Author: Sven Michael Davison

Publisher: Bedouin Press

ISBN: 978-0-9666149-2-3

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With State of Mind, Mr. Davison has written a bloody and mind-blowing tour de force, both literally and figuratively. It is both entertaining and thought-provoking but definitely not for the faint of heart. What happens when future bioengineering technologies permit doctors to embed a chip in the head that can help the average joe control his cravings and better his life while at the same time create a more efficient and programmable soldier to fight terrorism? The author supplies one answer.

The story itself is simple: It is 2030. Jake the cop rejoins the LAPD force as he and two others receive the P-chip and form an elite unit on loan to the Director of Homeland Security. (For some reason Davison uses the acronym HLS for the Department of Homeland Security. The official website uses the more conventional DHS—D for Department, as in D for Department in DOE, A for agency in CIA, B for Bureau in FBI, etc.) The Director has a vision of a two-class society—the P-chipped average joes and the elite who control them. He collaborates with a senator who just wants to make America great again (by P-chipping all those Chinese capitalists?). Jake fights the P-chip and these two villains. Does he win or lose?

I call this a “one gimmick” sci-fi story. Everything revolves around the P-chip. This type of story is as old as Jules Verne and his Nautilus and H. G. Wells and his time machine. While there are Hollywoodsy embellishments like maglevs, strange drugs, and nasty weapons, the usula accoutrements of many sci-fi novels, the focus is on the chip. This is 20th century writing. If the author wants to focus on the technology, it would be more interesting to know how the connections are made between the P-chip and Jake’s brain, that is, 21st century bioengineering. However, I would focus on the human aspect and leave the technology more subservient to the story. This seems to be a failure of what a lot of people call cyperpunk.

To be fair to William Gibson, his classic Neuromancer, the supposed origin of cyberpunk, didn’t neglect the human aspect. Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and other Gibson portrayals of dystopia are more into the psychological than the technological. He probes the human condition while Davison nearly avoids it (Jake’s love for his dog is one redeeming element). Neuromancer won the trinity of sci-fi writing, the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Phillip K. Dick awards, for this reason. Mr. Davison’s story, while exciting and entertaining, might not even be called sci-fi in today’s marketplace.

Indeed, while others might place this novel in the sci-fi subgenre of cyberpunk, its themes are not uncommon to many thrillers. When the protagonist is off-line, is he any different than Jason Bourne (I’m referring to Ludlum’s first novel in the Bourne series or the movie loosely based on it)? Mind control has been a part of thrillers for a long time. Ludlum’s posthumous The Ambler Warning is even a better example than the Bourne series. Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate is yet another example.

Cyberpunk isn’t really a subgenre, in fact. Control of human beings, via brainwashing, drugs or chips, forms one of the cadre of tools that a writer possesses in describing a dystopian future for humanity. A story like Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a fine example of taking this to the extreme—Dick’s hero really doesn’t know if he’s an android or not (I may be confused by my memory of the screen version, Blade Runner, undoubtedly the best sci-fi movie ever made). Moreover, as I stated, so-called cyberpunk often wallows in the technology and the violence, avoiding the psychological and human issues—there is much of that in Davison’s book.

Much hoopla exists about the coming singularity, where machines achieve sentience and either humans are at war with intelligent machines (think of the Terminator series or Greg Benford’s classic series) or they meld with computers to become man-machine hybrids (think of Fred Pohl’s classic series). The movie Robocop was a pedestrian version of the latter—Davison’s story is a little more sophisticated, but not much. As conceived by Vernor Vinge and others, the singularity is a Kuhnsian paradigm shift that will eventually take place in our culture. Davison portrays it as both inevitable and nefarious. The jury is still out.

State of Mind suffers from editorial errors and stylistic errors. I realize the former might be fixed in the final version (I read an advance uncorrected galley). The latter were just annoying. One example: the Spanish Dios De Los Muertos should be Dia de los Muertos, I believe (I’m not really into religious holidays in either Spanish or English, but I do frequent Mexican restaurants and throw down margaritas). Another: the repetition in the phrase “wee small hours.” Except for sounding like the annoying pig in the Geico commercial or a word I never heard from a French girl in my youth, wee just means small and is characteristic of people waxing Celtic. More perplexing were the wee-rd metaphors. What does the following mean? “The narrator’s voice bubbled like melted chocolate over wet strawberries.” I can only imagine a fondue disaster or someone allergic to both chocolate and strawberries.

There is a heavy use of flashback that prevents the story from moving forward, something not healthy in a thriller or suspense novel. In spite of the flashbacks, though, it took 300 pages to find out the real reason why Jake was fired by the LAPD. A version of Deus ex machina also appears when the LAPD chief trots out the Order of Erasmus. The 16th century humanist Erasmus managed to upset both Catholic and Protestant theologians, so the name for the secret anti-P-chip club that saves Jake, while interesting, might is probably not appropriate—the book is not a theological opus.

However, all these items and others not noted start making very little difference as we gallop towards the finale of this novel. I suspect that the reader will have fun in spite of the flaws. If you’re not on the edge of your recliner by the time you reach the scene in the parking garage, I’ll conclude that you either have the P-chip and you’re off-line or you’re like the BBC’s Doc Martin and squeamish about blood. I can testify from personal experience that it is far better for an author to stop polishing a novel and go on to the next. I hope Mr. Davison does exactly this. The reading public will be richly rewarded.

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