Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Book Review: 'Democracy Inc' by Joseph John

Nebraska born author Joseph John’s biographical information as described by the author adds immeasurably to the full appreciation of this his second novel (his debut novel THE EIGHTH DAY is already a classic). He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, where he began writing poetry and short stories and poetry. ‘In 1998, I graduated from West Point and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Army Aviation. I attended flight school in Alabama, where I learned to wear cool shades and a leather jacket, and something about helicopters. In 2013, I hung up my cool shades and leather jacket and donned a pocket protector and masking-tape-repaired glasses, transitioning from Army Aviation to Operations Research and Systems Analysis. I'd spent the last fifteen years refining my skills and building a solid foundation of knowledge, so I figured what better time than the twilight of my career to throw all that out the window and start from scratch in an entirely new field. Now I'm serving a hardship tour of duty in Italy.’ Joseph is an Army officer and combat veteran with over 19 years of active duty service as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot and operations analyst. DEMOCRACY INC is a dystopian science fiction novel set in a startling and disturbing future that seems all to possible. Joseph lives in Vicenza, Italy with his wife, who is a graphic artist.

Joseph opens his novel with a map of the US as drawn in the year 2764 complete with locations of The Apex Corporation (robotics, AI, infrastructure, transportation), Avalon Entertainment (the source of entertainment of the times), Bitchip (banking) General Fusion (energy), Madison York (retail), Nanosoft (computers, nontechnology), Roman Biogenics (medical, pharmaceutical, cloning, genetic augmentation) and Synthcorp (food and beverages) - and even more creative, the changes in the coastline, mountains and desert in 2764. All pertinent information for the pleasure of this novel.

The tone of the novel is well set in the opening paragraphs – ‘The young woman closes her eyes and hopes that when she opens them her sanity will remain intact, then logs in to the virtual realityscape of the Orbis. When she connects, the tiny hotel room is gone. She now lies on a small bed covered with a plush comforter decorated with floral patterns and stares at a soft pink ceiling. A dresser and a bureau stand against opposite walls. White carpet covers the floor. She sits up and swings her legs over the side of the bed. The skin of her aristicon is etched with a tribal pattern of nanotattoos that matches her violet hair, which hangs to the small of her back. She wears mirrored shades and a long coat that shimmers and shifts from black to the darkest of reds, greens, and blues, and back to black again. A pair of knee-high boots creak as she stands and walks to the room’s only window. She opens the window and dives gracefully out. It’s a three-story fall to the ground below. But she doesn’t fall. She glides through the air, soaring higher and higher through a twist and tangle of roadways and buildings that rise into the digital sky. Countless aristicons surround her. Millions of users connected to the Orbis, from the lowliest of primes to the wealthiest of the ultraclass. They twine along at ground level or soar past her in flight, on their way to or from their virtual destinations in search of commerce, education, entertainment, and sin. Whatever the heart desires— whatever the obsession— it can be found here. But the Orbis is really only about one thing. Control.’

Joseph condenses the copious material of the plot in his synopsis – ‘America as we know it is no more. Free enterprise has devolved into a world ruled by megacorporations. The ultra-rich govern from their towers in the sky while the lower class toil in the gutters just to survive. The corporate states work together to maximize profits and keep the masses placated through the Orbis, a virtual realityscape of online entertainment and the only escape from the bleak reality of existence. Titus Remington is the son of the CEO of Roman Biogenics, but when his father is convicted of treason, a reluctant Titus finds the mantle of leadership thrust into his hands and must prepare himself to govern his corporate state. However, in his quest to uncover the truth that his father sacrificed everything for, he stumbles upon a dark conspiracy of epic proportions. Now Titus must make a choice: take the throne and wear the crown or risk the wrath of the council to fulfill his father’s legacy and set things right. But this isn’t the land of the free and the home of the brave. This is a world without justice or hope, a world steeped in corruption and sin, where morality comes in shades of black and gray. This is Democracy Inc, where a life well led means nothing when pitted against profit margins and the bottom line, and with the odds stacked against him, Titus may very well lose everything . . .’

Likely the finest distillation of the dystopian future which feels credible given the state of our present world/country. Beautifully written with insights that feel on target, this is a book that is not only vastly entertaining: this is also a book that becomes a wakeup call for each of us. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, December 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.