Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Approximate word count: 85,000-90,000 words
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This is the author’s first solo novel. He has co-authored two other short story collections. You can find out more about Mark Tullius on his blog.
A small minority of humans develop close-range telepathic ability. The non-telepathic majority hunts the telepaths down and the authorities confine them to the remote town of Brightside. The story follows Joe Nolan as he is ‘outed’ as a telepath and forced to make a new life in Brightside.
I loved the premise of this tale. The opening chapters are terrific, placing me in the position of a telepath who uses his powers to manipulate non-telepathic people (he’s a car salesman). Joe also has a non-telepathic girlfriend, and the complexities of knowing what your partner thinks as opposed to what she says, is really well explored, entertaining, and thought provoking.
Society’s response—to lock the “Thought Thieves” away—is believable. To paraphrase the author: Our society is based on the ability to lie. Parents tell their kids they are special and loved. Teachers tell students they can achieve anything. And most particularly, politicians tell us what they want us to hear. If people can expose these lies then the societal structure is untenable.
Tullius’ handling of the complexities and inner struggles of the telepaths in normal society, and even more so when they are confined to a town where everyone can read everyone else’s mind, kept me engaged. However, the premise is interwoven within a thriller-type story arc that forced me to switch back and forward in time through Joe’s first 100 days of confinement.
These time switches jarred with me. I can’t understand why the author used the construct as the Brightside element of the story runs in a straight line from day one till day 100. For me, the jumping around yanked me out of the story, confused, and in part acted as a spoiler that hinted at the ending.
On the other hand, the many flashbacks to Joe’s difficult upbringing--imagine being a five-year-old and knowing your mother doesn’t want you, hearing other men’s lurid sexual thoughts about her, hearing your father’s acceptance of her dalliances—were a powerful tool that worked nicely to fill out Joe’s character and his motivation.
The ending sequence where Joe rushes from one impossible situation to the next at breakneck speed felt formulaic to me, or perhaps it was the time-lapse spoilers that made it seem predictable.
So, overall, a mixed bag for this reader. I think the story is well worth reading for the expert manner Tullius handles the inner turmoil caused by this “telepathic gift”. He’s a good writer, with lean prose and an admirable ability to show inner conflict in his characters. But I wish he hadn’t jumped around so much and felt the need to create an action-filled closing sequence. The story seemed exciting enough to me without it.
Rating: **** Four stars