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Bewildering Stories

Matt Browne, The Future Happens Twice

reviewed by Danielle L. Parker

The Future Happens Twice
Author: Matt Browne
Publisher: Athena Press, 2007
Length: 720 pages
ISBN-10: 1-84401-830-X>
Does anyone remember the October 1972 crash of Flight 571 in the Andes? Twenty-six of forty-five people on board survived to face high-altitude cold and starvation. Rescue did not come until late December. The survivors ate the bodies of their dead colleagues to stay alive. The Catholic Church officially forgave them, and many of the survivors went on to write or inspire book and movie versions of their horrific experience. All’s well that ends well, I guess.

Now, however, the question: would you have done the same to stay alive? Was survival worth becoming, as the elderly cannibal mariner of “The Yarn of the Nancy Bell” sings,

“Oh I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain’s gig.”

Just how far would you be willing to comprise your personal standards — I’ll assume for the sake of argument that we’re all against cannibalism — to stay alive?

Now let’s turn that question around a bit. We’re all against torture, too, but when the security of the nation is invoked, do we put aside our personal scruples and support the return of the Iron Maiden, the rack, and the hot tongs? Just where do we draw the line between the evils we won’t touch, “ever”, and those deeds whose end justifies?

That question kept me reading the 700+ pages of The Future Happens Twice. Debrya Handsen is a linguist who finds herself pitched into a super-secret project. This super-secret project is up to some super-dirty deeds in the name of the salvation of the species (genus Americanus, anyway. Others don’t get much of a mention here). Ms. Handsen discovers that her new employers, The Perennial Project, are carrying out unethical experiments on human twins. It doesn’t sound nice.

Fortunately, none of the twins actually face death in the Perennial Project. Still, Ms. Handsen is faced with that same vexing question. Should she bite her lip, accept her higher wage, bask in her scientific accolades, and condone experiments on unknowing, innocent subjects? In her doubt, she conducts many silent and anguished conversations with a father confessor figure, the Reverend Zaulder. Her employer gives out tantalizing hints that the Perennial Project’s race-to-the-stars work will save the human race (a eugenically selected tiny elite) from some near-term global disaster. Is that enough to justify her dirty hands?

The pressure rises when former subjects of the same experiment start rooting around for answers and threaten to blow the lid off the dirty laundry hamper. Does she keep going? What wins — Ms. Handsen’s sympathy for the unwitting victims, or that new purple car she has her eye on? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Mr. Browne is an idea man, an approach with a long and honorable tradition in speculative fiction. It’s unfortunate he didn’t have a more ruthless editor for his first novel. The book (the first third in particular) suffered from dodgy prose, awkward transitions, shifty points of view, and the occasional inadvertently hilarious phrase (I quote an enamored fellow scientist’s description of young Ms. Handsen: “her eyes sparkled fire as if to shoot little photon droplets at me.”) A good editor should do a lot more than make sure the apostrophes are in the right places (or not). I hope Mr. Browne finds that sharp-toothed, snarling editorial Doberman. He needs the tough love.

Still, I’ll keep an eye out for the further adventures of the suffering twins. Carry on, Mr. Browne!

Copyright © 2008 by Danielle L. Parker

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