At its core, “The Cretin Gene” is a satirical look at how technology, junk food, and our current culture’s protest and counter protest mentality is making us, not just stupid, but violently stupid at that. It follows an aging cartoonist who is thrust into the limelight when someone looking to disrupt the world order commandeers one of his benign vegetable characters and assassinates someone. The assassination is a front for the true villain to inject society with the actual cretin gene, which has been supplied to the populace via their phones and their food. They essentially go crazy, and can be defeated when you read literature to them, or show them real books. See? Satire. Kind of. Satire is very hard to pull off in the best of circumstances, and maybe this ended up just not being for me, but the satire never really got to be the commentary it was supposed to be, and instead stalled out on caricature characters that got very difficult to read.
“The Fall” is a modern take on the classic 1984, and boy, how is it! This story is very much a social commentary on the current world we live in (2017, though it still very much applies in 2020) where the populace is controlled by their technology, digesting only the news the government feeds them, preferring to lose themselves in social media platforms and trying to get a larger following, then noticing that the idyllic world they live in is anything but. The parallels to the world we have now (in America anyway) are uncomfortably obvious, and Doellinger is a very talented writer not only to bring all this together, but to craft such a twist and bittersweet ending. But I had a hard time really getting into the book.
I kind of love, and miss, the days when super heroes had to operate in the shadows. Before the big Marvel movies where everyone knows the super powered vigilante and they are this organized group that is basically just the world police. I like the idea of those super heroes like Spiderman, Batman, or hell, even the Incredibles, where the vigilantes aren’t allowed to operate openly, where they have to hide who they are, and their presence isn’t always welcomed by the police. Alter Ego has a lot of those themes, plus so, so much more! In this fast paced vigilante story, we have secret identities and organizations, generations of heroes, and a well-funded terrorist group opposite our heroes. Coupled with the powers and the gadgets, you have this struggle to balance the person along with the hero, of what it means to put on these different masks, and trying to figure out who the REAL person is, free of the secret identities, and what it means to be a hero; who exactly are the white hats when you operate outside of the law? For as awesome as the abilities were, it was those very real interpersonal struggles that this story presented that I gravitated toward the most.
“Chipless” is a futuristic dystopian where an event (known as the Pulse) has disrupted society. In response, a group of scientists have made a chip that helps regulate the population’s health, happiness, and even what they see, smell, and taste as all part of a very advanced augmented reality simulator. The chip’s—which is implanted in all citizens of The City at one year of age—primary function is to keep the populace from ever knowing that their world is dying, depleted of its natural resources. In exchange for all the advanced technology and not having to worry about their bodies, the land has been sucked dry. The chip keeps the citizens from knowing the true state of the world and therefore freaking out, or rebelling. Something like that, anyway. It honestly got a little confusing because it’s not like everyone lives in The City, there seem to be a lot of people without a chip (like Amber) so the idea of why The City needed this mind control, what the Pulse did or was, or why Kal was so important, got seriously diminished by the fact that having a chip was just so… benign and there were already so many people living free of The City’s clutches.
Well, that’s it, my friends. This is the last book in the Toccata System trilogy and I am very sad to see this series come to a close, but it was such a nice, quick, little series to race through, too. “Prodigal Storm” introduces us to another of STASIS’ orphans, and this one had to—she thinks—murder the love of her life in order to free both her and her sister from their murderous AI of a mother. In the final book, LJ and Conor have to work together to keep Conor’s father from bringing about the enslavement of all the AI’s once again. But can his wounded son take down his own father? Can Conor and LJ work together given what LJ did to him? Such delicious interpersonal angst awaits in this final book! But unlike the previous two books, “Prodigal Storm” is not a novella, it is technically a full length novel and, while the title may give you the impression it is, it’s also NOT a retelling or reimagining of a classic novel like the other two books were. It has some flavors of Treasure Island, but it’s not really “based” on that classic like the other books were. I kind of missed the retelling aspect though, as Swed has done those so wonderfully in the previous books, but I really enjoyed the interpersonal conflict of this book regardless.
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