Well, Amazon hasn’t been letting my reviews through in a while, so I’m forced to post here.
DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What is Sci-Fi?
Sci-Fi usually projects a future that humanity will find itself within, where the rules have changed and the ethics and morality of the past — i.e. TODAY — are put to the question.
Ender’s Game dealt with the moral question, not yet posed by reality, of “What should humanity do when we encounter an alien race that seems hostile?” Further books in the series broadened this to, “What about if we meet a new, benign race of primitive technology?” and “What are humanity and sentience?”
Asimov’s I, Robot dealt with the future of robotics that he saw swiftly approaching and how humanity would have to deal with it. Among the questions he posed are, “Does artificial life deserve the rights of all life?” and “Do we have the right to remove from our creations the same free will that God has given to us, his own creations?”
And so we come to the Beam.
The Beam deals with a futuristic America in which our two current political parties are extrapolated to their extremes. There are only the two parties: Enterprise and Directorate.
Members of Enterprise enjoy the ultimate in free-market capitalism, free from regulation or restraint, but have no safety net. If they fail, they starve. If they succeed, they become the richest people on the planet.
Members of Directorate have their every basic need tended to by the government. They will never starve, never die of illness, and only have to work if they want to (as most menial tasks are automated in this future world of the late twenty-first century). Their trade off comes from the fact that they cannot rise above their position: they receive their dole and must accept it, because they may receive no other income directly. All in Directorate are equal.
In Enterprise, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In Directorate, all are equal in their mediocrity.
Political affiliation is a choice, and binds one to the party he or she has chosen. But every six years comes Shift, where a member of society may (if they wish) change from one party to the other.
The balance of the parties’ power can change dramatically during Shift. Senate seats are determined by how many citizens belong to each party. Hence, both parties work hard to ensure as many people choose to join or remain with their party as possible.
In the midst of this — only hinted at in this, the first episode — a new technology is emerging that could change the balance of power, and perhaps the very bedrock of society, forever. Its source is uncertain, and only one of The Beam’s main characters knows about it: Doc, a grey-market nano enhancement vendor who caters to clients with a flair for the unusual in their bionic enhancements.
Aside from Doc, an impressive cast of characters populates this book, ranging across the entire spectrum of society, from ultra-rich Enterprise agents, party-ruling Directorate members, vapid artists, high-class escorts and members of the mysterious, only-hinted-at Organa (who I suspect will have a LARGE role to play as the series unfolds).
The question posed by The Beam is: Who would you be? What would you choose? Would you rather be cared for by a government, entrusting them with all responsibility for your life, and thereby ensuring safety for yourself and those dearest to you, your family and friends? Or are you a risk-taker? Would you rather cast yourself recklessly into the jaws of society and battle your way to the top in a winner-takes-all gamble?
I know my choice. Do you?
I will be reading every installment of this series the moment it comes out. I have already highly recommended it to others. I will continue to do so.
It is the best science fiction I have read in a long, long time. Not since I was a teenager reading Ender’s Game have I felt this involved in a series.