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Golden State (2019)

by Ben Winters

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3762355,430 (3.67)33
From award-winning, New York Times bestselling novelist Ben H. Winters comes a mind-bending novel set in a world governed by absolute truth, where lies are as dangerous as murder. In a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else, Laszlo Ratesic is a nineteen-year veteran of the Speculative Service. He lives in the Golden State, a nation standing where California once did, a place where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life and governance impossible. In the Golden State, knowingly contradicting the truth is the greatest crime -- and stopping those crimes is Laz's job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths, to "speculate" on what might have happened. But the Golden State is less of a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the truth requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance and recording. And when those in control of the facts twist them for nefarious means, the Speculators are the only ones with the power to fight back.… (more)
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    Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (sturlington)
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Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
This review first appeared on scifiandscary.com. I received a free copy of the book to review from the publisher via NetGalley

‘Golden State’ is the best book I’ve read this year. Admittedly it’s only mid-January, but still, it impressed me in a way none of the other books I’ve read lately have. It’s intelligent, creative, completely gripping and hugely readable.

. At its heart ‘Golden State’ is a detective novel, and many of its themes and twists will be familiar to fans of that genre. It’s set in the ‘Golden State’ of the title, a future America where lying (any lying) is illegal. The protagonist is Laszlo Ratesic, a special kind of cop who has the ability to detect lies.

Ben Winters sets this all up quite brilliantly in the first chapter, where Laszlo is having breakfast in a diner and realises some of the other patrons are having a conversation containing untruths. The interaction that follows introduces the reader to this strange world effortlessly, so that by the end of it I had a firm grasp of the rules of the society and the place of the Speculative Service (the agency Laszlo is an officer of) in it. Winters does a great job of creating a complex but believable and understandable world. Citizens greet each other by speaking unassailable truths:

“A cow has four stomachs.”

“A person has one.”

“These are facts.”

“These things are so.”

And Laszlo’s job as a cop gives a notion of how it is all governed.

I’ve got a court appearance coming up, testimony I’m supposed to give in the Court of Small Infelicities, one of these knucklehead kerfuffles where an automobile dealership advertises “the lowest rates around” and a competitor hauls them in, challenging the veracity of “lowest” and the generality of “around,” and the court needs someone from the Service to weigh the litigants’ relative sincerity.

With the set up done, the plot begins, with Laszlo (older, angry at the world) being given a partner, Ms Paige, a talented and exceptionally keen rookie. Suddenly, after the shock of being immersed in this odd world, we are in familiar territory. This works brilliantly, and the tension between the mismatched pair is entertaining and again helps ease the reader in. The pair are assigned to an apparent accidental death and naturally their investigation uncovers something far bigger and darker.

The structure and mystery novel elements of the book are superbly done and it is gripping and surprising throughout with a couple of stand-out scenes which really shook me. Laszlo is a great hero, sympathetic and engaging, it wasn’t long before I really cared about what happened to him and those around him. His growth as a character, from unquestioning tool of the state to something very different is convincing and satisfying. The other characters are similarly well done, believable and distinct from one another.

Ben Winters has accomplished something pretty special here in my opinion, creating a fascinating new world that holds a mirror up to our own. The fact that he’s done that and managed to tell a story in it that is so richly satisfying and enjoyable is nothing short of brilliant. If ‘Golden State’ doesn’t get picked up by a movie studio soon I’d be very surprised. It has all the elements of great entertainment - a fascinating concept, a great plot and an unforgettable lead character.



( )
  whatmeworry | Apr 9, 2022 |
The American author Ben H. Winters's work came to my attention when 'Underground Airlines' was published in a French translation back in 2018, thanks to Éditions ActuSF. You can read my review here.

Anno 2021, the man's previous book, 'Golden State', sees the light of day in its French version, again translated by [author:Éric Holstein|3159347], whose [book:D'or et d'Emeraude|36406535] is still (!) on my TBR-pile; yes, I'll come around to reading it one day.

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'Golden State' takes place in an alternative California. All of its inhabitants are under constant surveillance - Big Brother to the extreme, as there are microphones, CCTV, a special police force (known as Speculators), ... in just about every place. Anything said or done is registered in a national database called The Register. There, each person has his/her own boxes containing the entire history of their lives.

There is only one truth, that of (scientific) facts. Simply called 'What Is (Objectively)'. Everything else, even white lies, is untruth and punishable by law. When one of these Speculators happen to hear an untruth, he is to intervene and arrest the person who uttered it. Speculators also investigate other crimes, like murders.

One of those Speculators is Laszlo Ratesic, the main character. With an experience of 19 years, he's considered (one of?) the best in his field. Speculators wear a black uniform and a pinhole camera (sténopé in French) (Wikipedia) to register everything. A more subtle solution to the body cams of today. Laszlo is a solitary character, likes to work according to his rules and timing, yet still remembers his brother Charlie, who died several years ago, or did he? The cause of death is a mystery that continues to haunt Laszlo and this unfortunate event will pop up again later on.

So, working solo is key to him... Until one day, when he's to take a trainee with him, a girl who just finished her studies and is ready to start as a trainee. Her attitude contrasts heavily with Laszlo's, as she's very determined to prove her worth. Furthermore, she's broken with her parents, so that might explain her enthusiasm.

As Laszlo and Ms Aysa Violet Paige, as his partner is called, are to investigate a strange case (a man fell from a roof of a high-placed person's house; was it murder? an accident?), it's Ms Paige who will set her teeth into it, despite Laszlo's instructions to stay low at first. It won't take long before she takes the lead, taking initiative and cutting to the chase. And it will be a long and hard chase, as this puzzle will prove not easy to piece together. Or rather, it'll have some very surprising pieces and connections. As a reader, you're fed breadcrumbs and even then, they're not always from the right bread.

Fact of the matter is: The powers that be, those in charge of the Golden State, will do everything in their might to keep the Golden State intact. Anyone, anywhere, colouring outside the lines will be dealt with in an appropriate manner. As a Boromir meme might say: One does not simply question authority! Laszlo and Aysa would find out the hard way. Laszlo and Aysa will discover how their superiors, including Laszlo's former mentor has a large hand in the hypocrisy. Unfortunately, Ms Paige won't survive, but it will make Laszlo even more determined to uncover the real truth, despite the various failures during the mission are consequences of inconsiderate decisions. In fact, the truth will be uncovered, one way or another, but it won't harm the Golden State.

In fact, because Laszlo's mission failed, he jeopardised the Speculators' image and power. As a result, none of his team mates supported him afterwards; on the contrary, he was considered the biggest criminal of all time, while they should have applauded his critical mindset. Then again... Teamwork? Colleagues? Friendship? As long as you do what you're told, you won't be questioned, you'll be able to continue living in a golden cage, eh, Golden State.

Those condemned for having broken the law(s) are expulsed, transported to the desert of Las Vegas, of course not without a proper beating first (at least, in Laszlo's case), to learn another lesson: you don't exist. Every trace of the condemned is destroyed: papers, recordings of any kind, registrations, ... Either you die in the scorching heat or you make it to the closest city, Las Vegas, where you can try to rebuild your life, if you're lucky and accepted in this alternative community.

Strangely enough and luckily for Laszlo, his brother Charlie is one of the leading figures in the desert community, though his health has seriously deteriorated. So, he did survive what happened to him, but at a high cost, as he stuck in a wheelchair and needs pieces of paper to express his thoughts. A bit like the late Stephen Hawking.


----------

'Golden State' is a thrilling story in which George Orwell's imagined society of '1984', and even those of Yevgeny Zamyatin's 'We' and Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' (which I haven't read) - to mention two other examples -, are taken a few steps further. Everything you do and say is registered and classified in a central database. Your entire history is recorded. The Golden State is one where only one truth matters: What Is (Objectively). Everything else is untruth and punishable by law. Behave correctly and you'll be protected by the Golden Cage. Once outside this cage, you're nothing.
It's a story that will keep you glued to the pages, which, like its aforementioned predecessors, contain a strong warning.

A few remarks, though:
* Laszlo seems to have lost his lie-detecting skill at some point, strangely enough. This event remains unexplained.
* What really happened to his brother Charlie? Not really explained either. Or is that part of What Is (Objectively)?

On a side-note, I was reminded of Ted Chiang's short story 'The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling (2013)', to be found in his anthology 'Exhalation' (my review).

----------

I was sent this book by Éditions ActuSF for review. Many thanks to them for the trust. ( )
  TechThing | Feb 27, 2022 |
I wanted this book to work for me so badly. But I felt just half a step off during almost all of it. At first, it felt a bit slow. The "mystery" just didn't strike me as a big deal. The world building was very interesting but I felt that it was still lacking something. Perhaps because I was expecting something that felt more satirical and/or though-provoking rather than just... an alternative society.

At the half-way point things picked up and I was finally on board with the mystery. But then things kept picking up and the mystery becomes this huge massive thing which, yes, was interesting, but I don't know if I was just behind or was missing something or what, but it just didn't feel right to me. I felt like there were so many other, more interesting, questions that were just abandoned.

Ultimately, this was an intellectually interesting book but didn't engage me emotionally. I can't quite figure out if it is my fault or the book's, though I lean towards it being my fault as I expected something a bit sharper and dystopian instead of a murder mystery in a different culture. ( )
  Aug3Zimm | Jul 15, 2021 |
A rumination on truth and the social compact that couldn't be more relevant.

( )
  francoisvigneault | May 17, 2021 |
It was an original alternative future story - not a future that ever *could* happen (it involves a fantastical feature), but it does describe a society that could, indeed, get to where it had such a future. Bit of a moral/message in here, but it is not overbearing or preachy and is just a neat way to wrap up the storyline.

I like Winters' work in general - have read several others, and figure they are all well work the time (Last Policeman, Underground Airlines). ( )
  crazybatcow | Apr 3, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ben Wintersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kulick, GreggCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petrides, HenryCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
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For Irwin Hyman who built the world he wanted to live in
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This is a novel.
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The preservation of reality’s integrity is the paramount duty of the citizenry and of the government alike. What kind of mad society would be organized otherwise? -Page 55
Nine tall white letters on the side of a hill, spelling a word that if it meant something to somebody once, means nothing to anyone now. Nothing that can be known. -Page 174
...now I’ve come down hard on a bone truth, on the brutal bone truth that if there is ever anything that somebody could do—something violent, something perverse, something cruel and unconscionable—if there is ever anything that somebody could do, somebody is going to do it, somebody has already done it. -Page 251
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From award-winning, New York Times bestselling novelist Ben H. Winters comes a mind-bending novel set in a world governed by absolute truth, where lies are as dangerous as murder. In a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else, Laszlo Ratesic is a nineteen-year veteran of the Speculative Service. He lives in the Golden State, a nation standing where California once did, a place where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life and governance impossible. In the Golden State, knowingly contradicting the truth is the greatest crime -- and stopping those crimes is Laz's job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths, to "speculate" on what might have happened. But the Golden State is less of a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the truth requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance and recording. And when those in control of the facts twist them for nefarious means, the Speculators are the only ones with the power to fight back.

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