Countermind, by Adrian Randall
Publisher: DSP Publications
Release Date: February 28, 2107
In a postprivacy future, secrets are illegal and all communication is supervised. Telepaths are registered and recruited by a government with no qualms about invading the minds of its citizens. Fugitive psychics are hunted by the Bureau of Counterpsychic Affairs, or Countermind.
Alan Izaki is one such fugitive, as well as a hacker, grifter, and thief.
Countermind agent Jack Smith is hunting him through the twisted underbelly of Hong Kong.
But Alan possesses a secret so dangerous and profound it will not only shake Smith’s loyalties, but the foundations of their society.
And Alan isn’t the only one on the run. Rogue psychic Arissa binti Noor escapes Countermind, in search of brilliant game designer Feng Huang. She hopes that together, they can destroy the government’s intrusive Senex monitoring system.
Their goals seem at odds, and their lives are destined to collide. When they do, three very different people must question their alliances and their future, because everything is about to change.
When you’re constantly contemplating whether it would be better to quit and write a DNF review or continue reading to get to one-star it, then something is definitely not going right.
I wanted to read this book because I lived in Macao for two years and I was in Hong Kong several times because it’s only a one-hour ride with the ferry. I’m also studying Chinese and I love dystopian novels, so all this made me really excited for this book.
Consider me disappointed and utterly annoyed.
The best part of the story is the premise, but my imagination of what this book could have been and reality are like miles apart.
There are several issues I had with this book. For one—and I get this might not bother everyone—the setting does not feel Asian to me. The only part that reminds of Asia, and in this case mainly China and Hong Kong, are the names of places and people. Someone at least studied a map. I think that the author has either never been in Hong Kong or China, or that he just wasn’t capable of transporting any sense of it to the reader.
I mean, the first thing you notice when you’re in Hong Kong is the climate, because it’s fucking hot and humid, like the-air-is-palpable-humid, and when you’re inside, there is air-con everywhere. In the hotels, the bars, the busses and taxis, the shops, so that you’re permanently confronted with the climate. But in this book, nada. There is a typhoon, though, so at least that is realistic.
Apart from the climate, Hong Kong is either super crowded or if you’re on the islands the total opposite. There is food everywhere and traffic and basically it’s like no other place you’ve ever been to, but you guessed it, in Countermind we can witness nothing of it. And the people… You know, while yes, we are all people, Asians do have their own culture and everything and there was, again, nothing.
One could argue that the book is set in the future and that I am not supposed to inflict my contemporary expectations on it, but, first of all, I think I still can, and on the other hand, I can’t even tell when the book is set because sense of place and time are utterly missing. And maybe it’s a parallel universe or whatever, but after having read more than half of the book it should be somehow clear. However, I guess the book plays in our future because halfway through the book one of the protagonists goes to North Korea and explains that it’s regime collapsed some time ago.
And now there are zombies there. Yes.
While this made me laugh (because seriously whaaaaaaa? I thought I was reading a book about psychics, but okay), the plot was already lost on me because of all the incredible coincidences, and I was constantly alternating between questions of what, why, and how… The whole story is totally hanebüchen, like we Germans would say.
There is an explanation given for the zombies, though. Heh. And maybe it all makes sense, as incredible as things might seem, but if you want to surprise your reader in the end with your brilliance, you still can’t lose them on the way there.
And I was definitely lost when Agent Smith hikes to Seattle to investigate Alan’s past and not only runs into another psychic, which he himself thinks is a chance of one in a million, and then when he needs to talk to a scientist about Alan’s past and he gets hooked up with Kim who is the very same person that Alan is trying to steal their identity from. The odds are like— I can’t even. It felt to me like the plot had to develop in a certain way and credibility was thrown to the winds in favour of it.
But not only had I trouble believing everything that was presented to me, there are pages (I mean that literally. Really.) long descriptions of technical researches and investigation procedures that totally bogged down the story. I was so bored and had to skip/skim a lot. Have a look, I brought you some fine examples of it 😉
Then he turned to Senex. This involved an access request to a department within the Safety Ministry. The request, carrying the imprimatur of the Executive Director of Counterpsychic Affairs, was promptly approved, and Smith was directed to a secure website cluttered with a search bar, various text warnings, instructional links, advanced options, and a reminder that all use of Senex was subject to monitoring by the Safety Ministry. Smith entered a search for mentions of Quentin Izaki appearing adjacent to any mentions of a son or family. He restricted the search to a range of a few years and to North American regions.
This scene goes on and on (I said pages, right?), but I was so nice as to only copy the first paragraph for you. And here is another one, which you can always skip/skim, too 😉
With a wireless keyboard in her lap, she logged in to PartyYǒu’s internal systems and reviewed the numbers: total hours played, average hours played per session, peak usage time, lowest usage time, total unique players, total new players, peak concurrent players, average concurrent players, total new user data, and average new data per user. Each of these statistics was presented raw as well as with seasonal adjustments, population controls, historical data, and trendlines. Everything looked positive, the gentle upward slopes encouraging confidence, and without the spikes that could indicate system stress or a sudden collapse in player activity.
I realise that this review has already gotten out of hand, but it was kinda cathartic to write this all down.
To wrap this up now, I would very much love to read a dystopian science fiction set in Asia with LGBTQIA characters. The book has tons of them, by the way, which is cool, but also felt a little unnatural the way it was written. Alas, this book is not it, and I absolutely cannot recommend this to anyone. Mel out. Mic drop or how you call it…
Adrian Randall is a PhD and a dual-class bureaucrat/scientist. A native Floridian, he lives in Alexandria with the love of his life and their many beautiful board games. He has a tenuous grasp on reality, owing to a steady diet of novels, comics, and other distractions. All his ideas start as character backstory for MMOs and RPGs, and he does all his writing while listening to video game soundtracks. So if he’s gaming instead of working on a book, it’s not procrastination, it’s workshopping. He usually spends his free time geeking out about some damn thing or another. You can geek out with him through any of his social media channels. If he doesn’t respond, it means he broke his phone again.
You can purchase Countermind from:
Barnes & Noble
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.