Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Collier, 2012 (2008)

Bryan Collier, 2012: A Conspiracy Tale. Matador, 2008. Pp. 243. ISBN 9781906510541. £8.99/$19.95.

Reviewed by Terry Grimwood

Cambridge-based IDSys have won a contract to supply the government with its new RFID implant, the human version of the company’s successful transport tracking device. For CEO Mitch Webb (is the author a fan of a certain comedy duo I wonder?) and his team this is the contract of a lifetime. But things are not as they seem and very quickly the whole project develops a nasty smell. What are the RFID implants really for? Is the major atrocity that takes place just as the RFIDs are ready for utilisation, really the work of terrorists or part of a government-sponsored conspiracy to curtail the freedoms of British citizens?

And in the background, shadowed by a mysterious organisation that consists of the world’s top industrialist, politicians and even royalty, there is yet another, unearthly layer, bent on restoring what was once their role as rulers of the earth. It is down to Mitch and his team to unravel these apocalyptic conspiracies and somehow stop the countdown to disaster, while at the same time keep themselves alive as dark forces close in.

So, an exciting plot and, I have to say, an utterly compelling read. It kept me turning those pages, and prevented me from sleeping at night and from getting out of bed on a couple of the mornings when I should have been up and painting the bathroom. The book builds inexorably and efficiently towards its climax, the characters are well-drawn and convincing and the science seems credible, even more so as the author is an electronics engineer. The cover, designed by Mark Hows, is also suitably menacing.

However, I was not so impressed with the actual writing style. Okay, this is a thriller, it is about ideas, plot and the issues raised (more about which later), so it can sustain a workmanlike style. 2012, however, was stylistically below par in places and really could have done with a ruthless edit. Not in terms of cutting, I hasten to add, because the plot is well honed and sharp and there is little overwriting. Repeated words are an example. These jar and make reading uncomfortable and should have been cleaned out at the editing stage.

The most irritating problem is a structural one. When a character is introduced the author tends to write a potted biography straight away. This is a particular problem at the beginning of the novel, because, halfway through the first paragraph, the narrative suddenly loses pace just at the time when it should grab you, throw you inside the story and tell you to read on. These are the people involved, it should shout, something big is happening, don’t worry about their backgrounds yet, there isn’t time right now, you’ve got to read this, come on, come on, hurry up. Biographies can be provided at a point when you need to catch your breath. Instead, we have this piece of loose, literary carpet over which we trip just as we start to run.

Anyway, back to the positive. The book raises some very important issues about personal freedom, globalisation and just who is in charge. Yes, there are some David Icke-ian elements to the story, which were handled quite cleverly by the way, and with a certain amount of wit, but looking beyond that, we, like the society in the novel, are faced with an increase in surveillance and with the possibility of ID cards. We, like Collier’s fictional citizens, stand on the brink of the whole 666 nightmare which dictates that without that much misunderstood number tattooed on forehead or arm, no one can trade, work or eat. In the story we have a stark choice. You want a bank account, to shop, a job? Then accept your RFID implant or you’ll get none of the above.

The frightening reality raised by this tale is the ease with which freedom can be removed and the ruthlessness with which lives can be sacrificed in the name of expedience and the so-called “good of the many”. It also gives a view into the world of conspiracies and shows us that although we may not believe in the often weird and wacky universe of the conspiracy theorist, there is often no smoke without fire. It reminds us that although disasters and atrocities my not, in real-life, be government-sponsored, political advantage can certainly be extracted from them.

2012: A Conspiracy Tale is a good read. It is compelling, good fun and thought provoking. It is also a first novel and hopefully Collier will iron out those prose ripples in the next one and give us another sharp, intelligent and thought-provoking work.

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