– by Georgia Kartas
Science fiction is a difficult genre to work with. For one, everything you write will always be compared to Philip K. Dick. For another, its appeal but also its greatest challenge is the potential to play out ethical quandaries through plot and characters.
David M. Henley’s The Hunt for Pierre Jnr experiments with this potential on a multitude of levels. Set in the twenty-second century, the novel’s world is one of vastly advanced technology, in particular information-sharing technology—privacy is virtually non-existent. The destructive effects of climate change have ravaged much of the Earth, and surviving cities are sheltered by enormous domes. Many people—dubbed ‘psis’—are found to have telepathic and telekinetic abilities, and their subjugation is a central premise of the story.
In this climate, Pierre Jnr is brought to the fore. Pierre Jnr is an eight-year-old boy of unprecedented psionic capability: able to make you see, think, hear and remember whatever he wishes. It is feared that his very existence will bring about a psi rebellion. When telepath Peter Lazarus surrenders himself to Services, the body responsible for maintaining world order, he propels the assembly of an elite squad tasked with pursuing the child.
The Hunt for Pierre Jnr raises interesting questions of control, the right to self-determination, and privacy – the latter of which is particularly relevant in our digital age (the recent leak about US surveillance programs comes to mind). The novel’s world is already suffering from extreme invasion of privacy and impositions on daily life, and when the threat of psionic control over one’s will is realised, the ironic retaliation is to increase that invasion tenfold. Anyone exhibiting signs of psionic ability is apprehended and taken from their homes and families to be detained on remote islands, even if they are just frightened children.
Henley’s future imaginings also explore notions of collectivism versus individualism. Peter Lazarus repeatedly voices concern over telepathy tearing down the walls between individual minds, and how controlling another person’s mind can dissolve their identity. But while he worries about the individual being lost in the sea of psionic manipulation, Peter fails to recognise the extent to which the world is already ruled by the collective. The choices of the individual are still ultimately dictated by the popular will of the collective, even if he or she rises to the height of power from amassing enough followers (an effective reference to social media sites).
Another popular science fiction theme introduced in the novel is the intersection of the organic and the robotic. Bionic enhancements are rife, and many are completely dependent on symbiots; a kind of robotic parasite that provides all kinds of data to its human host. Henley takes this one step further with the idea of creating a psionic virus transmitted through the Weave (itself often discussed as if it were an independent, organic entity). The delineation between the mind, the body and the digital becomes increasingly blurred as the story progresses.
The multitude of concepts explored in The Hunt for Pierre Jnr is ambitious, and the author tackles them with admirable creativity. Henley is obviously overflowing with ideas, and pours them passionately into his novel. As the first in a trilogy, it can be expected to leave a few loose ends, but the narrative would have benefited with a more restrained approach. Characters come and go so quickly it is difficult to become attached and keep up with the plot. More and more questions amass without giving us the opportunity to become fully immersed in one storyline or another. Nevertheless the future Henley has constructed has great potential for the two final instalments, and lives up to its genre in creating the perfect stage for examining the issues raised in the first.
The Hunt for Pierre Jnr, Harper Collins, 2013, $27.99
For information about David M Henley The Hunt for Pierre Jnr, just click on this link.
Georgia Kartas has been published in Spun, Burley and Us Folk, and blogs about fashion and shiny things at www.red-magpie.com.