Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.
Author: Nan Becklean
Author: Nan Becklean
This short novel (or long novella?) is an extrapolation to what might result if medical science progresses to the point where people live longer and longer. In 2056 the Forty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed creating the Homeland Equitable Alliance for a Victimless Economy and Nation, or H.E.A.V.E.N. This official program is Social Security on steroids, offering a luxurious end to life for those people who agree to an assigned date of death.
It is now 2073 on an idyllic island off the Georgia coast, an island that is part of the government’s official euthanasia program. Sarah’s day of reckoning is coming soon in August. Lionel, an ex-Senator, falls for her and agrees to help her escape from the appointment with the grim reaper. A murder, partially observed by Sarah, is a major distraction. Suspects in the murder have their own romantic interests and also contribute to solving the murder. Ben, the robot shaped like an alligator, tries to understand all this strange human behavior and discovers himself in the process.
Ms. Becklean has produced an amusing tale that has comedic elements ranging from Moliere to Wilde and Shakespeare to Hiassen. As a mongrel looks at you with intelligent but mournful eyes while happily wagging its tail, the mix here is a little too cutesy and leaves me somewhat dissatisfied. From the title to the ending, the work is contrived, yet entertaining.
The author’s premise is an old one in sci-fi going at least as far back as Huxley without having the desperation and futility present in Brave New World and Ape and Essence. But it is first and foremost a tongue-in-cheek critique of the superficiality of society. “…the lyrics of all popular carols, anthems and marches had been changed to fit the no-differences agenda of the nation,” the author writes. “God bless America. Land that I love, for example, was now Goods bless America. Things that I love….” Will this be where our insistence on political correctness ends up?
One of the ironies is that Ben, the robot, has more profound thoughts than most of the humans. About the murdered woman Tessa, he ruminates, “Where did the Tessa part of her go? The motor? He needed to know more or his dissertation [about humans] would be nothing but a list of questions like: What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be sick? What does it feel like to die? What’s the point of everything?” Through Sarah, the author answers Ben’s questions, to the extent that they can be answered by the living.
H.E.A.V.E.N. is a sci-fi work so one naturally asks whether the extrapolation of present day science and technology to 2073 is reasonable. The answer is a qualified yes. It is a little hard to imagine that robotics or AI have developed so much in sixty-three years that Ben is worried about the above questions, for example, but Sarah and Lionel’s plane accident, which occurs because a hurricane turns inland, should not happen in 2073. We do a good job of predicting hurricane paths right now. Other than these observations, I would say that Ms. Becklean does quite well, precisely because she doesn’t focus on the science and technology but on the people.
While this novel can be many things to many people, it is not a thrilling page-turner. It is mostly a quiet chuckle about the human condition. Take it for at least that and you will not be disappointed.