CHRISTOPHER RICE — BLOOD ECHO — 2019
Christopher Rice is in many ways improving with time. This latest book of his is even better than the first volume of the Burning Girl series for a few reasons.
First, it starts very strong and then the author has to widen the subject and treatment of the character and the situation to keep the intensity of the tale and the dynamism of the action. And the book will have to come to a second climax at the end that will have to be a lot more dramatic to compete with the opening climax. How can he do that? The use of all kinds of miniature drones, or special eye-lenses to be able to receive visual messages and images, and audio equipment to be constantly connected to some base, not to speak of constant surveillance of the people concerned by Charley’s actions. This is science fiction, but it is already there among us, and we just don’t know, and add Artificial Intelligence to this technology, plus face recognition software and you will have Big Brother power 20.
The second reason for the improvement is that Christopher Rice mixes three genres. He builds his story on some science fiction. The whole gamut of it, biological research and new molecules that transform fear, fright and even terror in a subject into superhuman physical power and mental concentration. It plays with paradrenaline, this supposedly uncatchable hormonal substance produced by the body in such situations, and there is a hint that this substance first gives the concerned subject a healing power that is supernatural and it can be used to treat patients with cancer, and it leads to the “complete elimination” (page 172) of a tumor. This is on the verge of the supernatural, but it is also believable since today the progress of medicine is phenomenal. When we know that only about 15% maybe 20% of our grey matter in our brain is actually used, we can imagine that increasing this proportion by five points could produce effects we cannot even measure.
But Christopher Rice adds to this dimension that of horror and true enough the heroin is causing horrible events and she has to deal with all kinds of criminals. So far it was only predators, either pedophile or rapists, and it starts with that case as the opening climax, a heterosexual predator who skins his female victims, maybe alive, to make belts and billfolds with their skin. That’s really something, and it ends very badly. Later Charlotte or Charley will be confronted with a team of terrorists who love torturing their victims, and her own boyfriend, Luke, will become their prey. She will not pray one single time to get permission from the Lord. She will run after them and clean up that plate and save her lover. You reach in that horror the third element.
The third element is the thriller tempo and dynamic of the story. It is always dense, tense and running. There is not one moment without any thrilling intensity, from beginning to end, and the end is typically a promise for another episode with more science fiction end horror. But I won’t say a word about that. This thrilling dimension is conveyed by a social and political dimension. The terrorists we are dealing with here are “a domestic terrorist network” (page 327) as Christopher Rice calls them. But he gives a full description of them. They are all American citizens. Most of them have been in Afghanistan or Iraq, in other words, they are military personnel that had a few rounds in the Middle East. Some of them were honorably discharged and with medals. The head of that network is the son of a man whose family over many generations prospered in the mining industry in West Virginia, North Carolina and a few other states of this region. They are mostly uneducated, or little educated, totally under the dependence of strict biblical references and they want to make America great again by going back to abiding by the norms of a Christian Born again, and even maybe more, ideology.
But let me quote a little bit.
It all starts with the security chief-officer of the pharmaceutical boss, Cole Graydon, who is described as a non-savory character. “Ed made considerable money selling confiscated guns back to street criminals during his time as patrol cop on the LAPD before he vaulted up its power structure later in life.” (page 141) That’s how he became the chief security officer of Cole Graydon under Cole’s father. The credentials were his illegal dealings in LAPD, and of course his police training. That chap is nothing but a criminal domestic terrorist who provides criminals with weapons that had been confiscated from them. Cole Graydon gets rid of him when he discovers he is far from being obedient or simply convinced he has to do what he is asked to do, and later on Cole will find out that he lied on what protection he had provided for Charley and Luke, with dire consequences.
But the domestic terrorist network is defined as follows: “America’s moral decay is weakening its fiber, its very spine, and the country’s sliding downhill as a result. You don’t find the kind of barbarism they’ve seen by trying to understand it. You only try to understand it if you don’t want to fight the unchecked sin within yourself, and if that’s the case, you aren’t out to save anything but your pride — a state that describes most citizens of this once great country. The country’s would-be heroes are being weakened a few years out of the womb. They grow up questioning Christ because they’re taught to question everything from the very idea of patriotism to their own God-given gender. Freedom and self-indulgence are not the same thing. No man who gives in to his very instinct is free… Their self-indulgence lays the country open to ceaseless corruption from outside its borders and endless, unwinnable wars in culturally inferior hellscapes.” (page 285–6) And all that populist ranting is founded on one quotation from the Bible. “Their work will be shown for what it is because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. — 1 Corinthians 3:13.” (page 178) and this Pauline quotation is amplified by emails from the terrorist leader. “NO! His work will not be REVEALED!!! We r his agents. We r his soldiers! ACTION MUST BE TAKEN, be it against the sodomites, or the idolaters. Or the abortionists. TO SIT IDLY BY IS TO INVITE THE KINGDOM OF SATAN!” (page 178)
Since these terrorists are on the wrong side of the heroine of the novel and her manfriend (they both have gotten to a ripe age that takes them out of girlfriend and boyfriend’s country) we assume they are the bad guys and rejected by the novel, if not the author, and sure enough they are all destroyed, though at least one is kept to become some lab rat in the hands of a mad scientist under control from Graydon Pharmaceutical.
This is popular literature, but it has an interesting political dimension that reveals the depth of the divide and debate in the USA between those who believe in the American Dream for all, and those who believe in the strict implementation of the strictest reading of the Bible, Old or New Testaments alike. At the same time the book shows a big pharma firm can do what they want without any control. That’s what capitalism is and to bring that under control, no matter whose control, so that the general interest will be respected and satisfied, is quite another problem and the vision of that capitalistic opaque functioning is definitely shown as being by far and often of the most criminal type, with people disappearing cleanly into thin air as if they had never existed.
Fascinating in many ways and very disquieting.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU