“Their official title was Human Resources Officers, but nobody ever called them that in the flatland. The word was short for “collaborators.” … Whistler set her sights on you and the next thing you knew you would be pulled out of the latrine line for a pat-down just when it was your turn, or assigned some impossible and pointless job, or switched to a different crew just as your break was coming. The only thing you could do was take it, gritting your teeth through the misery of your aching bladder or empty stomach or exhausted limbs, knowing soon that Whistler’s attention would pass to another, though this only made things worse and seemed to be the point of the entire exercise; you found yourself wishing for the suffering to befall someone else, and thus you became complicit, part of the system, a cog in a wheel of torment that never stopped turning.”
I’m convinced that the thing that we’re going to look back on and see as just intensely dated, in a couple of years, in the novels of the last several years, is the torture scene: the blank chapter or two in the middle of every even mildly topical novel where a central character is isolated, waterboarded, beaten. This used to happen occasionally in a certain kind of book — Bond gets held hostage, or something — but it’s become omnipresent, endemic. Sometimes it’s appropriate; more often, it’s monotonous and momentum-killing (like in Angelmaker, where the torture chapter stopped the whole thing dead for absolute ages).
One of the interesting things about these books is the way that Cronin’s future reflects so transparently the present, how the postapocalyptic FEMA trailers of the first book, in 2010, give way to the burlesque of Homeland Security in this book. So it’s no surprise that he’s no better than he needs to be; there is indeed a particularly rape-filled torture sequence. But it’s stuff like this, that comes before that (though in the same setting), that better gets across the character of a totalitarian society so thoroughly invested in security theater. Subtler, but still also clearer.
October 17, 2012, 10:31am Comments