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Friday, October 21, 2011

The Revisionists, by Thomas Mullen (hardcover, $25.99)

This is an odd mixture of sinister world politics, sci-fi, and people grappling with their own personal tragedies. The personal tragedies impinge upon, however unlikely, world politics. The mixture was intriguing. But then Thomas Mullen, author of The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, is an intriguing writer.

Also, anyone who can write, "spooged through the clump that had agglutinated around the spout," also wins my vote for the Gotta-Read-More-of-This award.

The time is now. Zed, aka Troy Jones, claims to be from the future, an agent sent back in time to ensure that the "hags," provocateurs from his time, don't tamper with events in the past. "The integrity of history must be preserved," is the mantra of his department. He is here to prevent interference with the forces that produce an apocalyptic world catastrophe. That's right. He's a government agent sent here to PREVENT anyone from stopping the catastrophe.

Leo Hastings is a former CIA-agent who is now working for a private information-gathering enterprise. He accidentally meets an Indonesian woman, Sari, who is working for a South Korean diplomat. His prior assignment was in Jakarta, so he understands Sari's language and culture. He discovers that through her he might learn some high-level nasty stuff about the South Koreans that will reinstate him in the graces of the Big Boys.

Tasha Wilson is a corporate attorney who is beginning to sour on her duties. She's also trying to unravel the truth behind the death of her brother, a soldier stationed in the Middle East. She is caught between governmental forces when she uncovers a moral atrocity committed by one of her firm's clients. She eventually meets the other main characters, and it is the story behind the confluence of their tribulations that is both odd and wonderful.

The main thoughts that this thoughtful book brings out are: Do the ends justify the means? How does one do "The Right Thing"? And, as Tasha wonders, "Where was the gray area between ignorance and obsession?" 

Zed tells us his cover identity is that of a real "contemp," Troy Jones, a man whose life closely approximates Zed's. Both have lost a wife and child. Both have something to hide and discover. Tasha and Leo also understand loss. The three of them stumble across each other's paths and wind up questioning  the underlying "truth" of their assignments and lives. Leo's mysterious client, Tasha's mysterious friend T.J., Zed's ambiguous future agency swirl the moral dilemma into a froth. 

Zed has been winking in and out of so many different times that he says, "Now. I barely know what the word means anymore." However, he remains the ultimate loyal, disciplined machine, killing hags to save the "perfect" time. Even though Leo has been cut loose by the Agency, he feels loyalty to his country. He asks of the people who would question it, "Didn't they realize how much better this was than any other country, any other system, any other way of life?" Tasha's two acts of rebellion are to leak to a newspaper that one of her firm's clients potentially sacrificed soldiers' lives to save some money and to question the military's explanation of her brother's death.

Although a lot of the book sounds like a spy story, with battling agencies and underground insurrectionists, it's ultimately a philosophical and political challenge to the reader. How much governmental bending of the rules in the name of (what may be a false) freedom are we willing to allow? How much is too much until we can't turn away any longer? Are we, the people, in charge of our government and our own destinies in name only? If we are paranoid, could there be a good reason for it?

Most people in Mullen's world are apathetic or ignorant at best. The governments in his world might be amoral, weak, and selfish, but we don't know whether they are or not for quite a while as we wait for his protagonists to sort out their lives and finally expose the answer.

The movie, "The Adjustment Bureau," and Orwell's 1984 are distant cousins of this book. There is a moral to this tale, and there is hope, as well.

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