from the System. When Wallace eventually finds his grandfather, he learns a lot about why the man chose to keep his life secret, and upon returning to London, everything changes for him, as the System comes for him.

For a self-published work, System is a surprisingly well-edited and copy-edited work of fiction. While there is a couple of typos and the occasional grammatical error, the flow and voice feel like something published by a big publishing house. The science is interesting and believable, and the book never really slows down, as the reader is hooked in wondering where it will go next. The reasoning and reveal at the heart of System is just as entertaining and enthralling as any other work of good dystopian science fiction. It can best be described as The Matrix meets 1984.

First published in the San Francisco Book Review.

Originally written on June 20, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“The Traveler” by John Twelve Hawks (Doubleday, 2005)

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This book actually generated quite a bit of buzz before it was released last June and I had it recommended to me by a few people saying that it was in the vein of Stephen King, and since I’m a fan I would probably enjoy this. I managed to get an ARC through the bookstore I used to work at and then it sat on my shelf for about six months until I picked it up and decided to start reading it last week. I finished it about four days later after pretty much eating it up. I would describe it as akin to a Michael Crichton techno-thriller with some plenty of sci-fi mixed in. After getting about a hundred pages into it I was even wondering if Crichton much just be working on this same book currently because of its similarities with his story lines, the main difference being that this was a little slower and the characters had more depth to them. After finishing this book I realized that this has certain elements that Crichton would never put in his books, making this an enjoyable original piece of fiction. If the Matrix trilogy had originally been made into a book trilogy and done by a good writer, it would’ve been something like The Traveler.

The book is set near to the present day or perhaps twenty or thirty years into the future. The world is pretty much like it is now, except for being a little more high-tech and with better gadgets. There is a group of people known as Travelers who have the unique ability of being able to leave their bodies and travel to other worlds or realms. They have existed for many thousands of years, Jesus and Mohammed are thought to have been Travelers. There is a group of people known as the Tabula whose job it is to eradicate these Travelers by whatever means necessary. They have also been in existence for a long time. Then there is a group called the Harlequins whose job it is to protect the Travelers in every way possible; again they have been around for a very long time.

In the present it is thought that no Travelers are in existence anymore, having been wiped out by the Tabula, while the Harlequins have been reduced to very small numbers. Our main character is the daughter of a Harlequin whose father is soon killed in the book and while she had renounced her duty as a Harlequin, due to the small number of these people still alive, she has been summoned to become a Harlequin once more, because two offspring of a Traveler have been found alive in California. The Traveler’s gift is usually passed down through genes, though this is not certain. It is her job to find those two brothers and keep them safe. The Tabula also know of the existence of these two brothers, but their modus operandi has changed dramatically. They no longer wish to kill the Travelers, but to harness their powers. The reason being that using past Travelers they have been in contact with another race living in one of the other realms that the Travelers go to, and this race is vastly superior and more intelligent and has been sending them new inventions and technology such as creating quantum computers that can measure how Travelers pass into these other realms, as well as being able to send additional matter into these realms. So they want to use the Travelers as guinea pigs to work with this new race.

This the setting of the book with a lot more details than I have given and features great chase scenes and amazing fights. The Harlequins are taught from when they are children how to fight with different weapons. At the same time the Tabula basically have the Internet, all technology, the government, police, etc. under their control. So their world has its similarities to that of The Matrix, as well as to Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Gibson’s Neuromancer; and I also saw a lot of Blade Runner in the book too. With the world in its current state, it’s not surprising that a book like this has been written. The good thing is that apart from being a really great read, it is the first book in a trilogy and hopefully unlike the Matrix trilogy, it will not doom itself to an ugly death before one is half way through the second book.

Interestingly, the author John Twelve Hawks is very much a recluse who apparently has never met with his agent, has been working on the book for a long time, and has never owned nor has he ever watched any TV. So there are some thought-provoking possibilities to keep in mind, along with some strange websites that have been created for the book, though it almost seems as if some of them were created before the book came out, which is just plain weird.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 11th, 2005 ©Alex C. Telander.