SCI FICTION, October 20, 2004

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"Q" by John Grant

John Grant's novelette, "Q,"  is set in a near-future America, a dystopia awash in terrorist fears, al-Qaeda dangers, and political assassinations.  "Education camps" are commonplace, independent-minded judges are extinct, and thought-crimes are legally punishable. It is an America so trammeled by oppression, defunct civil liberties, and government-spawned wariness that the CIA, that most repressive of organizations, has become a torchbearer of liberty by contrast.  Grant's is a particularly chilling vision, particularly well effected by the ease and deft finesse with which he creates a society so plausible and comparable to modern-day America, and yet so appalling.  It is a testament to his skill as a storyteller (or perhaps a bleak testimonial of our current political state) that it is such an easy stretch to credit travesties of civil liberties and personal freedoms enacted by a neo-fascist government in the name of security.

In the midst of this authoritarian state, Dr. Cello Prestrantra is the newly-appointed deputy director of operations.  On an apparent mission of inquest following the assassination of the president, she is introduced to a cutting-edge mind-reading technology.  While useless for interrogation purposes–as it cannot delve beneath surface thoughts–it can  record people's dreams.  Research that began as a whimsical exploration of the feasibility of precognitive dreaming becomes an exploration of God, the universe, and the nature of reality.

This is another in a string of explicitly political stories that have popped up recently at Sci-Fiction.  But, while there are occasional passages that wax a bit overly-explanatory in "Q," the subject matter is so fascinating and thought-provoking that it overshadows any hiccup of pacing or soapbox lecturing.  In short, "Q" is thoughtful, existential, and (if you're in a properly cynical mindset) darkly humorous.  A definite "must read."