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The Department of Spirit Research
James Patrick Cobb
Double Dragon Publishing, 216 pages

The Department of Spirit Research
James Patrick Cobb
James Patrick Cobb lives in Tucson, Arizona. He has had many jobs -- correctional registered nurse supervisor, agricultural research assistant, ranch hand, appliance salesman, short order cook, and daily newspaper reporter among them. Currently he works as an RN in a busy emergency room and as an instructor in the U.S. Army Reserve.

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A review by Nathan Brazil

'Nobody understood exactly what happened to a person after they died.
The only thing spirit research scientists were sure of was heaven had to be something mutable.'
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The idea of what lies beyond this earthy existence, be it the after-life or a big nothing, has fascinated humanity since before people developed written language. So it comes as no surprise that the subject continues to inspire both those who embrace spirituality, and those who are miners of the imagination. James Patrick Cobb's work comes across as something in-between theosophical speculation and light science fantasy.

The premise is that a type of computer, called Medium II, allows its operators to literally speak with the dead. The Department of Spirit Research itself is where the action begins, as a young woman named Riley accepts the offer of a job as an operator. On her first day she encounters her dead father, and another mischievous spirit that likes to watch her in the toilet. Advice on how to cope with them, and what to look for among the millions of departed souls, comes from co-worker Addison. Operators are paid by the number of useful contacts they make. A useful contact is loosely defined as a spirit that has information of interest to the foundations. The foundations, (no capitalisation), are not a popular beat combo of the 60s, but rather the movers and shakers of modern America. This, however, is a vastly less influential America, diminished through lack of investment, needless foreign wars and indifference to the wider world. The exact nature of this fall is never explained. All we know is that the foundations dream of information -- deep secrets -- that may bring back the glory days.

What they get are fourteen classifications of departed souls, and a project called Spirit Host, the aim of which is to create clones with artificial ageing and memory implants, to house the willing souls of those in the afterlife who wish to return. Added to the mix are a tedious, less than convincing love match between Riley and Addison, movies starring all-digital casts, and a returned top director who leaves his new body to wander, only to find it hijacked by a psychopathic criminal! Oh, and there's an African dictatorship whose president for life buys a top of the range Spirit Host, intending to live forever within it, only to find he is incapable of assuming control, and is supplanted by a lieutenant he had previously murdered. Confused, you will be. Even Yoda's mind would be boggled. When one of the main protagonists dies, believing it is wrong to bring people back, the surviving partner has a change of mind. It is at this point that James Patrick Cobb drops into religious mumbo-jumbo and treats us to lines such as "God does what he does for a reason."

I had high hopes for this book, but found it to be an amateurish mish-mash of poorly planned and partially executed ideas, all of which lacked focus and clarity. The concept of Medium II, and bringing back departed souls into artificial bodies remains intriguing. But on the evidence of this novel, the author has long way to go before he can deliver the depth, sensitivity and maturity that the subject demands.

Copyright © 2009 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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