“You see, this is why I need to tell my own story…I’m not going to make sense to you. Not at first.”
These words are uttered by Vincent Chell–sometimes known as V.– as he is being mysteriously held by unidentified captors over unknown reasons. It’s the late Twenty-second century and the world has an unsteady relationship with technology. Beyond the day-to-day of robots and other machines, there is The Peacemaker–a very powerful computer that has been operational for half a century, whose job it is is to keep peace between nations. The Dicksian nightmare of it all, however, is a human being is required to be attached to the Peacemaker, a human being that is replaced every seven years. The reasoning being that the computer needs to have a connection to humanity and its memory. But like any good speculative fiction, nothing is perfect and could it be that the authority is lying to us?
I rarely get a chance to review genre fiction and I was completely pulled into Welles’ novel for the entire read. Vincent is a man held captive over something the reader doesn’t know till the bitter end. At first, his story seems to be concentrated on that of his late wife but then he finally concedes to his captors and agrees to tell his tale from the beginning. His wife, Yael, an experiential historian, whose field of study requires her to study the entire life and beyond of her subject, contacts a living relative of his. This relative ends up being the Preacher, a second generation Incarnationist, who despises the Peacemaker. Vincent and Yael attend the Preacher’s church out of curiosity but soon find themselves swept up in his underground cult-like sect that seems bent on ridding the world of the Peacemaker.
I’m hesitant to write more about the plot and would just simply recommend to you to read the book. The construct that Welles has setup with Vincent speaking one-sidely during a series of “sessions” is simple in its execution but lends the perfect means for telling his tale. The narration is able to ground itself when it could have had the possibility of being a tangled mess. Also, with his first person narration and revelation of a subplot concerning pharmaceuticals that aid in forgetting, Vincent is the type of narrator that I have professed love for in the past–the Unreliable. He is the only word we have on all of these events, yet, I can’t help on occasion to second guess him. Vincent even goes so far to tell his captors “I’m not certain that anything I’ve told you so far is true.”
Solomon the Peacemaker is captivating. It has an intense ability to keep you glued to every page and, as someone who can normally piece together some part of a mystery, I was kept surprised even till the very last paragraph. Welles’ strength lies with detail and fluidity. However, a chunk midway through where the scope of events became wide and global felt muddled and lost. When Yael is avidly watching a mass event on television, I felt overwhelmed by the terminology and hazy to the reality I had been so easily able to keep track of outside of this moment. Unlike other science fiction novels that also rely heavily on tech speak, as a layman, I felt right at home in this off-beat future. With the exception of the aforementioned chunk, most moments felt intimate and this is where Welles as a story teller lets his imagination shine and his language absorb the reader in this frightening future.
Mark your calendars for the January 2014 release of Solomon the Peacemaker. I know I reviewed this one a bit early, but I’m a sucker for cults (I love them like you wouldn’t know). I wish I could provide more info about this debut novelist but all I can offer is what is on the press release. This book is the first release by a new indie publisher out of Minnesota called Cowcatcher Press. Although my galley was digital, according to their website they plan to have their hardcopies handmade and inspired by the novels, which I’m looking forward to seeing. I love this small trend of making high quality handmade books.