Friday, January 10, 2014

The Second Lives of Honest Men / John Cameron

Reviewed by: BigAl

Genre: Dystopian

Approximate word count: 85-90,000 words

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John R. Cameron says his “family often drives me to the brink of madness; not a difficult thing to do, considering how close to the edge I already am.” He’s a teacher who says he’s worried about the current state of education and the future in general.


On the evening of April 14th, 1865, a flawless duplicate replaced the 16th President an instant prior to his assassination. Two centuries later, Honest Abe opened his eyes to a world in desperate need of guidance.

The Second Lives of Honest Men is a prescient vision of where society's dependence on technology could be taking us. It's a character driven story about love, redemption, and hope, with deep philosophical underpinnings related to how we think, feel, and reason in a world where it's ironically easy to feel disconnected.”


The Second Lives of Honest Men is a typical dystopian novel in many ways. In others, it’s not. Dystopian is a subgenre of science-fiction with a future (sometimes near future) world that often incorporates advances in technology which might be used as one of the tools to keep the populace under control. (The classic dystopian novel, 1984, is one obvious example.) The typical dystopia also usually projects a current political direction down the slippery slope far enough for it to become a big problem. This book is typical in these respects, but atypical in that it adds a time travel element that while typical sci-fi fare, isn’t what you’d expect in this branch of the genre, and the way this figures into the work as a whole was kind of clever or at least unique.

I’ll read dystopians where the political direction the book is warning against is one I personally think is a good direction and disagree with the author’s take on where it might lead us (if nothing else, recognizing that most slippery slope arguments are one big logical fallacy, helps). But I’ll also realize their vision isn’t completely unreasonable, that this is fiction, and I’ll still enjoy the read and the thoughts it provokes.

In this book, I was on board for at least some of the political parts, but the story seemed to put a lot of blame for the negative changes in the world on several generations of kids who are comfortable with and use technology. (At the time in the near future when the story happens there is an advanced form of the internet. People use special contact lens to interact with this system, called “The Interface,” which means it is more or less available to anyone at any time.) The protagonist is a Luddite and much of his attitude that permeates the story struck me as the same old generational differences that have probably been happening since time began and definitely have since the pace of technological change has accelerated. It’s the same argument many parents and teachers made when I was a kid half a century ago, that those new fangled electronic calculators are going to make us so lazy we won’t even be able to do math. I suspect a couple hundred years prior, parents said the same about the invention of the slide rule.

This attitude I felt from the protagonist and as a subtext to much of the story(a virtual “kid, get off of my lawn”) was something I haven’t experienced in a dystopian novel before. Not even when I’ve disagreed with the premise. But I’m not sure whether it matters that I don’t buy into all the arguments The Second Lives of Honest Men appears to be making. The point, to make the reader think about current directions and possible futures still happened (not to mention the entertainment value).


Some adult language and situations.

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: **** Four stars

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