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Golden State by Ben Winters

Golden State (2019)

by Ben Winters

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1005177,882 (3.68)8
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    Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (sturlington)
    sturlington: Two visions of a future California

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Intriguing Premise Doesn't Quite Hold Up
Review of the Mulholland Books hardcover edition (2019)
"The Earth is in orbit around the sun."
"And the Moon is in orbit around the Earth."
Banal exchanges of facts, such as the above, take the place of historical salutations such as "Hello, how are you?" in a future Golden State, because presumably many people have to lie when they give the common response of "I'm fine. How are you?" as most people are dealing with work or life issues which cause them to be "not fine" at every single moment and perhaps are not necessarily interested in how the other person is at the time.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic totalitarian state where not telling the truth becomes an illegal act that is punishable by a minimum several years prison sentence and more egregious acts get you banished to the outer wastelands was a great setup here.

The Golden State exists in an area that is identifiably that of the previous U.S. State of California. The exact nature of the apocalypse that caused the fragmentation of the U.S. is not identified, but given the present day political climate it is a reasonable assumption that lying and the back and forth accusations of "fake news" were somehow at the heart of it.

Our protagonist Laszlo Ratisec, an agent of the Speculative Service which is tasked with policing truth crime, is introduced early in the book in a diner-restaurant scene where he is able to sense that lying is taking place in the room through his innate lie-detection powers. The nature of this power is never properly explained, although there is a hint that it may be genetic and is perhaps a synesthesia-type sense (where you can "taste"/"smell" the truth of "sound"). All of that was quite intriguing.

The plot of this became wearisome though as Laszlo is gradually undermined by external forces that his supposed vaunted powers are not able to detect. It then became a roller coaster ride of 'nothing is as it seems'. I became frustrated with it even though it did come to a relatively reasonable conclusion. I felt that I never really got a proper idea of the conspiracy that Laszlo was fighting against. So I've got to come down with a middling rating between "it was ok" and "liked it." ( )
  alanteder | Mar 20, 2019 |
4 ½ stars. This book is the one good thing I’ve seen come out of Trumpworld’s alternate facts, fake news, and evidence-free assertions. Winter’s Golden State society is like an auto-immune reaction to Trumpworld; it’s a place where life is based on facts (the “Objectively So”), lying is a felony, and people collect and store evidence documenting every minute of their lives, which the State archives after they die. The people gladly trade freedom and privacy for the security of a world where everything is true and provable, and facts and artifacts that can’t be proven true or untrue are simply “consigned to oblivion. Put out of mind. Not to be thought of again.” This system is a tranquilizer against the anxiety of subjectivity, opinions and alternative viewpoints.

Into this scenario Winters writes a detective story with clever twists, charming characters and a general abundance of heart and wit. The protagonist, Lazslo Ratesic, an agent in the “Speculative Service” (essentially a human lie detector), is a big, heartbroken, hard-boiled lug of a guy who reminds me of Lionel Essrog ([b:Motherless Brooklyn|328854|Motherless Brooklyn|Jonathan Lethem|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348254729s/328854.jpg|1971553]) without the Tourette’s. Here’s a taste of Lazslo, and of Winters’ writing in general. Lazslo has discovered a novel (forbidden!) hidden under the covers of a dictionary:

“….(it) is disquieting and yet mesmerizing and the thing about the book is that none of it is true, nothing confirmed or certain. The book speaks in the voice of various of its characters, and each of them – the lawyer, the boy’s father and his mother, the doctor – has an opinion about what must have happened, each of them marching around shaking their own version like a fist, and so it is a riot of subjectivities, a violence of truths, and the fuck of it is – is that as I read I am beginning to cry, tears rolling hot down my heavy cheeks and disappearing into my beard because I do not understand this –

And then I feel like I do understand it, what it means, of course I do, but I can’t think about it, it doesn’t bear consideration – it

The world as I have understood it is slipping out from under me and I ought to stop but I can’t. I can’t stop. I keep reading and as I read the book settles down over me, it becomes reality as I read it, the air becomes fuzzed, to the point that when I look up it is like the reality of my room is less real than the reality inside the book.”
( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
Ben H. Winters has penned a brilliant piece of speculative fiction that instantly engages and intrigues, but which quickly transforms into something entirely different about two-thirds of the way in. While this shift may appeal to many, I found it incredibly frustrating and I can't help but feel that a great story was largely spoiled by somewhat trite and ordinary post-apocalyptic "overspeculating."

Winters is obviously immensely capable and quickly proves that he has the chops to believably present a detailed world only half-familiar to our own, which features just enough thoughtful and convincing characters of substance to tempt an emotional connection from the reader. The book starts off as a thrilling murder mystery that unravels masterfully to reveal ever-increasing stakes for the protagonists and, in fact, the entire society that Winters has manufactured. That society is given a meaty context that teases a brutally honest allegorical criticism of our current world: post-truth, filled with fake news and kaleidoscopic accounts of "fact" that polarize and factionalize the United States of America at its core.

Winters' Golden State (both a new world order and an "enlightened" condition of existence) can be seen as perhaps an antidote or a poison pill used to reroute the trajectory of today's untreatable information manipulation, but it is also a sober warning of the dangers of autocratically removing relativity and of regulating objective "truth" in a species that is founded upon biological and social imperatives for subjectivity. This is fascinating stuff, and watching the mechanics of it unfold against the backdrop of a blossoming state-level conspiracy makes for some heady reading.

Until the jarring shift from near-future speculation to post-apocalyptic literary masturbation, that is. At this very point, the moment in which the protagonist is exiled from the Golden State, we are likewise exiled from the story which has been built thus far. Many of the intricacies that have been attentively constructed are simply dropped in favor of a hazy, multi-layered reality-slip where the reader is purposely misled deeper into the Hero's mind, which is itself rapidly losing both containment and cognizance of what truth really is and, furthermore, what it really means.

If this queer story device is meant to represent another layer of allegory demonstrating the innate subjectivity of truth (and, therefore, the narrative thrust of the story itself), it could be considered another stroke of Winters' brilliance in crafting the blocks of a dynamic, multi-tiered story. Disappointingly, it also comes off to me as exasperating – killing the momentum right when the getting was particularly good, seemingly in order to set up a mundane textual bridge for the sequels.

Counter to my criticisms, my wife shrewdly pointed out that the beauty in not knowing the "real truth" of what happens, what has happened, or what will happen is a high point for many readers. And that is yet another layer of subjective metaphor (perhaps) superbly woven into this book, and directly on-point with its theme. Or maybe it's just a coincidence. Or damned blind luck. But that's not what the Speculative Service in the Golden State would say.

A couple of my favorite passages:

"Behind us, a woman stands very close to the wall, her head bent forward and pressed against the bricks of the building, her hands pressed flat against it. A load-bearing citizen, using the strength of her body to hold up the State." (pp. 84-85)

"'Thank you. Thank you...for the world we have built, in which everything is known and can be known, in which everything that is so is known to be so, and has been known and will be known tomorrow.' Because just imagine – just imagine the alternative, the world in which a man encounters some scrap of information...any of the small and large pieces of information a person encounters in the course of a day or a lifetime, personal or political, substantive or trivial – and then the next hour or the next day he hears something different, and it is impossible, literally impossible, to know which version is the real one." (pp. 90-91) ( )
  funkyplaid | Feb 18, 2019 |
I really admire Ben Winters niche of combining noir detective stories with speculative scenarios. I've read his trilogy set just before a meteor is about to hit the Earth (apocalyptic) and his novel set in an American in which slavery persists in the South (alternate history). This one is set in a future after some cataclysmic event, in which the state of California has become an isolationist "Golden State," where everything is recorded for the Record and lying is illegal. Once again, though, it is the intriguing detective caught up in events larger than he is at the center of the story that makes it exciting and relatable. Ben Winters has been a great discovery for me, as I think he is truly an original voice. ( )
1 vote sturlington | Feb 3, 2019 |
I purchased this book from @bookofthemonth to read. All opinions are my own. 🌟🌟🌟🌟 Golden State by Ben H Winters. This dystopian novel will suck you into it's mystery and action. It is stories inside of stories buildt upon stories of what the truth is known to be. Laszlo Ratesic has lived his life based on truth. Facts that are concrete and absolute. But in two days his world comes crashing down around him and it takes a very wrong turn for him to realize truth is based on perception not buildt on facts. While this book wrapped me in a world unknown I didn't complete enjoy the twist at the end. It does bring some closure to the book just not in a way I expected. Review also posted on Instagram @borenbooks, Library Thing, Go Read, Goodreads/StacieBoren, Amazon, Twitter @jason_stacie and my blog at readsbystacie.com ( )
  SBoren | Jan 20, 2019 |
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Future (n.), usually the future: the set of possible events which are neither happening nor have happened but which may happen, including those possible events which will happen, but which are not yet distinguishable from the far greater group which will not. [Nota bene: avoid where possible.] -- The Everyday Citizen's Dictionary, 43rd edition, the Golden State Publishing Arm
For Irwin Hyman who built the world he wanted to live in
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