Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Suspense (Spencer Nye Trilogy Book 1) by Jason Letts

Rating: 4.7 out of 5

In certain ways, Facebook has become an integral part of my life. I spend way too much time on it, conversing with friends, making connections, sometimes simply passing the time. It’s become a useful tool, but also a slightly frightening one. If you were to think about how connected everyone is through these bits of data flowing invisibly all around us, it would be very easy to come up with a nightmare scenario where we not only use programs like this as a tool, but they become necessary to continue our way of life, a world where without social networking, the whole of society would be lost.

Jason Letts took this scenario, fleshed it out, and in a flash of unique and original storytelling created Suspense, the first book in his Spencer Nye Trilogy. To say I was impressed with what he came up with would be a grand understatement.

Suspense centers around the exploits of the girl for whom the series is named, Spencer Nye herself. She is a gritty character, full of anger and distrust. She is also a diehard, one who will do anything – even kill – to protect and defend the image and life of her Idol.

What is this all about, you ask? Diehards? Idols? Well it seems that in Letts’s brilliant new universe, the general world populace uses a program called Connect – the most powerful social media ever invented, accessed through nodes implanted into peoples’ skulls – to, well, keep themselves connected. They float through life only half-existing in the real world, spending the rest of the time immersed in the data that flashes in front of their eyes, reading up on the latest trends, what their friends are up to, or just perusing. I found it to be a quite disturbing visual the first time I read a scene depicting this, representative of a world where the flesh is at times looked at as a hindrance.

A good chunk of society also uses Connect to keep up with their Idols – basically folks who’ve gained so much popularity, so many followers, that they’ve become, in a certain sense, godlike. All six of the Idols live in a fortress on a hidden tropical island, to keep them safe. And the animosity between the diehards for each of them is frightening. They’re constantly at war, constantly killing each other, with the end game being to elevate their Idol to an even higher level. It’s a scary thought.

The specifics of the society the author created are interesting, even beyond the whole social networking angle. There is no more industry, as anything anyone would ever need is created simply by pressing a button on something called a molecular synthesizer. There is no more crime – other than diehard-on-diehard violence – as why in the world would you have to steal if it everyone had everything they wanted and money no longer existed? And people get around by using terminals that transport them from place to place in the blink of an eye, simply by pushing numbers into a keypad.

In a lot of ways you could look at this and think, that’s not so bad. On the surface, this society is bordering on a utopia, but with the loss of personal freedom that comes with everyone knowing what’s on your mind at all times, and the amount of fanaticism the Idols create, it steers in the opposite direction and becomes pure dystopia. With a lack of purpose, a lack of direction, it leads folks to act irrationally, to search for meaning in a world that, in truth, means absolutely nothing.

The story itself is an adventure, as Spencer and her friends, a cyborg named Jetta and a programmer named Patch, seemingly uncover a plan to take out the Idols – including theirs, the actor Cleary Mintz. This leads to a great many action sequences and a rather ingenious plan, thought up by the three friends, to turn Spencer, herself, into an Idol and fix the situation from the inside.

What follows is a great amount of intrigue and a further exploration into how this whole world started in the first place. There is mystery, paranoia, and a hint that the direction society has taken was orchestrated by something wholly not of this world. And in the middle of all this is Spencer, the unstable teenager whose only desire has ever been for her life to have meaning.

This is a very good book, folks. Suspense is resourceful and technical, a mix of science fiction and dystopian fiction with a truly original premise. Though written for a young adult crowd, it’s definitely been created for an older audience. There are scenes of violence, confusion, and at one point a rather inspired scenario of sexual exploration while not in one’s own body, experiencing the sensations from the opposite viewpoint. The book is obviously not perfect – what book is? – but it’s more than worthy of your time and energy. In fact, I’ll go a step further to say this particular work of fiction may be important, as well. It allows us to look at our own actions, how much time we spend on the internet “connecting” with people while ignoring those who are standing right beside us, and urges us to find balance.

It’s a difficult tightrope to walk, and the author shows us what might happen if we fall off. Brilliant.

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