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Thursday, February 19, 2009

“The Accord” by Keith Brooke (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “The AccordHERE (US) + HERE (UK-March 2, 2009)

INTRODUCTION: After reading the well-received “Genetopia”, which was the first time I encountered Mr. Brooke's writing at length, I started following the author’s sff output and really enjoyed his lyrical novella “The Accord” that was published in the first Solaris Book of New Science Fiction edited by George Mann. Now, with The Accord, Keith Brooke has expanded on that novella as well as two other related short fiction pieces—“Sweats” published in the anthology We Think, Therefore We Are edited by Pete Crowther, and “The Man Who Built Haven” published in Postcripts—delivering a full-length novel that is a story of love, obsession and redemption that spans time, space and multiple iterations of personas...

SETTING:The Accord” is a very powerful novel and that is reflected in its setting which manages to smoothly transition from a near-future Earth wrecked by climate change, millions of refugees and political instability; to the man-made digital Haven of ‘The Accord’ and finally to a space opera setting of diverse human civilizations across the Universe; all with a twist. The novella of the same title takes place in this last part of the novel and is slightly modified to fit with the rest of the book, while the other two stories take place in the Earth-based parts.

The Accord” is the story of three characters:

Elector Jack Burnham, one of the crumbling Earth’s powerful elite, is a relatively benign and progressive English politician and a supporter of Haven, a digital reality where the “harvested” dead can live forever if The Accord achieves “consensus”. Not everyone shares his views though and Jack has to walk a fine line between neo-Nazi elector Nesbitt of the “drown all refugees at sea and shoot the survivors if they the reach English soil” ideology, and the devout elector al-Naqawi for which the Accord is an abomination. During all of this, Jack begins to suspect that his wife of many years is having an affair. Still deeply infatuated with Priscilla, Jack is willing to use any means necessary to destroy her presumed lover and win her back...

Priscilla Burnham, electee and powerful hostess and politician in her own right, is the direct liaison to the Accord team, and particularly to the “man who is building Haven”, genius Noah Barakh. Priscilla respects her husband and while the years have eroded her passion for him, she has been faithful to him until a strange attraction to Noah develops...

Noah Barakh, the genius behind Haven, has his hands full bargaining with politicians for money and the Chinese mafia for resources, while shepherding the team that builds the Accord based on his ideas including main coder Dr. Warrener, chief of operations Zhang Xialoing, math genius Huey Kashvili, and hacker Chuckboy Lee. And then there’s Priscilla Burnham...

FORMAT/INFO:The Accord” stands at 448 pages divided into three parts, based on the Accord's development stage, from the pre-Consensus version 0, to the Earth-bound version 1, and ending with the Universe version 2. Each part is subdivided into numbered chapters. The narration takes place in the present of the novel, though neither synchronicity nor the notion of an individual are straightforward concepts here. Noah Barakh, in his various iterations, is mostly a first-person narrator, alternating with third-person viewpoints; Jack is both a third person POV and later, in slightly changed circumstances for his persona, a first-person narrator; while Priscilla is always a third-person POV. The narration shifts abruptly between various POVs and modes of narration, but the novel is so well-written that you do not really notice it once you get into the flow. The ending brings together the main threads of the novel together and is perfect.

February 24, 2009/March 2, 2009 marks the North American/UK Mass Market publication of “The Accord” via
Solaris Books. Cover designed by Darius Hinks.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:The Accord” is first and foremost a superbly written novel, featuring beautiful prose that instantly hooked me from the powerful opening page and kept the pages turning. For an example, here’s the opening paragraph of the novel:

Last night I dreamed. The same old dream. The same old dream, and different every single time. You…laughing, fooling around. To see you so liberated,so you, is a blessing in itself. I hardly need more, although…I always need more. You take my hand, lead me down to the river. Long sleek cruisers line up like toys along the far shore. A rank of needle towers, each sixty storeys high, scrapes the sky beyond them.”

The book is also a rare combination of thought-provoking ideas including hard sf if we accept strong-AI theories that consciousness is purely material and a state that can be transcribed into other objects, not just flesh and blood brains occupying functional bodies. Lastly, “The Accord” is a lyrical novel of love, loss, revenge, exploration and adventure...

While Earth is going down the drain with climate-induced problems including millions of refugees with no place to go, deadly acts of terrorism, and politicians pressing for laws that would allow the military to kill refugees, Noah is building a digital afterlife. The project is viewed by many as a last-ditch effort to save humanity and the idea of “harvesters” that record the state of consciousness of willing people for download into the Accord is mostly popular, though of course the devout are strongly opposed to what they regard as blasphemy.

It is speculated that when enough “souls” of dead people are downloaded into it, the Accord will take on a hard reality called The Consensus, and start functioning as a “true, objective” world governed by its protocols as fundamental “laws of nature”. It is a speculation that is proven true sooner than people expected...

Thrown into the Accord because of Jack’s jealously, both Priscilla and Noah’s personas coalesce unexpectedly when Consensus hits with their budding love affair on Earth not making it into Priscilla’s unique Consensus iteration, while Noah remembers everything since she was as powerful an obsession for him as she was for Jack.

Content to be friends for now, Priscilla starts “collecting” lost children who are even more bewildered by the change than the adults coming into the Accord. Noah meanwhile, still has unfinished business in “meatspace” as Earth is now known. So riding “sweats”, he continues bargaining with the Shanghai gangs for resources to grow the Accord, and pushes the many Huey iterations/multiple beings to solve the fundamental problem of transferring the Accord into the fabric of the Universe.

When Jack becomes the first elector to reside in the Accord, courtesy of an assassin's bullet, Priscilla and Noah's lives are again in danger. Of course, if you die in the Accord you are re-birthed with most of your memories intact, though you become a slightly different iteration...

While the “eternal” struggle between Priscilla, Noah and Jack powers a lot of the intrigue and action in the novel, the Accord itself slowly emerges as a major character and its inevitable development once it removes the shackles of its dependency on Earth's infrastructure, moves the novel into space opera territory, elevating the book to a truly major sf work that should be considered for all eligible awards in 2009.

In the end, Keith Brooke’sThe Accord” is highly, highly recommended. And while I am reluctant to make predictions about how my 2009 rankings will shake out at the end of the year, I strongly believe “The Accord” will be one of the best science fiction novels I read all year...


Anonymous said...

I like the sound of that, added to the list

Anonymous said...

Wow, must be good to be considered one of the best Books of 2009 - going to take some beating?

Looking forward to seeing if it actually does get beat!

Liviu said...

The Accord was a big surprise for me; it just worked beautifully and until now this and the just finished Yellow Blue Tibia (hopefully I will do a review soon) are the 09 sf novels - 8 read to date - that stood out by far.

There are not that many 09 sf forthcoming releases that I think of top 5 material:

I rate Gary Gibson Nova War as the one book with the best chance of being my #1 sf novel of 09 based on author/subject with D. Weber BHD as the next most likely, then Jaine Fenn Consorts of Heaven, M. DePierres Orion #3, RC Wilson Julian Comstock, M. Flynn Up Jim River are strong top 5 contenders apriori, with lesser possibilities for N. Asher Orbus, M. Dantec Grande Jonction, J. Lovegrove House of Ra, G. Mann Osiris Ritual, S. Williams Astropolis #3, WJW This is not a Game, Thomas Harlan Land of the Dead, A Troy Castro Claw of God, A. Swann Prophets...

Though of course there will be surprises and I may discover new authors, as well as not knowing what will get published from October to December...


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