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Echelon
Josh Conviser
Del Rey, 289 pages

Echelon
Josh Conviser
Josh Conviser grew up in Aspen, Colorado, went to high school in Santa Barbara, California and graduated from Princeton University in 1996. He has lived in Europe, Asia and Australia. An avid mountaineer, he climbed in ranges around the world, including the Himalayas, before giving up the mountains for the jungles of Hollywood where he pursued a career in screenwriting. He is the Executive Consultant on HBO's series, Rome, and has a film in development at Fox. Echelon is his first novel. He lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Barbara.

Josh Conviser Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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"Ryan released his final breath. The sun bit into him. Had the past weeks -- hell, the past years -- been worth it? Worth anything? He closed his eyes against the glare, then made a final choice. He opened wide and stared into the sun.

He died disappointed."

As followers of conspiracy theory will know, Echelon is purported to be the eyes and ears of global Big Brother; an advanced communications and surveillance monitoring system at the murkier end of the NSA. Legend has it that Echelon is privy to everything sent over the telephone lines or airwaves, and its banks of computers work ceaselessly to isolate anything of interest to the spooks. In the near future Echelon has shed its ties with the United States intelligence community, and evolved into a world-shaping force which acts to enforce its masters' idea of a utopian society. There is no war, no terrorism, and no dissent. Nevertheless, something has gone badly wrong and Echelon is on the brink of failure. The story kicks into gear when a veteran operative Ryan Laing is almost killed on a mission and returned to life via nanotech, better than he was, as a kind of updated Six Million Dollar Man. Including a neural link with his programmer, a Scottish neo-punk named Sarah Peters, the newly refurbished Laing has orders to locate a double agent, and finds himself in the middle of what the author calls a dark conspiracy to overthrow Echelon and plunge the world into a new age of violent chaos. Laing finds out that his boss, Christopher Turing, is on a mission of his own to locate a key that gives a single individual control over the entire Echelon network. In a world where information is literally power and Echelon is the ultimate control over that information, the key represents global domination. It's a comic book plot, but it promises to be exciting.

Josh Conviser is a well-educated, ex-mountaineer turned screenwriter, who clearly admires cyberpunk. This, his first foray into SF literature, evokes the wet dreams of the Bush regime, and the curtailment of freedoms that we're seeing today. As a proposal, the book no doubt sounded very cutting edge. But in its execution something is missing. The author writes like he expects readers to fill in the gaps, perhaps as they would do from references available if this were a movie or TV show. The basis of the characters are interesting and have much potential, but the staccato leaps of logic and lack of characterisation or exposition at critical junctures leave a jumbled impression. So much of the story deals with what's going on inside the world of Echelon, or on the bionic Bond style missions, that little room is left to see what the world is like for everyman. Similarly, the raft of gadgetry ideas become mired in cliché, and despite Conviser's page turning style this inevitably produces a credibility gap. Like the afore-mentioned Six Million Dollar Man, Ryan Laing comes across as having so many advantages that he is never in serious danger of defeat. The story works best when it's engaged in cinematic extravagance, where things rattle and hum in a nicely sub-Matrix style, as Laing and Peters persuade other Echelon operatives to join their quest to find a hacker hideaway named Elysium. The overtones of Orwell's 1984 are deliberately underplayed, conveying the feel of Echelon as the manipulative power behind faceless and relentless authority. However, the question of whether security is more valuable than freedom is sidestepped in favour of information age action. When it works, it's good fun, when it doesn't the author drops into witty conversation mode that grates as often as it entertains. What we're left with at the end is a mystery, tilting toward the sequel.

Does the good outweigh the bad? On balance, I'd have to say yes, but it's a close call.

Copyright © 2007 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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