Bad choices

 

Review of Nanotech Deliverance by Evan D. Hirson

 

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I use to work next door to a neuroscience lab (I was doing infectious disease research). The scientists in that lab studied the cognition of reality by placing nanofibers into individual neurons in the brain. Using this system, which was apparently quite comfortable once you got use to it, the researchers could predict what a subject was going to see (in terms of the perceived object’s spatial relation to the subject) before the subject had physically responded to stimuli. In short, your brain already knew what you were going to see before you looked at it. What surprised me most about this research was how cavalier all these young scientists were about the results.  I am not a neuroscientist, so I didn’t try to refute their findings, but this brought up all kinds of questions for me about choice and the nature of reality.  If my neurons are conspiring to create a perception of reality before light even hit my retinas than how can I make true choices?   

 

Nanotechnology and choice are two of the topics I had to wrestle with when reading Evan D. Hirson’s science fiction novel Nanotech Deliverance (published in 2016, available through Amazon). Hirson’s work is an account of a few months in the life of a young man named Russell. Russell is living in a near future time in which people still have motorcycles, snow still falls in New York and the headlines are still dominated by the acts of war and terrorism.  But according to Russell it is not all bad though because there are jetpacks.  One day Russell comes home to find his best friend, a maternal middle-aged neighbor, being interrogated by a couple of government types in black suits.  In short order Russell learns that the black suits are part of an international organization aimed at stamping out a covert alien invasion (I am giving little away here. This is revealed in the first 10% of the book). The extraterrestrials outwardly appear human and indeed his middle-aged neighbor/best friend is on of those aliens. But unlike the malign otherworlders that are seeking to enslave humanity, Russell’s neighbor is a good egg.  After a couple of violent encounters with ‘gang members’ Russ and his friend prove their worth and join forces with the anti-alien task force.  Russ’s admission to the multinational men-in-black task force is a fortuitous turn for humanity, because it turns out that Russ has a special quality that makes him the key to defeating the alien menace. What is Russ’s special quality? He has a deep well of inner rage that when properly channeled and augment makes him almost invincible.

 

As I read the book though I wasn’t sold on Russell’s emotional depth or his inner struggles with anger and control.  Part of the reason for this lack of connection is that Hirson makes a lot of risky choices in his style of writing. Most of the book is written in a tight third person in which the setting is described in line with Russell’s own opinions and thoughts. For example, one of those initial black suits is a woman of Japanese descent who is one “of the most beautiful Orientals he’d ever seen” and is later described in the narration as the “Japanese bombshell” or a “contemporary female samurai”.   However, there are events and exchanges when Russell will suddenly leave the page and we are suddenly in a limbo of perspective. This makes the voice of the novel unclear. Another risk that Hirson takes is to name characters and refer to recollections that are never explored.  Russell thinks to himself that he should contact Josh, the only friend from his youth, but Josh is never mentioned again.  The tattooed ‘gang member’ Sean passes by on a motorcycle but is never mentioned again.  The setting is also introduced slowly and clumsily. It is not until I was half way through the book that I realized most of it was happening in Western Australia.

 

Then there are the tangents. There is a silly chapter in which Russ battles ‘terrorists’ that has nothing to do with the larger plot.  Characters, such as Nathan, are mentioned by name and given actions without any previous introduction.  Hirson’s writing choices are also challenging; paragraphs often have no clear subject and he is willing to risk a sentence fragment or two. Yet the writing style has a kinetic energy that helped me push past the tangents, and the rapid changes in perspective.  While the prose isn’t art, it is enthusiastic and that enthusiasm comes through the text.

 

But Nanotech Deliverance is science fiction.  As Kurt Vonnegut told us, a science fiction fan will forgive a lot of poor prose if the ideas explored in the text are strong and engaging. Nanotech Deliverance does have a lot of interesting and compelling science fiction concepts. Unfortunately, Hirson wastes every concept introduced in the novel so that he can focus on the Mary Sue character that is Russell. For example, the aliens have a  device called the pyschotramua machine. This device is making humans more violent and is the cause for the increasing violence in the world.  There are a lot of things that could be explored with narrative construct like this.  Are the ‘terrorists’ and ‘gang members’ still morally responsible for their actions?  Are the main character’s being altered by this device? Can you have any trust in others or yourself when this device exists? These questions are not explored. By the end of the book the device is irrelevant to the plot. 

 

There is also the titular nanotechnology. These microscopic pieces of alien hardware are injected into our heroes and the devices give them super strength, longer life and super intelligence.  This is another interesting narrative device that could be used to explore self and choice or at least there could be some ambiguity as to whether the nanobots are even a force for good. But Hirson doesn’t spend any time on any of these questions.  All the nanobots do is make the good guys super strong, with Russell being the strongest one.

 

There is also a ‘second brain’ that the aliens have in which they retain racial memories.  Another fantastic concept wasted by Hirson.  How does having racial memories change your sense of self?  Not really explored, the racial memories are just an excuse for information dumps. 

 

Okay so Nanotech Deliverance is not well written and it is not a thinking person’s science fiction story. Is it a fun adventure story? There is a global conspiracy trying to take over the world and Hirson could have used this plot to write a jet setting spy novel. He didn’t. There is a trip to New York and one to Eastern Australia, but those are trips in name only. Most of the novel takes place in the HQ, a dormitory like building where all the characters live, work, and eat together in a cafeteria.

 

The most surprising part of Hirson’s novel was what he chose to focus on instead of science fiction or suspense. The major theme of the novel is rationalization and vindication, specifically rationalization and vindication of Russell’s actions and behavior. Through out the novel the characters will revisit Russell’s actions, and explain those actions until it is clear that he made the best decision possible and anybody who doubted his wisdom or ability was mistaken.  Even during the climatic battle one of the minor characters takes the Doubting Thomas character aside and explains how everything Russell is doing is right and justified. One could assume that Hirson doesn’t trust his readers to reach the “correct” conclusion about his character. But I don’t think that is it. I think this pattern of misinterpretation, underestimation and misjudgment of character is what Hirson wants to explore with his writing. As the novel progresses, the character of Mayu (the female agent of Japanese descent) starts to act solely as a source of these misjudgments regarding Russell, and other character’s have to explain to her that he isn’t sexist, reckless, or dangerous. All of Mayu’s Cassandra-esque predictions turn out to be false and the conclusion of the novel is Mayu realizing Russell’s true merit.     

 

The problem with the ending is that we never see Russell’s true merit.  Hirson is in too much of a hurry to get his character into the action and we don’t learn what Russell is like before his world gets turned upside down.  Almost everything we learn about Russell is told to us and not shown.  Character growth should be about choices, but I not sure Hirson believes in choice.  In Russell’s world there is one right answer and thus one right choice. However, because of the sloppy prose, the undeveloped ideas and the book’s obsession with analyzing itself, I am afraid that reading Nanotech Deliverance was the wrong choice.