Review: Swipe

Logan Langly is afraid. He’s afraid of the dark, of crowds, of empty spaces behind him. He’s afraid of footsteps and shadows in the street; he’s afraid of eyes he’s never seen, but always feels.

Most of all, he’s afraid of getting the Mark. The Mark is the passport to adulthood, granting the right to buy, to have a job, to go to a doctor. No civilized life is possible without it. But Logan’s afraid.

Swipe, by Evan Angler, is a dystopian novel, and it could go as post-apocalyptic, too. The earth has been devastated by war and global warming, but in Logan’s time it’s getting back on its feet. Beneath its feet are the Dust – the Markless, outcasts for whom no one cares.

Swipe is also middle-grade fiction. This is why the age of receiving the Mark is thirteen. I thought that Evan Angler handled his cast of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds well. There were lines of dialogue I thought beyond such (I’ll say it) children, and it is always hard for me to seriously care for romance between (I’ll say it again) children. It would have been better, I thought, if the age of receiving the Mark was put two or three years older.

Yet the negative effect was minimal. It did work. I was impressed, moreover, by the mature complexity of the story. There are themes of choices made and paid for, of friends who become enemies and enemies who can be friends. Angler brings out a diversity of motivations in his characters.

Any Christian reading this book will quickly pick out the specters of Revelation: the Mark, the rising world-empire. It is not clear, however, if Swipe is the beginning of an End Times series, or simply drawing inspiration from the Bible. I prefer the latter.

Religion, as such, has a small place in Swipe; I guess it will have a large place in the series. Angler inserts, with admirable subtlety, clues that his characters don’t understand but that his readers do. Some who show doubts about the new regime wear a “charm” – the Cross, we can easily guess. A forsaken building we recognize, by the description of a spire and stained glass windows, as a church is mistaken by the children for a warehouse on account of the crates of books they find in it.

A number of the characters use the names of two world leaders in quasi-religious phrases: “For Cylis’s sake”; “In Lamson’s name”. And we see another specter: the Anti-Christ.

I enjoyed Swipe; the characters were finely and realistically drawn, the story made unexpected turns, the world was grimly interesting. The book is the first in a series; the story goes on, and I plan to be there.

Nemesis and the Deus Ex Machina

Today I am going to follow up my review of Heroes Proved with a few thoughts on the ending. This post will be specific and spoiler-heavy – not a review for those who haven’t read the book, but commentary for those who have.

While I was looking at the Amazon reviews, I saw one that complained that “the story is resolved through deus ex machina–Air Force One crashing into a lake.” On one level, this is hard to argue with. The terrorist attack that brought down Air Force One came out of nowhere; nothing in the book struggled against it, or for it. It also abruptly eliminated the broader importance of Martin Cohen’s rescue, at just the time he was rescued.

Yet the terrorist attack was not a deus ex machina in that it solved a dilemma that could have readily been solved ten other ways. Oliver North could have raised a Nemesis for the president from the story he had spent three hundred pages telling: Martin Cohen and his captors, the listening ears of Frances James, the Newman clan, the president’s own crimes and interminable intrigues.

All of them could have given the president an end. None of them could have given her an end as complete and dramatic as Air Force One crashing into Lake Erie.

And there were practical benefits. The terrorist attack was the sort of catastrophe that allows a nation to reset – and with that hopeful possibility, the dystopian Heroes Proved ends. Nor was the president dying by terrorism merely expedient; it was also a kind of grim justice, a poisonous reaping of her own poisonous sowing.

Nemesis is a goddess, and the pagan gods were always capricious. Yet she came as a response, a cosmic reaction to human causes. In the same way, the ending of Heroes Proved is not strictly a carry-though of the story’s logic, but there’s a certain cause-and-effect to it.

Caprice, it must be admitted, is generally inartistic in a novel. In fact, it almost always is. It can be interesting anyway. Heroes Proved, in its sudden end, did not reward the heroes’ efforts enough, or follow its own logic closely enough, to be satisfying in a classical way. But it is satisfying in a more obscure way; Nemesis usually is.

Review: Heroes Proved

What will the world be like in twenty years? A mess, you’ll say. But will it be as big a mess as having a nuclear ayatollah in Tehran, a Caliph ruling Jerusalem, and a Mafia-style president in the Oval Office?

Heroes Proved is Oliver North’s fourth military thriller. I began it directly after reading a dystopian novel called Swipe, and I soon came to feel I had gone from one dystopian novel to another. If a team of conservatives were to construct their perfect nightmare, it would look much like the America, and world, of Heroes Proved.

This book cuts across many genres: Primarily an action novel, but also a techno-thriller with a dystopian slant and social commentary. A religious element is peppered, plain and unashamed, throughout the narrative. Alongside it, there is a thick strand of political intrigue. The president, though often appearing, is never named; in Oliver North’s books, the president is mentioned frequently, but never by name.

But the president in Mission Compromised who loathed the military, pulled out of Somalia, and ran a chronically disorganized White House was a lot like Bill Clinton. The president in Assassins who was as punctual as a Marine, known for his time in the gym, who had a Defense secretary named Dan and a political advisor named Carl Rose – well, that wasn’t hard to figure out.

In Heroes Proved, the “Madam President” whose husband was president before her, who was often rude or demeaning to staff, with a subordinate named Vic Foster who suffered an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head – she is … Hillary Clinton, in an alternative universe.

Much of the interest and even fun of Heroes Proved is in tracing the connections to real life. The book may be properly labeled speculative. It is always asking, “What if, in the future …” What if America repressed free speech in the name of tolerance and fairness? What if Iran goes nuclear? What if a new Caliphate is established?

All these projections of current events are interesting. Noticing that Larry Walsh, the Madam President’s corrupt counsel, was also the name of the special prosecutor in the Iran-contra scandal is merely fun.

Considered on its proficiency as a novel, Heroes Proved would be marked a few demerits. The dialogue is not always entirely believable. The prose, although cleanly written and efficient to its purpose, has little beauty. (But then, does anyone read military thrillers for literary beauty?) The hero’s journey is started but never properly finished.

Even so, Heroes Proved is an exciting book and, what’s more, a fascinating one. It engages the heart as well as the head, and it does show us heroes proved.

Save the Exclamation Point (!)

Today I am going to talk about punctuation.

No, wait! Come back! This is interesting even if you don’t read grammar books purely for amusement.* The punctuation marks I want to discuss are the exclamation point (!) and the ElRey (my keyboard is not equipped to reproduce this mark).

Fortunately, there are graphics.**

I learned of the ElRey a week or so ago, when I came across a link to Let’s Make a Mark, a proposal for new punctuation. The author, Rob Walker, explained the damage done to the exclamation point by our new e-communication:

Even as I was writing this paragraph, I got a  note from a highly erudite editor of a widely respected literary/cultural journal: “You are too kind!”

I actually hadn’t been kind to any excitable-making extent in the missive he was responding to. But we both knew that. Consider a non-exclamation-point version of my correspondent’s message: “You are too kind.” That reads dry, chilly, possibly even sarcastic. Which suggests how the function of the exclamation mark has changed: It no longer connotes remarkable enthusiasm; it just signals a sort of general friendliness and baseline cheer, the equivalent of saying “Howyadoin?” in a chipper voice.

To put it briefly, the exclamation point is being exclaimed out of its meaning. Perhaps the most telling part of the above (very true) paragraph is the last phrase: in a chipper voice.

That is what it is really about. We all try, in our Internet dialogue, to have the brevity of a real conversation, but for that we need tone, like a real conversation. What people communicate through voice, expressions, and body language has to be conveyed other ways. Smiley faces, emoticons, acronyms, /sarc tags.

Exclamation points.

So Walker proposed the ElRey, to stand in and preserve the exclamation point. Another option is to write enough words, with enough precision, that they don’t need to be clarified with either the exclamation point or the ElRey. But then we would lose a lot in the way of brevity. Quickness, and efficiency, always were the chief virtues of e-communication.

Maybe you have to have a little of the grammar stickler in you to be interested in saving the exclamation point. But anyone can be interested in a new punctuation mark, especially one designed for Internet use. Every cause needs that sort of broad appeal. Movements of sticklers are so hard to get past the signs stage. (“Sticklers of the world, unite!” or “Sticklers of the world: Unite!”?)

Honestly, the ElRey will probably never get anywhere, but this could be fun anyway. That could even be our slogan.

* I only did this once.

** Provided by Rob Walker, by way of Ellen Susan.