I’m on a reading break from the SPSFC while I wait for the next round of semi-finalists to be announced, and this novella fell into my lap while I was scrolling the SPSFC promo Discord. As such it is sort of an SPSFC review but it’s not a competing book and not really connected to the contest except insofar as the author is a contestant. I’m just keeping my fingers nimble. Anyway for a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
So over Christmas I checked out Obey Defy, a novella by Craig Lea Gordon.
Anyone who thinks Ben Elton was a little too optimistic about sheep mentality in Blind Faith, the police weren’t quite omnipotent in Minority Report or <insert probably-misinterpreted commentary about 1984 here>, by all means take a look at this story. It’s a good quick read, the action clips along nicely, and while I have my doubts about how we get there from here, it’s certainly got a warning for us about the perils of conformity.
I was intrigued at first glimpse of the cover, which is really excellent work and deserves separate and distinct kudos.
The story follows T7, a cog in the wheel (or some more high tech metaphor that I lack the savvy to come up with, probably) of an authoritarian technocracy built on adherence to the zeitgeist, a baseline of normalcy from which deviation may only occur to a certain rigidly-controlled degree before … ooh, all sorts of awful shit happens to you. T7 is an enforcer for the zeitgeist and the archetypical figure at its mysterious head.
What does this mean?
Basically, it means fit in, don’t do anything unusual, and keep your thoughts to yourself. Because surveillance technology has become internalised, and anyone (and everyone) could be a spy. Or an enforcer, thanks to consciousness-transference.
From the intriguing (but perhaps a little more hook-needing) opening, the reader is thrown head-first into an uncomfortable and often downright creepy world of thought-policing, behaviour-monitoring, body-snatching neofascism. Think “Demolition Man but with a whole lot more inhibition and blandness on the surface, and a way nastier means of dealing with the underground folks.”
“Be a zero.”
There were some occasional changes in tense and a bit of clumsiness and typos in the writing (“He peeked rounded the corner,” stuff like that) that made a jarring and unsettling setting and plot a little more difficult to follow, but they were by no means deal-breakers. All in all I found it to be solidly written and well edited, and hey – stuff slips through sometimes. Harek seemed to manifest out of nowhere as a character, like was it his voice all along or did he cut in? It felt like I’d missed a bit of exposition but the introduction was fine and maybe the point was that it be abrupt and off-putting.
I liked the speech patterns and pared-down language of the sheeple, it made the switches between ideological “worlds” really interesting and cast the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the ruling class into fascinating relief. And there were enough twists and turns, right to the very end of the story, to keep me guessing and flipping pages with great interest. Nicely done all round.
Our bad guy is sleazy and has a fingers-in-mouth fetish, not to mention the whole “wearing people like sets of clothes and using them as sex surrogates” thing that is all very upsetting. Beyond that, I’m not getting much turgidity or moisture from the sex-o-meter. Two fingers, two knuckles deep out of a possible toothless throat-fisting.
There’s a bit of nasty stuff here, aside from the above-mentioned implications and potential of the surveillance and control technology. Citizens used as puppets in all kinds of situations, a lot of killing and maiming and psychological / neurological damage, and oh yeah, just to lay on the “Roman Empire in collapse” themes nice and thick, there are crucifixions as well. Three-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
There’s a whole lot of good WTFey stuff in this book, not just limited to the horrible tech. How did we get to this world from the present day? How long did it take? The ruins of the old world can be found in a Futurama-esque subterranean area that suggests either a long-arse time or a whole lot of geological upheaval – probably both. T7 doesn’t even know what a car is, which says intriguing things about human beings as story-sharing animals and the immediacy of knowledge loss given certain stimuli. The whole world seems like an impossible one to uphold, and unthinkable that we might ever arrive there … but maybe Obey Defy is a revolutionary and visionary look at a creepy future that people will gleefully misquote in a hundred years’ time when we’re all wearing sashes of different shades of blue. As such, the WTF-o-meter is giving it a Blind Faith out of a possible 1984, which translates to 1700 kiloWTFs per cubic metre of printed book matter, which translates to seventeen finger lickin’ goods out of a possible Enzo. The WTF-o-meter doesn’t usually go down the conversion rabbit hole, so that’s encouraging!
My Final Verdict
Obey Defy arrives in February 2022 and is well worth checking out (give it a pre-order!) if you like your surveillance-state dystopia and your body horror a little on the techno side. I’d want to go with three to three-and-a-half stars for this since it may still need some editing work or a bit more drafting, but I’m not going to tank it on Amazon and Goodreads because it doesn’t deserve that. So, four stars with the understanding that it’s three-and-a-half stars in a four star rating’s hijacked body. Thanks for the fun read!