Is the government watching our every move? Who is actually running the country? Just how many of our personal freedoms are eroding every day? While he may not answer these questions, Josh Conviser tackles these, and others in his debut novel Echelon. The title of the novel is the same as Josh’s boss, or rather, the entity running the whole world. Echelon is a real signals intelligence program which captures nearly every form of transmitted data. With this novel Conviser extrapolates a future with Echelon as the all-powerful computer intelligence system which allows its user to control the world.
Protagonist Ryan Laing is a deep cover agent in the future, in service to Echelon, or so he thinks. Echelon has, for all intents and purposes, taken over the world. The novel starts rather well, as Conviser draws the reader in with the death of the protagonist. Fortunately, death isn’t always temporary in Conviser’s future as Laing is soon brought back to the world of the living, thanks to advanced nanotech drones. Upon his return to the world of the living, his career with Echelon set on something of a roller coaster. He gains a partner in Sarah Peters, a programmer linked directly to Ryan’s mind. This is but the first of many interesting, if sometimes clichéd, elements Conviser uses to flesh out the backdrop of his future world.
This is a pretty scary scenario, one that echoes writers like George Orwell and Philip K. Dick, as well as John Twelve Hawks, author of last year’s The Traveler. What makes the premise all the more frightening is how eerily similar Conviser’s imagined future is to the world in which we live. A quick search brings up a Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON) on Echelon, illustrating just how shrouded in mystery and reality this program actually is, or the plausibility of Conviser’s work.
The premise; however, must always lay hand-in-hand with the execution. At times in Conviser’s work, the pages turned very fast, others the story didn’t move so quickly. In total, the novel was a bit uneven. At times Laing was reminiscent of James Bond, others as Ender Wiggin with his silent electronic partner. Laing; however, felt too undefeatable throughout much of the novel. The strength of the book might be the relationship Conviser builds between Ryan and Sara, despite some instances of predictability.
On the whole, Conviser brought some interesting questions to the table with Echelon, but something about the book felt a bit lacking in consistency. While a bit uneven at times, Conviser does present an eerily plausible future. Only future novels will reveal whether Conviser’s skills can match and catch up to the ideas he puts forth.