Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Prisoner, Carlos J. Cortes

Carlos J. Cortes's The Prisoner has a very dark mood (partly because a lot of it takes places in sewers and other underground places) but has a freedom-oriented atmosphere. The government has exploited the development of a technology that allows suspended animation to convert prisons to cost-effective body warehouses. Some of the highest officials in the prison bureaucracy have taken advantage of the system to get rid of enemies, or to make money hiding people for the world's crime syndicates.

Someone with inside information and an axe to grind with Odelle Marino, the chief bureaucrat, puts together a team and a plan to spirit out one particular prisoner with the best chance of embarassing Ms. Marino. The plan would be appropriate for a Mission Impossible script, and the sewers that the team escapes through would make great cinema. The novel describes the stench and the slime, while a movie would have to leave the odors to our imagination. This would be an improvement, as the book revels in the ick factor. It also portrays the bad guys (particularly Marino) as caricatures, but since they're not the center of the story, this isn't a huge problem.

The good guys come from all levels of society, from a powerful Senator (willing to abuse his power for the right ends) to homeless vets living in abandoned subway tunnels. They know why they fight against the entrenched bureaucracy, but the novel focuses more on the action and intrigue than on the politics. The climax has a bit too much deus ex machina for my tastes--it wouldn't have been too hard to convincingly portray a General who takes the side of the schemers as anti-establishment, or chafing at some of the abuses, but his motivation remains unstated.

The main weakness of the story, from a libertarian viewpoint, is that the characters are only concerned with obvious abuses of power, and not with the inherent abuse that come with vast centralized power. The government in this future has enormous power over network communication, travel, and employment, and the protagonists spend their time trying to reduce corruption and abuses of that power, without more than annoyance directed at the impositions it provides.

Overall, I'd say this was an fun near future adventure story with a weak message against abusive government. The Prisoner was nominated for the Prometheus award, but wasn't selected as a finalist.


tangel476 said...
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tangel476 said...

Centralization of power is a good issue to discuss. It looks like the US is heading that way.