3.5 Stars - Strongly Recommended for readers familiar with genre
Housewives paid to watch television ads? Weather forecasts that differ from house to house? Electricity that is generated by negative human emotions? Wearing special masks when you go outside to block the Citizen Surveillance team's ability to "watch" you? This is the world into which author Shya Scanlon thrusts his readers when they crack the cover of his novel Forecast.
Released nearly a month ago by FlatManCrooked, Forecast is an "actionable narrative" set in 2212, written by Lead Citizen Surveillant Maxwell Point, who is currently serving a 6 month probation after his Watchjob mysteriously disappears.
Ok, in plain terms - This is a futurist novel about a woman named Helen who, unbeknownst to her, has been the target of a surveillance organization, and her sudden disappearance after leaving her cheating husband in search of her old boyfriend.
Our narrator, Maxwell, has been observing Helen's every move for the past few years. Floating between chapters, we slowly come to understand why. In a world that is no longer running on electricity, everyone has learned the essential process of Emotion Transfer (aka Buzz). Buzz, the transferal of negative human emotions to inanimate objects, fuels everything from batteries and lamps to blenders and cars. Helen, it appears, has the unique inability to create Buzz - she cannot generate her own electricity - and when she was younger had taught her old boyfriend how to withhold his own.
Currently married to a famous weatherman who is cheating on her with her best friend Joan, Helen finally decides to pick up and leave, kidnapping Joan's dog Rocket, and heads back to her old town in search of her ex-boyfriend. On the way, the focus of the novel shifts from whacky futuristic technology to a dirty underworld of voyeurism and REMO-addicts, as Maxwell watches Helen meet up with a shady actor by the name of Busy, where she hides out in an underworld amusement park, and ultimately vanishes.
While not an easy book to categorize, fans of futuristic, 'big brother', science fiction novels will find lots to love with this one! With twists and turns around every corner, this novel will keep lovers of detective noir guessing right up until the end.
It was interesting to watch Maxwell battle his unhealthy voyeuristic obsession with Helen. He struggled to keep himself emotionally removed from his subject yet continued to find himself feeling a strong attachment to her that mirrored a fatherly sense of responsibility for what happened, or may happen, to her.
As with any novel that deals with one form of surveillance or another (Orwell's 1984 comes immediately to mind) every author must ask himself "how much is too much" when divulging just what is being observed. Shya takes the high road and sticks only to the information that is needed to tell his story. I won't lie... I was waiting for the novel to share a little nose or wedgie picking here and there. You know, those things that people do when they think they are alone and no one can see them. Come on, you guys... you know what I'm talking about. Hell, I've seen some of you doing it... But I digress. The question is simply, what portions of the surveillance should be kept in, and what should be cut out? What makes it just realistic enough, and at what point does it become too much? And is it possible to not put in enough?
This also calls into question the morals and ethics of the "Citizen Surveillant" (or C.S.). I can only imagine how God-like Maxwell must have felt, sitting there observing every single thing Helen was doing, from heating up her morning cup of coffee to taking a shower to clipping her toenails. Did he ever give her some privacy? Does looking away even count as privacy, when you can choose to observe someone at any moment? Towards the end of the novel Maxwell found himself in a position, after years of being the one who "watched', to being on the other end of the camera, or whatever it was that they were able to observe through. So how do things change when one goes from watcher to watched? How does knowing that you are being watched change the way you behave? What does it feel like to be under the microscope like that? And can you ever go back to watching someone again, after knowing what it felt like to be watched?
This novel (which shares moments of similarity to The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey's character unknowingly lives his entire life in a reality television show) contains people who live their lives somewhat aware that "someone" - as in the big eye in sky - is watching, but never quite knowing if they are the "target" of a specific C.S. They think that the AS-Mask is protecting them, when in reality they are not. Does Helen ever find out that she was targeted by Maxwell's group? Would she have lived a different life, had she known?
Sound like something you might be interested in reading? If you are still on the fence, check out the book trailer:
Also check out Shya reading some of the poems from his book In This Alone Impulse on his goodreads page!!