Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Review: Equal

The genre known as dystopia--negative utopia--consists of a story where some awful part of human behavior has taken hold as the ruling philosophy of society, or when some good part of our natures has been taken to some awful extreme. Such is the case of Equal, a book brought to my attention by its author, W. J. Costello.


The high concept of this novel is one where a future America has become much poorer, grubbier, and unhappier because society is now ruled by the notion of radical equality. In this dystopian future, people are regulated in their careers--five years per career, with everyone doing the same tasks in the same age range, up through age 50. Those individuals with gifts aesthetic, physical, or mental are kept in place by ear-mounted machines called Equalizers, which operate on the brain or the body to keep people from exceeding their peers.

In the midst of this dynamic, we have a sheriff who is put in charge of chasing a "runner," someone who's trying to escape from the society. Instead of catching this runner, a woman, he falls in love with her and thus has to do some thinking and make some choices about the society he lives in. The sheriff (I'm sorry, I can't recall the title now) has a nemesis, a fellow sheriff who's an utter sadist who somehow hasn't been apprehended himself.

There are a lot of elements here that could be the basis for a cracking good yarn: you've got the love interest, you've got a chase, you've got a dystopian society that gives the author an opportunity to comment on society today and where certain behaviors could lead. But, but, but. I had a difficult time with this book. I commend the author for completing a full, novel-length story and for making a more action-oriented version of Ayn Rand's Anthem. However, this work would have benefitted from some judicious editing on multiple levels, especially in the narrative style.

Leaving new-author mistakes aside, my biggest challenge I had with the world the author posits was the discrepancy between the level of technology the people use on a daily basis--blacksmiths and fireplaces and swords--and the level of sophistication needed to produce the "Equalizer," which can do anything from dumbing down the intelligent to making the attractive less appealing. Someone has to ensure that those tools work and keep working, which implies a high level of education that the society's organization would prevent.

If the author decided to write a sequel (full disclosure: W. J. Costello sent me a free electronic copy of the book), I would recommend that more attention be given to filling in some of the blanks on how such a society is formed, what the landscape and technologies look like, and how people interact. There are undoubtedly excesses to be founded in our current society, just as there are in the author's dystopia. The trick, as always, is conveying the true impacts of those excesses on societies and individual souls.

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