It’s 2079. In the wake of World War III, the United States has elected an isolationist president and closed its borders. President Martha St. Tala advocates an extreme ideology grounded in positive thinking. “Discussing problems only made them more concrete and attracted more of the same. All problems had to be ignored.” And now her successor (a clone?), President Martha II, rules over a society in which no one grows old, there is no crime, and natural disasters never happen. Every citizen is required to be happy. And, apparently, all Americans rejoice in this perfect society. They don’t know any better, because that’s all they’re taught. This is the setup in Hilary Ritz‘s ambitious debut novel, The Light Bringers.
“Conceal All Crime, Reform All Criminals”
Naturally, the perfection of society is a mirage. A secret national police force called the Domestic Awareness Agency keeps tabs on every citizen through the mandatory wallscreens installed in every room and every public place. “The agency’s mission statement: ‘Conceal All Crime, Reform All Criminals.'” They quickly remove any citizens who deviate by showing signs of discontent, depression, or disease—or simply old age. Supposedly, all the deviants are housed in highrise prisons, but somehow the prisons don’t seem large enough.
The Lightbringers by H. C. H. Ritz (2012) 260 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
However, there is an underground society in every city—literally underground, in countless miles of tunnels and bunkers. There, criminals act out their basest impulses with abandon. Since their existence is widely known, it can only be assumed that they operate as they do with the tacit permission of the Domestic Awareness Agency.
The power of positive thinking goes awry
And yet there is still a third element of New American society: the revolutionaries who seek to overthrow the existing order. Again and again, small groups form, grow larger, and inevitably find themselves in the sights of the Domestic Awareness Agency. Once discovered, they’re killed. But now a new revolutionary group has emerged. They’re called the Lightbringers. And they seek to overthrow President Martha II not by violence but by “bringing the light” to everyone they encounter. They wield a pure form of nonviolent resistance.
An ambitious debut novel that explores good vs. evil
Hilary Ritz deftly explores the fault lines in this dystopian society through a handful of principal characters. Gaylen Andrews spirals into depression when his wife leaves, taking their young daughter with him; he finds his way underground and eventually is rescued there by a Lightbringer cell. Two women, key members of the cell, change his life, most notably Drew Ashling, the cell’s charismatic leader. And John Oldman, an officer in the Domestic Awareness Agency, has been assigned to track down the cell and eliminate Drew; however, unlike the sociopaths who dominate the agency, John is a “feeler” who has the capacity for compassion. The interaction among these characters is the heart of this ambitious debut novel.
For further reading
I’ve reviewed two other excellent novels by Hilary Ritz: The Robin Hood Thief (A grim look into the near future that’s all too plausible) and Absence of Mind (In an unusually original sci-fi technothriller, technology meets neuroscience). And I’ve included Hilary Ritz on my list of Six new science fiction authors worth reading now.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
You might also check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site.
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.