Audiobook Title: Authority
Author: A.K. Meek
Publication Date: October 29, 2019
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
In 2035, aliens invade Earth’s solar system and destroyed city after city with its deadly energy beams. The world tried in a desperate, last-ditch effort to destroy the invaders and succeeded but at a high cost. A decimated Earth did its best to recover in the aftermath. With limited resources and a population reduced by half, how will humanity rebuild?
Professor Thomas Hanston, a scientist, comes up with the idea of taking unwanted human fetuses and enslaving them with his invention called the chemi-chip. By doing so, he creates a slave race called neons meant to be docile and follow instructions. With this new labor force, humanity ekes out an existence and civilization attempts to recover.
In 2060, Colin Hanston, son of Thomas, and his wife Spring adopt a neon for the first time for help on their farm. Thomas is morally opposed to the idea but reluctantly agrees with his wife to get one, whose name is Michael. But when Colin discovers the history of his father’s neon program and Colin’s secret connection to it, he embarks on a dangerous journey with his allies to destroy it once and for all!
Professor Ives, director of the Workman Program which makes neons, which Thomas created at the Next New Hoover University, is working with the Authority government against such a movement and is trying to destroy this abolitionist movement. But Colin is determined and is working to free neons from their enslavement and that means bringing down Ives.
But doing so puts his life and those he cares about on the line. Up against a society that needs neons to rebuild, he faces the incredible odds of Ives and his forces as he also confronts his family legacy. Will he achieve his goals or will he lose his life in the process?
This novel has two different storylines going on. The first one starts in the year 2035 and the subsequent years after that. It follows the alien invasion and humanity’s attempts to stop it too. After that, it follows Earth’s attempts to rebuild and the development of the Workman program by Thomas Hanston. It also details how Ives took over the program and twisted it to his ends.
The second storyline follows Colin’s life in 2060, how neons have changed the world and how he joins up with the abolitionist movement to help free neons from servitude. The two storylines mesh with one another throughout the novel. As a result, we see one storyline inform the other and come together in surprising and shocking ways.
The mystery surrounding Thomas’ death, the creation of neons as a lower caste of slaves in society and the secrets that Thomas left behind for his son to discover and utilize are just some of the fascinating ideas to be found here. How Ives perverted the Workman Program and the original vision Thomas had for it makes for an interesting dichotomy. It also makes Ives an evil bad guy who has many skeletons in his closet and you just hate him with every fiber of your being.
The alien invasion storyline in 2035 is exciting and horrifying as aliens wipe out half of Earth’s population, making for thrilling, pulse-pounding reading. Colin’s storyline is much more of a slow burn in comparison, as it has the job of illustrating society in 2060, building this world up and demonstrating how neons are now an integral part of this dystopian society. It does so thoughtfully, like with the development of Vellum, which is low powered electronic paper. It also uses this time to do character building on the part of Colin and his eventual abolitionist allies.
As Colin wakes up to what the neons represent and his family’s legacy in creating them, his role and that of his family take on much more significance. It then hits high gear as the abolitionists take on a much more active role in the plot and Ives tries to track them down. As they try to free a couple of neons from their servitude, their work will have important ramifications for the rest of the novel.
There is one massive twist that I would not have foreseen at a crucial part of the novel. This twist is so pivotal and so unexpected that it left my jaw agape as it played out. I was wondering how the novel would continue after that, but it expertly used this moment as a way to push the novel into its final and action-packed finale. It also gave other characters the chance to come to the forefront and gives them more active roles in the novel than they had before.
The use of neons is an innovative one, growing fetuses and using conditioning to accelerate their growth and development. I’ve read much science fiction over the years and this one is a common idea, the ideas of humans being slaves. However, their use here is refreshing and different than what I’m used to, which is one of the many things I enjoyed about this novel.
The different applications for neons, from construction, menial labor, farming and more is also an interesting one. The way society is impacted by their presence in society is also engrossing and skillfully integrated into the novel. Especially since they are being bred with red-tinted skin, which makes them stand out in a crowd. There are also darker implications for neons as well. With their enhanced strength and agility, they also make for scary soldiers with no moral compunctions about taking lives.
What happens when two neons are freed from their enslavement by abolitionists and what happens to them after that is startling as well. Both of them take divergent paths and their exploration of their emotions makes them both beings to be pitied and to be sympathetic towards. But they are also terrifying in their desire for revenge against Ives and the Workman Program.
Thomas’ original vision for the Workman Program, how Ives has warped it and the ethics of doing so are also emotionally explored, not just by newly freed neons, but by the abolitionists as well. It presents a look at both sides of neons, both as a necessary evil in a society starved of resources and as an example of how society at large will do whatever it takes without considering the morality of doing so.
In the process, it also demonstrates how far society has fallen in the wake of being decimated and doing what it takes to survive. On a deeper level, it’s also a narrative that explores themes of authority versus rebellion, science against nature, technology against natural development and slavery versus freedom.
Ray Porter, the audiobook narrator, does an excellent job with this novel. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators with the talent and skill he displays here. His voice conveys a certain gravitas with each character he gives a distinctive sound to. With one character, he makes it sound like a perfect impression of television/movie actor John Goodman to me. The pacing and flow of his narration only make the story that much more compelling and enhances the novel that much more.
Having read the majority of this author’s stories in the past, I can tell you that this his most ambitious novel to date. He excels at creating intriguing universes, interesting situations and examining the human condition through the lens of robots. With this, he uses his storytelling style, previously used in other stories to talk about different aspects of robots and then admirably uses those skills that to look at neons, essentially human robots, and how they operate. He also uses those differences to splendidly explore how society’s future depends on them.
All these different ideas and characters are expertly woven together into an imaginative novel filled with clever plotting, family legacy thought-provoking ideas and terrific storytelling. This is one of the author’s best stories to date, brought to life with bold ideas, refreshing takes on common sci-fi tropes and a strong, well-written style.
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Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories written by A.K. Meek include “25 Bombs Fell: Season 1“, “Town on Fire – 25 Bombs Fell: Season 2“, “Red Rabbit Presents #1: Science Fiction for the People!” and “Automatic – Anthology of Robots“.