Veracity, by Laura Bynum. Gallery Books, 2010. 376 pp. 978-1-4391-2335-5.
... in which we learn the power of truth and words in an oppressive totalitarian regime.
Set in 2045, the not-too-distant future, the story here revolves around a small resistance group attempting to overthrow the totalitarian government that now controls America. After a disease wipes out half of the country's population in 2012, the federal government gradually expands its power over the people to the point where America is no longer recognizable. Every citizen is implanted with a transmitting device, called a slate. The slate transmits every word ever spoken by that citizen to a central facility, where monitors listen in on every conversation and search for forbidden words. Forbidden words are placed on Red Lists by the government, and whenever a person speaks a forbidden word, they receive a sharp shock in their neck from their slate. If they speak one of the extra bad words, the Blue Coats (government police) come for them, and they are never seen again. Using these methods, the government eliminates entire concepts from the public consciousness. Examples of forbidden words: apostasy, discriminate, ego, fossil, heresy, kindred, obstreperous, offline, veracity. Other small changes are hinted at throughout the book... for example, Washington, D.C. is now known as Wernthal. The President is simply referred to as "President", without the definite article. There is no Congress. The government spends much of its time vilifying a semi-mythical object known as the Book of Noah, supposedly the book that guides the resistance.
The majority of the book follows a woman named Harper Adams. Harper occupies an extremely elite position in the new hierarchy. She is a Senior Monitor, the second highest ranked individual in the country, responsible for monitoring the nation's speech. She also has special abilities, allowing her to read the moods and intentions of people. Harper can see people's "colors", which allows her to know if they're lying, in pain, angry, etc. Because the government's control is so complete and their brainwashing so effective, Harper never really questions her way of life. Sometimes she is disturbed by the brutality of the punishments dealt out to the non-compliant, but she never strays until her best friend, the highest ranked Senior Monitor, is caught working for the resistance. Her friend is killed, and her friend's daughter dies a brutal death. The final straw comes when her daughter's name, Veracity, is added to the Red List. Harper eventually goes to work for the resistance, where she is introduced to strange new concepts like culture, democracy, freedom, etc.
I enjoyed reading this book, with a few drawbacks. I was very interested in the central concept of the book, that by eliminating key words from a population's vocabulary, you can also eliminate whole ideas and concepts. Quite an ingenious way of controlling a population! The rhetoric employed by the government was really unsettling, simply because I can see how effective such speeches could be on a population that knows nothing of free choice. I liked many of the key characters in the book, and the most important ones were fairly well fleshed-out, though some of the secondary characters did seem pretty flat. There were a few pretty interesting surprises, including some of the liberties the government had taken with the nation's history. Also, when we finally get around to seeing the Book of Noah, that's a pretty interesting part as well.
The biggest issue with this book was probably in the explanatory story telling. I never really understood how Harper's special abilities worked, or how certain individuals developed them. My first guess was that the abilities were a result of the Pandemic that wiped out half the population, but that turned out to be an incorrect guess, and it was never really explained. I guess at some point in the near future, humanity will spontaneously evolve so that a few individuals can see energy colors and project their consciousness out to buildings hundreds of miles away. Alright, then. My second complaint is that the ending was muddled. I'm still not really sure what happened, because everything happened pretty fast.
In the end, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed books like 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale.