Pros: Interesting milieu and plot
Cons: Navel-gazing and info dumps
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Luke E. T. Hindmarsh’s Mercury’s Son depicts a totalitarian, dystopian future Earth (not too unusual these days). In this case, wars between the Earth and Lunar colonies resulted ultimately in the destruction of Earth’s environment. The remaining humans live primarily in Enclosures, but those suffer from severe overcrowding. People’s place in life depends on their place in the sort-of caste system. There’s some confusion, I found, in the caste system. The Temple wields a great deal of power using a religion that posits that humans are a sort of virus responsible for harming the Mother (Earth). Many of the laws and punishments seem to be wrapped up in that (setting a fire, for example, can get you recycled). Yet scientists are among the elite, despite the fact that the Temple views science very negatively as having gotten us to this state. (Many parts of the world are seriously uninhabitable due to radiation or still-active aggressive nanytes.)
Valko is what’s called a Moderator–a law enforcement officer who acts without emotion and who uses a device (together with an empathy-enhancing drug) to allow him to read the last thoughts of the dead. He investigates the death of a scientist whose brain was partially destroyed, making it impossible for him to read much of her memories and leading to his receiving a strange neural shock. After that, he finds his emotionless demeanor slipping as he slowly begins to feel empathy at times when he isn’t using the drug and the device. The murder yields few clues, and soon he finds another body–a very famous scientist has been killed using the same manner of death. Once again, trails dry up quickly. Satoshi, Valko’s Sergeant, an augmented war vet who has no memories of most of his life, and who is entirely loyal to Val, tries to help him sort out the quickly deepening intrigue. Meanwhile, Valko’s kensakan (lower-level law enforcement officers) are mired in a mix of sloth and corruption.
The middle of the book gets mired in navel-gazing on Valko’s part as his mental abilities grow and his consciousness expands. It also gets bogged down by huge historical info-dumps that delve into minutiae of the war, some weird scientific research, and so forth. The beginning held me with its structure wrapped around an interesting murder plot, but the middle got very abstract and strange. While (in general) it’s good that some of the info-dumps come out in dialogue, Hindmarsh’s dialogue isn’t as good as his narrative, so some of it felt awkward and weird. I’ve never said this before that I can remember, but I actually feel that this book would have benefited from more flashbacks, as long as those flashbacks had clear purpose and were used to tighten up the prose.
The totalitarian regime didn’t entirely hold up for me. It’s gotten to a point where people have beacons implanted in them and can be tracked at any time, yet it’s hugely easy for the main characters to slip in and out of all sorts of places without raising alarms. Frankly I feel as though it’s already easier today for many of the things they did to be tracked and figured out. Perhaps it would have been better to make the government a little less one-sidedly harsh and evil, both to keep things fresh and to allow better reasons for why things might get overlooked.
In general I enjoy this book, but make sure you aren’t looking for a fast-paced novel. Things become very intellectual in places and there are some cracks here and there.
NOTE: Free book provided by author for review