To fully discuss why I’ve spent the last two days pouring over this book would mean spoilers for both the novel itself and my own. Although I can’t do this, I can offer up an appreciation of why I felt so engaged by Convergence that my Nook is now stuffed with notes and I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the implications of being able to record and play back the human memory.
To cut a long story short for my regular readers and my fanbase: if you like what I’ve written about mind powers, their abuse, the addicts, the social rejection/acceptance of them and how they create both amazing advantages and deep-seated fears, please get a copy of Convergence. I’m pretty damn sure you will love this book. Not only are the themes similar, but you get treated like a grown-up: R-rated content, politics that are dealt with through tact and the narrator’s voice rather than bashing/preaching, questions about what happens when society as we know it in the real world comes apart at the seems, and a first person narrator you will root for despite obvious flaws.
Not every reader has a geek’s obsession with sci-fi ideas, but what Convergence did for me was touch on the one big one that’s been inspiring me to write for years. It’s why I liked the ‘Afinity’ and sentient cities of Hamilton’s ‘Night’s Dawn’ trilogy, and why I sat there after watching the movie Strange Days wondering how I might ever write anything that inspiring. Now here’s another author who’s brought this side of me out.
I didn’t share this in the Goodreads/Amazon/Nook reviews because I don’t like feeling as though I’m promoting my own work in any way when reviewing another author’s, unless of course it’s on my own site. So I’ll get this over with here: Convergence had me put my writing hat on and make some notes on my own Talent Show series for this simple reason: the society Hicks’s protagonist Jonah Everitt lives in is a perfect example of the society my Seekers Council fear could happen on both planets Earth and Carnathia in The Talent Show if the substance Dream Morphine were legal and even regulated. Convergence is the kind of book I could lampshade by having Shadow Hatcher read it and saying ‘This only happens because the people in power make using what we can do with memories illegal in the first place, and illegality creates desire.’
I’m not going to do that, but you get the idea. I too have a narrator who likes to play with stuff he knows could make him sick or get him banged up in a prison. Even near death experiences won’t necessarily change his mind about using substances that mimic the human brain. In Convergence, Hicks creates this addictive world for his character through technology where as I did with a chemical substance that can be used by people with the Talent power. Rather than getting that feeling every writer sometimes gets that’s best described as ‘Goddamn it, someone else got there before me!’ Convergence gave me the kind of food for thought that is probably going to improve me.
It’s not about stealing ideas, it’s about authors sharing them from different angles. This is where inspiration comes from. Convergence is set in a time of war and refugees. Talent Show is set in a time of peace, albeit because of a ruling class who control the oil supply from other planets. Both books have people addicted to memories and abusing the powers of the mind. Both books have people with the capacity to use both in a virtuous way too.
For all I’m critical of certain things about it, Convergence has got me buzzing on ideas. Always nice to find a book that does that.
So, to the review, also appearing on Goodreads and Amazon (and B&N as soon as I can figure out its awkward cut and paste problems).
A review of Convergence by Michael Patrick Hicks
Convergence is a work of fiction that makes me remember a number of others. Not that I want to criticise it for being derivative; in fact quite the reverse. The whole thing has a familiar echo of other stories I’ve enjoyed. It begins with such an echo of the film ‘Strange Days’ that I wondered when the book might reach Hicks’s answer to answer to that mesmerising, shocking and challengingly visceral middle scene where Ralph Fiennes yells ‘He’s jacking her into her own input!’ Instead, Convergence takes ideas I’ve always found engaging and creates its own engaging mixture.
The idea of people becoming addicted to memories blended with a dystopian USA in which the PRC and former are trying to make order out of chaos is a curious one. Futuristic highs and the people who kill for them populate this book from start to finish, but rather than being a straight game of cat and mouse between opposing military factions there is a mystery-centred plot that goes deeper into the author’s invented technology and the backgrounds of the characters all at once. The result is a novel of average length that takes a longer than average reading time as waves of information wash through and between ever action scene.
Of action there is plenty. Lovers of gun fighting and the bomb-fuelled chaos of war fields will be very much at home here. Everything is notably R-rated and certainly the kind of content where the likes of me can say ‘I’m at home here’ yet nothing feels overdone to me. The focus is not on the horrors of conflict so much as how it affects the central character, Jonah. The father-daughter dynamic once the latter is introduced is a typical parent-teenager conflict, but blended neatly into the narrative becomes something deeper once both characters start to show their vulnerability. Not always an entirely sympathetic character, I found myself rooting for this protagonist because of his sheer ability to keep taking what gets dished out in his life, if nothing else. His actions and questioning of which side he’s on do become predictable, but the real tension lies in whether or not he can survive it, and even if he does whether anything will change.
Convergence is at times a difficult read because of the resulting bleakness and the clinging-to-hope tropes do get repeated along with the anything-for-my-daughter. The puzzles and the history info-dumps at times become more engaging than the narrator himself. Any writing class debating both the virtues and perils of long information where the narrator is mostly buried would do well to take this novel apart. Sometimes the switch between details of how the current society came to be and the narrator’s present situation happen jarringly, but despite all this, Hicks as the author demonstrates a considerable skill in setting up an imagined society which although far-fetched and unlikely seems disconcertingly real.
There are no apparent holes in the made up future-history, and indeed some of it becomes intriguing in its complexity rather than confusing – the kind of writing where a slower reading pace both rewards and engages, and certain passages are worth scrutinising twice. The emphasis for me was on the fiction rather than the science (which is my personal preference in sci-fi books) but the science is dealt with through solid research and an equally adept authorial skill. Some readers might cry ‘not another info dump’ by the last third, especially where one concept becomes introduced in a way which although believable comes rather out of the blue (no debate possible here without spoilers). I would argue that there is a reward for paying attention through all the slower passages, even towards the end where a less weighed down climax would have been stronger. The narrator’s moralising often links the details and I as the reader never felt blinded by science even if the longer paragraphs could be heavy going.
Hicks’s descriptive passages are first class – the attention to detail in the narrator’s voice being partly explained by his arts background and in many places thoroughly enthralling, even when going through the most morbid details. I can forgive the author an early cliché where the character introduces his appearance by means of catching himself in a mirror, because the both human and place descriptions in this book took me to school on how to blend description in and bring the fiction around it to life. In my favourite moment, Jonah Everitt returns to a significant place (no spoilers) only to wind up describing destitute hobos and an emaciated, barely alive body on a mattress, a passage written in a way that took me back to passages from Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – a similar theme of how the details of war can become obsessive for the people living around them running right the way through.
The messages in Convergence are largely left up to the reader, which in a book with a first person narrator has obviously taken some work. Nothing ever feels preachy or thinly veiled about the idea of how the (arguably) most powerful society on Earth might collapse; nor did I find myself wanting to take sides in a world where they are perhaps all as good or bad as each other. The titular ‘convergence’ and other forms of surveillance and detective technology all carry various ideas of their own but at no point is there much of a two-way debate about it; what’s more interesting is how these capabilities make the story unravel rather than questions about whether they’ve effectively caused as many problems as they solve. This is all left to the reader’s own decision.
Don’t read this book if you want overwhelming happiness and positivity in your fiction, and don’t expect heroes in and villains in black and white ‘traditional’ sense either, but do expect a challenge and a beautifully crafted world, albeit a dystopic one. It might have benefitted from some of the padding being cut down but thanks to it all being so finely written I find myself feeling ambivalent about the slower pace and the history lessons, rather like I do with the likes of Peter F Hamilton and Stephen Baxter. When the action is in focus, it’s page-turning stuff, and the reader who likes their tech will feel very much at home here as well. Convergence reaches an ending that I hadn’t completely predicted and still found believable. I look forward to reading more from Michael Patrick Hicks.