Quais du polar #3: Mindreader by Iain Levison

Mindreader by Iain Levison (2015) French title: Ils savent tout de vous. Translated by Fanchita Gonzales Batlle.

Quais_polar_logoThis one was a total disappointment on two levels. The first one is on me. I’d already read A Working Stiff’s Manifesto by Iain Levison, a novel based on his experience as a poor worker in America and I heard his interview on France Inter about Mindreader whose French title is Ils savent tout de vous (They know everything about you) My previous read of a Levison book, his interview on France Inter and the French title of the novel led me into expecting a novel about internet and social media. Something in the line of Andrew Blackman’s Virtual Love. Had I known the English title, I wouldn’t have been surprised by the main idea of the book: what if the FBI had some chosen individuals operated to have them become mindreaders? What an asset they would be in international negotiations, in interrogations of terrorists, etc.

Levison_toutJared Snowe is one of them. He’s a deputy in the Kearns police force in Massachusetts and he start hearing the thoughts of other people. He’s just exploring his new power when agent Terry Dyers finds out that he’s “awaken”. She was operated too, but the other way round: her mind is unreadable to mindreaders. She protects the secrets of the program and she can meet with the mindreaders.

Now she has another mission to attend to. She needs to transfer Brooks Denny from a prison in Oklahoma to participate to negotiations at the UN building in New York. He’s also a mindreader. Problem is: Denny ended up in prison because he killed a policeman. He’s in the death row. Getting him out of here won’t be easy.

Terry and her boss Emmanuel puts things in motion though and everything goes according to plan until Denny’s ward gets nosy and goes through Terry’s things. He understands that Denny will be killed after his job, he’s happy that this cop killer will die. He thinks about it in Denny’s presence, Denny hears it and decides to take the French leave.

Who can go after a mindreader? Another mindreader. That’s where Snowe comes into the mix…

So we have two mindreaders on the loose and one FBI team who needs them back under their control but must keep things under wraps about their program. Who will win the chase?

Mindreading and the angst that go with it. No offense, Iain Levison, but Stephenie Meyer beat you to it in Twilight. Her vampire hears other people’s thoughts, except Bella’s and we know how crowded his head is from all the wandering thoughts around him.

Mindreader has nothing to do with social media and all the IT traces we leave in our everyday lives with our phones, computers, cars and so on. One evening, my work Iphone informed that if I left the office right now, it would take me 34min to get home. This is my work phone. I have no personal data in it. I guess it just tracked where I spend my days and where I spend my nights and assumed these locations where work and home. It kind of freaked me out. This topic is a tremendous playing field for dystopian fiction. (or not so dystopian, btw) Here, this path isn’t explored, except slightly through a member of the FBI team, Jerry, who has mad competences with internet tracking. It seems such a waste of good plot material and from what I heard of his interview, Iain Levison could do better on the political and social exploration of the theme. So it was a disappointment.

If it wasn’t meant to be that serious, then it didn’t go overboard enough. A few billets ago, I answered the questions of the Book FanCarroting Award and one of the questions was: Which book would you like to see re-written by your favorite writer? I have a new answer to this question now. I want Mindreader re-written by Duane Swierczynski. What a blast it would be.

  1. March 15, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Too bad that this was so disappointing. The concept of mind reading can very some very worthwhile fiction.

    My favorite novel on the subject Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside. It is a serious character study of a man who has psychic abilities. The abilities actually make his life miserable.

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    • March 16, 2016 at 7:16 am

      Yes, it’s really a shame because it was a great idea for a story.
      I’ve never heard of Robert Silverberg but since it’s SF, it shouldn’t be a surprise to me.

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  2. March 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Dying Inside is great, possibly Silverberg’s greatest book. Not sure if you’d like it though Emma and Silverberg sadly for all his talent is wretched at writing women.

    I was actually reminded of a little known but really good SF novel called Wild Talent by the massively underappreciated Wilson Tucker, about (funnily enough) a government employed telepath who goes on the run after he overhears what his agency has planned for him in the longer run (or hears something else he shouldn’t, it’s been ages since I read it). I suppose the idea of a government psychic hearing too much is just too tempting.

    Tucker though wrote Wild Talent in 1954 when it had more resonance (he also wrote an excellent time travel novel where the time travellers go forward, spying on future election results and discovering that their own program is more about manipulating the future than learning from it – it does marvellous and actually pretty subtle things with race issues of the time).

    Now, yes, I agree there’s more interest in a way with the data analysis/privacy issue. Psychic powers seem almost redundant compared to what real life algorithms can already achieve.

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    • March 16, 2016 at 7:20 am

      Considering my past expériences with SF, there’s a good chance that I won’t like it. Still, I’m curious.

      The Tucker really sounds like this one. I’ll Iain Levison if he knows about it, if I have the chance.

      I think there’s a lot to explore for novelists in today’s technologies.

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      • March 16, 2016 at 8:13 pm

        I’m not sure how well known it is. Tucker is one of those many authors who are highly talented and were well regarded (though in my view not as much as he should have been), but who then fade from view. I’d be surprised if Levison knew it, though you never know.

        I doubt you’d like the Tucker (that Tucker anyway, there are others you might as they’re less about the SF and more about wider issues, but that one is squarely SF) and I don’t think you’d take to Silverberg. It is mystifying though that the man can write convincing aliens, but not a convincing woman.

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  3. March 15, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Forgot to say, I can totally see that Duane Swierczynski would make a chase between warring telepaths hugely fun.

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    • March 16, 2016 at 7:21 am

      Definitely. It would be fun, fast-paced and full of twists and turns.

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  4. March 17, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    Too bad Emma, but once in while you hit a bad one when you take chances.

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    • March 17, 2016 at 11:08 pm

      I really expected better. Too bad.

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