by M. M. Buckner
Ace, 2004, ISBN 0-441-01188-8
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
It's the 23rd century, and the world is a wasteland caused by pollution and global warming. Exposure to the unfiltered air or water leads rapidly to cancer or other nasty conditions. Giant corporations, now known as Coms, dominate the world, and their privileged executive class as well as many of their protected employees, or "protes", live in domed cities. The Coms are in a more or less constant struggle with the Orgs, especially the biggest, baddest Org of them all, the WTO. (It's worth mentioning that a significant, and possibly dominant, part of the WTO are its AIs.) The Coms are not the good guys.
This doesn't seem like a promising set-up, and I have many complaints about the details. Despite that, I found myself enjoyng the book.
Dominic Jedes has wealth and position beyond the dreams of avarice. He's the (cloned) son of the president of ZahlenBank, one of the most powerful of the Coms. If he's lately been having some disagreements with his father, finding some of his decisions affecting protes to be a little too ruthlessly pragmatic, he nevertheless believes in the system and loves his father. His father's approaching death is an added source of tension between them, as the elder Jedes has chosen to forego what aggressive medical care could do for him, in favor of creating a neural profile that will live on in the computer network after his physical death.
On what proves to be the last day of his father's physical life, Dominic unwisely makes a joke in a board meeting about dealing with the problem of an unprofitable mining sub that ZahlenBank got in a foreclosure by freeing the protes and giving them the sub. This unfortunately strikes his father and the board as a wonderfully clever idea--no costs for continuing to support these now-useless workers! Then Dear Old Dad promptly dies, the freed protes start broadcasting to the world for more discontented protes to join them, and ZahlenBank is suddenly in deep, deep trouble. The WTO steps in with an offer to arrange negotiations, if Dominic will meet with the protes alone, accompanied only by a WTO agent. He reluctantly agrees, and unhappily finds that he is accompanied also by the hated neural profile of his dead father. (The NP insists it's the real thing; Dominic does not agree. Dominic also believes it lacks the humanity and honor his father had; I think the evidence is that he had an overly-rosy view of his father.) In short order, Dominic is getting a very exciting look at how the other 90% lives.
As I said, I have a lot of specific complaints. The background feels as if it was insufficiently thought out. Europe seems to be about all that sort of survived the collapse. If the ice caps completely melted, why didn't all that cold, fresh water running into the Atlantic do bad things to the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift? If Europe is the last economy standing, why is the basic currency the deutchdollar rather than the euro? And if giant multinational corporations are the bad guys, how can the WTO be the good guys? And Dominic seems quite improbaby naïve. What Dominic isn't, though, is either stupid, or improbably virtuous. He's a basically likable guy who's a product of his society and upbringing. He has believably human and reactions to the individuals he meets, for both good and ill, and alters his assumptions about how the world really works only with a plausible amount of resistance and mental pain. All in all, this is an enjoyable light read.