A riveting hybrid science fiction mystery novel that questions reality

Golden State is a science fiction mystery novel.

More than half a century ago Philip K. Dick wrote The Man in the High Castle and a large number of other science fiction novels that raised questions about the nature of reality. (Dick wrote 44 novels and 121 short stories between 1950 and 1982.) In his own distinctive way, Ben H. Winters explores the same theme in his tenth book, Golden State, a hybrid science fiction mystery novel.


Golden State by Ben H. Winters (2018) 337 pages

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Golden State is set at some undetermined time in the near future following a catastrophic attack on the energy grid that has destroyed American society. But the former State of California has survived the apocalypse and reconstituted itself as a nation built around a narrow concept of reality. In the Golden State, what is real is only what can be proven with demonstrable evidence. Every moment of every day in every person’s life is recorded from multiple angles by ubiquitous devices called “captures.” The recordings are stored in the massive Permanent Record in Los Angeles, along with copies of the Day Books that every citizen must carry at all times to record the daily events in their own lives.

A riveting hybrid science fiction mystery novel

Lies are the greatest crimes in the Golden State. “Any assault on reality, any infusion of falsehood in the air can’t be countenanced, no matter the source.” Distortions of the truth are punishable by law in a hierarchy of courts that include the Court of Small Infelicities, the Court of Grave Misrepresentations, and the Court of Deliberate Falsity. To enforce the Basic Law, special teams of investigators called Speculators pursue suspected criminals. Their “job is to reinforce the Objectively So. . . We are the world that is left, and the future of the Golden State depends on the fierce defense of what is Objectively So.” Only these Speculators are empowered to Speculate, and if necessary to lie, in the interest of justice.

“Anomalies” surrounding what appears to be an accidental death

Laszlo Ratesic is a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service. He lives under the shadow of his late big brother, a legend in the Service who died in pursuit of a major criminal. Although Laszlo is a loner, his boss forces him to take a rookie under his wing, a young woman named Aysa Paige. And it doesn’t take long for the two of them to become embroiled in a complex case that raises questions about truth, reality, and perception. They’re called to the home of a judge where a young man working as a roofer has fallen to his death from the roof. But there are “anomalies” in the case that force Laszlo and Aysa to look deeper.

The truth about the case becomes progressively more elusive

“We are the ones with the power and the license,” Laszlo explains, “to truck with lies—we can sense them, we can handle them, and we are empowered to emit them ourselves. To construct different versions of the truth so each can be tested, so all might fall away until only the real one remains.” Yet the truth about the case becomes ever more elusive the deeper they look. It becomes progressively more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

Eventually, Laszlo will come to the realization that objective truth about human affairs will always be hard to pin down. “My personal and professional existence is built on the idea that everything can be known, that everything must be known, and now here I am . . . pierced by understanding that nothing can be known at all.”

For further reading

There is a list of 25 hybrid science fiction mystery novels at bestsciencefictionbooks.com. I include this because I haven’t read most of the books included on that list. I suspect some are quite good.

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