BOOK REVIEW: SPARK / AUTHOR: JOHN TWELVE HAWKS / PUBLISHER: BANTAM PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Jacob Underwood is afflicted with Cotard’s Syndrome; he believes he is dead. To him, emotion is a mystery, ambition is meaningless and life is a struggle to create order from chaos. Not effective ingredients for a rounded human being, but the perfect personality for a hitman working for a bank where the customers are career criminals with dirty money to hide. When an employee disappears after stealing sensitive information, Jacob is tasked with tracking her down. But to find her, he must first attempt to understand her, a task that threatens the foundation of his clinical detachment.
John Twelve Hawks is the pen name of an anonymous author living off the grid. His real identity is unknown, reportedly even to his agent and publishers, and his writing champions the freedom of the individual and the limitation of government and corporate interference. Abandoning the cosmological dominions of Tibetan Buddhism featured in Hawks’s Fourth Realm trilogy, Spark takes place in a real world near-future, eminently recognisable as not that different from the present day, where people are routinely asked to sacrifice personal privacy in the name of social order and national security.
After a coordinated bombing of schools across the world known as the Day of Rage, legislation was put in place to allow unregulated governmental access to the lives of its citizens with via mandatory ID cards that track their holder’s movement and behaviour (the Freedom From Fear Act), the effective censoring of the Internet (the Good News For Americans Act), and constant surveillance along with people’s personalities are mapped to predict behaviour, anything falling out with specific parameters immediately labelling them suspects for potentially committing a hypothetical crime and justifying incarceration in a Good Citizen camp (the Liberty For All Act).
Only the slightly advanced technology separates this Orwellian nightmare from contemporary reality, the implication being that present day governments would also readily intrude to such an extent upon the lives of their citizens if only they possessed the means to do it. Much like the righteous oratory that you’ll experience in anything written by Aaron Sorkin, Hawks makes no attempt to disguise it when characters become direct mouthpieces for his own anti-establishment philosophies.
Jacob perceives his existence as a conscious entity constrained within a physical form (a Spark in the Shell, if you like), his affliction providing the perfect viewpoint to describe the setting without sounding preachy. Right, wrong, love, hate, good, evil, unfairness, justice: all are words that mean nothing to him. His lack of emotion means he describes everything objectively, and so the hypocrisy of those who effectively control the lives of everyone in the country is revealed without sounding like the ravings of a paranoid technophobe or the diatribe of an idealistic anarchist.Like the title character of V For Vendetta, Jacob exists separate from the artificiality of the world and sees the meaninglessness of life within the system for what it truly is. His is a journey of personal growth, from a veritable blank slate to a free thinker questioning what those above him dictate as truth; and if nothing else, the book’s purpose is to, at least in part, do the same for the reader.