Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
Characters: Class Action begins like a courtroom drama, albeit one set about 20 years in the future. Our introduction to this future is from the perspective of a junior associate, Alek, in the Warsaw, Poland office of international law firm MGB.
Through Alek’s eyes, we meet a host of high-powered attorneys and support staff — all of them difficult and volatile — which to me, made them believable. They are also colorful and in some cases flamboyant — like Alek’s boss a few steps up, Managing Partner Lucian Lis who is a “drunk, womaniser, drug user and the boss.”
Later on, there are terrorists, a likeable French scientist who is primarily responsible for the new technology which is central to the story, Alek’s parents and his spouse, and more. Most get at least some description.
Plot: A new technology, Complete Cerebrum Imaging, is an electronic personality scanner that can allegedly lay bare every nook and cranny of the human persona — perhaps even of the soul. The technology proves disruptive to global society, and is at the center of a high-profile lawsuit dumped into the lap of our protagonist Alek.
It’s a lawsuit Alek must win, or MGB will close the Warsaw office throwing Alek and hundreds of others out of work. That turns out to be only the tip of what’s at stake, as Alek learns during his journey through the action of the novel.
Setting: The action takes place about 20 years from now, in metropolitan Warsaw, Poland. Alek also undertakes a rescue mission to Paris. Much of the action takes place in boardrooms and courtrooms. During courtroom testimony we also get a vivid tour through the mind of a murderer, courtesy of a CCI scan. Alas, we don’t get much about either of the famed, historic cities. The action could just as easily have taken place in any two major cities.
What I thought could have been done better: In the Paris sequence, Chris mentions some real locations:
Alek’s slate tracked one street battle as it moved south out of St. Germain and into Montparnasse, but in the last few minutes it appeared to have stabilised. A news feed from on the spot showed many bodies and burning buildings along the Rue d’Alembert.
The place-names themselves are evocative, but without description somewhere, the settings become generic. Especially with the unusual Warsaw location, I think Chris missed an opportunity to show off what I’m sure is a beautiful, historic city as a dramatic counterpoint to the social unrest evoked by futuristic technology.
I thought the courtroom drama scenes in the novel’s first quarter could have been handled better, too. Here we have a high-profile, high-stakes case — but the litigation itself consists of one technical expert from each side going on the stand. There wasn’t really even much courtroom sparring — it was mostly the CCI inventor explaining his invention to the three judges, for the benefit of us readers, ala the tired literary device of “the scientist’s dumb daughter.”
The basis of the lawsuit is that the makers of a cheap slasher film are allegedly responsible for causing one of the film’s viewers to kill a young girl. Alek must prove, via CCI scan, that the murderer, already behind bars, was allegedly fatally influenced by the film. Alek has the inventor of Complete Cerebrum Imaging on the stand to explain it to the judges — which explanation seems to comprise the whole case.
I wondered — where is the supporting testimony? The psychologists and psychiatrists? the other arguments and witnesses buttressing the case? It seemed to me that Chris was so busy trying to explain the technology, he lost out on some of the potential for courtroom drama — and possibly a little added realism.
As a teacher and practitioner of journalism, I’ve always known that the more sources a story has, the greater, usually, its credibility. I would think the same holds true for a court case. Maybe not — no lawyer me.
What I thought was good: I really enjoyed all the legal stuff — which may be why I was a bit disappointed with the court proceedings. Chris obviously knows the legal world, and if not an attorney himself, at least seems familiar with legal personalities.
The book is also rich in societal issues including invasion of privacy and the effect of new technologies on unprepared societies.
There’s plenty of well-written action too. About halfway through, the book shifts gears from boardrooms and courtrooms to the thrills denoted on the book’s cover, as Alek tries to escape down the stairwell from a collapsing skyscraper. Note the vivid verbs and active voice.
Above him an evil blackness descended with unremitting, irresistible power. As it closed the gap the distant steel handrails buckled over and twisted, as if performing some kind of dance, before disappearing in the black dust which hurtled down headlong towards him. He could barely hear for the deafening noise the blood made in his ears, but he thought the air carried the shrieks of truncated screams.
One of the real stars of the book, though, is the Complete Cerebrum Imaging scan technology. Chris lovingly details what it is, how it works, and makes it by-god real. And I don’t want one! In his near-future, also, tablets like the ipad seem to have morphed into super, all-purpose pocket devices for communicating, paying restaurant tabs, getting you through airport security, keeping up on the news and much more. Plus the “slate” collapses to the size of a pen.
I DO want one of those!
Interestingly, this marvelous device is on the edge of obsolescence as well, with implants that do all the same things threatening to replace the slates. Tech is the soul of science fiction — Chris handles it convincingly.
My favorite aspect of the book, however, is Alek’s growth from company underling to his own master. The best characters learn and grow and are better — or at least different — at the end than they were at the beginning. To get Alek there, Chris does what an author must — he puts Alek through the wringer.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? Class Action delivers everything promised by the cover and a lot more besides. Characters are interesting, sympathetic, and well-drawn. Action is fast-paced, even gripping. The “science” of science fiction is there in spades. Could use a little more work in setting, character and courtroom, but overall, Class Action is a class act, imho — a solid, satisfying read that leaves you with some things to ponder. Good job Chris!
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Happy literary trails!