Mask, by Kerry Nietz (Marcher Lord Press, 2013)
In an unspecified year in Earth’s future, after natural disasters and the breakup of the United States, the country of PacNorth includes at least part of Washington State. Overpopulation is a global problem, and in PacNorth it’s controlled by popular vote. Rack up enough negative votes against you, and you’re tagged “incon” (inconvenient) and you disappear.
Radial Crane may be the one who “collects” you, but you won’t know it’s him behind the mask.
He’s good at what he does, and we see that in the opening pages. He obeys orders and asks no questions. Until it becomes personal. Until he does the unforgivable and rescues an incon he’s supposed to collect. And until he begins to find out what’s really happening behind the scenes.
The novel is written in the present tense, with a stream of consciousness feel as Radial tells us what he sees as he moves through this disturbing future world. I enjoyed the immediacy of it, and the puzzle of trying to figure out what was going on. Some of the technology sounds fantastic, and some is better left un-invented.
From the cues Radial gives as he moves through what used to be Seattle, I think readers who know the present-day city will be able to recognize key landmarks. If I ever get to visit, I’ll want to go through the book again first.
The three novels in Kerry Nietz’s DarkTrench Saga have each been finalists for EPIC awards, with book 3, Freeheads, winning an EPIC 2013 eBook Award in the Science Fiction category.
Mask looks destined to follow that pattern. The ending hints at a possible sequel, but the final pages offer a sample chapter of his next novel, which looks like a step away from the dystopian Earth theme: Amish Vampires in Space. I kid you not. The author’s note says “because someone had to do it.” And because Kerry Neitz is that someone and I like his writing style, I expect I’ll give it a shot.