VULCAN’S FORGE by Robert Mitchell Evans
Flame Tree Press p/b, £8.15
Reviewed by H T Scott
Earth is gone, any humans that remained were sent out into space on arcs to rebuild civilisation. On the planet Nocturnia a utopian society is in its infancy. Governed by an Administration who gatekeep the history of Earth, only allowing what they deem fit to be permissible. The result is a society built on strict rules and moral codes somewhat akin to the days of the 1940s. Crime has been wiped out and everyone follows the rules. In a world with fewer than two million adults, the Founders have decreed the need for procreation is tantamount to humanity’s survival.
Jason Kessler is one such adult who is expected to do his bit in rebuilding the human race. Although engaged to the beautiful Seiko couples are not allowed to cohabit or copulate until marriage. This suits Jason just fine because he’s not sure he wants the whole marriage and kids thing. He is content to live in his apartment above the cinema that he runs. Films are his passion and watching the cinematic history of the late 20th and 21st century then deciding if it’s appropriate is his job. Of course, there’s his co-worker and friend Brandon’s opinion to consider. Then there’s his boss Jones, everything gets her final approval and she answers to the Founders.
Then one night the most hypnotic woman Jason has ever encountered enters his movie theatre. As he stands in the gallery watching this unaccompanied woman sashay across the foyer he becomes hypnotised by her presence. Not only is it highly unusual for a woman to be unchaperoned but this one demands the attention of all those who encounter her and she’s certainly got Jason’s. After the theatre is closed Jason tries to trace the mystery woman’s ticket but all to no avail. How can that be? Everyone on Nocturnia is traceable. Each night Jason stands in the gallery of the movie theatre and watches the patrons file in, hoping to see the woman again. Then one night she returns. This visit changes Jason’s life in ways he can not imagine. He starts an illicit affair with Pamela, cheating on Seiko and lying to those that matter to him doesn’t matter as long as he has her. Jason and Pamela become embroiled in deceit.
Meanwhile, Jason has been part of a voting party that is making the decision about whether to continue to search space for the other arcs that were sent out from Earth. Jones tells him he must vote with her and stop the search. But when Jason doesn’t go along with her she begins to plot his demise.
Jason’s life becomes even more complicated when Pamela turns up one night badly beaten. She tells Jason that her boyfriend Eddie did it. That Eddie is the reason she is untraceable because he has an artificial intelligence called Forges who can cheat the system. If only Forges was there’s they could be together and get Jones off Jason’s back. As a consequence crime and violence become part of Jason’s world.
Robert Mitchell Evans has written a good story that reminded me very much of old black and white gangster movie. I pictured the characters wearing sharp suits, fitted dresses and hats. The way he has written it from the first-person perspective really works. You feel like you are seeing everything from Jason’s point of view. You see his faults and although he is the protagonist he’s not totally likeable which makes you as the reader uncomfortable. You know he’s not deserving of sympathy but at the same time, you find yourself rooting for him because it’s for the greater good. The way the storylines cross over and ultimately culminate is very well executed. Not your typical science fiction story and that’s all for the good in my book.