Jodere Group ($24)
by Alan Deniro
Although it is set in the future, Joshua Ortega's ((Frequencies)) is not a science fiction novel. Judging it as science fiction would lead to a rather unforgiving review: the absence of cohesive world building, the clichéd totalitarian society, and the lackluster use of techno-thriller tropes would leave something to be desired. ((Frequencies)), however, occupies a space behind a different type of imaginary Wallace Line. The novel is essentially creative nonfiction disguised as science fiction, an empowerment narrative in Philip K. Dickian clothing.
It might be worthwhile, with such an odd duck of a book, to discuss its unusual publishing history. A certifiable self-publishing sensation, ((Frequencies)) was picked up by Jodere Group for a 50,000 copy hardcover run. The publisher, whose list is mostly nonfiction, defines itself as "a unique publishing and multimedia avenue for individuals whose mission it is to positively impact the lives of others. We recognize the strength of an original thought, a kind word and a selfless act--and the power of the individuals who possess them. We are committed to providing the support, passion and creativity necessary for these individuals to achieve their goals and their dreams." If one is to understand the novel's intentions, then surely this quotation is an auspicious place to start.
The story (only the first part of a series, alas; the novel ends rather abruptly) has as its premise that "all living creatures...vibrate at a specific frequency which can be measured upon a spectral bandwidth which he called the LIFE--living incorporate frequency emission--spectrum." In the totalitarian Seattle of 2051 they've decided that higher frequencies usually indicate subversive thought; McCready, an agent of a division of the FBI known as the Freemon ("FREquency Emissions MONitor(s)"), investigates and squelches frequency offenders. He becomes embroiled within the inner workings of the Huxton family, founders of the software company Ordosoft™ and Most Important Family in the World. He is assigned to protect daughter Ashley, a free spirit, from strange attacks upon the family, and he begins to open up in her presence. But this character development is itself odd. This future is culturally bankrupt, and the Huxtons are no small part the reason of that. Ashley runs around to "herb cafes" and exclusive clubs, and begins to gather vague intimations of a revolution against the frequency hierarchy. It's hard to take this seriously, however, when she ruminates on free choice and politics from a pampered, Tibetan mountaintop estate.
Such oddness, whether intentional or not, doesn't end when the story does; the novel's appendices wear its heart on its pages. Despite the "freeky" appearances and the occasional typographical disruptions (such as the inclusion of Greek symbols, representing frequencies, thoughout the text, or the insistence on putting a trademark symbol after every mentioned brand name, as in "As the Polaris™ settled onto the roof of the Farmaceutical Solutions™ building, McCready pulled a pack of Kamel® Kloves™ from his trench's front pocket"), ((Frequencies)) is deep down a forthright document. In "Freekspeak: a glossary of frequential terms," the reader comes across, as an example, the following four definitions in sequence:
Canny: n. Cannabis, marijuana Capoeira: n. A Brazilian martial arts/dance with heavy African influences. Pronounced "Ka-pway-da." Carnivore: Officially acknowledged in the year 2000, Carnivore is the FBI's e-mail interception and surveillance tool. Essentially a wiretap for the Internet, Carnivore does for American e-mail what Echelon does for the world. Casa: n. Spanish for "house."
For this reviewer, this verbose crazyquilt is more fascinating than many parts of the novel, though its breakdown in glossary format further demonstrates that we are not in the presence of a science fiction novel (which nearly always tries to put the world building "under the hood" to create a greater mimetic effect). Still, science fictional tropes have been used for far worse purposes (see Newt Gingrich's love of Toynbee and Asimov). ((Frequencies)) is worth reading, if for nothing else than to see how the New Age cogniscenti view science fiction, much in the same way that it is important to see how fundamentalist Christians use science fiction to elaborate on apocalyptic literalisms. In ((Frequencies)), as in those books--even though the political stance could hardly be more different--science fiction is only a tool, rather than a mode of epistemology. All of this somehow makes this first novel more interesting in its flaws than many smooth, ultra-competent novels possess in their strengths.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2003 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2003